Today, we went on an optional field trip to Masada, Qumran, and the Dead Sea.
Masada is a venerated site for Israelis. It marks the spot where several hundred people stood down the Roman invaders for several years, before being overtaken, during the revolt of 70CE. What actually happened on Masada is unknown. The old story is that the rebels all committed suicide, rather than being taken by the Romans. Recent archaeological evidence suggests otherwise.
Masada is important for Israelis. Anne and I wandered into a tour being offered by an Israeli guide. After he finished, Anne and I both went off and grabbed our journals and wrote down what we had heard.
He said that Masada and Yad Vashem (the Holocaust museum) were two touchstones that formed the Israeli psyche. In both cases, outside powers told the Jews that they would kill them and the Jews did not believe them; then the Jews were killed. In Masada, they were forced to kill themselves; in the Holocaust they were exterminated.
He said that all Israeli children are brought to both Masada and Yad Vashem, so that they can know the stories and understand what will never be tolerated again. The guide said that his parents were Holocaust survivors and of their whole family, they were the only ones to get out. "I have no cousins," he said.
"So, now, when people say they want to kill us, we believe them. So, when Ahmadinejad says that he wants to attack us with a nuclear weapon we believe him. From now on, we will strike first. People think the Israelis are jerks, but really, we don't care. We will never be in this weak position again." He went on to tell the group (who must have been from the US) that Israel is the first line of defense (which is true) and that if Ahmadinejad gets through Israel, he will go to Europe and then to "you guys."
His words were a helpful window for me into the Israeli psyche. Is there a single Israeli psyche? Probably not, actually, but his words represent one of them.
Some of the ruins at Masada.
Qumran is the site where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. There are ongoing archaelogical excavations at the remains of the village there.
This is the cave where that Bedoin boy found the first jars that unleashed all of the work in this area.
Finally, we went to the Dead Sea. It was shockingly warm (30C, about 80F), so I got to swim. Or, as my friend Ben says, I bobbed. I think I'm the tiny ant in the middle of the photo. In fact, I never float, I'm one of those folks who sinks like a stone. So, floating was a great joy to me.