Masada and FOOD

In addition to hiking in Ein Gedi, my family also did a hike up Masada during our Israel travel.

Masada is a flattop mountain in the Ein Gedi area that has earned fame for its role as the site of Jewish rebels’ last stand against the Roman Empire. A magnificent palace was first built atop the mountain by Herod the Great in the 1st century. Years later, after Herod had died, the Jews rebelled against the Roman Empire in 66 CE. The Romans destroyed the second temple in 70 CE and essentially ended the revolt then. A group of slightly less than 1,000 Jews, however, fled to Masada where they – historians believe – lived for over a year. One might think, why would the Roman army even bother with them anymore? I don’t know…maybe it was a matter of pride or finishing the job ‘right,’ but the Romans pursued the Jews to Masada and built eight camps around the mountain as they spent months preparing an assault ramp that would enable them to ambush the mountain.

All that is known about Masada’s tragic end comes from one survivor. The story states that, knowing the Roman forces couldn’t be held off for much longer, the Jews atop Masada decided that they would rather take their own lives in freedom than serve the Romans as slaves. Lots were drawn to determine 10 men who would kill the rest of the community, and, then, a final lot was drawn to determine who would kill the other nine and then commit suicide. One of the most interesting archeological finds from the site were pottery shards bearing names – generally thought to be evidence of the lots.

Today, Masada has become a site emblematic of both bravery and tragedy within the Jewish community during the time of Roman rule (and, more broadly, throughout history). The mountain is a popular site for Birthright groups, children having their Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Israel, and essentially any Zionist trip touring Israel. The iconic Masada experience is to hike the mountain just before dawn, reaching the top for sunrise.

Despite the pre-sunrise hour, my family acquiesced to hiking the mountain bright and early. The hike up the mountain took about 40 minutes at a pretty quick pace, and we reached the top a few minutes before official sunrise:

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Unfortunately, it ended up being a cloudy day and the magic of the sun was fairly obstructed by the clouds. Nonetheless, it was still a great hike with awesome views from the top…and, even if we didn’t get the full splendor of a clear sunrise, it was neat to see everything come into full color! 🙂

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Me with my “baby” bro:

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This is a picture of the tiered palace that served as Herod’s living quarters when he resided on the mountaintop:

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With all the hiking, biking, and swimming, there was – of course – also lots of eating during this vacation. A few quick highlights include…

Fresh honey at the cafeteria at the Ein Gedi Kibbutz:

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Yemenite street food in Tzfat. We ate a Lachuch Original where we had sandwiches made with malawa bread and filled with vegetables and cheese:

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Finally, we ate at a meat restaurant called Habikta in a town called Ramot by the sea of Galilee. The restaurant offered a broad menu of smoked meat dishes, burgers, homemade bagels and a salad bar:

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In closing, I must share the incredible coincidence of finding this poster hanging in a small lodge in the northern Galilee:

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This poster recalls the capture of the Jesse James Gang in Northfield, MN – the site of my alma mater. The historic capture continues to be remembered even after all these years through the annual ‘Jesse James Days,’ and I have very fond memories of attending the festival each year as a college student. 🙂

Hiking and Biking – Ein Gedi and Hula Lake

My parents’ visit to the Holy Land involved many outdoor adventures. I addition to swimming floating at the Dead Sea, we also went on a hike during our time in Ein Gedi.

The hike we chose was at the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. This Nature Reserve has an easy hiking trail as well as a longer trail that juts off from the main area and heads up one of the area’s hills.

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Along the trail, we had some great views…

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…and passed some of the small pools and waterfalls that are a highlight of the trail:

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In addition to beautiful views of waterfalls and geological features, we saw a lot of Hyraxes while we were at the Nature Reserve.

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Hyraxes are small and rodent-like. But, they are actually closely related to the elephant. Amazing, I know.

We didn’t go very far up the ‘advanced’ trail, but we did hike a short distance to the first lookout point for a beautiful view of the Dead Sea:

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Couples’ retreatin’

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After a couple days in the Ein Gedi area, we headed to the northern part of the country to the Galilee. One of our primary activities in the Galilee was to visit the Hula Lake Nature Reserve (I just noticed the Nature Reserve theme of this post…).

500 MILLION birds migrate through Israel twice a year during their flight between Europe and Africa. Nearly all of these birds find their way – at one point or another – to the Hula Lake. This lake, in the middle of the reserve, has become an ideal spot for bird-watchers.

In addition to bird-enthusiasts, the reserve is also a great stop for families or anyone who is casually interested in seeing (and hearing!) LOTS of birds. The lake is surrounded by a 5-mile trail, and there are options to rent bikes or a golf carts if walking that distance doesn’t fit your fancy (or time schedule!). We decided to rent bikes to make our way around the lake:

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The flatness of the valley provided great views of the surrounding mountains:

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Nearly as soon as we started our ride, we could hear the clamor of what sounded like a BAZILLION cranes! In real numbers, an estimated 20,000-30,000 cranes make the Hula Lake their home during the winter. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get too close to the area where all the cranes were gathered, but we still got some views from the pathway:

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In addition to seeing a lot of cranes, we passed several of these little guys in the grass and water along the trail:

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This animal is a Coypu – a water rodent that lives in the banks of wetlands. Fun fact: Coypus were imported to Israel from Argentina in the mid-twentieth century. Originally, they were imported for fur trade, but that never really took off, so they are now just one of the most common mammals in Israel.

All in all, we spent about two hours at the Hula Lake. My only regret is that I didn’t bring binoculars!

Family trip to the Dead Sea

Noah and I were SUPER fortunate to have my parents visit us in Israel during Chanukah and part of the week after. We traveled throughout the country together, and I felt so lucky to see much of the country for the first time with my wonderful parents! 🙂 We did a lot, so I’ll try to chip away at the blog accounts of our travels over the next couple weeks, but I wanted to start with a recap of what I thought was a highlight of our trip together: the Dead Sea!

During our travels, we spent a couple days in the southern part of Israel visiting an area called Ein Gedi. Ein Gedi is an oasis west of the Dead Sea, and the area is characterized by a unique mixture of desert and green – home to the lowest place on earth (the Dead Sea) and a collection of spas featuring treatments using the unique minerals found at this location. The Dead Sea lies 1,388 feet below sea level, and the salt concentration of the water is so high that people can float in the water. The collection of minerals that accumulate here in the water and mud are heralded as being particularly good for the skin, and an spa business has been built out of the attraction of the location to tourists.

Yet, the ‘beach’ front and spa at the Dead Sea are different from what one might expect at an American spa. The walkway to the sea is barren and without fanfare:

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Fortunately, the openness of the area facilitated great views of the desert mountains in the distance as well as the effect of the sea’s salt accumulation on the bordering land:

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Once at the waterfront, we read a cautionary sign about all of the ways we could potentially be injured during our visit:

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Somehow, we mustered the courage to go into the water anyway:

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Maneuvering through the water was a bit challenging because so much salt has hardened on the bottom of the sea that the ground is rough and sharp – look at this salt caked onto the ramp leading into the water!:

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Once we ‘laid’ down in the water though, it was easy-breezy. No need to tread water here. 🙂

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More family trip posts coming soon…thanks for visiting me! I love you so much and miss you already! 🙂

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