By Reta Finger
I am writing this blog for Wednesday, May 18, 2011 for our People, Places, Prayers tour of Palestine and Israel. I will be writing the story of our day especially for my three grandchildren—Evan (12), Matthew (10), and Maxine (8).
This morning we left as usual in our big bus and drove south to the desert of Israel. If you like the colors of brown, tan, and beige, you’ll love the desert! It is very rocky—most rocks are called chalk. Our guide Tony says they are about 65 million years old, like the dinosaurs. It is rather soft, sedimentary rock, which means that this area was once covered by a sea. Not any more!
We first headed to Masada. Try to find it on GoogleMaps. It is called a “World Heritage Site,” which means it is so important in the history of the world that everyone should come and see it! I really wish you could have been there with me.
There are several stories connected with Masada. The first is that it was a palace of King Herod. Wicked King Herod. The one the Wise Men came to when they were looking for baby Jesus as King of the Jews. The one who killed all the boy babies in Bethlehem after he found out the Wise Men had tricked him.
King Herod was also a great builder—well, I’m sure he didn’t do it himself, but got servants to do the hard work. So he built this palace, which even had a swimming pool. Herod also liked the Romans and would suck up to them. So he built Roman baths. You go in one room and take off your clothes, and then you jump in hot water in another room and then into lukewarm water, and then into cold water to cool off. Something like that. Herod was king from 37 BCE to 4 BCE. Jesus was probably about two years old when Herod died.
The second story happened around 72-73 CE, right at the end of the Jewish War with the Romans. I wonder, Evan, if you studied about this war when you learned about the Greeks and Romans in school this year. The Romans finally destroyed Jerusalem, the capital, and knocked down the whole temple that King Herod had also built. But some Jewish soldiers escaped with their families and lived at Masada for perhaps two more years.
Ask Daddy about this. When he was 10 or 11 we watched the movie on TV called “Masada.” The Romans were down below and were building a battering ram to break down the walls of Masada and kill all the Jews or carry them off into slavery. But the Jews had lots of food and water up there because Herod had saved up a lot of grain and other foods from years earlier. So it took a very long time for the Romans to break through—but when they did, they found that everyone had killed each other so the Romans wouldn’t kill them. (Except there were a couple women who had hidden in a cistern, so they could tell the story later.)
All that sounds very gory and heroic, but our tour guide didn’t believe the story. He said some of those soldiers (called Sicarii) were found in Egypt later, so they must have escaped. The story can be found in Josephus, who is a Jewish author who changed sides during the Jewish-Roman War and went over to the Romans. I had read some years ago that some people are not sure his story was exactly true.
We left Masada and went to an oasis in the desert—a place where water gives life to palm trees and other green plants. And the first thing we saw was a huge pen full of camels! So we all took a camel ride! Have any of you ridden a camel at a zoo? The camels were hooked together, five at a time, one right after each other. So all 17 of us rode on a camel, mostly two on each camel. It was fun! And just imagine—there are other grammies and grandpas on this trip besides me–and we all climbed on a camel! I hope someone took pictures to prove it, because I didn’t.
This is a place where Bedouins live and care for the camels and show tourists how Bedouins used to live. Today they mostly live in little tin shacks and take care of their flocks of sheep and goats and are quite poor. But they used to live in tents and move around more. We went inside one tent and had cups of tea while the Bedouin guide told us about their life. He has THREE wives and 13 children! He said each of his wives has her own tent with her own children. I am glad your dad is not a Bedouin!
They served us a wonderful lunch of different vegetables and pita bread and rice and three kinds of meat. I am eating too much on this trip because the food is very good.
Then we stopped at another historical site at Beersheva. Look it up on the map. It is mentioned in the book of Genesis in the Bible. There is a very deep well called Abraham’s Well. There are several important stories about wells in Genesis because when you live in the desert, you will soon die without water, so a well is the most important thing to have.
In the evening we had a visitor who is working hard at bringing together people who do not like each other very much. I don’t know how much you know about Israel and the Jews—and about Palestine and the Arabs, both Muslim and Christian. It is a very long story and a sad one, since the Israelis run things over here and make life as hard as possible for the Palestinians.
So our speaker is trying to help people realize that maybe people on the other side aren’t their enemies. I’m sure you know about the ways in which African-Americans in our country have been discriminated against. It is the same here, only it seems worse here, at least in the sense that many people cannot easily leave the towns in which they live, so they are trapped. Many Palestinians are not even allowed to drive on some of the roads that Israelis drive on. I’ll tell you more and show you pictures when I come visit this summer.