Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Israel Experience 3: A day in the desert

3 a.m. That was the wake up call for most our group this morning. Those of us planning to hike up Masada in time for sunrise had to leave Jerusalem bright and early. A 20 min uphill hike up a flight of stairs paralleling the ramparts built by the Romans when they laid siege and eventually broke through the wall around Masada and we arrived at the top as the sun had just made its appearance and was slowly beginning to rise in the sky.

Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, ma'asey bereshit - Blessed are You, Eternal our God Ruler of the Universe, Source of Creation. This is the traditional blessing to recite upon seeing the sun rise. This was how we began on top of Masada, followed by some morning blessings of gratitude for bodies that work, strength to rise and climb, and then added our own morning blessings of gratitude to the list.

 With photos snapped (views, sunrise, and a family of Ibex - a kind of deer - who had made their way to top of Masada too), our guide, Noam, then transformed himself into the Roman King Herod. He explained how Masada came to be built, what life was like there, how water was brought up, food was stored and more. And then, after the death of Herod and the later destruction of the 2nd temple in Jerusalem, we learned of the band of Jewish zealots who escaped to Masada and then survived an eight month siege before the Romans finally captured Masada, and found the Jews had martyred themselves rather than be taken.

 After much needed coffee, we made our way to Nahalat David - a short hike along a naturally occurring spring with small waterfalls along the way. We splashed and refreshed ourselves and then headed to the Ein Gedi Spa by the Dead Sea where we were treated to a truly delicious freshly grilled lunch by Nir, one of the co-owners of Puzzle Israel (our tour company) and owner of Margolis Catering.

 Due to changes in the ecosystem, the Dead Sea has been shrinking at an incredible rate in recent decades. Now a vehicle takes us down what must easily be a half mile journey from the Spa facility to the Dead Sea. The water itself is not particularly clean looking but we gamely waded in to float and get the photo op! Several added to that with the Dead Sea mud treatment too. Back at the top some tried the Sulphur pools which are warm and wonderful but smell of pungent bad eggs! I know, I'm making it sound so appealing! It is quite a unique experience, but a challenging one.

 A winding drive brought us to the Bedouin-style accommodations for tonight - charming, rustic cabins, more delicious food, and a camp fire with grilled pineapple and marshmallows.

 Oh... and 'the surprise' that was not on our itinerary - the camel caravan. A good proportion of our group braved the camel ride and it was quite a thrill. One of the big themes of today, but also somewhat of a continuation from the water tunnels yesterday, was shifting from our zone of conflict or panic to our zone of comfort. This was Noam's way of asking us to try things outside of our comfort zone and seeing if we could shift our perspective through our experience. For some, wading through narrow water tunnels was that experience. For some it was climbing Masada. For some (this Rabbi being one of them) it was getting up on a camel (and back down again!) Over our campfire we shared a few more examples of shifting through these zones by being willing to take on an uncomfortable experience. No doubt, there will be more to come. It is yet one more rewarding aspect of this trip experience we are having together.

Finally, a lovely photo shared by another Conbgregation B'nai Shalom family - the Feldmans are on a separate tour this week and  they were the host family for our emmisary, Ziv Zamir back in Worcester. They managed to fit in a great reunion in Israel!

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