Sunday, June 20, 2004

From the wilderness to Jerusalem

I wish I could think of something profound and witty to say about being in Jerusalem, the "City of Peace," but I doubt I could really add anything to what the scholars, historians and travelers have penned in years and centuries past.

We arrived here early this evening as the sun was beginning its descent behind the city. The effect was about as breathtaking as you can imagine. It's hard to wrap your mind around the idea that you are actually in the city of cities, the object of so many writings, wars, events and ideas. It's really surreal.

And then you jump into your disco taxi, speed into the city center, enjoy a cappuccino, and spend an hour using high speed internet. I'm not trying to use the cliche about the mixture of ancient and modern that you will read in any tour book;

But let me back up a bit. As you know, time and short attention spans prevent me from writing in detail about what we've done in the past two days, so Í'll try to just give you the highlights.

Basically, we've been wandering around the Judean wilderness. Okay, not wandering really...I just thought that would sound more nomadic and shepherdly. We've been exploring the Judean wilderness and all it has to offer.

We left the Galilee region and headed south for the Dead Sea region. I never imagined we would do this, but we actually headed through what is known to us as the West Bank (Israelis call it Samaria.) It's not as crazy as it sounds - it is a protected road that is used by other tours and locals as well. It is highly secured and of course it is safe.

The terrain changes from the lush, almost semi-tropical paradise of the Galilee to the dry, craggy desert of the Dead Sea region. This is incredible land here - dramatic cliffs and unforgiving desert that seems to go on for miles.

We visited Beit She'an, an ancient Roman city and one of the most impressive archaeological sites in all of Israel. It is incredible the technology and the civilization that these people had. We're talking advanced water systems, saunas, gardens. At each site Steve the Tour Guide is sure to point out the differences between the Hellenistic Roman and Greek cultures and that of the Jews. Those differences of course run deep and led to many conflicts.

Visited Qumran, where lived a sect of Jews known as the Essenes, and also where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The scrolls are now in a museum in Jerusalem.

I'd have to say that I think the Dead Sea itself is a tad overrated. First of all, apparently since we were in a resort area, there was no Dead Sea mud to rub all over one's self. What the??? I was looking forward to wallowing like the swine and having skin like that of a baby's tushy. Secondly, about 5 minutes into your bath, certain, ahem, areas of the body begin to experience a distinct burning sensation, and you try not to look like the neanderthal and scratch yourself. Then you get the extreme salt water in your eyes and you have to blindly make your way to the shower like a mummy. Not fun. I spent most of the evening in the pool that day.

Today we climbed the famous fortress of Masada. You can either take a gondola up or hike the "Snake Path." All but 4 of our group chose to hike, which is unusual for an adult group, according to Steve the Tour Guide. So of course it was a competition - I made it up first out of our group, in 33 minutes. Only Steve the TG beat me. Let me tell you, it's not the distance that kills you, and definitely not the altitude. It's the heat, my G-d THE HEAT!! This is a wicked desert my friends. Being that the Dead Sea is 500 feet BELOW sea level, it is the lowest place on earth and therefore also one of the hottest. It has been around 100 to 105 degrees in each of the last two days.

So I made it up Masada first, but I definitely was hurting at times. Masada itself is an incredible place with a dramatic story - read up on it.

I would love to tell more, but my hour is up and it's time to get back to the hotel. Tomorrow we are actually visiting the Temple Mount, which is under Muslim control. It was closed to tourist for the last few years due to the intifada but it has recently been re-opened. Steve the TG says it could be THE BEST site of the whole tour.

We will also visit the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site. Big Day.

Lots of love and Happy Father's Day!

Shalom me yerushalayim.