President’s Column: Over the Top on Masada
Nearly everyone I love was with me on the top of Masada. We’d come, in December, for a long-hoped-for family adventure. The moment we began setting up our private minyan on the summit, I knew that I had underestimated the power of this experience.
Before I became national president of Hadassah three and a half years ago, I had prepared my family for this exciting and challenging period of my life, the culmination of decades of volunteer work and the opportunity to so fully serve Hadassah. It would mean many absences from home. I’d have to make do with phone calls instead of congratulatory hugs at a recital or consoling hugs after a lost ball game. To make up for those lost moments—and especially to show my six grandchildren what made Hadassah so compelling for me—I wanted to share with them the Israel I love. My youngest grandchild is 11 and the oldest is 18, so this seemed a perfect time to go.
We landed in the early morning and got to Jerusalem as the sun was rising over the Old City. That evening we lit Hanukka candles and admired the endless number of lights all over the city. Exiting Jerusalem on December 25, we were slowed down by traffic as Israeli parents dropped off their children on what was a regular work and school day. On the drive south to Masada, the teenagers expressed a desire to climb the snake path to the top, but this grandma isn’t quite that energetic. Instead, we rode the cable car to the top of the mountain, where a thousand refugees fled after the destruction of the Second Temple and lived from 70 to 73 C.E. in a fortress built by King Herod. We had borrowed a remarkable Torah scroll so light I could easily cradle it in my arms.
Not far from where the first synagogue in history was established, we began with the Shaharit service, beautifully organized by my niece Marcy. I think it was when my grandson Jonathan, 14, was chanting from the week’s Torah portion that told the story of Joseph, the ultimate dreamer, that I realized how many of my dreams had come true. Like so many of you, my sister Linda and I grew up at a time when day school education wasn’t easily available. The Jewish education I do have is mostly from Hadassah. So I marveled and kvelled at the ease and love with which my day-schooled grandchildren conducted services and read Torah.
There’s an idea in studying the Torah that there’s no strict chronology—the past and present have a way of blending. I had a momentary sense of this merger of time on Masada. A flock of swifts flew over our heads, part of the great bird migration that passes over Israel each winter. I thought to myself: the June Walkers of 2,000 years ago looked up and admired the same sight of birds flying by. Then, suddenly, the flutter of birds and our own singing were drowned out by the roar of jet planes. Israeli cadets were training in the cobalt blue sky above the ancient fortress. What a wonderful feeling to know we have not only the Jewish past but also the Jewish future—thanks to those dedicated to protecting the Jewish state.
The grandkids loved the Hadassah projects—Hadassah College Jerusalem, Hadassah Medical Center and the Youth Aliyah villages. I think they would have moved right in with the Young Judaeans on Year Course in the new Judaean Youth Hostel if we’d let them. (Sorry, Kimmie, no 11-year-olds accepted.) I enjoyed the way they applied their American vernacular—“cool” and “awesome”—to describe our work, and I even overheard one of them saying she was proud of how many lives “Grandma and her friends had touched.” The only time this lively group turned somber was at the Yad Vashem Children’s Memorial, where a candle reflected in thousands of mirrors honors the more than one million children murdered in the Holocaust. I don’t think they’ll ever forget it.
No Zionist can wish for more than to know that her family holds to their hearts the centrality and the hopes of the Jewish people.