Thursday, January 12, 2012

A morning on top of Masada

            Bus 153’s Birthright trip is nearing the end and we THINK it is day nine, but no one can be quite sure. I am not sure if I can say this since we are on a free trip to Israel, but these Jumbos are certainly getting their moneys worth. In the past two days we have done and seen so many things that it is almost comical to group them together. On Wednesday we hiked through the Ein Ovdat canyons, picked fresh cumquats straight from the orchard and munched on purple carrots. To mix things up we headed to a Bedouin camp to get a taste of their sweet tea and sample their style of electricity-less tent living (no one has to know that our “modified” experience included a tent equipped with a green exit sign by the tent’s flap).  We concluded the sh-ga-on (Hebrew for crazy) day with an amazing walk into the desert for some stargazing.
Hiking in Ein Ovdat

            The following morning, Chaim, the faithful bus driver, dutifully brought us once again straight to our destination of interest. While our parents were just beginning to turn in for the night, Bus 153 was on their way to the base of Masada. We raced up the Roman just in time to see the sun rise across the Dead Sea, over the mountains of Jordan. There is no doubt Facebook will provide our number one fans with incredible pictures, but nothing can match standing at the top of one of Israeli’s most historic and meaningful places and experiencing it as a group.
On Masada right before sunrise! 
            Spending the morning at the top of Masada is a perfect model of what this Birthright trip has been for me. Sure I was craving breakfast, and shivering inside my borrowed IDF jacket, but our trusty guides managed to provide an experience that was packed with fun, excitement, learning opportunities and a chance to consider our own beliefs. While learning about the history of the mountain, my peers and I got to enjoy a Broadway caliber performance of King Herod’s marriage. Alyza, clad in a toga-sheet, wig, crown and fabulous glasses starred as King Herod, while Noam, our security guard stole the show as Queen Miriam.
            Hearing the story of the battle on Masada is what made the morning so memorable. A recurring theme of our travels through Israel has been the fight for our land. Our Israeli soldiers have taught us the most about this when they explain that even though they would love to travel the world or go to a university after high school, they understand the importance of serving their country. Many historical confrontations, including the Holocaust, have showed us the necessity of fighting to protect a homeland for the Jews. Everyone I speak to here conveys the immense pride they feel for the State of Israel, something I have never experienced anywhere else.
            When the Roman Empire was in power, some of the Jewish people decided to rebel because of anti-Semitic laws that hindered their ability to practice their faith. Masada was the last remaining settlement. Only 900 people lived on top of this mountaintop and only a third were potential warriors. The Romans drastically out numbered and over powered the Jewish people. However, the Jews at the top of Masada fought until the end. When at last the remaining thirty families realized that their fate was either to be killed by the Romans or taken hostage, the Jews took matters into their own hands. In order to fight one last time for the religion in which they believed, the men of the community killed their family members and then killed themselves until no one remained.
            What is interesting about this story is that the thing that the Jewish faith values the most is a human life. Stories have showed that we will go to great lengths just to preserve a life. The story from the top of Masada, therefore, presents a challenge. This story shows that these people chose to steer in a different direction from tradition. Rather than valuing the human life above all else, the people of Masada decided it was more important to make a final act to display loyalty to their religion.
Are there exceptions to Jewish teachings and values? Can we only judge situations based on circumstance? These are questions with which I struggle, and this trip to Israel has taught me that we need to constantly challenge our thoughts and asks questions. Being with this group on Birthright has been a great opportunity to hear from my peers as a resource for beginning to understand different aspects of my Jewish beliefs.
- Samantha Tye '13

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