Israel Study Trip

Masada, En Gedi, Qumran & the Dead Sea

The room phone rang at 6am sharp as a wake up call to get ready to leave Hotel Inbar.

Amos & our group song leader, James, leading an appropriate breakfast song

After breakfast we left Arad and had a nice ride through barren, but beautiful, hilly country on the way to Masada. We hiked up the trail that follows the ancient Roman ramp that ultimately assisted in breaching the Masada fortress.

Our group ascending to Masada beside the Roman ramp.

Once we arrived  on Masada Sofian talked about Herod the Great who was rich, did incredible building projects, but as much as he wanted it Jews never accepted him as one of their own. Herod had to be satisfied with his riches and incredible building projects, one of them the palace fortress of Masada. Masada includes ruins of palaces, military quarters, Roman baths, many storage buildings, frescos and mosaics.

Frescos on inside walls and remains of one of Herod’s palaces.

Masada is also, of course, the place of the last stand of the Zealots in 74AD and their famous mass suicide.

En Gedi is a spring and waterfalls near the Dead Sea that scenic and refreshing. David was in “the wilderness of En Gedi” while hiding from Saul. It evokes refreshment in the desert. There was a bit of a hike to see the falls and some of the group elected to relax in the shade instead. They got to visit with a school on an outing. Those who went the whole way to the large falls felt it was worth the effort to get there. It seemed to be popular spot with locals as well.

Typical Judean desert on the left as we traveled north from Masada to Qumran.

We stopped at the Qumran Dead Sea Visitor Center & Restaurant for a refreshing lunch of shwarma, chicken, salad & cold soft drinks.

After this we visited Qumran, which was the settlement where those who came to be called Essenes lived and perhaps more famously stowed thousands of scrolls which was discovered starting in 1947. We saw the ruins of a community that expected the soon “end of the world” and so tried to live as the sons of light. They had a focus on remaining pure, which involved a lot of washing, so there were several mikvah ruins in Qumran. We learned that Qumran means “two moons” because the ancients could see both the moon & its reflection in the Dead Sea. We also saw what is thought to be the cave where the first Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in 1947.

A cave near Qumram where Dead Sea scrolls were found.

The Dead Sea loomed in the back ground and all day but now we headed to it. The Dead Sea is unique for various reasons: its extreme saltiness, its lowness (below sea level), its many supposed therapeutic quality and, environmentally, how quickly its disaapearing. It is shrinking at a rate of about 1 meter a year, according to our guide. On the high way north we noted a rock that marked how deep the Dead Sea was 100 years ago.

The Dead Sea as seen from Qumran

We also tried out the amazing floating characteristics of the Dead Sea. And, yes, you can read a magazine while floating. But don’t try reading your phone, the slimy constitution of the water permeates everything.

A person floating while reading a magazine.

We ended the day in Tiberias beside Lake Kinneret (aka Sea of Galilee) at the Ron Beach Hotel.

Israel Study Trip

Tel Arad, Tel Be’er Sheva & Ein Advat

This morning we awoke refreshed to a sunny day in Arad, Israel. It seemed quite a few of us took a short “break” from sleeping at about 1am for an hour or two, due to a bit of time zone adjustment, but everyone seems to be feeling good and refreshed.

Our Sabbath (Saturday) breakfast at the Inbar Hotel was not the typical American eggs, bacon and toast, instead it was salad, cheese, breads and various others items, pretty well described by Amos Hoover as, “I don’t know exactly what I have.”

At breakfast our covid PCR tests notices started coming back and our guide, Sofian, worked through typing our passport numbers to check if we were all negative and…great, we were! No extended isolation needed.

our bus, Andrew & tel Arad

Our first stop was tel Arad (tel designating an ancient city ruins) and there we saw a well preserved ancient temple to Yahweh which was buried with dirt, possibly to hide it during the time when Hezekiah was destroying temples other than the one in Jerusalem. It was interesting that the altar was the same dimensions as other Yahweh altars. We also saw a home and city walls from the time of the Caananites. A nice breeze kept us cool and blew some hats off heads.

Ken at the ancient wall at tel Arad

Next we headed to Be’er Sheva. Andrew reminded us that the borders of ancient Israel were from Dan in the north to Be’er Sheva in the south. Here we were able to see the ancient city gate location, main streets, homes & a deep & very large cistern. We paused in the shade to sing, say the Shema and learn some Hebrew from our guide. Good morning is “Boker Tov” is the one I can remember as I’m writing, but some others learned more.

Singing, saying the shema & learning some Hebrew

As we were driving to our next stop we noticed something shining in the distance that got our attention. (we could actually see it from tel Arad) This turned out to be the fascinating Ashalim Power Station which uses 52,000 mirrors to focus the sun’s light on a tower which can generate electricity from the tremendous heat.

Ashalim Power Station (courtesy The Guardian)

We finished the day by doing a rigorous hike at Ein Advat (also known as Wadi Zin). Andrew noted that the Wilderness of Zin is associated with the “water from the rock” (Numbers 27:14) The hike included beauty: canyon rock formations, water falls, streams & water pools.

Some of the natural beauty at Ein Advat

It also included a challenging hike & climb for a group that are not youngsters anymore. The anticipated steep climb, steps and even ladders at points dissuaded some of the group from continuing, but Amos, James, Neal, Lester, Matt, Andrew & Linda climbed the whole way to the end. Our guide thinks that Amos, at 88 years old, takes the prize for the oldest hiker he knows to complete it. When Amos was asked what the hardship level from was on a scale of 1 to 10 he put it at about a 9.5. Andrew treated those who made it to the end with a Magnum ice-cream bar.

A steep part of the hike
Israel Study Trip

Travel Time

From James Nolt:

We will remember the scene of confused tour members shuffling through papers at the Newark airport to find the right covid test results, green cards, and entry permits. Our flight was delayed about 1 and 1/2 hours. We left Newark about 12:30 Eastern Time Friday morning and arrived in Israel about 4:36 Friday afternoon (10:36 Eastern Time), after about a 10-hour flight. Then we had to get another covid test in spite of the fact that we all had been tested on Tuesday. We are in “quarantine” in a nice hotel. I’m praying for good test results so we can continue our tour tomorrow.

We are bonding with our tour guide Sufian and our bus driver John. We tour members soon learned that Sufian is very knowledgeable and eager to share. I believe he is observing that tour members are eager listeners. After a delicious Israeli buffet dinner in Arad, we are ready for a good night’s rest, this time on a bed rather than an airplane seat.

Israel Study Trip


“Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

All thirteen of us arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, and all our sheaves of paperwork intact. It got a little confusing to figure out who needed to see which papers when.

Our flight was delayed more than an hour, but otherwise went very smoothly. Praise the Lord, we got through all the paperwork of customs and the PCR test. Now we’re on our bus heading South to Arad to our first hotel. Our bus driver is named John, and our guide is Sufian, both Palestinian Christians.