This morning we woke up before 5 to climb Masada as the sun climbed up to the horizon to shine over the mountains on the other side of the Dead Sea in distant Jordan. I beat the sun by a solid 45 minutes and watched it rise from the highest point of Masada.
Masada is an ancient fortress where a group of Jews made their last stand against the over-powered Roman Empire in the year 74 CE. After the Romans had their Jewish prisoners build a ramp up to the top of Masada (so the Jews would not kill them while they built the ramp), the Jews holding the fortress knew that they stood no chance. They decided they would rather die than live as slaves. The general instructed the men to say their final goodbyes to their families and to kill them, which they did. Since murder was forgivable (you could still go to heaven) but suicide was not, the men that remained drew rocks to determine who would be the one to commit suicide, which they did as well. Today, Masada is where IDF soldiers are sworn in after completing their basic training. The importance of never again losing control of the Jewish state is reinforced as the ceremony ends with the declaration that “Masada shall not fall again.”
We rinsed off our sweat from the hike with the salty water of the Dead Sea, entering the water from the lowest point on earth. It is 3x as salty as the ocean and you do not want to put your head under water or walk with bare feet on the salt rocks of the sea floor. The Dead Sea is no longer one whole body of water as it continues to evaporate, creating land bridges between Israel and Jordan. It is a unique experience to lean back in the water and float so easily, and the mountainous desert surrounding the sea makes it a beautiful place to be.
We closed the day with a drive through part of the West Bank where we technically exited Israel for Palestine before re-entering Israel just outside of Jerusalem. Most everything was closing for Shabbat around 3pm at the time we arrived in Jerusalem. The last few days of our trip will be spent here.