We have begun to hear from some of you in the congregation about the impact Israel has on you; we’d love to hear more about where these dispatches strike in your soul.
As we drive out of Jerusalem towards the north, I’m reflecting on the last two amazing days of our exploration of that magical city. Even though I know we’ll return at the end of the trip, I always feel that we leave part of ourselves there. If our hearts are truly in the east, as the medieval poet Yehuda HaLevi said, then the heart of the east must surely be Jerusalem.
Two days ago, we walked into the amazing western wall tunnels, only opened a few years back, where we walked almost the whole true length of the Western Wall down to the street level of Roman times. We went from the ancient to the modern as we toured the Knesset, Israel’s parliament building, and had the privilege of dialoguing with Gil Hoffman, the Jerusalem Post’s chief political correspondent. He provided us with a fascinating perspective on the current political machinations as well as the possibilities for the future; he’s been called by Israel Television “the most optimistic man in Israel”, and I’d love to have him speak in the congregation sometime soon.
Later in the day we explored the Jewish quarter of the Old City and shopped in the Cardo, a shopping street that dates back to Roman times; we walked down to the part of the western wall more well known to us as the Kotel or the Wailing wall, and we spent time at the Southern Wall excavations, a newly excavated area where pilgrims to the ancient Temple would change money and buy their sacrificial animals for offering. We sat on the very steps that those Jews of old would walk up to the Temple mount when they arrived to Jerusalem.
Yesterday, we descended to Herod’s mountain fortress at Masada. We heard the famous story of Jewish resistance at the end of the Jewish revolt against Rome, and saw the magnificent fortress that the paranoid King Herod built as one of his seven desert fortresses. We learned that even paranoid people had enemies, and that Herod’s nemeses included none other than Cleopatra! We explored the complexities of the Masada story, and our tour guide suggested that Jewish educators in Israel now teach that while the story of Masada is a part of the Jewish past, it’s not the Jewish future; where once Israeli armed forces were sworn in on Masada with the words, “Masada shall not fall again,” now the mantra is more “Let there be no need for another Masada.” It’s at once a subtle yet critical shift in the understanding and explanation and internalization of the story of what unfolded there.
Then we dipped our toes in the beautiful desert oasis of Ein Gedi, hiking up to the spring there in a lush area in otherwise desolate area.
From there, we stopped at the Ahava factory, home to facial and body lotions and products made with minerals mined from the Dead Sea, and then proceeded across the street to and floated and played in the mud at the Dead Sea—a truly unique experience—incriminating pictures soon to be posted at the blog site www.heartsintheeast.blogspot.com. It was a long, hot, amazing day; we loved every minute of it, and we all slept well last night, too!