The dust settles beneath my feet and the dusk transitions into the open night sky. The stars, still timid from the power of the day, become the companion to Masada hovering in the backdrop of the view. Tents are all set up and the soup starts to boil. The 10th graders are cutting up the salad, strolling through the photos of the day, and chasing each other around. I am exhausted from the day of the long bus ride, hiking, floating in the Dead Sea and explaining the significance of our survival in the desert. I am full of heart sharing my Aliyah story to these friends who have never met someone from California. I am full of confidence, fumbling over my explanations of the trees and the sandstone. I am full of joy, watching my declarations, my calls to action, my open-ended questions tousle around in the eyes of my students. I am full of me. I am full of my hopes for the future.
Sitting across the picnic table, a teacher tells me that I hold something different than anyone else on this trip. I clutch an American passport. Unsure of his motives, I joke; “that and the 18 years of memories living there.” He responds, “When there is a war here, you can run back home. These Israelis won’t have anywhere to go except their deaths in the battlefield.”
“But I won’t run back. I didn’t this past time when I was running to bomb shelters everyday and I won’t next time. I feel no need to use my American citizenship as a way to run away. I have chosen to live here for the good and the bad. Even Jews in America felt scared with Anti-semetic events and the American block on flights to Israel. If anything, I feel more safe in Israel.” He asks me how many Jews outside of Israel have been killed since the start of the State of Israel. He asks me how many Jews in Israel have been killed in wars and in terrorist attacks, here in our safe home.
If living in Israel was a numbers game, I lost before I even started. If living in Israel was about materialistic wealth, or guarenteeing convenience, then I don’t have a shot at comparing. But when thinking of my future children or my future husband, my friends or my neighbors dying on the battlefield, I have to take a deep breath before answering the question. There is no response. There is no way to say “oh well, its worth it..” The only answer is that we are part of a history book. We are one link in the long chain that connects the generations. The deaths along the way aren’t a price we pay, it’s the definition of our survival. Its the odds that we are beating with every success and it’s the victory of our story continuing.
“My cousins are looking into obtaining passports from the European Union, just in case they need to run. Everyone should get prepared incase Protective Edge is just a taste of more to come. I rather my children figuratively die off from Judaism through intermarriage in Galut than continue to die off here in Israel.” He continues on explaining the tortured love he shares for Israel. It’s about the emotions rolling deep with the fields of this land. It’s the historical permission to investigate and to fight back. It’s the dream that we grasp, connecting us back to our roots. It’s complexly and perplexingly undefinable, but undeniably meaningful.
My second time at Masada, I am standing in the synagogue of Masada with my class of 9th graders. For once they have reached a total moment of silence. The kind of silence that forces you to take a timid step back. The kind of silence that brings me to echo my father’s sentence that he shared with his tour groups in this exact location. “Here is where the diaspora began.” I am saying his words in the Hebrew language, in front of Israelis and it feels surreal. “Here is where our people decided to end their lives as a way of continuing their identity. They had the choice of dying or being forced into slavery by the Romans or choosing to write their ending to their last battle. After surviving for a year on Masada, the last soldiers of our nation gave their lives to make one thing clear- live as Jews, die as Jews. We are standing here today to say that we are back in our land, with our army, with our leadership, with our nation, with our G-d, to write the happy ending to the Masada story. We once again are the strong Jews like our forefathers and we won’t let Masada fall again.”
The silence raises goosebumps on my arms. The silence mirrors the endless horizon, surrounding us with infinite possibility. The silence speaks louder than far off city noise as we all experience the texture of history on our fingertips.
I take an apprehensive step back, not wanting to disturb this beautiful existence, but fully aware that this moment will soon cease. I repeat, “Masada is in our hands, now let’s pass it on to our children’s.”