We checked out of our wonderful Tel Aviv hotel Saturday morning, and gathered in the van for the 2+ hour ride to Masada National Park. “Doron,” our tour guide for the day was excited to share the history of this amazing mountain complex. Masada overlooks the Dead Sea and is on ancient route toward Jerusalem.
Kind Herod, who ruled this region 37 to 4 BC built Masada as a refuge against enemies, a winter palace, and a place to entertain/impress guests away from Jersusalem. It was an incredible engineering feat – eg. figuring out how to collect precious rain water in this desert and enough to fill cisterns with 40,000 meters – enough to fill a huge swimming pool, large and small bath houses, and enerally providing water needs for years at a time. The major North Palace was three-tiered, each level built into the mountain (a total of 10K + square feet). Then there as a western palace, residences for staff, and 29 long storage rooms that were said to have food and drink capable of consumption 100 years later. Protective walls and camps for protecting soldiers were built all around the perimeter.
Pertinent and poignant to Jewish history, in 66 A.D., the Great Revolt of the Jews brok out and a group took over Masada. In 70, the Romans destroyed the 2nd Temple of Jerusalem, and the remaining rebels fled to Masada. Vestiges of the synagogue they built also remain there today. In 73 or 74, The Romans with some 8,000 troops surrounded Masada and after a long siege took over Masada. According to historical accounts the Romands found none of the remaining 1000 Jews alive, apparently preferring to go to their deaths rather than be forced into slavery. The Romans had conquered Judea.
The Israeli government is committed to preserving this parks which is free and open to all. By the way, those of you who know me well will be surprised to learn that I took the cable car from the desert floor to the top of the mountain and back, thus defying my fear of high places ( I fear dreams are in my future!).
Our next stop was hotel spa on the beach of the Dead Sea. It IS the lowest point on the earth. The temperature was a perfect 82,and the water was warm and welcoming. The floor is pure salt, and it’s not recommended that you allow this VERY salty water to get in one’s eyes or ears. No worries about jelly fish or any fish as no species can live in this sea (thus, it’s name!).It’s difficult to describe but imagine the sensation of leaning back and having your legs pop up and suddenly you’re floating and challenged to bring your feet back down to the surface! A unique experience. I could have had a mud bath, too, but decided to spend my time in the outdoor sunshine as much as possible.
We journeyed back to Jaffa for our closing dinner with our hostess for the week, Midwest Consular General Orli Gil (who was with us almost every event!), and three of her Department of Foreign MInistry colleagues. Also present was Sharon, who with her colleague Annika had made all the detailed arrangements (speakers, places, guides, restaurants) They were eager for our feedback as they plan to bring other groups of university presidents and students to Israel for similar “mission” trips.
We were unanimous in expressing our gratitude for all that everyone had done to make our trip so thoroughly educational and enjoyable – what generous hospitality! It was hard to name a favorite” venue or presenter as each was special in its own way. Here are the most outstanding take-aways for me: 1) how remarkably well Jews of multiple ethnic groups have come together to found a home-land; 2) These folks have worked together to literally “start up” this nation that is vibrant, entrepreneurial and thriving in so many ways; 3) yet, like any society there are internal tensions and, as we heard so many times, if you put 2 Israelis together you will get at least 3 opinions!; 4) that the relationships with the Palestinians are complicated, that both sides have made mistake and there are no easy answers; 5) yet, nearly everyone we met expressed optimism and the view that there will be a two-state solution one day; and 6) complicating things still further is an unstable region in which the direction of each nation/state is uncertain at this time.
And give all of the above, I leave admiring the courage of so many to carry on, to have hope and to work toward creating a better future for us all. What a privilege to have been on this “mission trip.” I will pray for peace with even greater passion in the days to come, and work to find ways to live out Newman University’s value of global perspective ever more fully and deeply for our students in the years to come.
Thanks, everyone, for accompanying me on this jjourney!