Thursday, May 3, 2012

Israel Day 8 - Masada

It was one of our earliest mornings as we were trying to get to Masada before the heat of the day.  Masada was one of King Herod's palaces back in ancient days, but it became famous as the last fortress of Jewish resistance during the rebellion against Rome 66 C.E. - 70 C.E.  Masada is located at the top of a mountain overlooking the dead sea, about an hour or so drive from Jerusalem.  The Zealots who surreptitiously occupied it held on while the Romans slowly built a ramp to come and conquer the last outpost of Jewish resistance.  A resistance which was in some ways very embarrassing to Rome.

Yet when the Romans finally managed to break through the walls of Masada, all they found were the dead bodies of the Zealots who had chosen suicide over torture, rape, and enslavement.  Only two old women and a few children remained to tell the tale, which was captured in the words of Josephus.

The reason why Rome built a ramp is because the only way up to Masada was along a winding snake like path that slowly meanders its way to the top.  Most tourists take the cable car, which will get you up to the top of Masada in a couple of minutes.  But then there are the others...

I was not originally planning on climbing Masada.  I have done it before, but there was no way I was going to let everyone else get the glory.  So eleven of us braved the heat, though thankfully it was a very cloudy day, and we hiked to the top.

Once we got up there, Mike regaled us with the amazing story of Masada.

We also toured around and looked at the remains of a synagogue where a scribe is currently writing a Torah scroll.  We examined cisterns originally used for Herod's bath, and how they came to be co-opted for the needs of the Zealots.  We saw the ruins of Herod's winter palace (it's good to be the king), as well as many other ruins on this multi-acre site.

Masada was for a very long time a powerful symbol for the State of Israel.  They used to inaugurate new troops there with the slogan, "Masada will Never Fall Again!"  Yet today its story is a little more complex.  Emotions abound about the loss of life and the Jewish principle of Kiddush HaShem, the sanctification of God's name.

I for one was ultimately glad I climbed, and glad I came back to Masada.  Each time I find different meanings in its ancient stone and rock.  Plus this time, I had really great hiking shoes, which always help.

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