Israel Mifgash - Day 5

Four talked about the pine tree. 
One defined it by genus, species, and variety.
One assessed its disadvantages for the lumber industry.
One quoted poems about pine trees in many languages.
One took root, stretched out branches, and rustled.

Born in Romania, Holocaust survivor and renowned Israeli poet Dan Pagis beautifully describes four archetypes in his poem, titled Conversation. As we continue to explore the Land and the People of Israel, we too hold different kinds of conversation with them. Usually, like yesterday, we hear, see, think, feel, and empathize – as a means of understanding what this place called Israel is all about.

However, not all can be understood cognitively. There are matters one can only learn through taking root and stretching out branches, which is what we did today. True, you can read the controversial story of Masada by contrasting and comparing historical sources, or learn about how the Syrian-African Divide, over millions of years, formed the lowest place on earth, which we now call the Dead Sea. Or, one can ascend and descend Masada by foot, and float on the salty water.

Today we chose the latter. Early in the morning, loaded with energy of a new summer day (the calendar keeps saying we’re in February, but even in Israeli terms this isn’t close to being winter), we hopped on the bus with our driver/entertainer/drone-photographer Igor, and headed South-East from Jerusalem towards Masada. As we drove down Rt. 6, we slowly began to notice the changing landscapes – from the hilly forests of the Jerusalem mountains, through the green planes, and into the wild and rugged desert. Trees turned into boulders, cows into camels, and the dense neighborhoods into scattered Bedouin tents.

There are three ways to ascend Masada – by cable car, hiking up the long and windy Snake Trail, or climbing the short and steep Ramp Trail. Hoping to spend time at the top before the sun parks right above us, and keeping in mind that today we are taking root, we opted for the Ramp Trail – a trail that was paved along the dirt ramp the Roman soldiers built, over an unimagined amount of time, for easier access to the fortress’ walls. 

On the top of Masada – a vast plateau overlooking the Dead Sea, we heard from Gili about King Herod and his architectural endeavors, and about the Jewish sect that found temporary shelter within this fortress, until its mythical demise shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple. The students attentively listened, but most of all, they walked around the plateau – from Herod’s castle in the North end, through the old synagogue, all the way to the Southern edge. They touched the ancient building blocks with their hands, and took in the endless desert that sprawled around them.

We came back down through the Snake Trail, also known as the “scenic route”, making sure to stay protected from the sun, drink plenty of water, and help friends along the way. As the hike winded and became challenging, we took a sort of comfort in seeing folks coming up and crossing our path.

From the Eastern slopes of Masada it was only a short drive to Ein Bokek, a lovely public beach by the Dead Sea. One of the quirks in every HiBuR trip is that due to some obscure regulations from Israel’s Ministry of Education, the students from Haifa are forbidden from getting into any body of water while on a school trip. That didn’t stop some of them from sunbathing on the sandy beach, while others opted to spend some quality time at a nearby shopping center. 

Nonetheless, the American group was game, and after receiving some very important safety instructions, they spent a relaxing time in and out of the water, enjoying a healing mud bath, and floating on their backs with the blue skies above, the Judean mountains to their right, and the Jordanian Gilead mountains to their left. 

We washed off and got on the bus for the long drive back north to Haifa, which we left on Sunday, about 2 months ago. Tomorrow we will explore the Lower Galilee and Yizrael Valley region, for what is designed to be a serene, relaxing and inspiring experience. 

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