Thursday, September 15, 2011

Reflections on My Trip to Israel - Day 5 of 10

This was our day to visit three of the most distinctive sites in Israel: Qumran, Masada and the Dead Sea. So right after breakfast we boarded our bus and headed to our destination, which meant driving through the Judean desert. Parts of the area are barren with much sand and rocks, yet other parts are irrigated with water and boast beautiful date palms and other lush greenery.

At last, we got to Qumran and our guide pointed out to us the exact cave where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered by a Bedouin lad in 1947. The area is mountainous and bleak and said to be the place where the ancient Essenes lived. The Essenes were a strict Jewish sect of religious people that existed during the time of Christ. They practiced a simple lifestyle and celibacy was a part of it, and isolated themselves in the area where we stood.

Many scholars claim that the Essenes were the ones who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

One person from our bus was delighted to find a piece of pottery about the size of a loonie and vowed he would keep it as a souvenir. That set some of us on a search for broken pieces of pottery, but alas we found none, and soon it was time for us to leave that area.

After Qumran, we headed for Masada and the Dead Sea. Somehow I do not like the name “Dead Sea.” Couldn’t they have called it something else?

En route to Masada, we visited a gift shop that sold cosmetics made from black mud and other vital minerals from the Dead Sea. I might have bought something if I could have been assured it would take 20 years off my looks but could not be convinced, and did not buy any of the cosmetics but resorted to other gifts.

On that day, it was hot. I do not remember how many degrees the temperature was, but it was h-o-t, and being on top of a mountain, it seemed like we were closer to the sun and hotter than usual. Masada is a plateau atop a high mountain of stone and we ascended to its summit by cable cars, and though all around us were mountains and caves, bleak and quiet, yet it was b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. I tell you, Israel is a beautiful place.

Doron, our guide, told us the history of Masada and the account of the 960 Jews who perished in self-inflicted mass murder/suicide rather than succumb to the Romans. I was much impressed by the way Doron told the story, bringing it to life. One could almost see the tragedy taking place and feel the emotions of the people in that place.

Doron is well-gifted with the magic of story-telling and kept us spell-bound as we listened. I had learnt about the tragedy of Masada at Bible college and never dreamt I would be standing there on Masada one day, hearing the story again in a detailed, picturesque manner and seeing the ruins of Herod’s palaces, bath houses, swimming pool, even a synagogue. It was truly a moving story and a magnificent sight. The history of Masada and the way Doron told it have left an indelible mark in my mind

Now, on to the Dead Sea. Years ago, whenever I heard of the Dead Sea, I often wondered why a sea should be called dead, but I’ve come to understand the reason. That sea is called dead because of the high content of salt in its water that prevents any fish or other aquatic creatures to live there. Those who know about seas and their levels tell us that the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, as a matter of fact its elevation is 417 feet below sea level.

Doron, our guide, told us that King David once hid from Saul in the area of the Dead Sea, called Ein Gedi, and in my analytical mind I began wondering, in every area my sight would focus: was it in this area that David hid? Or was it in that area where there are a lot of trees? Or could it be in that cave nearby, or behind the rocks?

A multitude of people trekked to the Dead Sea, some seeking to be more youthful, some to be more healthy and I am sure, some for the mere experience of floating in the water.
However, when they came out, I looked to see if any of them were more youthful but they all seemed the same as before they went into the water, nevertheless, I heard some individuals say they felt invigorated and that was good.

Somehow I was not impressed to go into the water but appreciated the stunning view from afar. But then again, I had my reasons: I am not a water buff, I am afraid of large bodies of water and besides that, I did not want to get my feet wet, so I did not go into the Dead Sea. Call me chicken if you want, I'll take that!

I understand the Dead Sea is shrinking. Maybe it would not be in existence in the next hundred years, so who knows, if you want to experience its legendary therapeutic waters, and float in a sea where you can never sink, you should hurry on to Israel and take some baths in Israel’s Dead Sea.

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