In America, some of the oldest historical sites we have date back a few hundred years. In Israel, the history you can see stretches back thousands of years.
One of the most exciting, exhausting and emotional days of the trip started with a sunrise hike to the top of Masada.
Despite staying up partying the night before (drinking Arak and Tubi 60, two fairly awful Israeli liquors), we got up at 4 a.m. and took off for the ancient mountain fortress of Masada.
The payoff was well worth the calf burn, as the sunrise was absolutely epic. We sang appropriate songs to help the sun along (“Here Comes the Sun”, obviously), and took way too many selfies.
After the sun came up all the way, our trip guide Irad told us about the different people who had occupied Masada throughout history. We were all a little sleep deprived, to say the least.
The most incredible part of Masada for me was getting my Bat Mitzvah in a 2,000-year-old synagogue. Since I wasn’t raised in the Jewish faith, I’d never received this rite of passage at 13. Birthright gave us the opportunity for those of us who never had one, and I jumped at it!
A few of my friends helped me pick my Hebrew name: Shoshanna. It means beautiful flower, and I knew right away it was meant for me.
During my ceremony, I read a prayer, and Rafi read a passage out of the Torah. I read a second prayer, and then boom! A kiss on the head and I was a legitimate lady Jew.
After exploring a bit more of the ruins of Masada, we headed down the other side of the mountain down the Snake Path. It was 45 minutes of slippery rock, steep steps, blazing sun and buckets of sweat, but reaching the air conditioned breakfast hall at the bottom was an incredible reward.
After our grueling morning hike, we headed to En Gedi, a beautiful desert oasis that is referenced in the Bible. A cool spring with a refreshing waterfall, it was a welcome relief from the desert heat.
Our next water adventure for the day was a swim in the Dead Sea! Although it’s the stuff spa dreams are made of, it wasn’t quite what I expected. The water was very hot, the bottom was made of salt balls, and it made every tiny skin cut sting like mad.
I took a buoyant dip (the salt concentration made you super light in the water), but hightailed it out of there.
That afternoon, we had to say goodbye to our Israeli peers who had joined our group. We had bonded so much in the five days they were with us, and taught us so much. I’ll save my sappy sentiments for another post!
In the early evening, we headed deep into the Negev Desert to spend the night in some Bedouin tents.
When we arrived, the first thing we did was hop on camels! I’d been looking forward to this for the entire trip. I rode off into the sunset with my buddy Brandon, and we name our humped beast Larry the Lady camel.
Dinner was an amazing spread of typical Israeli food: rice, chicken, veggies, potatoes and hummus, served with piping hot pita. It was one of the most delicious meals we’d had on the trip!
At night we had a presentation from our Bedouin host who explained their people’s way of life to us. It was interesting to hear how modernization had affected them and their nomadic ways.
At night, under the full moon, we had a bonfire and played songs on the guitar by a campfire. We roasted marshmallows, sang “Hallelujah,” told stories and stayed up until they told us to go to bed!
We slept that night in one big tent on pads on the floor. Surprisingly, it was one of the best nights of sleep I got! Three of my favorite boys (the clan from Chicago) and I all out our mattresses together and had a slumber party, complete with late night giggles and gossip. It was one of my happiest memories of the trip ❤