The Seventh Day: No Sleep til Jerusalem (Dennis Zeveloff D`12)
As the paparazzi have noted, it’s not easy following Greg Berger. We woke up at 6 this morning to enjoy a delightful Bedouin Breakfast (like a Bed and Breakfast, but different) in order to fuel up for the camels. Hump day took on a new meaning as we boarded those beasts two by two. The extra height helped us see what was past the desert shrubbery (more desert), the dual seated humps had the romance of a tandem bicycle, and the camel’s digestive system produced like an Israeli orange farm. It was a bumpy ride, but everything went smoothly until one camel (Camilla) let one rider down and kept the second in the air. We tried to tell her that no love can last forever, and when she finally stopped bleating love we all dismounted and disembarked.
The mountains near Masada look as alien as Mars’ surface or Utah’s canyons. This dusty destination was the site of the final battle in the Great Revolt against the Romans. Originally used as King Herod’s hidey-hole, Masada became the last stronghold for free Jews after the fall of the second temple. The isolation, difficult terrain, rainwater-collecting cisterns, and Herod’s storehouses of food made it a perfect place to hold off a siege. Bathhouses became mikvahs, and a synagogue was built atop the plateau. Three years later, though, Rome had zeroed in on the fortress. Jewish slaves were used to build a ramp, forcing Masada’s soldiers to choose between their own safety and killing innocent kinfolk. As the siege tightened, the free Jews realized that they were not going to make it out alive. In order to liberate their families from brutality and slavery, Jewish men killed their wives and children before killing themselves. Until 1948, Masada’s Jews were the last to live under their own rule, and this point was hammered home by the presence of the Israeli soldiers. As the menorah on the mountain now says Masada shall not fall again. Soldiers are sworn in there, and together we yelled “Am yisrael chai (israel lives)!. No Romans answered our cheer, only the echoes of the blank mountains. you don’t hear the Romans booing, but the echoes of our voices in the mountains. We looked around the ruins, took a cable car to the bottom, and ate lunch (Masada now has a McDonalds) by the gift shop.
Next we got low at the Dead Sea, as close as one could possibly get to sea level. We prepared for the extreme saltiness by not shaving the day before, covering our cuts, and keeping our feet protected. The rocks are covered in crystallized salt—they look almost like frosted donuts. It was incredible to float so effortlessly but we felt a little bad for all the aquarium fish we had released into the water. Between the camels, Masada, and the Dead Sea, it felt like a postcard day for Israel.
And then it was night in Jerusalem! Dahlia showed us where she lived, and when we got to the hotel we finally showered off the Bedouin dust that had been preserved by the sea salt. Tonight’s buffet dinner was similar to our other dinners of chicken, hummus, vegetables, rice, and something that seemed like marshmallow fluff for dessert, but that’s all starting to taste like home. We spoke with Gift of Life about bone marrow registries (Register today at giftoflife.com!), and then we had a talk from Neil Lazarus (visit him today at awesomeseminars.com!). This man did a wonderful job of explaining the facts on the ground in Israel, Palestine, and the rest of the Middle East with a semi-balanced viewpoint and the combined sarcasm/self-deprecation of a British Israeli (Benjamin Disraeli not included). There was a lot to think about—can a state be Jewish without a majority of Jewish citizens? Does the Jewish land need to be the Jewish homeland (I hear Sitka, Alaska has gorgeous sunsets)? How does this all play into the Palestinian “right of return”, Iran’s nuclear aims, and further Middle Eastern instability?
Before things got too dark, the Israelis brought out the Macabee Games: Chanukah Edition (as we learned at Masada, the Macabees have no descendants because they were subpar kings). After a human menorah competition, a traditional game of “Drop a candle into a bottle of RC Cola without using your hands”, and a suvignot eating contest, we lit the menorah and called it a night. Tomorrow we take the Old City by storm.