The Dead Sea
Pastor Nabors (comments in regular type):
We board the bus and make our way to the next hotel, driving along the Dead Sea. We arrive in the later afternoon at a resort- the Ein Gedi Spa Retreat, run by another Kibbutz. The location is very close to the Dead Sea where we will be going to the beach in the morning. We check in and a few folks get some rest. Others walk along the Resort, taking in its picturesque views, which are phenomenal. There are mountains to the rear of the resort and in the front lies the Dead Sea. Baobab trees grow along the pathways, along with palm trees. We gather at 7, before dinner for a discussion about the history of Kibbutz in Israel. Our guide, Amit is the lecturer. He was born and raised in Kibbutz, in 1985. He continues to live there with his own wife and children. He will soon become the Manager of Education, responsible for teaching all the children from six to seventeen years old. Amit shares that Kibbutz is a very socialist way of living. When thy began in the late 1800’s everyone brought what they earned from their jobs into the common treasury and each received “according to their need.” This was the common theme. His parents both worked and therefore he did not see them often. He saw them from 4 to 7 PM at most, and lived in an area for the children, where they were raised by those assigned to care for them. The Kibbutz began falling apart (over Israel) because socialism was no longer preferred. People earning money from jobs outside Kibbutz wanted to keep their own money. In danger of losing their people, the government interceded and privatized them. But they continue to have some struggle attracting new generations. Amit enjoys his life with his children and, at the age of thirty-five, has no plans to live anywhere else but in the Kibbutz.
We go to dinner in a restaurant that is the highest point of the retreat. It is a beautiful, circular-shaped and with in-door and outdoor eating. It is presently about 88 degrees. After dinner, we find a ping pong table and play into the night.
Rabbi London: Michael, Daniel, and I love to play ping pong together even if I always lose badly. Michael is the best player of the three of us, but Amit, our guide, beats all of us!
Masada and the Dead Sea
Friday, November 1-
Breakfast the next morning. Last night we discussed our trip to Masada. This morning we are prepared to visit this historic site.
The mountain is located on the eastern fringe of the Judean Desert not far from the Dead Sea. The plateau is 450 meters above the level of the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. It is in what would have been a most remote area, but not far from two ancient routes where travelers would take their wares for trade- connecting Edom and Moab.
Eight of us decide we want to be adventurous and climb the mountain rather than take the cable car- Rabbi London, Pastor Dan, Robin, Diane, Ted, Michael, Jan and I rise early, grab a bite from the restaurant and ride to Masada at 7. The others will join us at 8. When we arrive, those of us who have not been here before, are impressed by the sheer size and magnitude of the mountain. The cable cars and people near the top are very small. Yet, we see a trail of people who have already been to the top and are walking back down. Undaunted, we pack our water bottles for the hike up the side of the mountain along Snake Trail. It is supposed to take about 30 minutes. The first part is a breeze, though there is no breeze and the weather is getting warmer by the minute. It is already 80 degrees. As we round a bend near the base, we see the first set of stairs, going nearly straight up. It is much easier to walk along a gradual path, rather than steps. However, we continue. About fifteen minutes in, everyone is winded. Our small group has stretched out and those in the rear cannot be seen by those in the front. We find a bench made for “weary travelers” and wait for the rest of our group.
Reassembled, we continue onward and upward- breathing heavier, winded and wondering what rationale we were using in deciding to climb the mountain. Another fifteen minutes and we were exhausted and drenched in perspiration. We rested again, taking a moment to gaze upon the open vistas around us. It is a beautiful sight. We see desert, mountains and the Dead Sea in the distance. After catching our breath, we move on and after forty-five minutes, we reach the summit. This is a hike, but as arduous and daunting as any you would ever make. We are literally climbing a mountain. Before leaving home, I went to DSW and invested in a pair of hiking boots. Okay, I know I could have gone to Dick’s Sporting Goods for a superior pair of boots, but I’m like that. Glad I made the purchase too! It is an exhilarating feeling! After scaling Masada, one feels as if he/she can win any battle and face any foe. We arrive 15 minutes before the rest of our group and guides arrive by cable car. We have traveled 2.3 miles, 5,000 steps and 88 stories according to my phone’s health app! It was a real challenge.
Masada has quite a history- both regarding the Maccabean Revolt and Herod the King. Herod had a palace built on top of the mountain that is extraordinary. It is a luxury palace, complete with three levels and a full bath house. Archeological finds have been astounding. There was not only a palatial fortress built by Herod, but also fortifications, camps and an assault ramp. We take a tour of the remains, noticing mosaic tiled floors and walls and sophisticated engineering which allowed steam baths, cold water baths and wading pools. There is an upper, middle and lower terrace. Each view faces to the North, and East where any intruders may attempt to attack. But really, it is impenetrable. Over nine hundred Jews lived there during the revolt against Rome. They were the final hold out. After the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 C.E., they finally captured Masada in 72 C.E. The Romans built a ramp to bring their artillery and men. Before arriving, the story goes that the Jews committed suicide rather than become slaves to the Romans. Both our guides- Jew and Arab, tend to think this is a myth, for different reasons. All of this mind you, in the desert.
As we leave Masada and return to the hotel, we are told that this is also the land of Christian monasteries. African cypress trees are in abundance and have a special relationship to/with the Dead Sea. It is remarkable that Egypt and Africa are really a stone’s throw away, across the Mediterranean and it is very easy to see how Joseph and Mary left Nazareth, escaping into Egypt, living there for a period of time. Perhaps more than any other time in the life of Jesus, this part is truly missing from the bible. One wonders where they lived, who befriended them, how long they stayed, what Jesus learned and of course, what impacted him in the motherland before we see him returning to Galilee as an adult??? Questions, questions, questions.
We want to change and shower after the Masada adventure but Alaa encourages us to remain “dirty” because we are about to get really dirty as we take a five-minute drive to a beach on the Dead Sea. For those who know me, I don’t like being funky and dirty and this is a very hard piece of advice to take. But I do, as does every else who hiked up Masada. We arrive after our short drive and go into a restaurant where we have lunch. We are given keys and a towel, place our personal belongings in a locker and take a “hayride” to the very lowest place on earth. We are being driven by a tractor for about a mile. We are told that just a dozen years ago, the waters came very close to the restaurant but the Sea is losing water at a very rapid rate due to erosion. Our guide tells us it is due to human pollution and is a serious environmental issue, all the way down here!
When we arrive at the Dead Sea, it looks pretty much like any other beach. There are people under canopies for shade. Most folks are in bathing suits. And then we take a closer look. The majority of the people in the water are floating on their backs. Almost as if in a rubber tube, except there is no rubber tube. The density of the water (thirty percent salt) is so filled with minerals until the human body is like a plastic ball. I am not crazy about water, but I did bring my shorts for this occasion. I begin walking into the water, but a woman looks at my feet, wags her finger and says “shoes”. The ground is sharp with pieces of salt. I look at many others who have no shoes and I’m astounded. I walk back over to my shoes and shirt and put my Nikes on. They will be floaters today since I am not intending to play any ball, later! I walk back in and see Rabbi Andrea and Pastor Daniel floating. They tell me to simply lean back and trust that the water will do the rest. We were warned not to swallow any water and to not allow our heads to go underneath the surface. I hesitate. Some folks are saying “Ouch” as they enter the water because the slightest cut or abrasion, or bruise on the body is filled with salt! Finally, I lean back and one second later I am floating on the water, in 90 degree weather, with the sun piercing its rays of heat upon my body, The water is very warm. I place my hands behind my head and for the next twenty minutes, I am a human tube…astounded by this natural phenomena that seems so much like a miracle. Sydni and the kids know I am not a particular water fan, so it goes without saying, this is something amazingly special.
They have to drag me out! It was, in a word, spectacular. I am thinking to myself- “How in the world can Second Baptist sponsor a trip for our members to come to this place?” The sacredness, the ancientness, the miracle of it- is incredible. Then too, I feel very similar about Ivory Coast, Ghana and Senegal. Perhaps we simply need our own Travel Ministry where those who are able and would like to, can visit spiritual venues around the world- especially bringing our young people and broadening their horizons along the way. As we used to say, “Nothing to it…but to do it!”
We return to the Resort and I am able to shower and rest after a truly inspiring and moving day.
Rabbi London: Watching Pastors Ruen and Nabors float for their first time in the Dead Sea is a hoot!
That evening we hold our own Kabbalat Shabbat service in a small sanctuary at the resort which is actually a bomb shelter. Every building in Israel has a bomb shelter. Often they are used for other purposes as well. It’s warm in there with all of us in there. There are prayerbooks for our use which are, as to be expected in Israel, entirely in Hebrew. What is interesting, however, is that the prayerbook Hebrew is translated into modern Hebrew. Yes, Israelis whose native language is Hebrew also have trouble understanding classical Hebrew. I point this out to the group. Diane Weill who is trained as a cantorial soloist leads the singing. It is a really nice and intimate service for all of us. We conclude the service by singing “Olam Hesed Yibaneh”—we will build the world on the foundation of love. It really feels like this is the purpose of our journey—to learn to listen and understand various narratives and to advocate for a world where people respect each other and work together to create a just and peaceful society. I feel very uplifted and hopeful and so glad to have been on this journey with an incredible group of thoughtful, caring, engaged, and loving people.