aerial view of Masada, Israel.

Sunday, April 15. Tomorrow’s our last full day in Israel and I’m really upset about that, which means it’s been – and still is -a fantastic trip.

We say shalom to Jerusalem this morning and head straight to Masada. Masada is the second most visited site in Israel, after the Western Wall. It is where the Jews from Jerusalem fled when the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. The Romans saw them as rebels and resolved to wipe them out – another attempted extermination of the Jewish people.

The story of Masada is fascinating. And unlike other stories from 2,000 years ago, this one’s actually chronicled in real time. A Roman-Jewish historian, Flavius Silva, was actually there and filed a report to Rome. He detailed the dramatic and heroic story of almost 1,000 Jews who chose death over the prospect of being enslaved.

Thirteen of us decide to hike up the mountain. It’s steep, narrow, long and hot. Definitely an advanced hike (google ‘hiking Masada’ and see the images). Almost an hour and a half later we are winded, sweaty and exhausted. It was tough, but we all made it and it felt like a real accomplishment. I can now check that one off the bucket list!

When we get to the top our guide takes us through the whole story, and then add some personal commentary about the meaning of Masada to modern Israel to him.  His delivery was firm and proud:

“Today Masada is symbolic of the core of Zionism. We Israeli’s will not be led like sheep to the slaughter. We will fight.”

I don’t think the group had ever made the connection of ancient Masada to Israel in 2018. I know I hadn’t. But clearly to many Israeli’s Masada is not just a chapter in a history book, but a source of inspiration and strength that is relevant today. The spirit of Masada lives.

We then head to the Dead Sea. We do what you’re supposed to do there – apply mud to our bodies, float effortlessly for about 10 minutes, take a picture and leave. But it’s always a thrill. The first-time Israel travelers in our group got a big kick out of it, which was fun to watch.

After that, we begin the trek to Eilat in the south. We first stop for lunch in an actual Bedouin tent and then a short drive through the Negev Desert. The desert is vast, with rows of shaded mountains in the far distance. It’s spectacular, actually. We hike into a crater that was formed 240,000,000 years ago and we marvel at how dazzling it is.

Ron, our beloved guide, says to us: “Take a look around at the beauty of this country. It’s YOUR country, too.”

What a nice thought.

After dinner, some people stroll the boardwalk of this seaside town. It’s a modern, carnival-like scene, unlike anything you’d ever expect to see in Israel. There’s bright neon lights, amusement rides, families, music, everything you’d see at a place like Atlantic City. But this is not New Jersey. This is on the Red Sea (the same one Moses parted!).

Nothing makes any sense, but we’re all too exhausted to try to figure it out. Masada kicked our butts. Time for bed.

Tomorrow will be another adventure unlike any of the previous ones. Tomorrow we head into Jordan.

Mark Jacobs

Read yesterday’s blog from Israel, Blogs From Israel – Mark Jacobs’ Day 9.

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