Atlantis Alumni

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Return To Israel


Jim and I last visited Israel many years ago, on another cruise. Then we visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the later city already under Palestinian control. So on this Atlantis cruise we decided to sign up for an excursion to Masada and the Dead Sea. The trip involved a long coach ride across Israel, and stopped briefly in Jerusalem so everyone could see a panoramic view of the city from a mountain near the University of Israel.

Soon our bus reached the desert, with its stark beauty and the contrast of the bright green-blue Dead Sea, revealing the mountains beyond, the border with Jordan. Masada itself is on a high mountain. It is an important archaeological site for two reasons: in the first century King Herod the Great built an enormous palace as a refuge. After his time the last Jewish resistance to the Romans took place at Masada, when the remaining freedom fighters, over 963, sacrificed themselves rather than become slaves to the foreign conquerors. All of this was chronicled by the ancient historian Josephus Flavius. The site itself was re-discovered in the late 19th century. By that time many earthquakes had destroyed much of the palace-fortress atop the huge mountain. But since the 1930s modern Jewish archaeologists have restored much of the buildings. Our guide showed us parts of the palace, and where the ancient Jews lived, fought the Romans and ultimately died. Ravens circled the hot air above our heads, and I thought often of how much our friend Louise spoke of her love for this amazing country. We took a new cable car to the top of Masada, but there’s also a long walk available for hikers, who usually only walk at sunrise, to avoid the scorching heat of the day. From the top of Masada one can see the Dead Sea far below, and how much the waters have turned into sink holes.

After lunch at a hotel on the Dead Sea, we were able to swim in its strange waters. It’s very difficult to walk on the hot grounds around that Sea, as it’s almost all salt. The water is 33 percent salt, and feels very oily, since it is so viscous. If one swallowed the water in great quantities, one would die quickly. Jim wore flip flops and floated in the water, while I just swam for a short while. Without doubt, the unusual experience of being in its waters is most unusual part of visiting this part of Israel.

Some of our shipmates partied in Tel Aviv in the evening but Jim and I relaxed onboard at the martini bar and then enjoyed a leisurely dinner. We had learned much about the complex social and political problems facing modern Israel. At the start of the trip our tour guide Keren told us that the country’s greatest problem was water. There was much to think and talk about after another day spent in this ancient yet modern country.

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