I didn’t expect to be so affected by Masada. It was amazing. I don’t mean cool so much as awe-inspiring. Taking the cable car up, I sort of felt like I was on a ski lift or some other gondola ride. Coming down, I felt different, connected.
I’m pretty sure the artifacts and spaces we saw were among the oldest I’ve ever experienced. More than 2,000 years ago, a king built two palaces here, and they still exist. The ingenuity was fascinating: heated floors in the Roman bathhouse, aqueducts capturing water from floods, even the manmade ramp the Romans used to ram the walls. Rows of stone formed storehouses that were filled with food and wine supplies that the Jews of Masada would use to outlast the Romans for three years. (I recall visiting old castles in Europe, but they were maybe 1,000 years old at most. This was much older, and it was my history. Amazing.)
It was an overwhelming feeling, looking out at the Dead Sea from the top of Masada, thinking about the strength it must have taken to fight for so long.
Our tour guide led us into the synagogue and spoke with us about the choice the rebels made, but also the choice of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai. The Jews at Masada decided to die rather than submit. Rabbi Yochanan made a different choice, to save a small portion of the Jewish people and create a new type of Judaism. The temple was destroyed, but we are still here.
That evening, we danced as more than a dozen women received Hebrew names — including a member of our Virginia group. The women were enveloped in love and support as they shared the names they chose. It was as if we were honoring Rabbi Yochanan’s brave choice — Am Israel Chai.
Pozez JCC / The JFGW