After our day spent in Tel Aviv, we headed in some unknown-to-me direction (seriously, I’m the worst navigator ever) to the “wilderness” / “desert with water” to go on a camel ride (during which I was cracking up nearly the entire time) and then spend the night in some Bedouin tents. These tents were like hotels under canvas, Bedouin style. After about four hours of sleep in a tent shared with 45 other people (several of whom could rank in a worldwide snoring competition), we got ready for a sunrise hike up Masada.
Sparknotes version of the story of Masada: a king built an awesome fortress atop a mountain (more like what we in Texas would call a “mesa”). The Romans came to conquer the land, because that’s what Romans do. All of the people living in the fortress killed each other (and then the last man standing killed himself) so as to escape enslavement and Roman rule.
Given that history, Masada is a surprisingly serene and beautiful place – especially at sunrise. After watching the sun rise and touring the grounds of the fortress a bit, we descended Masada and then proceeded to take the “Runners’ Path” down to the base. As an insanely klutzy person who has a deathly intense fear of heights (and falling, and loose rocks, and basically anything pertaining to nature), this hike was really mentally and physically challenging for me (though I did have somebody helping me down… so really just mentally challenging). However, once we reached the base, I felt so proud of myself and [borderline annoyingly] energized. I even forced / led a few members of my group in a mini stretch sesh.
Directly following the hike, we headed over to Ein Gedi Spa for some pool time and a visit to the Dead Sea. A bizarrely amazing (in the most literal sense of the word) experience – even for somebody as naturally buoyant as I am (seriously I float to the point of concern). I could curl up in a ball, hug my knees to my chest, and still not sink at all. In the most simple of terms, it was just super freaking cool.
After playing in the sea and pool (and having the obligatory mud bath) for a few hours, we went on yet another hike – this time to some springs along the Nachal David Trail. Quite possibly the most peaceful way to spend an afternoon. Ever. We lounged in the pools, stood under the waterfalls, and let time slip away.
The next day, we headed to Jerusalem. We toured the Old City, I tried my first shwarma (a deeply spiritual experience), we went to the Western Wall (at my friend Veronica’s insistence, I left a [really vague] note somewhere in/on the Wall), and then we ended the day by hiking up to another spring-fed pool and having Bar Mitzvahs [in our bathing suits] for the members of the group who wanted them. Definitely the most interesting outfit I’ve ever worn to a Bar Mitzvah.
Our second day in Jerusalem was one of the most emotionally challenging days of the whole trip. We began the day by touring the Israeli Supreme Court (we even sat in on a hearing!) and seeing the Knesset. While in the park overlooking the Knesset, one of our Mifgash – one of the soldiers – got a call from his commanding officer calling him back to the base because of escalating tensions with Hamas and the Gaza Strip. Even though he had only been with the group for a few days, we had all become very close and so saying goodbye was incredibly difficult. Furthermore, immediately after saying goodbye to our friend, we headed over to the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery (a very difficult experience, despite it being the most beautifully decorated and arranged cemetery I’ve ever seen) and then to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.
Yad Vashem is by far the most perfectly arranged and designed museum I’ve ever visited in my life. The subject matter is upsetting to the point of physical illness (I legitimately felt like I was going to be sick at several separate points in time), but the museum itself is a true testament to the success of the state of Israel and of the Jewish people worldwide. As one enters the museum, the first thing seen is a looped video displaying who Jews were before the Holocaust – bakers and bankers, farmers and artists, residing in both rural and urban areas throughout Europe. If one turns to the other side, one can see this faint light at the far end of the tunnel that forms the main section of the museum. As one goes through the museum, weaving in and out of the tunnel, moving through time, the light at the end of the tunnel becomes more and more visible as it becomes closer and closer. Finally, after completing the journey through the museum, one can look back on that which was just experienced, and then look forward and move into the light – the light which is the door to one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen in my life (pictured at the bottom of this post). Behind, the hardships and the misery of the Holocaust; in front, the triumph of the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Though the contents of the museum were hard to see and extremely disturbing, that view of Jerusalem took my breath away. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
Check back in tomorrow for the third (and final) part of my trip!