At 5 a.m., we began our ascent up the Roman Path to the ancient citadel of Masada, caught in a traffic jam of Taglit/Birthright groups also making their way up the mountain. It was here in the Judean Desert that King Herod the Great erected his luxurious fortress. And it was here that a group of desperate Jews fought the Romans and then committed mass suicide so they could die free rather than face capture and slavery by their pagan conquerors.
We made the steep climb in the pre-dawn hours, just barely making it in time to a stone platform in the ruins to watch the unforgettable sunrise projecting a haze across the receding blue waters of the Dead Sea; at the same time, the full moon was setting to the west. We then held our morning tefillah together with a surprising amount of ruach after a 5 a.m. hike. It was a long way from the Ulam K’lalee at CDS, but the connection was palpable; if you missed the Shacharit live stream on Facebook, you can catch the recording here. The prize goes to the first blog reader who can identify the man in the keffiyah and sunglasses in the photos below.
We learned how fresh water was carried to the fortress and stored in cisterns, saw frescoes from Herodian times, and discussed evidence that the Jews came to Masada to live, not to die. And we learned how to recharge our batteries with enough energy to make it down the mountain before breakfast …
Our descent was along the winding and rocky Snake Path, and all of us felt a huge sense of accomplishment after successfully zigzagging our way down from the plateau in the intense heat. After a tough, but exhilarating morning, we headed for the nearest desert oasis—Ein Gedi nature reserve—to cool off. According to the Book of Samuel, fleeing from King Saul, King David hid in the strongholds at Ein Gedi and Saul sought him “even upon the most craggy rocks, which are accessible only to wild goats.” We weren’t lucky enough to see any ibex there, but boy, did the waterfalls feel good!
From Ein Gedi, we headed to a nearby resort for a float in the Dead Sea, some fun in the mineral-rich black mud, and a refreshing dip in the pool before turning north to Tverya, which will be our home base for the next few days. Stay tuned!