Amazing does not quite adequately describe this day. We got on the bus (special shoutout to my seatmate, Eric Zachs) and headed toward Masada. Along the way we got to see several settlements. The difference between the Palestinian and Israeli settlements is quite stark. It is really a difference of cleanliness. The first thing that came to mind is the difference between Capitol Ave. at the West Hartford border, and Boulevard just across Prospect. It’s much more extreme, though. We drove through one Israeli settlement that is entirely gated.
On our way to our first stop, we passed the location where the first Dead Sea scroll was found. At the En Gedi Nature Reserve we got out of the bus and went for a hike. I think I can safely say I’ve never seen scenery like that before. The mountains and the Dead Sea are, quite simply, breathtaking. I even got to see a mountain goat! Unfortunately, most of the good photos are on my real camera, not my smartphone.
And it got better. We were then off to Masada National Park. You have two options there; you can either climb the mountain, or take the cable car. Nine of us decided to do the climb. Though I do not usually mention names, Jessica Zachs, Scott MacGilpin, and I were quite proud to make it to the top in 33 minutes. Most of the rest of the group took an additional half hour. It was exhilarating, and the views were stunning.
Then it was time to go swimming in the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. You don’t have to try to stay afloat, you just do. After walking in, you sit back as if you were going to sit in an arm chair. The next thing you know, your feet are hovering above the water. I did get some in my mouth (blech) and in my eye (a bit of a sting), but nothing I couldn’t deal with. Putting on mud was fun, and my skin does feel great now.
About a year ago I was having a discussion about Israel. Someone asked if I were interested in taking a trip here. At the time I was ambivalent. After today, I have quite certainly lost my ambivalence.
First of all, I should say that “quarter” is a bit misleading today. There are people of each religion in each of the quarters (Jewish, Christian, Armenian, Muslim). Our touring today did have a Christian emphasis, though.
Having walked the entire tour today, it is quite obvious we didn’t really need the bus yesterday. We started out at the Jaffe Gate, and walked on the ramparts. Our tour guide pointed to different parts of the wall and told us how old they were – in the thousands, not hundreds as we’re used to.
The ramparts were great, except if you have a fear of heights. The main event was a quick tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Was that place ever busy! People of all races and religions were there to see area where Jesus was crucified. Some were lighting candles, others were getting in line to touch the stone that was used to kill him. Really quite a pilgrimage for many.
We had some lunch, returned to the hotel, and are getting ready for dinner and some time on Ben Yehuda Street.
“Why are you here,” asked the woman at Passport Control. I gave her the short answer (the longer answer can be found in a few of my previous posts, which I can’t easily figure out how to link to with this app). She was asking for security reasons, but in terms of why I am in Israel, it is a pretty good philosophical question. “Because I was invited” doesn’t seem like the best answer. Nor does “because everyone told me I’d love it and have a great time.” As I write this at some dark hour, the answer seems to be, “because who doesn’t love jet lag?”
In all seriousness, I’m not sure I really have an answer. So if you continue to read this blog, you will probably find out along with me. There are a few things I am certain of, though. While I do want to keep in touch with everyone back home, and I do want to take pictures, write personal journal and blog entries, I also know from previous experience that I don’t want to spend too much time tied to my technology. Screens take away from the experience.