History of a People

This blog post will be about some of the historical or important sites I visited in Israel; please forgive me if I make some generalizations in the following entry. I am trying to give some of the overall impressions of Israel and its people that I interacted with.

We spent a whole day learning about David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister. After a visit to Independence Hall, where he signed the country of Israel into existence in 1948, we went to visit both the kibbutz where he lived his final years, and his burial site.

Podium with original microphones where Israel's independence was announced

Israeli Declaration of Independence

We had the opportunity to visit the house he lived at in the Sde Boker kibbutz in the Negev Desert. Standing in his simple boxy house really gave me a deeper understanding of what Israel is all about. You have the country's first leader, one of the most significant and respected Israelis in history, and he chooses to live in a kibbutz in the desert. It was a simple life when he could have finished his years in a mansion with servants. Ben-Gurion wanted to focus on his community, on self-growth, on making something out of nothing in the desert.

David Ben-Gurion's simple living room

 Books on a bedside table in Ben-Gurion's house

A quote from David Ben-Gurion, in regards to his wife

His burial place and memorial are not far from the kibbutz. I was so thoroughly impressed with the memorial for him that we saw in the desert, in part because of a short film created by Ari Folman, creator of Waltz with Bashir, one of my favorite animated movies ever.

Video at the memorial

Really amazing, emotional, one-of-a-kind movie

Our whole group at the burial site of David Ben-Gurion

Tombstone of David Ben-Gurion

Our group also visit Masada one morning to watch the sunrise. I really surprised myself by being one of the first to make it up the mountain! Guess all that high altitude adventuring in Ecuador paid off. I always think of myself as the asthmatic wheezy one holding the group back, but that was not the case at Masada!

Sunrise over Masada

View of the Dead Sea and Masada

Masada was an old Jewish settlement that King Herod built on a mountaintop overlooking the Dead Sea. Our tour guide Zeev took us around to some of the different important spots on the hillside. We learned about the Roman conquest of Masada, and from the top of the mountain you can see where the Romans camped out while the Jews on the top of the hill committed mass suicide so as to prevent being captured. Because suicide is not allowed in the Jewish religion, the soldiers stationed there killed each other.

 Ruins of the old temples on Masada

 Amir, one of the guys from my group, praying on the top of Masada

My roommate Lila and I at the top

There was a sauna in the ruins of the palace, despite the heat, because it was a symbol of wealth and prestige. One thing I learned on this trip is that Israelis are very intense. They know what they want and do not seem to worry about what others think. Political correctness and mild manners probably wouldn't get you very far in Israel.

Back to Masada. I was greatly impressed by the water filtration systems they designed that are still visible in the sides of the mountain. Many groups were praying around the hilltop, but as always, I was more interested in the historical aspect of the site. To get back down, you had to climb down the 'snake path,' a long-winding, steep, narrow path down the side of the mountain in 120 degree unrelentless heat.

Warning of the treacherous path ahead

 Winding snake path down the side of Masada

The path never seemed to end

 Enthusiastic members of my group on the Snake Path down from Masada

One person from our group did get heatstroke and had to be carried down the side of the mountain. I guess we are all lucky, it could have just as easily been me. Apparently drinking butt loads of water won't always help you in the desert!

My entire Birthright group at the top of Masada


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