Written by Camilla Rothenberg '13
Our last day in Israel was bittersweet—mostly because of the black coffee and donuts. But, we had a great time in spite of knowing that tomorrow we would be dragging our luggage out of our rooms at some ungodly hour for the last time, and boarding our party bus/mobile home to the airport. We awoke in our Bedouin tent, very tired, backs cracking from our, not-so-long night sleep on the floor. Tal tried her best to rouse us quickly from our sleeping mats, and eventually with the promises of coffee and camels she coaxed us out into the freezing desert morning and onto our sunrise camel ride. Now, this was one of my favorite things we did in Israel. Camels are amazing creatures, perfectly suited for an environment where basically nothing and no one can live. That said, they’re also tremendously sassy creatures whose spirits have been tamed but certainly not broken. On our camel conga line, Tova and I strutted along on our camel Thor (our name) and watched the sunrise over the Negev desert. The great expanse of desert is truly awesome. So much of this country is still so wild and inhospitable, and yet completely breathtaking.
However, the most moving part of the day for me was visiting Masada, the site of the last stand against the Roman Empire from the Jews in the time of the second temple. We were almost blown off the mountain by gale force winds, retreating into an underground well (I’m always impressed by the industriousness of these historic societies). Sitting inside their ancient structures and listening to their heroic and completely tragic story was incredibly moving. Sadly, on the eve of Passover, after realizing they would certainly all be killed when the Romans infiltrated the fortress, the last Jews in what is now Israel decided to kill each other to avoid sending their wives and children into slavery. Daniel high-lighted one of the most moving biblical passages I’ve ever heard. A passage from Ezekiel about the dry bones of Israel lying in a valley, apropos because of the massive valleys surrounding us from the mountaintop, was the last passage read by the Jews of Masada. As morbid an image as this passage paints at first, it also incites hope, as God says He will bring these bones back to life. This image finalized a picture in my mind of Jews as a people of survivors. Not just in conflict with the Palestinians, or in the Holocaust, but beyond that for all of history. While other much larger and ostensibly more powerful nations have fallen, our seemingly small people has continued to prosper in whatever society has tried to swallow us.
Leaving the mountain with pride, Tova and I confronted her fear of heights through our treacherous walk down. In order to distract from her shaking legs, we put on a variety of accents giving survival tips for living in the Negev. Our experience with camels earlier in the day proved helpful (did you know you can use their stomach as a sleeping bag?). And this has been a wonderful note on this trip. Our ability to move between these very serious realizations and more light hearted fun has helped this trip have a healthy balance. This walk was a great precursor to our time at the Dead Sea. We laughed together as we covered ourselves in mud, looking like a bunch of children pretending to be monsters and nearly inciting a mud fight.
As I prepare to leave I’m thankful for the balance exemplified in this last day. We’ve laughed here, thought deeply, prayed, talked and some of us cried. And each of these emotions has built on the next moment, none undermining the next, but high lighting them. This country has so much to offer, and as our Israeli guide Tal says a few days ago, Israel dances and cries at the same time, and I’m happy to have achieved a sense of that here. And I’ll probably laugh and cry all the way home…