Dave and I have been trying to blog every morning on this trip. The only way to do this with all the families around is to get up an hour before everyone else and get right to it. That's what we did yesterday, and the blogging part went well, so well, in fact, that we completed it a lot faster than we thought we did, and, delirious from the lack of sleep, got completely confused about the agreed-upon breakfast time. We got up, blogged, and then Dave ran downstairs to meet our families, while I finished brushing my teeth. I followed him soon afterwards, but didn't find him in the breakfast room. The host seemed to know Dave and to know that Dave was here. "Sit down!" he told me when I tried to ask him if Dave was here and went back up already. There were no other familiar faces at any of the tables. "Sit down!" the host told me and waved his hands at me. So I sat down and started eating. I asked him what time it was, and only then realized that we were early -- about 45 minutes early from the time agreed upon with our families the night before. Dave had been trying to catch me back in our room, but we just ended up passing each other in the elevators. He came back down 5 minutes later, and we breakfasted, and then, after everyone else was assembled, went back upstairs and tried to get online to post our blogs using sketchy hotel Internet.
Dave has been the quiet hero of our trip so far. He's been spending hours on the phone with car rental companies, hotels, tour guides to reserve things in advance, to make sure that everything goes smoothly, and to get reasonable prices. Skype has been coming in very handy when we need to call either the US or Israeli phone numbers, that feature of Skype that allows you to dial landlines for a small fee. Dave's Blackberry with email and GoogleMaps has been an invaluable tool in getting us from place to place. Paper maps help very little: we don't have any that are to scale, and none of the street signs match up to the names found in maps. GoogleMaps lets us make turns based on distances, not on names. But technology aside, Dave's feat has been patience and perseverance in making the calls and asking the right questions in advance. Do we want car insurance? Is there a fee to return the car in a different city? How early can we check in? Do you serve breakfast and is there Internet? The single best way to ensure the success of this trip is to book hotels that provide free breakfast. The family wakes up hungry. The family turns against each other when they don't eat right away.
Yesterday after breakfast we got picked up by a tour bus (reserved the day before) that took us on the tour of Massada and the Dead Sea. Massada is an old fortress that was built by king Herod on top of barely accessible hill on the Dead Sea in case he had to hide from unspecified enemy, built in the Roman style, with baths and roads leading up to it (but maybe without a nearby amphitheater). Later, in about 68 AD, the Jews who rebelled against the Romans made use of it to defend themselves. The Romans laid a 3-year siege and eventually built a ramp to get to the fortress and to breach its walls. When death seemed unavoidable to the people stuck inside the fortress, the men killed their families: all the women and children, and then drew lots to select ten to kill the other men (about 900 of them), and the one to kill the other nine and himself. These events come down to us as related by a Roman historian Josephus Flavius and a 1981 Hollywood miniseries "Masada" starring Peter O'Toole. The movie was filmed on location in 1970s, and from that time the location has inherited a replica of a Roman catapult, some cannon-ball shaped boulders, and a few shots to be inserted in the information video shown to all tourists that come to visit. The video stressed the act of heroism committed by these Jewish rebels in killing themselves instead of letting themselves be killed or converting, and quite chillingly asked us if we were ready to follow their example.
After the visit to Mossada, we went to float in the Dead Sea. It was warm and blue and the water was as salty as ever. Jordan mountains rose on the other side, and once in a while we heard and then saw fighter jets patrolling the border. I got a massage while the rest of the family unit was getting rejuvenated by covering themselves in mud and then rinsing off in the opaque salty waters. I rejoined the group just in time to glimpse Dave's true heroic nature shine in all its glory. A man was calling for help. He and his wife got stuck deep in the mud pit, and they were getting sucked in deeper and deeper. He was a large, fleshy man, and she had her arm in a sling -- she had broken it before and couldn't use it to help herself or her husband. The man was calling for help, and nobody was noticing him until Dave jumped out of the Dead Sea and jumped into the mud pit to start the rescue. Dave's brother Mike joined in the efforts, and together they were slowly able to dig out first the man, who had gotten stuck literally up to his neck, and then the woman, whose main problem was that she couldn't pull herself out. I came in to see only the end of the rescue, but Karen, Dave's mom, told me the details and then the couple themselves came over to ask me to take their pictures as they were all covered in mud.
Leaving the true nature of heroism and heroic deeds to be contemplated at a later time, upon returning to Jerusalem we busied ourselves with finding dinner in town. An hour's walk through what seemed to be a Hasidic-only neighborhood and a ride in three cabs (we were too uncoordinated to manage it in just two cabs) got us to a lovely restaurant called Sima near a bustling bazaar. The day's adventures concluded as merrily as they had begun, with a feast. Dave gives his perspective on the events of this day on his blog.