by Matan Lieber-Kotz '18
Hi readers! Hope you've had a good week, because we sure have!
We jumped right back into action Sunday morning as we returned to Jerusalem, this time to examine the remains of the Second Temple. Many were stunned to learn that the Western Wall is not the last surviving wall of the Second Temple, as is commonly believed. Instead, it is part of the larger base built under the temple-nearly all of which is still intact and viewable! We then retraced history as we walked up the same stairs the Kohanim climbed toward the Temple's Southern Wall. We concluded by seeing scorched bricks from the Churban (destruction of the Temple) 2000 years ago – a final reminder that evidence of the Temple exists everywhere in Jerusalem, beyond the Kotel.
After free time, we drove south to the base of Masada. When we arrived, it was straight to bed because next morning we woke up at 4 AM to begin our hike up the mountain! Snaking back and forth along the steep trail, some of us raced to the top like the ibexes we saw around the path, while some chose a more leisurely pace, which felt equally hard given the desert climate. All of us arrived well before the sunrise, and we enjoyed a beautiful Shacharit service as the sun dawned over the mountains.
Touring the ruined fortress, our preconceived viewpoints were once again challenged as we considered whether its inhabitants had been brave heroes fleeing Roman persecutors or crazed zealots willing to let other Jews suffer. We were also physically challenged as we practiced battle drills designed to repel attackers, including an exciting but short-lived fireman's-carry relay race that ended with multiple people sprawled across the ground! Picking ourselves up, we headed for the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea. Here, we floated and took a well-deserved, potentially mud-covered rest. I'm happy to report that with a few exceptions, we avoided getting salt in our eyes!
Tuesday morning, we traveled north into the Jezreel Valley, where we stopped to explore a cave system from the Bar Kochba revolt of 135 C.E. Crawling through single-file tunnels with flashlights held in our teeth, we eventually made our way into a room large enough to sit and turn our lights off, leaving it blacker than outer space. Enchanted by the darkness--and the slugs threatening to drop from the ceiling--we bonded and sang nigunim before returning to the surface, where we had an animated discussion about the ethics of rebellions.
We continued north to Tzfat, the ancient Kabbalist city. We were enthralled by the buildings, including one of the oldest active synagogues in the world, and by the store of a Kabbalistic artist. We concluded the day with free time and dinner in twilit Tzfat. While purchasing jewelry and other souvenirs on the street, one student successfully haggled a sports jersey down from 150 shekels to free!
Much of Wednesday was spent hiking Nahal Tavor after departing Tzfat. The creek, which only flows for a couple months each year in the spring, made for a beautiful hike as well as beautiful flora. We ate lunch at a popular swimming hole. Many of us took the opportunity to jump into the water...until a lifeguard showed up to tell us the water was too shallow! Although our cliff-jumping escapades were over, we excitedly toweled off for the steeply uphill final section. Once we recovered, we got on our buses and headed to the Galil Cemetery in Tiberias, where we saw the graves of Israeli musicians Naomi Shemer and Rachel the Poet. Moved by their impacts on Israeli society, we each said how we hoped to change the world in the future.
After returning to Hod Hasharon, we sojourned Thursday to Tel Aviv. Here, we went on a tour of Neve Tzedek, the first ever Modern Hebrew neighborhood founded a century ago. We then divided into groups to explore art museums, theater, and architecture in Tel Aviv, which we found to all be unique and unlike their American counterparts. We concluded our time together this week with free time at the Tel Aviv port, a revitalized development full of exciting shops, restaurants, and the crashing waves of the Mediterranean Sea.
Many of us then departed to visit friends and family on our first open Shabbat. Wherever we are now-with friends at our new home in Hod Hasharon, enjoying a good home-cooked meal, or even resting after breezing through the Jerusalem Half Marathon, we are all looking forward to reuniting Saturday night and for our trip to Europe this coming week. Hope you check in again next week!