At breakfast the following morning, David had told me that there was an airstrike 9 miles from our kibbutz – I suppose I sleep like a rock while traveling, as I somehow slept through it. We boarded the bus and headed toward Masada, an ancient fortress in the middle of the desert. It was gruelingly hot as we ascended Masada via the Roman Ramp; we joked about how great our glutes would look after this straight-up climb. Once at the top, the views of the Dead Sea were remarkable.
Masada is considered the place where the last Jewish stronghold against the Roman invasion took place. Herod the Great fortified Masada from 37 to 31 BCE. About 75 years after Herod’s death, with the destruction of the 2nd Temple, a group of Sacarii Jews overtook Masada at the beginning of the Revolt of the Jews against the Romans (around 66 CE). Needless to say, the Romans surrounded Masada and, thus, began a three-year siege of the fortress. As the Roman forces were in the midst of building a ramp up the face of Masada, thereby making capture possible, the Sacarii held their own despite being vastly outnumered. In the year 73 CE, when the ramp was almost complete, the Jews realized that they would no longer be able to defend themselves from the Romans. Elazar ben Yair, one of the leaders of the Sacarii, then decided that they would not let themselves be defeated and enslaved by the Romans. The solution? They decided to commit suicide. Ultimately, the men slit the throats of their wives and children, then the men killed each other so that only one man would have to take his own life. In committing suicide, the Sacarii were unable to give the Romans the gratification of killing and/or enslaving them. According to some, it is said that the Jews even left all of the food and water that they had so that the Romans knew that they didn’t starve and willingly took their own lives rather than being captured.
After learning the history of Masada and exploring the ancient ruins, we descended via the Snake Path. The never-ending Snake Path. It was great on the thighs, tough on the knees, and imprinted on the mind. The Snake Path offered breathtaking views, which made the descent far more bearable.
Next Stop? The Dead Sea at Ein Bokek Beach. It is said that the Sea stings due to such a high salinity content, so I walked in slowly. It didn’t sting. Or so I thought. About one minute in, it started burning like no other. For the ladies that have been, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I looked around to realize that it hit each and every one of us girls at the same time based on the looks on each other’s faces. We thought we would be fine– we’d followed the suggested “no shaving for 24 hours” rule – but no one cared to tell us just how much it would burn. Ouch. We toughed it out and enjoyed the unique experience. I instantly floated, and I found it far more difficult to attempt to stand (which was impossible due to the buoyancy) than to give into floating. Somehow, I was far less graceful than usual and began rolling around in circles uncontrollably until one of the boys stopped me. It was too funny.
After a little over an hour of floating (or, in my case, rolling), we covered ourselves in Dead Sea mud and it felt amazing. Our skin was officially soft as a baby’s butt.
That night, we were to sleep in a Bedouin tent in the Negev Desert! As soon as we pulled up to the site, I knew that it would be quite an exceptional experience, albeit sad because it was our last night with the Israelis.
We tried some Bedouin tea and coffee as a man explained to us what it’s like to grow up a Bedouin – they teach morals (like leadership) through various different acts at various different ages (ie. herding camels for four years, learning how to provide for yourself, etc). After learning about the Bedouin way of life, it was time to eat like one. We entered the tent and sat on the floor in groups of four. A man brought out a huge tray of assorted hummus, salad, rice, chicken, and potatoes. There were, however, no plates or utensils. Instead, we ate with our hands cross-legged on the floor; it was so authentic, hilarious, and fantastic and I’m thrilled that I got to share it with good friends by my side.
After dinner, we had an activity about important Jewish ideals – we were to determine which were most important to our group and shared them to see how they differed from other groups (ie. participating in the Jewish community, believing in God, having a mezuzah, learning Jewish history, etc.). Post-activity our Israeli soldiers put on a skit – “What it’s like to be an Israeli” – and it was just adorable and hysterical, and so fitting. We did a round of trust falls, then moved outside to the bonfire.
We sat, we talked, we sang, we enjoyed each other’s company. We bonded at the bonfire and grew even closer than we already were. By the time I crawled into my sleeping bag at 3am, I was exhausted and passed out despite being in a tent with 40 other people.