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Middle East » Israel » South District » Masada
March 4th 2011
Published: March 8th 2011
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We woke to another beautiful morning here, but there was a strong wind blowing. The wind was so strong, in fact, that you could feel the spray coming off the Dead Sea even on a third floor balcony. We had a leisurely breakfast, and then had time to enjoy the Dead Sea Spa once more before we had to finish packing and getting ready to leave. We spent most of our last day in Israel touring the area around the Dead Sea.

After leaving the hotel, we drove to Masada. We viewed a few of the artifacts that have been discovered there in the entrance hall, and then we watched a short movie about the site and the archeological finds that have been made there. Then it was time to board the cable car for the ride up to the massive cliffs that formed the base for the fortified fortress of Masada. Like many other fortresses, Masada has been built and rebuilt on the ruins of earlier fortresses. It was last built in the time of Herod the Great who turned the site into a massive fortified palace. After Herod's death, Masada was taken into the hands of Jewish Rebels, who used the fortress both as a refuge and a place from which to attack the Romans against whom they were rebelling.

After the fall of Yerushalayim and the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., the Romans came to Masada determined to end the Jewish Rebellion once and for all. They built a massive siege wall around the fortified mountain, and placed Roman Garrisons at intervals along the siege wall. Finally, they built a massive ramp up to walls of the fortress to bring their siege engines close enough to the fortress to be able to breach the walls. After breaching the walls, the Romans retired to their camps for the night certain that in the morning all they need do was enter the fortress and claim the loot. When the entered the fortress the next morning, all was silent. The only survivors they found were 1 woman and 2 small children. Everyone else was dead. The defenders of Masada chose death rather than slavery and torture at the hands of the Romans for themselves and their families.

We toured the remains of the fortress, and were able to see the ruins of just one of the many extravagant palaces Herod the Great had built at Masada. We also learned the Jewish Rebels taking refuge at Masada had used some of the building materials from Herod's palaces to construct other buildings inside the fortress, include additional housing for the refugees that daily arrived to take shelter in the fortress. We also saw the remains of food storage warehouses, cisterns, water systems, and of course, the ever present mikvahs that are a part of Jewish religious life. We even viewed the synagogue which the rebels had built for themselves out of one of Herod's stables. While we were there, a sofer, a scribe who writes Torah scrolls, was in a room of the ancient synagogue scribing a new Torah Scroll at the behest of a Jewish family. we couldn't see him working, but we could here the sound of voices inside the room participating in the ceremony and a park administrator who was present explained to us what all the celebration was about. We also saw the remains of the massive ramp built by the Romans and several of the garrisons outlying the fortress walls. After we completed our tour, it was time for another ride back to the base in the cable car. We stopped for a little souvenir shopping and an ice cream break. We really enjoy the ice cream here!

We drove from Masada to the Kibbutz of En Gedi for lunch. After lunch, we entered the En Gedi Nature Preserve itself. The nature preserve is established around the oasis created by the mineral spring of En Gedi. It is a small garden of trees and wildlife in the midst of a large desert. As we walked towards the spring, we saw many varieties of plants and trees, and got up close and personal with some of the local wildlife. The wildlife here is used to seeing humans, and don't seem much bothered by our presence. We saw many ibex and rock hyrex, which the Israelis call coneys. We hiked all the way to the lesser waterfall of the En Gedi Spring. There is a much larger waterfall, but it is a much longer, steeper hike, and due to time constraints, we couldn't go all the way to the top this time. However, we enjoyed what we did see. As beautiful as En Gedi is though, our guide advised us that it was just a remnant of its former glory. The water of the spring had been overdrained in recent years, causing some of the plants and trees to dry out. Then a a fire came, and they were destroyed. He also told us that the nature preservation society was working to reestablish the correct balance of use and restore En Gedi to its former state. Perhaps the next time we come, we will able to see its in all its glory.

En Gedi was our farewell to the area around the Dead Sea. We began driving back through the Judean Desert on our way to Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport. Late in the afternoon, we stopped in the Judean Hills between Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv to visit a beautiful Biblical garden and have a farewell dinner on a kibbutz. While touring the garden, we watched the sun set for one last time over the hills of Judea. Then it was inside to welcome Shabbat and enjoy a farewell dinner with our guide and our driver. We thanked both of them for the wonderful care they had taken of us on our trip, and enjoyed sharing our last meal in Israel with them. Then it was off to the airport. Our guide was very kind and stayed with us through the security screening and customs, and he escorted us to passport control where we finally had to say goodbye to him. He was a wonderful guide, probably the best one I've ever met, and he did an amazing job of making the history and scripture of all the places we went come alive. He really helped make the trip very enjoyable.

Well, now its fly time. In no time at all, we'll be back in the States. I know that many are looking forward to getting home to family and loved ones, but for myself, I feel a sense of loss. I don't want to leave. For so long, coming to Israel was just a dream, but the reality of Israel is better than any dream I could have conjured up. If home is where the heart is, then Israel is home for me because I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am leaving my heart here. I know I'll be back, but I already know that, for me at least, that day can't come soon enough.

Shalom Alechem

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