Sunday, August 5, 2007

All-Star Game, Masada, Dead Sea, J-Roo

Where to begin? Let’s begin with Jerusalem a.k.a. J-Town a.k.a. J-Roo. I’ve now been to Jerusalem 2.5 times. The first time I went directly from the baseball field with my teammate Justin who lives there and studies at a Yeshiva, or bible school, if you will. Imagine two baseball players covered in dirt strolling through one of Jerusalem’s most religious neighborhoods. Let’s just say we were getting sideways looks from the hasids (religious men) as they stepped out of synagogue that night.

During this trip I visited the Kotel—the Western Wall. Here are a few little known facts: the Western Wall was actually a retaining wall for the now destroyed temple, but Western Retaining Wall doesn’t sound quite as snazzy. Also, the picture hanging above your bubie’s mantle shows only a portion of this iconic wall. What you don’t see is an indoor cave-like section where the wall extends. Inside the tunnel is a vast collection of torahs and prayer hot spots. Visiting the wall is a crazy experience. It’s not every day you see religious men engaged in prayer with army officers strapped with rifles marching behind them. Everyone at the Kotel needs a yarmulke (head covering), so if you left yours at home, the fine people at the Kotel provide cardboard hats, free of charge. Also, beggars run rampant at the wall. What a brilliant business move. How can you say no the needy when you’re at one of the most religious places in the world?

Trip #2 to Jerusalem was one of those standard walking tours with the guide who speaks four different languages. Thank goodness she only needed English and Spanish or it would have been a very long day. One of the things you must understand about J-Town is just how much history occurred there. At one point, we were standing above King David’s tomb which was also where the last supper occurred and also the site of a mosque built in medieval times. What’s more, apparently the rock where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac and where Mohammed ascended to heaven was the same rock! What a coincidence! Those of you who strive for historical accuracy might want to disregard this paragraph.

My most recent trip to Jerusalem happened because we got lost coming back from Masada and the Dead Sea. My buddy who was driving asked me to get out and ask for directions. The only problem was I was shirtless wearing swimming trunks and sandals in yet another ultra-orthodox section of town. We ended up doing the “guy thing” and driving around aimlessly until we found the highway.

Among the many blessings I’ve had during this trip, I was honored to be named an IBL All-Star. The collection of players chosen for the game is, without question, the finest group of players I’ve ever been associated with and I’m just lucky to be able to mention my name in the same breath as them. The game itself was an absolute blast and I took some pretty sweet video recordings that I’ll cherish forever. Unfortunately, we lost a nail-biter, 6-5, and I got stranded on first base as the potential tying run after my Ra’anana teammate Matt Castillo hit a screaming line-drive to right field to end the inning. But, all in all, I think we gave the fans a great game.

One benefit of All-Star weekend is the off-time. As mentioned before, a few of us took this opportunity to see the Dead Sea and Masada. Besides myself, it was my Haverford roommate Nat, Josh Zumbrun (a pitcher who played at Air Force) and the lone Japanese player in the league, Ryoju Kihara, or Rio as we call him. I guess you’d have to be there to understand, but Rio was pretty hilarious on the trip. Imagine being on top of an ancient mountain fortress and all of a sudden your scrawny Japanese friend who speaks broken English disappears to explore by himself without telling anyone. Another classic Rio moment was when he we asked him why he’d dyed his hair completely blond. He said, “Rio dye hair because old hair no match color of Rio’s uniform.” How do you respond to that?

Anyway, for me Masada was the most mystical place in Israel. In a nutshell, the story of Masada is that during the final days the Jewish-Roman war in A.D. 72 the last of the Jewish revolutionaries were confined to a fortress at the top of this mountain overlooking the Dead Sea surrounded by the Roman infantry. Instead of being tortured, raped, enslaved, and killed at the hands of the Romans, all the 930+ inhabitants (except one woman and her kids) committed mass-suicide. Whether or not this was the right move according to the Jewish law is a hotly debated philosophical question. Of course, the issue is much much much more complex than I’ve described and is definitely worth the research and thought. Each year the Israeli Defense Force takes new members up for a ceremony where they pledge that Masada will never fall again.

We stayed up all night driving to Masada and climbed the mountain at dawn. The spectacular sunrise revealed a pristine view of the sea, the rugged mountains where the original Roman encampments are visible and the region where the Dead Sea has retreated over the years and formed a field of desolate peaks and valleys. Although these dry fields are beautiful, apparently the sea shrinkage, caused by the removal of water from the Jordan River, is devastating the Dead Sea economy. It sounds corny, but you can really feel something special in the air as you climb this mountain and explore the place where the Masada martyrs spent their final days. The pictures are up on and are too amazing for words. Everyone can join, so “friend me” if we’re not “friends” already.

After Masada we drove to a “beach” on the Dead Sea, but it was more like rocks leading into the water. People always talk about the strangeness of the Dead Sea, and let me tell you, they’re right. First off, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth-- woop-dee-woo. Secondly, the Dead Sea is the saltiest naturally occurring body of water in the world, which has several consequences for bathers. The negative: if you get it in your mouth it tastes like warm hydrogen peroxide with a hint of lemon and you want to vomit. If you get it in your eyes it burns rather badly. If you’re a baseball player with small cuts all over your body and/or athletes foot and/or other “bodily grievances” you can only stay in for 10 minutes before it feels like God is punishing you for that peppermint you stole from the convenient store when you were 8. But there are positives consequences as well: you cannot drown in the Dead Sea. Once you lift your feet from the sea floor you bob up and down like a cork. New swimming strokes also become possible. For instance, I invented a back stroke where one accelerates in the direction of one’s feet, not one’s head. Yeah, think about that. I can’t imagine this but apparently the water is supposed to be healthy for your body. The Dead Sea was Cleopatra’s place to rejuvenate, and word is she had good skin.

Over and Out, na-noo na-noo.

1 comment:

Miriam said...

Your blog is amazingly entertaining! What a great and funny perspective on life in Israel.