407-645-5933 ext. 236 marisa.west@shalomorlando.org

Today was a basic day.  We had two places to visit and that is it.  But what an amazing two places.

Our first place to visit was Masada, King Herod’s amazing mountain resort in the Judean desert.  We took the long drive from Jerusalem to Masada in the morning through the beautiful Judean desert.  Having just spent a few days in the Negev, it was amazing to see how different the Judean Desert looks than the Negev Desert.  It is certainly true that deserts are not all the same.  

Due to timing challenges, we took the cable car to the top.  I always enjoy walking up either the Roman path or walking up and/or down the snake path, but that wasn’t to be for this trip.  At the top we began to explore Masada, its history, the history of the Jewish people and the land, and how it all intertwines.  The role of King Herod, his close friendship with Marc Antony, his paranoia, and his amazing ability to build.  The combination of all that has left landmarks from what was the Second Temple to Masada to Caesarea, among many other things in the land.  I have been to Masada many, many times and the story is a captivating one.  I enjoyed the movie and mini-series they did about it.  If you aren’t familiar with the story, I encourage you to learn about it.

When I am on top of Masada, recently I find myself thinking more about the archeologists uncovering the history.  What it must have been like to find proof of the Jewish history on the mountain in the years 68-72 CE.  The history of King Herod, who ruled before the common era began and died just as it did.  How exciting it must have been for them to find the various items that not only are incredibly meaningful historically but incredibly meaningful Jewishly.  You can see the fresco in my pictures that is over 2000 years old—what must it have been like to discover that?  One of the amazing things about Israel is that not only does history come alive, so does biblical history.  I remember years ago being in Caesarea just after they had found the first proof that a man named Pontius Pilate existed.  I remember when they discovered the burial site of King Herod.  I have been on an archeological dig here and the excitement we had just found a broken pottery shard will stay with me forever.  Israel is a land of history and of hope, of story, and of fact.  And when I’m on the top of Masada, I always say a quick thank you to King Herod for having the foresight to install WiFi.  (While there is WiFi on Masada, obviously it wasn’t King Herod who installed it.)

A timeline of Masada.

We left Masada and headed to the Dead Sea.  There are many spots that have beaches and access to the Dead Sea and the one we went to was a place I hadn’t been before.  There were shops and food available, and we ate at The Lowest Bar on Earth.  This is because the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth (1,412 feet below sea level).  After eating, changing into bathing suits and putting on water shoes (it’s a rocky beach, so you want water shoes to get there and when you go in the water), we walked in.  The floor of this area of the Dead Sea was filled with Dead Sea mud.  If you have never had the opportunity to put it on your skin, you are missing something special (you can buy it in the US).  We dug the mud out and smeared it all over our bodies.  The minerals are incredibly strong, and it leaves your skin incredibly smooth.

As we walked a little further, we began to encounter mud pits where you would sink.  I think I ended up sinking in the most mudholes of our group!  It was like quicksand in the old Saturday morning cartoons.  One minute I was standing, and the next my leg had sunk to mid-thigh.  We laughed each time and I managed to pull myself out without too much trouble.  We floated as you only do in the Dead Sea—just sit back and you are like a raft in the pool.  It’s an amazing feeling that never ceases to amaze and doing it with people who have never experienced it makes it even more fun.  We finished our time at the Dead Sea and headed back to Jerusalem for Shabbat.

Floating in the Dead Sea.

We chose to do our Kabbalat Shabbat service overlooking the city at the Haas Promenade.  It was a beautiful area with a great view of Jerusalem.  As we began to welcome Shabbat, the smell of a Muslim family preparing grilled meat to end their Ramadan daily fast wafted over us.  It was a fitting way to end the week and welcome Shabbat.  In Jerusalem, with a mixture of cultures, with a truly historic view.   We walked back to the hotel (I love all the walking we get to do in Israel) and joined together in the hotel dining room for Shabbat.

It has been a thoroughly meaningful and inspirational week.  I’ve learned so much to apply to my life and my work.  I’ve been able to spend meaningful time in conversation with my colleagues at The Roth Family JCC as well as other JCCs around the country.  And Shabbat will let me rest and recharge to prepare for the next week here.  

I’m incredibly grateful that I am privileged to be here now and that I have been able to come here so many times.  It is something I don’t ever take for granted and appreciate greatly.   And it’s why I encourage everybody to find a way to come to Israel and to explore.  It’s not just the country or the religions that dominate the country here, it’s the personal exploration and inner development that happens while you are here.  It leaves an imprint on your soul.