On Day 2 of our magical trip to Israel we visited Masada and the Dead Sea. As student Alexander Hensley put it “[It] was the perfect way to kick off this trip.” (Let me note to all travelers, a day in the sun outside is quintessential jetlag recovery!)
The story of Masada is one that flies under the radar for many non-Jewish people but is fascinating to learn its history. The isolated plateau that is Masada has a history of being a fortress, built into a palace by Herod and then used as the last holdout by the Jews fighting the Romans in 70 A.D. Today it is one of Israel’s largest tourist attractions not only for its history but the beauty of it rising up in the desert. Alex Hensley “absolutely loved standing over the Dead Sea and looking down at the ramp that the Romans built.” Our tour guide Yoav expertly guided the group across the fortress in record time. As student Cole Altman so aptly stated “To be able to share its beauty and joy with the entire group was absolutely incredible.”
We then headed toward the Dead Sea to float. Many of the students decided to “farm” the mineral rich mud to rub all over their bodies. The mud makes your skin extremely smooth and floating was definitely a highlight of the trip for many students.
After a rest, we then started our more academic visits on Saturday evening. We heard from Dr. Alick Isaacs who is the Co-director of Siach Shalom (translated as Talking Peace). This is an organization that works to create dialog about peace using religion rather than arguing to take the religion out of the conflict and tries to include and welcome religious leaders who have been dissenting voice against previous peace efforts inside Israel. Dr. Isaacs is the author of A Prophetic Peace: Judaism, Religion, and Politics which recounts his experience as a combat soldier in the Second Lebanon War. Dr. Issacs’ talk included snippets of how he made “Aliyah” (The immigration process for Jew’s to move to Israel) after dealing with anti-Semitism in England growing up, and discussed Judaism as an ethnic identity. (Here is a link to a talk he gave several years ago) Student Van Donkersgoed explained that hearing Dr. Isaacs speak “Helped form the context for much of the trip, and also helped clarify my perception of Jewish culture and the State of Israel.”