On Thursday morning, our Puzzle Israel friends woke us up at 5am and met us at the bus with hot tea and sweets; just a little something to nosh on before our hike. We arrived at the base of Masada and then began our climb up the Roman Ramp to the top of this unbelievable fortress where we witnessed a clear and dramatic sunrise over the Dead Sea. We were met by a surprise actor who, in costume and with props, acted out some of the history of Masada in an entertaining and unforgettable fashion. With history as complex as Masada, it was great to watch and hear Ron, a professional actor, bring some of the personalities and events to life. We explored a few of the many sites on the top of Masada that were built by King Herod for his own pleasure, but later served as a fortress and hideout for Jews who tried to escape Roman capture years after Herod's death in the period of time when the Romans sought to destroy Jews and Judaism. We visited Herod's master bedroom, the Roman bathhouse, the storehouses used to keep and preserve food. We also visited the Jewish sites that were built by the community of Jewish Zealots who resisted Roman Rule and used Masada as a stronghold as the Romans sought to conquer them.
We saw the ancient Mikva, the synagogue and even walked down into one of the enormous underground water cisterns that still held the fresh water that was pumped up the desert mountain hundreds of years after life at Masada had ended. The story of Masada is yet another David and Goliath story of Jewish resistance; the small Jewish community that hid at Masada did their best against the enormous and powerful Roman armies. In the end, though, as the Jews watched the Romans finally ascend the mountain and prepared to overtake it, they realized this time they would not prevail. In the hours that preceded the arrival of the Romans at the summit, the families atop Masada decided that death was preferable to Roman dominance. And so, family by family, the men actually killed their wives and children and then killed each other, leaving the last man alive to commit suicide so that when the Romans arrived at the top, they would find no one living there. It is always a moving experience to be on Masada; however, to experience Masada with our Israeli guides was really unique. Masada is used by the Israel Defense Forces as a ceremonial place where soldiers are both challenged and honored. Our guides spoke about the meaning of Masada to them today -- as a place of pride -- as an example of the strength of the Jewish spirit even during times of physical weakness. Israelis actually take an "oath" on Masada and swear: "Never shall Masada fall again!"
We took the cable car down from Masada and enjoyed breakfast and a mid-morning hike at a beautiful oasis and natural waterfall in the desert called Nachal David. It was a refreshing break from the dry heat and hot sun of the desert. Following our little swim in fresh water, we then descended to the lowest point on earth -- to the Dead Sea -- where we spent the afternoon on the "beach" of the Dead Sea. As you will see from the pictures, everyone went into the dead sea -- complete with the therapeutic "mud" found there -- and had a great time floating in the salt water. We enjoyed a delicious Moroccan lunch overlooking the Dead Sea and the country of Jordan on just the other side. From the lowest point on the earth, we began the short drive up to Jerusalem. We entered Jerusalem just before sundown on Thursday night and made only one stop -- to a stunning vista located at Hebrew University on Mount Scopus -- from which one is able to see the entire city of Jerusalem -- old and new -- and everything in between. We spent the evening shopping, eating, drinking coffee in the center of the "New City" of Jerusalem -- on Ben Yehudah Street. Our students met up with friends and relatives and enjoyed the colorful night life of this walking mall in Jerusalem.