Masada and the Dead Sea

Yesterday we began The Israel Tech Fellowship – a 10 month intensive program focusing on Big Data and Cyber Security. Most of us had already been in Israel a few days, but we filled our time by shopping for the bare necessities, which for me means instant coffee. We met in front of the dorms, overnight bags on shoulders, and walked South across the Yarkon river to meet in a youth hostel which hosted our orientation.

During the orientation we met our Madricha (counselor) and our program leaders: Oren and Dana. Both Oren and Dana served as Majors in Israel Defence Forces. A head count confirmed six french, eight Americans, and two Israelis participating in the fellowship. One of the Israelis, Yaron, who served in 8200 and the other, Cami, is from Argentina and recently immigrated to Israel.

After signing away most of our rights for the next 10 months, we loaded a bus to Masada, a plateau fortress which was the last stand of The Great Jewish Revolt (66-73 CE). We awoke at 4:30am, filled our water bottles, and started the walk up to the summit. The sun rose above the horizon a few minutes after we got to the top. We toured the fortress and learned a bit of history: King Herod built the place out of paranoid fear that his family wanted to kill him, the Romans moved in after fully taking power from the Jews, followed by either the Sicarii or the Zealots, depending on who you ask. Either way, a group of rebellious Jews replaced the Romans and remained until the 10th Legion got tired of their siege and built a ramp up to the top. When the Romans finally breached Masada they found that the Jews had committed suicide, the fathers killing their children and wives and then drawing lots to see who would kill each other. Only a woman and her two children survived, by hiding in the cisterns, and they lived to their tale to Josephus, the Jewish-Roman historian.

After soaking in the history of Masada, we descended the snake path trail, loaded the bus, and set off for the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on Earth and is ten times saltier than the Mediterranean. You cannot sink, even if you try. A person with good balance can stand upright in water. Like most of the developed world, Israel has reduced its’ lakes and streams by building dams and diverting water for agriculture and power. This caused such an alarming shrinkage of the Dead Sea that there are plans to divert water from the Mediterranean, across Israel, and into the sea. I had a blast, it was my first time swimming in the Dead Sea and it is a trip. We showered off the unearthly salt water and got on the bus for one last trip, back home. Very tired, we all dozed off on the way back.

Tomorrow and Saturday we have off, and on Sunday we begin with the actual instruction. Our days are going to be long, with Hebrew in the mornings and tech through dinner and into the night. I look forward to posting an update in a few days.

Written on October 23, 2014