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Overlooking the City of Jerusalem

We were standing near Rachael's Tomb, just across the street from where a fellow was selling computer parts and accessories. The juxtaposition of the Biblical next to ultra modern can be jarring. The same is true when you walk along the Via Dolorosa, the road Jesus walked from the palace of Pontius Pilate, where there are tee shirt and trinket shops everywhere. Although you may feel a similar clash of culture in Rome, at the Coliseum, or anywhere else where the ancient co- exists with the modern, it is somehow different in Israel.

Perhaps it is because there are so many different “Israels”- one for each of the major religions, a fourth Israel for ancient times, and the fifth Israel for modern times. This makes it very hard to write about only a few experiences here. There is an awful lot packed into this very small country. Jerusalem alone can take pages and pages.

I had a distant cousin who was born in the Holy Land, and grew up with Moshe Dyan, the great Israeli military leader. Both of them were in the underground movement that was responsible for getting the British out of the area, called Trans-Jordan prior to the formation of the modern State of Israel. My cousin, Chaim, was a leader of the Red Cross in Israel. He and his wife, Ziona, took Nancy and me around the country each of the two times we were there, so we got a “local insider’s view”.

One day, very early in the morning, we left from our hotel in Jerusalem and headed down toward Masada, the mountain plateau where centuries ago a group of Jewish resistors (Zealots) committed suicide rather than submit to death or slavery at the hands of the advancing Roman Army.

Driving along the road, we passed an area where you can see caves in the distance, and Chaim told us those were the caves near where the Dead Sea Scrolls had been discovered. There is a special museum in Jerusalem, The Shrine of the Book, where the Scrolls are on display. Israelis who know Hebrew can read these ancient manuscripts on sight.

We continued on toward Masada, arriving well before the sun was high and hot in the desert. We got as far as the end of the cable car ride, then had to turn back because the rest of the trip to the top of the mesa is reachable only by stairway, thus not wheelchair accessible.

To this day, members of the Jewish Defense Forces are inducted into military service in a ceremony performed in the ruins at Masada.

We returned toward Jerusalem using the same road, stopping off at Ein Geddi Kibbutz, which runs the visitor center for those wishing to bathe in the Dead Sea.

Leaving Nancy briefly in the company of several attendants, Chaim and I put on bathing suits, left the dressing area, and began the walk down to the sea. He had neglected to fully prepare me, and I did not have sandals or slippers to protect my feet from the burning heat of the boardwalk you must take to reach the water.

We stopped by a huge bin full of black mud, and, using a shovel left for this purpose, proceeded to slather mud over one another- a protection from the searing rays of the sun. I would have traded my left arm for my camera at that point, but alas, I did not have it, so there are no photographs.

Chaim and I entered the water and the feeling of it, of being there, defy description. I am not gifted enough to find the words to tell you what it meant to me to be there. It was the realization of a childhood dream.

We traveled up to the border with Lebanon

One day, we traveled to the North of Israel, to Caesarea, built by Herod the Great more than 20 centuries ago. Herod's Place

Then we continued on to the border with Lebanon. I asked Chaim if he thought there would ever be peace between Israel and its neighbors. He grew quite serious, then told us there were two problems: First, the world needed huge amounts of oil. Their neighbors had much, but Israel had none. However, the Israelis could live with that.

Second, many Palestinians refused to accept the idea that Jews have a right to live at all. Until THAT problem is solved, he said, there cannot be peace.

A final story:

Ziona and Chaim invited us to their flat for dinner. They had invited a number of their friends to come as well, and introduced us to everyone at the table. It wasn't a feast or a banquet, just an opportunity to be with people who shared with each other the feeling of "family".

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