After finishing our Israeli breakfast at the Dan Boutique hotel in Jerusalem, we hopped back on the bus, which has quickly become our roaming home away from home; if nothing else it has provided the best sleep many of us have had all week.
Leaving Jerusalem as the sun rose above our heads and the flowers bloomed all around us, we started towards Masada, our first of two main stops for the day. The road we drove through on our way out from Jerusalem acted as the virtual dividing line between Orthodox Jews and Arabs. With no fence between us and them, we were at one small point where secular Jews were intermeshed with religious, as Jews intertwined with non-Jews. What has become clear that we all can live in peace in this small state when both parties are invested in peace.
Driving south we passed Maale Adumim, the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, then continued on through a bedouin settlement where we learned about how their current life mirrors the ways our of ancestors as well as the dilemma of their integration into Israeli society. We passed Quamron, and learned about the discovery and purchase of the dead sea scrolls, then continued past the oasis of Ein Gedi, en route to our destination.
We arrived in Masada after about an hour and began our ascent under the hot sun. It was something like Hot Yoga meets Extreme Treadmill, but we all made it up, with Laura taking the new record for the best time both in men’s and woman’s climbing. (About 25 minutes, for those who are curious.)
In between bathroom breaks, we started to tour the top of Masada. We descended into one of the 26 stunningly huge water storage cisterns, stopped by the pool, better understood the timeline of Jewish History, listened to our chorus of echoes as they floated back from the desert, and learned about the haunting choice the last Jewish civilization had to make atop that tortured hill.
After yet another group picture, we returned to below sea level the wimpy way, via cable car, and set out immediately for the aquamarine blue lake that had held our attention all morning. We arrived at the Crown Plaza for another meal with more food than we needed, then changed into bathing suits on the crowded wet floor of the way smaller than expected dressing rooms and headed out to the Dead Sea for a float.
After just enough time for a photo op in the Dead Sea, we continued to the one thing we don’t have at home… a pool. With a cross section of Israeli society floating with us in the Jew Soup, we came to realize that we were part and parcel of that diverse group of people.
Our evening concluded with an inspirational speech on the choice we are making about being Jewish and the responsibility that this choice brings, followed by a Havallah ceremony with Isaac’s brother, Rabbi Adam. We then strolled over to Ben Yehuda to get falafel and shwarma for dinner which we followed up with shopping for Jewish goods and a heathen filled evening of drinking to excess, bringing in the whole spectrum of a conundrum of living in Israel.
After this amazing day, we were left wondering what adventures tomorrow will bring. We shall see! Shavuah Tov.