Friday, February 22, 2013

Shopping in Mamilla

Our last afternoon in Israel offered our first free time to explore.   
We went with the group to Mamilla Avenue which is right 
outside the old city west of the Jaffa gate.   
 In 2007, the Israeli government approved an urban renewal project creating the Mamilla Mall.   
The shopping area is a $150 million dollar, pedestrian-only outdoor shopping area touted as a luxury destination in the style of Rodeo Drive in LA.  International names such as Rolex, Polo, Nautica are all found here along with restaurants and an IMAX theatre.

The stones here compose one side of a historic building which was dismantled from a nearby location and rebuilt within the mall.  In keeping with the municipal law of building in Jerusalem, the original stones were numbered, taken apart and then put back up.  
Mother and I had a relaxing lunch in a small cafe.  
We enjoyed wandering into the stores and viewing the outdoor art. 
 It was a wonderful end to our time in Israel.  
After time to pack and rest, then dinner in the hotel, we were taken to the airport in Tel Aviv.  Since our flight didn't leave till the following morning, we took a taxi to our hotel with a very early wake up call.  We enjoyed our trip and have great memories of our time together in Israel.  We both want to come back soon! 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Qumran

Qumran is a ruin from the days of the Second Temple and an archaeological site in the West Bank of Israel. It is located on a dry plateau about a mile from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea and about 10 miles south of Jericho.  It is best known as the settlement nearest to the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.  
Extensive excavations have taken place in Qumran since the discovery of ancient manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947.   Nearly 900 scrolls have been uncovered, most written on parchment and papyrus.  In addition, pottery, cisterns, Jewish ritual baths and cemeteries have been located in the same area.  
The scrolls were located in a series of eleven caves around the settlement.  The first seven scrolls were found accidentally when two Bedouin shepherds came across a clay jar in a cave near Khirbet Qumran which contained seven parchment scrolls.   
The scrolls came into the hands of dealers in antiquities who offered them to scholars.  The first scholar to recognize their antiquity was E.L. Sukenik, who succeeded in acquiring three of them for the Hebrew University.  The four other scrolls were smuggled to the United States where a collector purchased them and brought them back to Israel.  The Israel Museum in Jerusalem constructed a special site for exhibiting the scrolls - The Shrine of the Book, which we visited earlier in the trip.  
In the meantime a group of scholars began to search and excavate the cave where the first scrolls were found, as well as some 40 caves in its vicinity. Many scrolls and thousands of fragments were found in 11 caves.  The fragments were painstakingly pieced together over many years of work.  The documents found there include copies of all the books of the Bible except for the Scroll of Esther.  
The most famous manuscript discovered was the complete Isaiah Scroll written in Hebrew and authoritatively dated around 100 -150 BC and recently confirmed by a radiocarbon examination of a sample of the parchment.  The book of Isaiah was written on 17 sheets of parchment and measures about 24 feet long and 11 inches high. The books of the Qumran library are regarded as the oldest existing copies of the books of the Bible.     
Additional manuscripts were discovered that describe the life of the Qumran community; the Manual of Discipline, the Damascus Document, the Thanksgiving Psalms, and the War scroll. They tell about the community's origin and history, its rules of life, and expectations for the future.  
The scrolls and other objects found in the areas around Qumran were both in natural caves in the hard limestone cliffs and in caves cut into the marl cliffs near the site.  The dry climate of the Dead Sea region kept these manuscripts for over 2000 years!  It was incredible to be able to visit Qumran and to see the artifacts there.  The site itself contains a small museum, a theatre telling about Qumran, a small walkway to view the caves in a distance and a nice gift shop.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea - also called the Salt Sea, is a salt lake bordering 
Jordan to the east, and Israel (and the West Bank) to the west. 
 The Sea surface is is 427 meters (1401 feet) BELOW sea 
level, and the lowest land elevation on Earth.  


When you go into high altitude, it is common for your ears to pop.  It's the same when you go BELOW sea level.   I had a bit of dizziness and ear trouble every single time we went below sea level.  It's the first time I have ever experienced going BELOW sea level so I was surprized at my body's reaction.  It was totally unexpected and interesting that the altitudes affect you the same - either direction.  
Mother gets her feet wet in the Dead Sea! 
The Dead Sea receives a number of incoming rivers, including the River Jordan. 
Once the waters reach the Dead Sea they are land-locked and have 
nowhere to go, so they evaporate, leaving behind a dense, rich, cocktail 
of salts and minerals that supply industry, agriculture and medicine 
with some of its finest products.
Janet puts on the clay for a full body treatment.  You can feel the tingling of the salt! 
The Dead Sea is flanked by mountains to the east and the rolling hills of Jerusalem 
to the west, giving it an incredible beauty. Although sparsely populated and 
very quiet now, the area is believed to have been home to five Biblical cities: 
Sodom, Gomorrah, Adman, Zebouin and Zoar (Bela).

Many of the visitors covered with clay! 
The Dead Sea has attracted visitors from around the Mediterranean basin for thousands of years. Biblically, it was a place of refuge for King David. It was one of the world's first health resorts (for Herod the Great), and it has been the supplier of a wide variety of products, from balms for Egyptian mummification to fertilizers.   People also use the salt and the minerals from the Dead Sea to create cosmetics and herbal sachets.  
Such a lovely look!  :) 
The Dead Sea's unusually high salt concentration means that people can 
easily float in the Dead Sea due to natural buoyancy.  In fact, it is 
actually difficult to get your feet DOWN! :) 

With 34.2% salinity, the Dead Sea is one of the world's saltiest bodies of water. 
One of the men in our group! 
  The Dead Sea is roughly 9.6 times saltier than the ocean.  This salinity makes for a harsh environment in which animals can not flourish.  The high salinity prevents fish and aquatic plants from living in it, though minuscule quantities of bacteria and fungi are present.  
Mother and our guide, Rivkah, enjoy the sunshine!  
It was a great experience and a chance of a lifetime to visit the Dead Sea.  
We purchased Dead Sea Clay from the local shop and left with lots of good memories.  

Monday, February 18, 2013

Masada

Masada is Israel’s most popular paid tourist attraction 
and a 2001 UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Masada is an ancient fortification located on top of an isolated rock plateau in the Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea.   Herod the Great, ruler of Israel, built luxurious palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 27 and 31 BC.    He was a brutal ruler and understandably paranoid, and took refuge with his family occasionally in Masada.  After the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Holy Temple in 70 C.E., hundreds of Jews encamped in the safety of this fortress. These men, women and children were dedicated to the eradication of pagan rule in the Land of Israel, and known as rebels or zealots.  During the siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire toward the end of the first Jewish-Roman war, the Jews managed to hold off the enormous Roman force for three years.  However, when it became clear that the Romans would prevail, the 960 zealots decided to commit mass suicide rather than surrender to the Romans. Their harrowing tale has become an eternal symbol of the Jewish fight for freedom.  
We chose to ride the tram up to the top of Masada, but some visitors prefer to 
walk up the "Snake Path".  It takes approximately 1.5 hours by foot and 
only 9 minutes via the cable car.  
From the cable car, we had a nice view of the people who chose to hike up the 
Snake Path, which is considered to be moderately difficult.  It is a narrow, 
steep climb up a shear mountain face and entirely exposed to the sun.  
 The snake path gate welcomes those travelers who were willing to 
hike the 5 mile journey up a 900 foot elevation incline, beginning 
below sea level to approx 59 meters above sea level.  
Mother stands with the Israeli flag at the top of Masada.  
The word "Masada" means fortress - and we enjoyed exploring all around the area.  
It was incredible how well preserved and excavated it has been. 
 
The largest building is the western palace, where Herod apparently conducted business.
 
Fifteen long storerooms kept essential provisions for times of siege.  
Herod filled them with food and weapons.  Each storeroom 
held a different commodity.  Wine bottles sent to Herod 
from Italy were found in this area along with 
different storage jars with inscriptions.      
  This synagogue is one of the very few discovered so far that date from 
the Second Temple period. Many coins from the Jewish revolt were found here.  An ostracon (broken pottery) was found on the floor with the inscription, "priestly tithe."  

The synagogue on Masada is one of the oldest in Israel.  During the Great Revolt, Masada's defenders made a number of structural changes.   Using stones taken from the palaces, they added several columns, combined the entrance with the prayer hall and added stone benches.  They closed off a small room in the corner of the hall, which apparently served for storage of the Torah scrolls and as a genizah (repository for damaged scrolls).  Under its floor were found fragments of Biblical scrolls including the 'Vision of Dry Bones" recorded in the book of Ezekiel.  Fortunately, for those extremely observant Jews, the house of worship already faced Jerusalem.  
"Long since, my brave men, we determined neither to serve the 
Romans nor any other, save God..." Josephus Flavius 

Josephus Flavius recorded Jewish history as well as the Siege of Masada. 
His works provide valuable insight into first century Judaism and the 
background of early Christianity.
  
  As Masada was excavated, stones were added to the original structure in 
order to stabilize and protect the integrity of the work.  
The 'lines' were highlighted as shown above so that it was easy 
to determine the original structure from the part which was added. 
Beautiful mosaics were found inside the west bathhouse.

This is the view from the top of Masada looking at the path that the 
Romans would have taken to overtake the zealots.   How scary it must 
have  been to watch them approach with no way of escape!  
As we were leaving, this man was playing a shofar, a long ram's horn 
that gave a very odd billowing sound.  It seemed so appropriate for the end of our visit.  
To many, Masada symbolizes the determination of the 
Jewish people to be free in their own land.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Judean Desert

Today we journeyed through the Judean dessert region on the way to Masada.
The Judean Desert is bordered by the mountains of Judea to the west and by the Dead Sea to the east.  It is considered to be a fairly small desert, measuring only 1500 square kilometers.
 The landscape was so diverse just within an hour's drive of Jerusalem.
The area is sparsely populated, but animals were plentiful.   We passed many areas with sheep...
and goats. 
We saw lots of Addax - a member of the antelope family. 
The desert is known for its rugged landscape, which has provided a refuge and 
hiding place for rebels and zealots throughout history. 
 It also provides solitude and isolation to the many Bedouins who live here. 
The Bedouin camps are set up as temporary residences which support their nomadic lifestyle.   Almost 50% of the Bedouins today have moved into settlements set up by the Israeli government in order to obtain public services and schooling.  The remaining 50% live in unrecognized settlements in the Negev or Judean deserts, but can also be found spread out all over Israel. 
Many of the Bedouins work as sheep/goat herders or grow field crops.   As a whole, this group is on the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder in Israel and they are known for their low education rate, crime, drug abuse and poverty.  However, they are ingenious in working with tourists!  
Our group stopped by the side of the road to visit with a Bedouin who had 'seats' on his camel for sale.  For a small 'donation' we could sit on a camel.  For a larger donation, the camel would stand up!    Mother posed for a picture with the Bedouin man.
Since it was a rare opportunity, I opted to pay the small donation to SIT on the camel!!  :)  It would have been a better picture if he had posed on the desert side of the road!!    
 
We drove past breathtaking views which were constantly changing. Mountains,
 cliffs and chalk hills stand along plateaus, riverbeds and deep canyons.   
The width and breadth of the desert is crossed by several rivers
 that have created canyons up to 500 meters deep.  
Some of these rivers have water all year round creating small oases in the desert.  
As we climbed higher, the skies and expansive terrains were amazing!  
Around every corner, there were stunning views!
 The water was such a bright turquoise, especially
when contrasted with the white salt and sand.
This was one of the checkpoints where we stopped for an inspection.  
The station was an old RV with a tent protecting them from the intense sunlight.  
A security guard stands by the checkpoint.  
The ever-changing landscapes were just incredible.
Here's another oasis in the desert on the way up to Masada.  
We were amazed to see such lush palm trees right in the middle of nowhere!  
The plateaus were impressive...
and the multitude of layers and colors were awesome.  
Our first view of the dead sea with Jordan on the other side.  
Outside of Masada 
The landscape on our drive was just breath-taking and we enjoyed
 our ride up to visit Masada, Qumran and the Dead Sea.