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Masada & Orientation

My first weekend in Israel was spent at Masada and the Dead Sea: about a week before the flight, I got an email that an event-filled weekend trip was available and I snatched it up. Which was both a great and a terrible idea (but mostly great, of course). We woke up extremely early to board the buses that would take us everywhere that weekend, and really, that ride itself was almost worth what I had to pay for the weekend.

I’m from the Appalachian area of Pennsylvania: there are trees and (American) mountains everywhere; it’s hard to find a place where you can’t see a mountain ridge faintly in the distance. And it’s very, very green. I don’t know what I expected out of the Israeli desert, but it wasn’t what I ended up getting.

Almost immediately after we left Jerusalem, the ground leveled out and became extremely beige. I’ve never seen an American desert to begin with, so seeing terrain so “dead” and tan was a bit of a culture shock, I suppose. The farther we drove, though, the more ridges we could see of upcoming mountains. Soon, the Dead Sea was visible on our left, and it was incredible. Jordan was visible on the other side. There was not even a suggestion of a cloud.

Before we went to Masada, though, we stopped at Ein Gedi, which is a beautiful oasis and national park. I could only compare the views to photos I had seen of the American west: it was a rough, earthy beauty, and the springs were stunning and refreshing. Unfortunately, it was a difficult hike up to the top and I had to turn around and head back to the visitor’s center halfway through: my balance is poor and they were experience a heat wave at the time, so I didn’t want to take the risk of somehow tripping and passing out over a cliff face. It was nice to sit and look over on the Dead Sea, though.

Later that afternoon we arrived at the Dead Sea! The beach was strange because I’m so used to sand that collapses under your feet as you walk: this “beach” was solid and did not give under you, which made it interesting to walk on. It was terrifically hot and the water was, disgustingly, about the same temperature as the air. I have a bit of fear of water because I don’t know how to swim and fear drowning, so it took me quite a few minutes to let myself relax and float, but when I did—oh my word! I was so amazed by how different it felt from a pool or the ocean: when you lay back on any other kind of water, you have to do part of the word to keep yourself afloat. But here, when you let yourself go, the water holds you up—it was incredible.

Until the salt started to seep through my band aids and I had to rinse out the really harsh sting from a blister. That was not delightful, to say the least.

By the time the sun was setting we made it to our hostel in Masada, which was gorgeous and had a view to die for. Dinner was great (I’m pleased by how much I like Israeli food!) and we were given time to walk around and hang out in the pool—which was refreshing and glorious.

The next day we had the option of hiking up the nearby mountain at 5AM to see the sunrise, but I declined, as my body was still aching from the bit of Ein Gedi I had climbed. So after I had breakfast, I went with a second group to the nearby museum, which had items of the original settlement and the surrounding Roman camps. It was incredibly fascinating and enlightening: as a history major I much prefer contemporary times to ancient times, because I’ve never felt emotionally connected to ancient times. But in this museum, there were make-up containers, sandals, and even a braid that had survived the years in the desert sand and sun. Seeing such personal items—personal feminine items—really connected me to the past in a way I’d never felt before. It’s been five days and I still can’t stop thinking about them.

The rest of the day was spent lounging around the pool and playing get-to-know-each-other games, while the temperature outside remained exactly the same, no matter the hour. It was awful.

We got back into Jerusalem around 10 or 10:30 at night, as we couldn’t leave before Shabbat ended. And early the next morning I got ready for my second ever Hebrew class!

On Monday we had orientation, where we were told things specifically about how the classes would work at Rothberg International. I’m hoping to take a class on Hasidism and the current political climate on Israel; my overall goal is to take do an independent study on women’s experiences in the Holocaust and research how they redefined their femininity within that context: in the ghettos, the camps themselves, and afterwards.  If I don’t get that, I might take the class on the Holocaust or a class on the past 200 years of Jewish history. I’m also hoping to get an internship while I’m here.

Today friends and I travelled into the Old City; that’ll have its own post soon!

Shanah Tovah!

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