There is an amorphous list in my head of things of things that I pray I will be given the chance to experience in my lifetime. These days with my family and at Hartman and in Israel are allowing me to check off many of those experiences. Standing at the Kotel with Jennifer, God-willing soon with the kids, studying all day long with an impressive cohort of learners and world-class teachers, and again, having an address in Israel, allowing me to participate in the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham (at least temporarily).
Today was another one of those days. Jennifer, Shayna. Nadiv, Maital and I, along with Jen’s sister Hilary, went to Masada and the Dead Sea.
Masada – the image of Jewish strength and resistance.
Masada – one of the images connecting the ancient with the contemporary.
Masada – the vantage point from which, over time as they grow, my children will learn the full power of Israeli soldiers swearing that “Matzadah sheinit lo tipol” (Masada will not fall a second time.
Masada – the place to stand in the hot sun and to know that amongst the Jewish virtues that have allowed us to survive to remain a living, covenanted people, and to give us the opportunity to be a light to the nations, is: the strength and determination of this rock that survives in the heat of the Judean desert, the strength and determination of the defenders of Masada who held the Roman Legion at bay for so long, the strength and determination of the original chalutzim (pioneers) who made Jewish independence possible and then real, the strength and determination of the current citizens of the State of Israel who by living here, going to work, voting in free and democratic elections and paying taxes strengthen this land, and the strength and determination of the men and women who serve as soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces, without whom those who hate us would have pushed us in the sea or murdered us long ago.
This is the strength and determination of this small plateau, rising above the lowest spot on earth. It is Masada that says, even at the lowest place on the map, among the heat and dryness, even at the shore of a body of water we call the Dead Sea, we can rise above it and survive.
It is a mechayah (life-giving experience) to be able to climb Masada. It is the fulfillment of a fantasy to be able to do it as a family.
Of course, it is also nice to be able to take the cable car up!
As we boarded the cable car, we saw friends from San Diego who were getting down from the top – including Sarah Artenstein’s sister and her family. Unexpectedly seeing friends from San Diego here helps reinforce the feeling that we are home!
We had an amazing time on top of Masada. The kids were excited. We walked, told stories and took pictures. We looked at the Dead Sea, the areas of the Roman encampments, and wondered what life would be like for those who lived here.
We stood in the Beit Kenesset (synagogue) and prayed together -- Shema and more. We also sang songs, including: kol haneshama tehalel ya -- let everything that has breath in it give thanks to God.
We walked over to the far side and looked at the Roman ramp and marveled at the effort it took to build this huge walkway up the side of a mountain. It sent shivers down our spines to think of the fear with the inhabitants of Masada must have felt while watching the ramp being built.
Of course, I wanted to tell the story of my first ever day in Israel, but Jen wouldn’t let me. (Bikitzut – in brief – arrived in the middle of the night in Jan ’90, friend picked us up, drove through Judean desert, rained, fear of flash floods, arrived at base of Snake Path, guard wouldn’t allow us to climb in the dark, drove around Masada to other side, again rain and fear of flash floods, climbed up Roman ramp, it is about 20-30 feet shorter than Masada, shimmied up PVC water pipe to ascend Masada to see the sun rise, all immediately after arriving in Israel from Boston.)
Jen doesn’t like the story. She does not think it reflects good judgment or intelligence. She reminded me that part of her job as my wife is to protect me, help me make better decisions, and maybe even teach me something.
I still really like telling that story!
The Dead Sea was not nearly the wonderful experience that Masada was. If you would like to hear that story, you may ask me at any time.
After lunch and the Dead Sea, it was getting late in the afternoon and time to head back to Jerusalem.
On the way, we pulled over for a quick stop at Qumran.
It was awesome standing at the site. Of course, to really mark the moment we decided to call the Curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit WEBSITE at the San Diego Natural History Museum. (It would be truly disingenuous of me to apologize for waking you Risa. So I won’t.)
Of course, being with Jen, being at Qumran, speaking with Risa, we needed to sing. So we sang, all the way back. First, all kinds of Psalms melodies, like you can hear at the Natural History Museum, and then all the Tzionut/Israeli songs we could think of. In the beginning our cab driver thought we were crazy (which we might be), but then he kind of got into it and sang with us a bit, and helped us try to remember the words for some of the songs!
That evening, Jennifer and I went to Shirah Chadashah for Kabbalat Shabbat and then dinner at Donniel Hartman’s house for Shabbat dinner.
Shira Chadashah is a Modern Orthodox minyan, trying to mine the limits of egalitarianism in Orthodoxy. It is an amazing place, and if any one is interested in learning more, just ask.
Dinner at Donniel’s was also wonderful.
Another incredible day and the beginning of another wonderful Shabbat.
P.S. There is so much more I would like to write and to share. I hope you are interested enough that I will be able to keep telling stories when we see each other again!