Every visitor to Israel be they Jewish or otherwise always includes Masada on their itinerary. The Masada experience and its story of resistance and heroism is unique. David our tour guide says he has seen among non Jewish groups visiting a few taking a small stone with them rubbing it as if to take in some of that spirit of heroism and strength.
The cable car took us up to the fortress rebuilt by Herod, which sits on a massive plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. David brought the events for which Masada is famous to life. We know what happened through the accounts recorded by the main historian of the time, Josephus Flavius (himself originally Jewish formerly known as Matisyahu). At the beginning of the Jewish revolt against Roman rule a group of extreme Jews led by their commander Eleazer Ben Yair, overcame the fortress of Masada. When the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, more Jews fled to join the extremists/zealots on Masada. The group lived on Masada for a couple of years and modified some structures, one room facing Jerusalem was converted a to a synagogue. Its remains are one of the oldest synagogues in Israel. We saw an area converted to a mikveh. It was incredible moving through the spaces and imagining how the zealots lived before and leading up to their tragic but legendary end.
This final pocket of Jewish resistance after the destruction of the Second Temple was a thorn in the side of the Romans, who set out to quell the rebellion and kill the group. Rather than submit to the Romans and be either killed or be made slaves without any freedom, they committed suicide. Lots were drawn and 10 men were chosen as executioners. At the end one killed the other 9 then took his own life. David, our guide, retold how when the Romans finally broke in they found the piles of bodies. There were 3 surviving extremists a woman and children who the Romans revered because they were so impressed with the actions of their group.
David pointed out that the dial code for Israel is 960...the exact number of zealots who died at their own hand!
Then on to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. Even though I've been before The warmth , oily texture one bouncy a of the water never ceases to amaze me..we had so much fun layering on the dead sea mud packs we were given, and then using the sand and salt to exfoliate the body.
Then to our camel rides and desert experience. We all had sooo much fun on the camels as the photos show. The dancing and bongo drums was wonderful.
We then had a mini play, portrayal from Bereishit of Abraham's journey into Cannan. This is where it all starts for us as a people. Looking out over the Judean hills as we sat under an open air tent we were transported in time. The man who played Abraham ...with an Australian accent!!? is an Australian who made Aliyah many years ago. We spent the last 7 days with his lovely son Avichail the very capable bus co-ordinator who looked after us wherever we were.
There was a moving naming ceremony where some ladies who did not have Hebrew names were give names of their choice each explaining the significance of their selected names. A group of Jewish people from around the globe, Spain, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, America, and Australia, converging on the place where the story of the Jewish people starts ...
Then on to an Academy for Leadership 'Ein Prat Mechina'. A Mechina is an educational program that prepares high school graduates for serving in the IDF or study at an institution of higher learning in Israel. The program usually lasts a year. At the Ein Prat Mechina we were told of the very intensive and diverse range of study and physical training the students undergo. We broke off into smaller groups to meet and talk with some students. We spoke with 3 young men Lior, Dvir and Itamar. Itamar was there with his mother providing us with her perspective. They only return home for Shabbat once a fortnight. We were all impressed by the maturity focus and commitment of these young men, whose drive is to maximize their potential to prepare for the army. Lior said his aim is to join the Sayetet Matkal unit, a special forces unit of the IDF that is an intelligence gathering unit also involved in counter-strike and hostage rescue (such as Entebbe).
Our night finished singing songs around a camp fire to mark Lag B'omer.