Day 11 came to an end with a beginning. During our Ma’agal Lyla at our final night of Kennes, our cohort spent some time in reflection. After a long day and a long week or more, it was nice to take it all in. We all thought about our New Year’s Resolutions, which was fitting considering our cohort was about to go to the best Diller New Year’s party in the Negev (desert that is). We also made wishes for the New Year for others in our cohort. It’s weird to see how far we’ve come and how easily we can connect to one another. It was a nice way to end our year together. Afterwards, we headed to “white tent”, to see the other cohorts and to get down on the dance floor. We had Marissa with her classic rap song dances, and Riberi and Mark singing the Taylor Swift songs loud and proud. There was Meital keeping us pumped up and making sure Gabe, Jamie, Becca, Allie, the guys, and me were all on our feet. When white tent ended, all of the cohort gathered all the Bamba, Goldfish, pizza, ice cream, and Coca-Cola -written in Hebrew might I add-and met at the top of the cliff right on the desert sand. We were lucky that Papa Chris bought us pizza, because I wouldn’t say the dinner was the most edible of foods. By Chris’ mistake, we all were give our noise makers fifteen minutes early, so not only did we blow them as loud as we could, disrupting the entire desert, at midnight, but we blew them every single moment leading up to midnight as well. We all stood facing the vast desert lying before us and counted down.]
“Ten!” Someone almost fell of the side of the cliff.
Nine!” Everyone got their noisemakers out, and got ready to blow them again as if their affect would be different this time.
“Eight!” Should we do a count off? Do we have everyone? C5 Count off! Micah!
“Seven!” Is that a goat animal thing staring at us?
“Six!” Wow, this would be an artsy picture!
“Five!” C5, that’s us.
“Four!” I hope the Ben & Jerry’s hasn’t melted all the way yet…
“Three!” Someone blows their noisemaker pre-maturely.
“Two!” It’s almost 2k15, the graduating year for some of us.
“One!” All of our noisemakers break and instead make noises ten times louder than before.
“Happy New Year!”
It didn't feel so happy at 4:30 am this morning when our alarms went off though. All of us groggily climb out of bed, throw on our Diller t-shirts we’ve been instructed to wear, and drag our now overly full suitcases to the buses. Grabbing a pastry on the way out, we all take a seat on the bus. Actually, we take two seats each, because most of us plan on sleeping on our way to Masada. That’s right; we were on our way to climb Masada. After a windy and seemingly dangerous cliff drive, we arrived at Masada. We were all given a bag of assorted breakfast items first, because it’s important we have the energy we need to trek up the mountain. Among the many strange things that have been given to us to eat in the past few hours, this might have been some of the weirdest. Unsure of what to make of that which came out of our blue bags, we found ourselves each with a can of tuna, a tomato, some mayonnaise and ketchup, a whole cucumber, peach nectar, an apple, a candy bar like snack, some chocolate paste, and Halva. With our stomachs either full with the most random assortment of breakfast foods, or empty because of the lack of compatibility between our provided foods, we began our ascent on the Roman path up Masada. The hike up wasn’t so bad. There were some big steps and maybe a few instances where going uphill tired the legs out beyond return, but there were no injuries or major difficulties. When we got to the top, the view was breathtaking. You could look out and see the sea at one end, and miles of vast sand and dried up river banks the other sides. It was so beautiful being so high, until you realize, you’re only barely above sea level.
At the top, our tour guide first told us about the importance of Masada. It was a fort for the Jews that lived there, especially when it came to protecting from the Romans. The King Herod who built his palace on the north end at the top of Masada was a genius. He had the right thinking by building his home at the side of the sea, with a view so magnificent. We looked out to see the beauty of the sea, he may have seen one day, only to find that the sea had dried up and was now much farther away. Next, we were guided down into one of the cistern. After climbing down a set of steep and big steps, down underground we were told the story of the Jews that lived there on Masada. When the Romans came, they were outnumbered, and had the choice to either fight or die fighting, or to commit suicide and save their children and wives from terrible abuse. After, learning that they chose the latter, we were able to think about what we think about the whole story. Being that all of the Jews died, and the only account of the story came from someone who became a traitor and joined the Romans, it is unclear whether the story is true or not. With some deep thoughts in our mind, we made our way back to the surface and were lead to the other side of the mountain to take a Diller North American teen’s group picture and to catch the cable car down. Before a lunch much like that of what we’ve been eating at Sde Boker, we talked about what was good and what was bad about our time here, and were able to provide positive feedback to Diller international. We then boarded the bus for a whole new load of excitement.
Arriving at the Dead Sea was a cool and weird experience. First of all, many of us learned the lesson that you should always wear shoes while at the sea. However, more than that it was amazing to finally be at the Dead Sea after seeing it from so far away on Masada. We were also officially at the lowest point on earth. We had a lot of fun as a cohort figuring out the proper way to float and swim in the sea, and surprisingly, to some of us, we didn’t need to tread water. After our bodies were heavily salted, and feeling pretty slimy, we parted our sea, and made our way to the mud instead. Thinking we were slimy before, seeing us now was a whole different experience. Head to toe, we were a complete composite of sulfur smelling, thick, grimy, but relaxing mud. As we walked, the sand stuck to the mud under our feet, making it feel like each step had a five pound weight attached to it. Now, adding to the list of things I don’t understand about Israel, we were meant to wash off the mud in salt water showered. Not only did I struggle getting all of the mud off with my eyes closed, but I also temporarily blinded myself. I had to be guided to the freshwater showers, which were farther away and of such a lesser quality. In the end, we ran back to the locker rooms to shower and change in what felt like the speed of light, to board the bus again for our return to Jerusalem one last time.
We got one last chance to visit the Kotel. It was nice to end the trip the same way we started, with Jerusalem and the Kotel. It was a lot less crowded so we got to touch the wall and stand right up against it, without much difficulty. It was a really great ending to a fast paced but meaningful trip. Next, we went to the light show in the museum at King David’s tower. Walking in, there were projectors showing short animated clips of stories that seemed to be the placing of Moses in the river and other moments in history. Then, we took our seats and got to see a very impressive show about the history of Jerusalem. We started with the story of Adam and Eve and ended with the message that we must do whatever we can to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. We saw all of the different people to inhabit Jerusalem, and all of the strife, and we were all very impressed. The only thing that could’ve made it better would be if we all had the common sense to use the timeline of events they gave to us before the show to help us understand what was going on during the show. Lastly, we had free time on Ben Yehuda Street to buy our last souvenirs and gifts, eat our last bits of Israeli food, and spend time on our own in Jerusalem for the last time.
We ended with our final Ma’agal of our entire experience. We talked about the ways we can sum up the most important connections, principles, and teachings of Diller in one word. It was weird to see how much we all have grown and changed, and how well we really got to know each other. Now, I sit on the bus, writing the last blog for Diller Cohort 5. It’s been a good one, I’d have to say, and it’s weird to be saying the last remarks, because I know that there’s so much more to look forward to. Even though most of us are asleep right now, as final preparation for our 5 am flight, I think our eyes have been opened in ways none of us could imagine, and I’d say we’re all better and stronger people because of it.