Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Desert Experience

On this second to the last day of our tour, we descended to the Dead Sea Valley for some extraordinary experiences.  This valley is located in the Syrian-African rift, a meeting of the tectonic plates that separate geographically the continents of Asia and Africa.

As you can guess, therefore, this region is subject to earthquake activity on a regular basis (I am from southern California, so I feel particularly at home here!) and the evidence of this is everywhere.   Cliffs show evidence of violent rockfalls, and canyons widen both through natural erosion and the movement - over centuries - of the surface of the land.

The Dead Sea is located at the lowest elevation on the face of the planet, therefore it is among the warmest places on earth.  Yesterday the temperature rose to a comfortable 100 F or so, but, as they say, ‘it is a dry heat,’ so it does not feel as hot as it may appear.  That’s why it’s terribly important to keep hydrated all the time, and our tour guide and our tour members constantly reminded us to drink.

The Dead Sea is a salt water lake with the highest concentration of minerals and salt content in the world: The water consists of 33% salt, and as you may know, when you ‘swim’ in this water, you float without effort.  The authorities recommend that no one swims in this water, because if any of the salts enter your body through your eyes, nose, or any open wound, you will not soon forget its sting.

The movement of the tectonic also caused the land to gush forth with fresh water, as we saw in Ein Gedi, a site that is within 2 miles of the Dead Sea yet is a fresh water spring that is as fun to play in as it is to drink.

We also visited Masada, desert fortress and purported site of a mass suicide that occurred at the hands of the Roman legions in the year 73 CE.  Our guide Tzvi presented theories that doubted the veracity of this account by Josephus, and suggested that the slogan “Masada shall not fall again,” that is, as a reflection of Josephus’ imagination, emanated from a time in Israel’s history (during the 1930’s and 1940’s – see Ari Shavit’s book “My Promised Land”) when she needed such heroes who would commit suicide rather than succumb to the conquering nature of the enemy.

More photos of all of this are to come…please be patient while we conclude our trip and I upload the pictures of our fantastic trip.

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