There were four things that left an ’emotional’ impact on me the first time I came to Israel: living on a kibbutz, walking from roof to roof in old town Jerusalem with stray cats, swimming in the magical Dead Sea and hitchhiking north to south and then back again.
Masada was not what I remembered.
Nor was Ein Gedi or the Dead Sea.
What happened was the inevitable – tourism. Western style tourism that is. Is there any other kind? With tour buses, strong metal fences to keep you gated in and a trolly to take you up and down. We hiked Masada’s Snake Path way back when – it was the only way to get to the top. Today, it feels more like Aspen — the $7 lemonades, $2 postcards and $20 entrance fees. And countless air conditioned buses arriving in droves.
But like most breathtaking wonders, even with renovations, gates, modern stairs and restroom signs, you find yourself turning your head just the right way for a moment. And there’s that second moment where you hear the silence.
The moment you move into that place, you need to get creative with your thoughts and images right away. My first were of Herod the Great in 37 BCE looking across the voluminous desert from his fortress. And then again, in 66 CE, when the Jewish-Roman War began.
I imagined hiding in one of the 66 CE bedrooms, that were about the same size as my childhood bedroom and every bedroom I’ve ever had in England and New England bar one. In other words, small. Where were the closets? A woman has to have closets, even Iudaea Lucius Flavius Silva’s wife needed a closet.
When you get to the top and feel the historical awe of it all. It wasn’t identified until 1842 and not excavated until 1963, which included the remnants of a Byzantine church dating from the 5th and 6th centuries CE. 5th and 6th centuries you say to yourself and look away, across the desert, away from the buses and climbing tourists, the cameras, the ice cream cones and sun hats.
I gave a playful glance to the trolly driver, a 30 something year old Israeli man named Amir. My colleagues didn’t even notice. Silence on the way up, noise on the way down.
Below are shots of a fabulous journey along the desert road from the southern tip of the Dead Sea. Israel’s roads are easy and since the country is so small and all the signs are in English, Hebrew and Arabic, the odds are with you. Zohar junction, take a left and you’re getting close.
We rented a zimmer, opened a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Ella Valley’s wineyard and took in the sounds of active crickets and birds full of energy in the night.
IN the Dead Sea (am I the only one who thought it was cool to keep the oily salty water all over my body for the entire day without a fresh water shower?)
The Ein Gedi which on some levels has turned into the Fort Lauderdale of Israel. Yet, these salt deposits and mineral formations are hard to ignore.
At the top of Masada
On the Masada Jerusalem road
Children in that in between space between East and West Jerusalem
A Bedouin on the Masada Jerusalem road