As Netanyahu arrives in L.A. for show premiere, Israeli consulate’s absence is felt


On the morning that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due in Los Angeles for the beginning of a three-day trip to California, Israel's Foreign Ministry labor union went on strike to protest its wages, shifting management of Netanyahu’s trip, at the last minute, from the local consulate to the Prime Minister’s office.

But that didn’t stop the Israeli leader from attending the March 4 premiere of “Israel: The Royal Tour,” the latest in the PBS television series hosted by CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg, in which heads of state give Greenberg a tour of their country.

The premiere was held at Paramount Studios and was hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

In the hour-long show, [Related: CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg discusses “Israel: The Royal Tour” before the show's premiere Mar. 4 in Los Angeles.

Netanyahu also let the crowd in on an almost unheard of bit of information—his office agreed to give Greenberg full editorial control over the final product.

“I haven’t seen the film,” Netanyahu admitted, before ending his remarks and walking into the screening theater with the crowd following behind him.

Although the Foreign Ministry’s strike is not expected to throw a wrench into Netanyahu’s California plans, the sudden bow out from the local consulate did confuse some of the evening’s arrangements, which were supposed to include a press screening of the film—but didn’t.

In an email Tuesday from David Siegel, Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles wrote, “The Foreign Ministry’s labor union was forced to announce a major labor dispute relating to critical issues involving the future of Israel’s Foreign Service.”

Among other things, the strike means that Israeli consulates around the world will suspend services to visiting Israeli dignitaries and most consular services to Israelis abroad

Netanyahu will be in California until Thursday, traveling north on March 5 to meet with Silicon Valley executives and Gov. Jerry Brown before returning to Los Angeles for his final leg on March 6.

It is the first time since 2006 that a sitting Israeli Prime Minister has visited California.

Before the event, the Journal caught up with Peter Greenberg, who said that despite having been to Israel dozens of times since he began reporting in 1970, touring the country with Netanyahu made this trip entirely different.

“You are seeing the country through the Prime Minister’s eyes and places that are important to him and experiences that are important to him,” Greenberg said, adding that his time on Masada with Netanyahu was his favorite part of the trip.

“He is such an eloquent storyteller and he actually, really, is a historian.”

“Israel: The Royal Tour” will premiere on Thursday, March 6 at 7 p.m. on PBS SoCal

Israeli understudy takes Carmen role on opening night at Masada


An Israeli understudy for the role of Carmen, in the opera being performed at the foot of Masada, was thrust on stage opening night after the star lost her voice in the dry desert air.

Na’ama Goldman, 27, took over for international opera soloist Nancy Fabiola Herrera for the second act of opening night on June 8. The second Carmen, Italian Anna Malavesi, who was scheduled to perform in rotation with Herrera in the Israel Opera production, had been injured during an earlier rehearsal and was not ready to go on stage.

Goldman serves as the cover, or understudy, who stands in for the lead international soloists in rehearsals until they arrive from overseas for the dress rehearsals and performances.

Two days earlier, she had been called on at the last minute to take over for Malavesi during the dress rehearsal, the first time she had ever performed on the stage itself.

This is the third year that the Israel Opera has staged a performance at Masada.

Masada National Park Destination: Desert


Israel’s Negev boasts a full itinerary of cool spots, unique experiences for adventurous travelers

Photos of grinning tourists covered from head to toe with thick, dark mud from the Dead Sea are a common sight. But the famously therapeutic body of saltwater is not the only reason to venture south of Tel Aviv on a trip to Israel. The vast Negev region, which accounts for more than half of Israel’s land mass and stretches from Kiryat Gat to Eilat, contains an abundance of treasures: magnificent views, canyons, archaeological sites, biblical remains, natural hot springs, flourishing agricultural farms and opportunities to explore the terrain by bicycle, jeep, all-terrain vehicle and, of course, camel.

David Ben-Gurion Graveand Home

The iconic first prime minister of Israel and champion of the Negev is buried next to his wife, Paula, on a site with a breathtaking view of the Tzin Canyon and the Avdat highlands. Nearby, in Kibbutz Sde Boker, where the couple spent the last years of their lives promoting the development of the desert, is their modest home, preserved to show David’s simple lifestyle, extensive library collection and varied fields of interest.

Mitzpe Ramon Route 40, near Ben-Gurion University’s Midreshet Sde Boker campus. (08) 6555684.

The Wine Route

Believe it or not, vineyards bloom from the seemingly inhospitable sands of the Negev Desert. The so-called Wine Road is a string of recently founded family agricultural farms in the Negev highlands where you can sample a variety of wines and cheeses, and meet pioneers who have chosen to bring back a crop — the grape — which once flourished in the region, using cutting-edge Israeli agricultural technology. The Wine Road includes the Boker Valley Vineyards, Carmei Avdat Farm, Kornmehl Farm, Rota Farm, Zait Hamidbar Farm and others along Route 40, south of Beersheva.
(08) 6554418.

Neve Midbar Spa

Pamper yourself at this desert oasis health center and spa, located 20 minutes south of Beersheva, which contains four thermo-mineral pools filled with naturally heated water that comes from a depth of almost 3,000 feet below ground. The therapeutic waters are rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium and sulfur, which make for a relaxing and rejuvenating experience. There are also steam and dry saunas, as well as a host of massage treatments.
Mobile Post Halutza, 85515, near Kibbutz Mashabei Sadeh.  (08) 6579666. neve-midbar.co.il.

Bedouin Market

The seminomadic Arab Bedouins are natives of Israel’s Negev region and are believed to have been living in the desert for more than 7,000 years. The vibrant Bedouin market in Beersheva, which takes place every Thursday, offers a glimpse into this desert culture — handmade products, souvenirs and even a livestock section where sheep and camels are sold. Be sure to get there by sunrise. By the time the desert sun reaches its highest point, the experienced desert dwellers retreat into their cool, shaded homes.
Derech Hebron Street, Beersheva.

Ramon Crater

Considered Israel’s Grand Canyon, the Makhtesh Ramon is the world’s largest crater formed by erosion — rather than by a meteor strike or volcanic eruption — a geological feature unique to the Negev. Ramon is one of five makhtesh in the Negev. Its length is approximately 25 miles and its width reaches about 5.5 miles. The highest peak in the Negev can be found near the crater — the Ramon Mount, which rises 3,402 above sea level.  (08) 6588691.

Ein Gedi Nature Reserve

A beautiful oasis on the western edge of the Dead Sea, this nature reserve boasts rivers that flow all year long and natural hot springs that form waterfalls and pools carved into the rocks. Tropical vegetation and an abundance of animal species such as ibexes, hyraxes and leopards make this park a national treasure.(08) 6584285.

Avdat National Park

The Negev region was once a thriving highway of international trade, and Avdat was one of the most important Nabatean cities along the Incense Route, the road over which incense, perfumes and spices were transported out of Arabia to Mediterranean ports from the third century B.C.E. until the second century C.E. The ruins at Avdat, from the Roman-Byzantine period, show a bustling ancient city with public buildings, a ceramics workshop, a large fortress, public bath houses, two churches, cave tombs, cisterns and storerooms.
Route 40, between Kibbutz Sde Boker and Mitzpe Ramon. (08) 6551511.

Kibbutz Yotvata

Founded by young Israeli soldiers in the early 1950s who were laughed at for wanting to breed milk cows in the desert, this kibbutz is now one of Israel’s most successful and well-known dairy farms, controlling more than 60 percent of Israel’s entire dairy products market. Yotvata is also known for its chain of high-quality dairy restaurants dotting the country. The kibbutz is also lauded for its 3,000-acre Hai Bar Nature Reserve, which is dedicated to reviving extinct species mentioned in the Bible and reintroducing them into their native desert habitats.
Route 90, 30 minutes north of Eilat. (08) 6357444. yotvata.org.il.

Masada

One of the most breathtaking sites in Israel is this mountainous plateau at sunrise — the beauty of the surrounding desert landscape and Dead Sea, the awe-inspiring tale of rebellion and the remnants of ancient frescos, mosaics and mikvehs make Masada (Hebrew for fortress) a must-see. After the Second Temple was destroyed, a group of rebels and their families fled to this elevated plateau at the edge of the Judean Desert and fought a bitter battle against the Romans before finally committing collective suicide to avoid being captured, leaving behind magnificent ruins. To Israelis, Masada is the ultimate symbol of the determination of the Jewish people to be free in their own land.(08) 6584207.

Israel Air Force Museum

Israel’s elite air force has a fascinating history, which was kept under wraps until the Israel Air Force Museum was opened to the public in 1991. Located on the Hatzerim Israeli Air Force base, on the western outskirts of Beersheva, the museum features an outdoor exhibition of more than 140 aircraft, including Phantoms, Skyhawks and combat helicopters, as well as enemy aircraft Israel captured during battles. The Boeing 707 used in the famous Entebbe mission, during which the IAF rescued Israelis being held captive in Uganda, has been converted into a theater where rare, archived films documenting the development of Israeli aviation are screened. Just don’t ask too many questions. The famously attractive tour guides — all young women currently serving in the air force — don’t appreciate cheeky inquiries into Israel’s “secret” arsenal of weapons.Military Post 02832, Hatzerim, Beersheva.
(08) 9906888. iaf-museum.org.il.

Books: Shoah satire crosses line into nasty territory


“My Holocaust” by Tova Reich (HarperCollins, $24.95).

About a year after Yigal Yadin and his team discovered the startling ruins of Masada — the last holdout of a group of Jewish Zealots who in 70 C.E., who preferred collective suicide to Roman oppression — my parents were invited to tour the mountaintop with an expert guide.

For Yadin, the unearthed cisterns and synagogues offered surely the most thrilling validation of his career as historian and archeologist. Walking amid this first-century village, inspecting the architecture and annotations, remembering the details of King Herod’s reign, reading remnants of scrolls (from Deuteronomy!), and trying to imagine the awful last days of Jews for whom “live free or die” was a code 17 centuries before New Englanders made it fashionable, was awe-inspiring, to say the least.

Then a busload of American Jewish tourists, probably a Hadassah group, arrived. These characters were straight out of central casting: plaid shorts, baseball caps, loud blouses, cameras dangling, big mouths. As if scripted by Woody Allen or Larry David, one of the tourists looked around the dig atop this hill overlooking the Dead Sea — a hill bursting with history and Jewish civilization that evoked deep ideological questions about the meaning of freedom and survival — and in perfect Brooklynese offered this epiphany to her tour mates: “You know, it’s nice. But the Grand Canyon’s a lot betta.”

I don’t think Tova Reich was there that day. But she obviously knows, maybe from visits to Israel and tours of Holocaust museums in Washington and elsewhere, that Jews are capable of hilarious, unintended juxtapositions of kitsch and culture. (One of the characters in her novel “My Holocaust” is impressed with the handicapped-access ramps at the Auschwitz museum and asks if they had those during the Holocaust, too.)

Had Reich been at Masada that day, I suspect she would have registered the Hadassah lady’s summary and tucked it away for later use in a work of fiction. But she would have found nothing endearing by such cultural and historical illiteracy; she would almost surely have sneered in disdain, unable or unwilling as she seems to be to internalize certain comic moments without being overtaken by waves of condescension and shame.

Condescension and shame make a toxic combination. As I read “My Holocaust”, howling — but aching — through page after page of relentlessly acerbic comedy, I was reminded of Masada and the Grand Canyon and found myself wondering: what makes good satire? (Reich noted in her rebuttal to the negative review of her book in The New York Times that people who don’t understand satire or fiction shouldn’t weigh in. I’ll take my chances.)

My question is whether the Hadassah lady’s unsophisticated frame of reference, not to mention the bizarre self-aggrandizement and greed of some Holocaust survivors, should be the stuff of this type of biting satire. Maybe for middle school kids; maybe for “Saturday Night Live.” But isn’t it unseemly in the work of mature artists, from whom we might expect a little more pathos, maybe even a smidgen of derech eretz, or decent behavior, to blunt the sharper edges of their humor? Good satire requires at least decency, if not affection. It doesn’t pick on the little folks; it skewers the rich and famous and powerful, who are too rich and too famous and too self-important. Charlei Chaplin taught us that schadenfreude is OK, but not without rachmones (compassion). He elevated his nebbishes even as he had them pathetically eating shoestrings for spaghetti; it was the fascists he defanged, without pity, as they toyed around with our world.

In my family we savored the vignette of Hadassah at Masada, as we did the memory of Uncle Herman explaining how he lost money on each shirt he sold but “made up for it in the volume”; or of Grandma Vickie, who casually remarked after John Glenn’s first-ever earth orbit, “So, people with money travel”; or of dear mother Lucy, whose skirt suddenly lost its mooring on her arthritic hips and dropped to the floor while she stood there, embarrassed and momentarily helpless, holding a terrine of hot soup. But would we expose these innocents to public ridicule? Would we still think these are funny incidents if they became the subject of contemptuous sarcasm by embarrassed sophisticates who lower themselves to our primitive depths just long enough to take a good snapshot and have a hearty laugh at our expense? In my family we laughed at these memories, as we laughed at Abbott and Costello, Harold Lloyd and Allen’s Chasidic fantasy in “Annie Hall”: with affection, with tenderness. (We even laughed through “Hogan’s Heroes,” enjoying scenes of SS stupidity all the while wishing that, alas, they really had been such bumbling fools.)

This is my main beef with “My Holocaust,” which is that it’s so ruthlessly ridicules ordinary folks who would have preferred, thank you very much, to be allowed to continue their rather ordinary lives, but were instead catapulted into a higher status, “survivors,” revered by others and in rare instances by themselves and who, like most people who experience massively good or bad luck, may be clumsy with their new-found fame. Shakespeare understood this (some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon ’em, was Malvolio’s lament); Terrence Des Pres understood this in his celebration of the ordinariness of the people who died and survived the camps and the gulag; and Primo Levi revealed that one of the most painful realities imposed on survivors was the way they were judged — reprimanded — by the rest of us for what they did in the camps and what they did when they got out.

I believe Tova Reich knows all this. So it is surprising that she would deploy her furiously funny pen against people who, for the most part, find the fact that they are alive a flat-out miracle. Yes, some survivors glorified their suffering and their survival; some even came out of the camps and lied about who rescued them for political and ideological reasons. But the overwhelming majority were neither heroes nor villains, even if the circumstances they endured were extreme. They were rather average people when they went into the camps, and those who managed to come out mostly wanted a return to normalcy. They battled in German courts for their restitution checks, they remade their families, they sent their kids to school, and they cherished their freedom. Most of them were not psychologically unbalanced sleazebags like Reich’s stock survivor figure, Maurice Messer. And even if only a handful of the book’s main characters are survivors, they come off as so utterly weird that many readers will get the wrong idea. Same for the children of survivors: in real life most of them are no more neurotic or accomplished than the offspring of other immigrants or, for that matter, children generally. Yes, some of us opportunistically play the “survivors’ child” card to advance various political agendas (the anti-Israel rants of Sara Roy and Norman Finkelstein come to mind). Fortunately, these are the rare and disproportionately loud minority; but from Reich’s book, one would infer that the whole second generation is depressed, vain, wacko and certainly not endearing.

Reich astutely anticipated that some readers would be offended. Her book jacket clarifies how courageous she was to “penetrate territory until now considered sacrosanct,” and on the back cover she is shielded by no less an authority on Jewish literature and the Shoah than Cynthia Ozick (although it now appears that Ozick’s letter was included because of a publishing error). It is a clever strategy, to deflect potential complaints about the book on the grounds that it treads on hitherto taboo topics like Jewish greed after Auschwitz. But this masks a more generic flaw: it’s not just because some of her targets are survivors, it’s largely because Reich is so damned condescending, so searing in her reproach, so sneeringly snotty toward so many basic and ordinary people. Her stereotyping of survivors is mean, but at least they are in good company: the book has many characters who are not survivors or relatives of survivors at all, but rather miserably lost souls who happen to suffer from a rather virulent strain of Holocaust envy. Against this pathetic band of misfits who are desperate to expropriate the Holocaust and its various museums for their own personal and political interests, Reich unleashes some of her most pungent prose.

Briefs: Milken High physics team thwarts safe crackers; Technion tops in Mayim Quest 2007


Milken High physics team thwarts safe crackers

Ten students from Los Angeles’ Milken High School competed against more than 50 international teams in March by building an impenetrable safe using basic physics principles at the 12th annual Shalhevet Freier Physics Tournament at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. The safe, built by Milken’s team SuperSafe, was one of two that couldn’t be cracked during the competition.

“We used a magnetic linear accelerator, or Gauss Rifle, to trigger the safe door. Constructing the safe was no easy task,” said SuperSafe team captain Richard Dahan, a junior in advanced placement physics. “But the hardest part about building it was fixing it the night before the competition, after a bumpy plane trip, as well as bartering with other teams to replace broken parts.”

The teams spent months planning their safes, which required a transparent side and a lock that functioned easily. The schools earned points by opening competitors’ safes. The SuperSafe team finished in 10th place and earned an honorary mention for their locking device, which employed the physical principles of magnets and marbles.

“This program gives my students a great opportunity to work together to master the principles of physic by building and cracking open a safe,” said Milken physics teacher Roger Kassebaum, who led his students in the competition. “It creates an environment where learning is based on performance, which is not always easy to create in the classroom. The competition applies physics in a fun and practical way.”

Both Dahan and Kassebaum plan to participate in the tournament again next year.

— Adam Wills, Senior Editor

Technion Students Win Water Challenge

Two students from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed a low-tech way to collect dew from the air and turn it into fresh water. The WatAir, developed by Joseph Cory (Geotectura) and Eyal Malka (Malka Architects), is an inverted pyramid array of panels that collect dew from the air and turn it into fresh water in almost any climate. The project took first place in the Arup Drawing Water Challenge, beating out 100 entries from North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

Inspired by the dew-collecting properties of leaves, one 315-square-foot WatAir unit can extract at least 48 liters of fresh water from the air each day. Depending on the number of collectors used, an unlimited daily supply of water could be produced in either remote or polluted places.

— AW

Artificial Reef Installed in Red Sea

The recently established Marine Biology and Biotechnology Laboratory at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has installed an artificial reef in the Gulf of Eilat, part of a collaborative project between Israelis and Jordanians to restore local reef culture.

According to the university, there will be two artificial reefs placed on the Israeli side of the Gulf and two on the Jordanian area. Students and professors from both countries will work together to study the artificial reef and how it affects marine life.

— AW

Shamoon Wins First Green Campus Award

Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection has selected Sami Shamoon College of Engineering for its inaugural Green Campus Award, which will be formally present this November at a national environmental conference.

Shamoon, which has campuses in Beer Sheva and Ashdod, offers courses in green engineering — which cover sustainability, green energy, green buildings and green architecture — and features outreach initiatives to train army officers, parents, elementary students and teachers about the importance of protecting the environment.

The ministry has also tapped Shamoon to be the model Green Campus, sending a presentation about the college’s environmental activities to every campus in Israel.

— AW

Researchers: Masada Remains Were Romans

Two Israeli researchers believe ancient human remains discovered at Masada in the 1960s and given a full Jewish burial by Israeli authorities may in fact be Romans.

Joe Zias, an anthropologist, and Azriel Gorski, a forensics expert, write this week in Near Eastern Archaeology that the two male skeletons and the head of women’s hair (including two braids) probably belonged to Romans who had been captured by Jewish zealots before Masada fell to Rome in 70 C.E.

It had previously been believed that the remains were of Jews who killed themselves and their families rather than surrender to the Romans.

Using modern forensics, Zias and Gorski say the women’s hair was sheared while she was still alive. Zias linked that finding to a commandment in Deuteronomy that requires Jewish troops to shear the hair of captured foreign women to make them less attractive.

According to this scenario, the troops captured three Romans: They killed the two men and discarded their bodies along with the captive woman’s hair. In 1969, Israel included the three in a state burial for bodies found at Masada, draping their coffins in flags. Ehud Netzer, an archaeologist who participated in the original Masada dig, told the Associated Press that he discounted the Zias-Gorski findings, calling them “assumptions built on assumptions.”

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Walking Through The Echoes of History


It was 5 a.m. and there we were, 39 tired teenagers trudging up Masada’s historic snake path.

From the bus windows, Masada did not look so formidable, just a normal midsized rock fortress. But once on the path, all we could see was the side of this steep mountain fortress, looming ominously, forever upward.

We were all 10th-graders at Milken Community High School, spending four months of the school year studying in Israel with the Tiferet Israel Fellowship. Like many of our trips, this one up Masada allowed us to walk the paths of history we had studied in the classroom.

The climb was quite hard. We stopped several times to catch our breath, close the gaps between the fast hikers and the slower hikers and take in the view. From halfway up Masada, we looked down to see the Dead Sea, and surrounding it, the brown, barren mountains of Jordan. I did not talk much on the hike up; I took in the view in silence.

Seven-hundred stairs, several inclines and an hour and half later, we reached the summit. After climbing the last stair, a great wave of relief and accomplishment overcame me. I found myself yelling, along with many others, phrases of accomplishment. By this point, the sun was partially out, but blocked by the clouds. We then rested for about 20 minutes while taking pictures and catching glimpses of the sun peeking out from behind the clouds.

Then we headed over to the beit midrash, the study and prayer hall used by the people of Masada, and learned about the history of Masada.

After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, approximately 1,000 zealots, mostly teenagers and 20-year-olds, fled to the fortress Masada. The zealots hated the Romans and everything that had to do with Rome. About 100 years prior to the zealots’ arrival, Herod, a governor of Jerusalem who had ties to Rome, had his summer home there. When the zealots arrived, they destroyed his palace, turned his bathhouses into mikvahs and built their own modest houses.

The Romans destroyed Jerusalem, then set their sights on Masada. After witnessing the Roman army killing approximately 1 million Jews, and destroying Jerusalem, the zealots believed themselves to be the last Jews alive. As such, they thought they could not lose to the Roman army.

For years, the zealots held off the Roman army — the strongest army in the world. But three years later, the Romans broke down the gates of Masada, and found all the zealots dead by suicide.

We returned to the beit midrash and learned about a gnizah, a document burial site, found on Masada. Because documents that have God’s name on them cannot be thrown away, they are buried in a gnizah. On top of all the papers in the Masada gnizah lay Ezekiel, chapter 37, a verse expressing hope that through God, one day, all of Israel will be reunited.

The person who left that verse there had an enormous amount of hope, something I have trouble trying to understand. That person thought himself to be among the last Jews in the world, and yet he had enough hope to leave that chapter there for future Jews to read.

Tuvia Aronson, a Milken teacher and dean of the Tiferet fellowship, then took on the role of Eleazar ben Ya’ir, the 19-year-old leader of the zealots. We became zealots and discussed our plans, on this the eve before the Roman onslaught. We decided to take our own lives and not give the Romans the satisfaction of killing us.

Aronson and Aubrey Isaacs, another teacher, led us to the south side of Masada. We were instructed to repeat this famous line: “Shenit Metzadah Lo Tipol! For a second time Masada will not fall!”

Isaacs said, “Shenit,” and we shouted it in response, a bit hesitantly, not sure what to expect. For a few seconds, dead silence puzzled us. But then a thunderous echo repeated our calls. We shouted, “Metzadah!” and we heard another, thunderous echo. And “Lo!” Then we yelled, “Tipol!” Finally we bellowed all together, “Am Yisrael Chai! The people of Israel live!” “This is called the ‘Echo of History,'” Tuvia told me.

At first I agreed. But then I realized that this was not a natural phenomenon; it was the zealots yelling back at us.

Daniel Ulman is a 10th-grader at Milken Community High School.

First timer says: fly me to the Holy Land


The Treasures on Top of the Mountain


By many accounts, it ranks just below Jerusalem as one of Israel’s most beloved treasures. It holds United Nations Education, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) status as a World Heritage Site. Conde Nast Traveler magazine even named it the “World’s Best Monument.”

Masada, which represents a stronghold of Jewish courage and defiance, is among Israel’s most visited sites. Located in the Judean Desert, adjacent to the Dead Sea, King Herod the Great built Masada 2,100 years ago as both his winter palace and a place where he would retreat in times of crisis.

Thanks to monumental excavations begun in 1964 under the direction of Yigal Yadin, visitors regularly come to this lone mountain. At a sharp peak of 1,200 feet, Herod fashioned this marvelous palace with three floors of elegant halls. Its many other wonders included heated bath houses decorated with still-visible mosaics, a remarkable plumbing system to gather runoff from nearby flash floods and even chambers for storing ice in the desert heat. Masada, it seemed, was unconquerable.

But after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70, fate would eventually prove otherwise. Some 960 Jewish zealots took over the abandoned palace as the last independent Jewish holdout in the Land of Israel against conquering Roman armies. The refugees survived atop Masada for three years until a 36-month Roman siege, involving tens of thousands of Roman soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Jewish slaves, finally succeeded.

What the Romans found when they arrived was a community that had taken its own lives rather than become captive slaves. The Roman siege ramp on the western side of Masada that led to the end of the battle still offers easy walking access to the top of the fortress. From there, you can also see the outlines of several Roman camps below.

The World Heritage Committee recognized Masada under the auspices of UNESCO, describing it as “a symbol of the ancient Jewish kingdom of Israel, an example of the opulence and luxury of the early Roman Empire and a symbol of Jewish cultural identity and, more universally, of the continuing human struggle between oppression and liberty.”

In advance of expected, heavy millennium year tourism, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, in conjunction with the National Park Authority, completed a $40 million conservation and renovation project at the site. A 90-minute drive southeast of Jerusalem or about 20 minutes from Ein Gedi, Masada now includes a state-of-the-art visitors center, as well as high-speed, high-capacity cable cars, which start at the eastern entrance, one mile from the Dead Sea. But hundreds of visitors each day choose to hike up Masada’s Snake Path.

The weather is accommodating year-round, though high summer temperatures suggest an early morning visit. If you’re up for an early morning arrival, it’s a magnificent place to watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea. Plan on spending about three hours to tour the site.

Masada is reachable via regularly scheduled bus service from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Eilat. Use the western entrance for the nighttime sound-and-light show (fee required). For more information, sound-and-light show schedule and admission fees, visit