Monday took us to Masada, the mountain fortress of the last holdouts in the Jewish revolt against Rome almost 2000 years ago. We ascended by the cable car, a quick 3-minute ride, and spent the morning on top of the mountain, exploring the site (including its ancient synagogue), and then the fitter members of the group walked down the snake path for some 45 minutes to the bottom while the others used the cable car.
After Masada, we proceeded to the beautiful oasis of Ein Gedi on the shore of the Dead Sea for lunch. Then we drove up the Jordan River valley to kibbutz Ein Dor, where we met with 88-year-old Aryeh Malkin, longtime farmer and onetime volunteer in the prestate Haganah, bringing in Jewish refugees from Europe after the Holocaust.
We spent the next two days in the Galillee and the Golan, starting at the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, continuing to Kuneitra and Katzrin (where we visited the Golan Heights Winery) and then a visit with young IDF soldiers defending Israel's border. We had a festive dinner at the historic Dubrovin Farm (note that despite what the link indicates, the restaurant is now very much kosher!) with music provided by a trio of Russian immigrants.
We climbed up to Tzfat, often spelled Safed in English, the mountain city that is home to kabbalists and artists...and where the Kabbalat Shabbat portion of the Friday evening prayers was written. Then we visited Tzipori, where we went into a 1700-year-old synagogue (complete with inscriptions in Greek and Hebrew of donors of the beautiful mosaic floors).
And now we are in Jerusalem, Israel's ancient and modern capital. We stopped briefly at Mt. Scopus, overlooking the city, and said the Shehechiyanu blessing for being privileged to enter this beautiful city. Tomorrow: Jerusalem's Old City and the City of David!