3:30... AM. The desert. Exhaustion. Heat. Ready to climb Masada?
This is how our day began. After an early night to bed at the Masada Guest House by 4am on Wednesday we were on our ascent into darkness, on a path lit only by moonlight, with an ominous mountain looming in front of us. The thick air and heat hit our faces fast as we began to climb. I started the hike next to one friend and finished next to her too - Becky I could not have made it to the top without you.
The path to the top of Masada is directly uphill, steep and filled with intense sequences of stone steps. As always Boaz led us up, stopping occasionally to let the whole group catch up and I relished those stops. With friends gasping for air around me I knew I was in good company - not the only one struggling. "Are they kidding me? Oh my Lord. Wow. This is a joke. How much more do we have? DRINK WATER!" ... Just a few of the things I heard.
Looking up was the worst thing to do, the top seemed so far away... but... we made it eventually and it was one of the most rewarding experience of our lives (I hope it’s ok I speak for everyone). Boaz directed us to 'icy freezy water' and the group spent time taking pictures atop this spectacular mountain. Just in time - we made it to see the distant sun rise up from behind a mountain... you could literally see it moving and it was breath-taking. I'm on the top of Masada, in the middle of the Judea desert, in Israel, overlooking the Dead Sea with this incredible group of people I've had the pleasure of spending the past week with. All I can think is "Is this real life?"
In true Boaz style we bounced around from spot to spot on the top of the mountain as he performed historical lessons for us. I felt my eyes closing and my heavy head starting to fall when Boaz started screaming "You're a Jew?? I hate Jews!" ... I look up and realize this was just Silva, the Roman commander speaking...not Boaz. This was probably confusing for other groups walking by.
After an hour or two of enjoying the beautiful views from Masada, still in disbelief of the accomplishment of the hike, we began our way back down. Although the pain and breathlessness were gone the sun was up and beating down on us in full force... both directions were equally as sweaty. I'm just glad the gondola wasn't working when we climbed up because if I saw that thing zip by over my head on the way up... the defeatist attitude I was trying so hard to suppress might have won the battle.
SHOWER. BREAKFAST. SHOP FOR DEAD SEA PRODUCTS....
DEAD SEA. At the lowest place on earth we cover ourselves in mud and go for a swim in the Dead Sea. The water is crystal clear and the bottom is rough from all of the salt. It's the weirdest thing I've ever experienced, I pick both my feet up off the sea floor and my body is lifted to the surface of the water.... lean forward, lean backward, there's nothing you can do... literally floating and it's unreal.
In the late afternoon we arrived at the hotel in Jerusalem and despite severe fatigue everyone is thrilled to have three full hours for showers and naps, rare for what we've come to expect. At 6 o'clock Boaz took us on a walk around Jerusalem, we saw the courthouse, parliament and Israeli rose garden... it was a beautiful night to walk around the city, I think everyone was thankful to be out of the desert heat.
Following dinner we were treated to a music performance by an Israeli musician, Udi Krauss.
It was fun to see the Israelis - our Israelis - joining in. After being asked for an encore our performer complied, telling us the story behind his final song only to reveal he was going to sing Salam. After repeated exciting instances of the whole group singing Salam over and over again on Shabbat, I literally had chills as we all joined in singing for one last time. Afterwards bus 248 had a chance to do some more group activities, an important part of this trip which has been crucial in bringing us all close together. And on our last night to party and be together... I'll leave the happenings of the rest of the night to your imagination... but you would be safe in assuming we all had a great time.
So in the briefest way possible that was my summary of Wednesday, for me it was the best day of the trip and a day I know I'll remember for years to come. But this post would be remiss without mention of the people I've met on birthright. They have truly changed my life. From the simplest things like a hello in the morning, to words of inspiration and support on one of our many hikes and to ways in which these people helped reaffirm my faith... I say thank you. I know spending 24 hours a day, for 10 days straight with a group of like-minded people is an opportunity that won't come around again, so I hope everyone took something from this as special as I did.
Lastly a note about the 7 Israelis that stayed with us throughout the trip. It was an unbelievably refreshing experience to meet people from halfway across the world with whom I share so much in common. Words cannot express the many ways in which you have moved me.