Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Birthright Trip to Israel: Day 8

Palace on Mount Masade. Image found here.
Again, we were supposed to start this day with a sunrise hike to Mount Masada, but because of the heat, that didn't happen. So we had a later breakfast at the hostel (there was chocolate cake but sadly no pudding) and then headed to the Mount Masada visitors center. We learned about the history of the area in the first-century of the Common Era. We talked about King Herod and the palace he built on Mount Masada (which included a dance hall, spa, and swimming pool!). He was a very paranoid king, and he killed his wife and sons so they would not take his power. After he died, the palace was deserted. Eventually (around 65-70 C.E.) a group of ~300 people moved in and established a Jewish community there. Over time, the Roman Empire was growing, and the Romans wanted to kill the Jews living on Mount Masada.

This is how the story goes: The Jews knew that the Romans were coming and that they would not be able to escape from the mountain. So the community members decided (with the suggestion from the rabbi) that they should take fate into their own hands and kill themselves. Eleven men were chosen to kill the other Jews and then themselves. BUT there are two problems with this story:
1. If everyone was killed, how do we know about this story? The Romans wouldn't have known about this discussion about the Jews killing themselves; they would have just found the dead bodies.
2. Only 27 bodies have been found by archaeologists, not 300. So where did they all go?

After hearing about this history, we were given amble time to look around the gift shop. The store had everything: Dead Sea beauty products; jewelry; kitschy souvenirs, etc. After shopping, we headed to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth, and it is quickly disappearing. From the little resort near the sea, the group had to take a shuttle to actually reach the water because the sea had shrunk so much (several hundred feet every year!). The group floated in the water and put the mud on their skin (it supposedly has nutrients in it). Just don't get the water in your eyes! The water is so salty that it stings your eyes, any cuts you have on your skin, and even your lady bits (so some girls on the trip said).

Our first view of the Dead Sea from our bus. Photo by Taylor Arion.

This is my friend Jocelyn floating in the Dead Sea.
The group getting into the Dead Sea mud. Photo by Taylor Arion.
Then we traveled to an open-air market (which was surprising since it was still very hot out). Although this was fun, we did not need the several hours they gave us. Once you had been along one "aisle" of the market (i.e. walked around for less than 20 minutes), you had kind of seen it all: fish guy, baklava guy, fruit stand guy, spices guy, souvenirs guy, and repeat. I bought some baklava (which was delicious) and some halva for my colleagues (NOT delicious. It did not travel well at all and actually completely melted by the time I got it to the States! Ew.). It was too bad that we went to this market so late in our trip: we were leaving in three days, so we couldn't really keep much food, and I was afraid some of it would be taken away at customs. I was sort of annoyed by this excursion (seeing as we had to skip our hike but could still be outside for this), so I ended up just buying some French fries and sitting myself down somewhere until it was time to leave.

Fish for sale at the market. Photo by Jocelyn Rubin.
We then went to the Caesar Hotel, which was quite nice. Our first activity at the hotel was a discussion about the conflicts between Israel and Palestine and with the rest of the Arab world (presented by the Middle East Learning Academy). I did not learn any of this history in school, so I found it very interesting. Israel started off as the under-dog when it was a new country, but over the years it has been viewed as a bully, a country with a very strong army killing innocent bystanders, etc. The presenter, Iftach Burman, addressed both sides of the issue, which I thought was very important; he was also funny and had us give each other back-rubs so we would stay awake during his talk. We could have continued the discussion for hours, but we had to head to dinner in the hotel. This buffet actually mixed things up and served things like lasagna and other pasta dishes. The dessert bar was also very good, especially a yummy dessert cup that tasted like a piƱa colada! 

After dinner we had another group activity, mainly to discuss changes to the schedule (a later breakfast, for one). The small sub-group of us met to discuss our readings for our trip to Mount Herzl, and I kept thinking how I hoped my reading of the poem would do the poet and the fallen soldiers justice.

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