It was pitch black when we on the Tichon Ramah Yerushalim (TRY) program, started walking. We moved slowly, taking careful steps; using our phones as flashlights. This was going to be a long walk, and we all knew it. Our hike up Masada began at four in the morning and it was absolutely freezing. I was wearing leggings, a tee-shirt, a sweatshirt, and a jacket. I stayed by the back of the group because I knew that I would most likely lag behind.
I was correct. I did stay at the back of the group the entire time. We hiked the Runner’s Path, which winds up the mountain next to Masada, and then up Masada. The hike was long, but when we went to the overlook where we did shacharit, the morning prayers, the view proved the hike to be worth it. We did not get to see the sun rise because we a took a path on which we could not see the sun, but it was beautiful nonetheless. We could see the mountains of Jordan and Israel, the glittering Dead Sea, the Judean desert, and the Rift Valley.
TRY is a semester long program based in Jerusalem. Everyone on the program is from the United States and Canada. Since it is a high school program, it takes kids from 10th to 12 grade. Along with normal school classes, we take a class called Israel Core Course (ICC) where we learn about the history of the Jewish people and Israel. Twice a week, we go on ICC trips that correlate with what we are learning about. At the time we went to Masada, we were learning about Masada and the Great Revolt.
The most meaningful part of the experience was when we learned about the saying “Masada will never fall again.” Never again will the Jewish people be put into a situation where their only decision will be how they will die. Never again will the Jews have to die for their religion. That was a beautiful end to the day.
The story of Masada, although inspiring, tells a story of extremism. The zealots were essentially terrorists. They hated the Romans and wanted to rid Judea, modern day Israel, of them through violence. Masada taught me that when the fate of a people is left in the hands of its extremists, there is never a happy ending. This can be noted today in the rise of radical Islam, a fringe movement that promotes violence within a religion of peace.
By the time we reached the top of Masada, it was eight in the morning. On the opposite end of the mountain top and plateau, there was an army ceremony. It was touching to see the ceremony on the mountain, where Jews died for their religion, “Al Kiddush Hashem”, or in the name of God. Israeli soldiers were there, who protect the Jewish state and as a result, the Jewish religion. In the early days of the state of Israel, army units had ceremonies on Masada, but today, ceremonies are held all over Israel. The story of Masada promotes an idea of mass suicide, and Israel stands for life, not for death.