Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bar Mitzvah - Masada, Israel June 14, 2017

We had all gathered the previous afternoon on June 13th. Some at a rest stop along the way. Others at the check-in desk. The rest at the pool. A modest hotel, the only one afoot and steps from the historical and National Monument of Mount Masada, which solely stands, protected and protecting the Dead Sea below and its surrounding desert valley that shares its title of lowest point on Earth. Masada, once a winter home and fortress for King Herod (between 37-31 BCE), later became a symbol of resolve of the Jewish Revolt against the Romans and later so, one more reminder for us as a people to say "never again!" No letting go of this mountain and more importantly ourselves. 

The story is complicated as it is simple. A group of religious zealots and their families take over the naturally well protected fortress and one of many of Herod's palaces and stockades of foods and more... they hold back the large gathering Roman battalions that surround the mountain and make daily attempts to climb and breach for years. Until finally a ramp is built and the Romans roll up. They breach with arms, ready for the slaughter of Jews, only to find not a soul standing. Not a soul alive.  All the men, women and children already dead by their own hands. A mass suicide of 960 people. The Jewish leaders decided that it's better that they take their own lives and those of their families, than be taken as slaves. And that's the story. One big Fuck you to the Empire and all the money and time they're bloodthirsty Generals spent on that little escapade in the Judean Desert. 

Anyway, the mountain and ruins on top are amazing and there are three ways up. The Eastern side which faces the direction of the Dead Sea and Jordanian Mountains has the Snake Path, which is exactly what it sounds like and when you look at the mountain as you drive up to it, you see it zig zagging its way up the wide Eastern face. Starting out with wide long switchbacks, turning quickly into smaller, tighter and steeper ones. Carved and set with stone steps laid by my fathers generation of youth and foresight for the historical archeological discovery and significance of the place and what it means to the the young history of the  emerging modern State of Israel. The walk up is not too difficult nor is it easy. Certainly not to be trifled with during the brutal hours of the desert heat and exposure to the sun. Especially during morning and lunch hours when this side is fully exposed. It's a famous climb. One that every kid in every youth movement in Israel does as the story digs its heals into the psyche of every Jew and Israeli that hosts it. Typically the climb is first done in the early and still dark hours of the morning just in time for sunrise at the top. It's a spiritual and significant moment for any person that experiences it no matter how many times. I've done it many times and at all hours. It's equivalent to the most difficult routes along Runyon Canyon if it was constantly only going up rather up and down is the best I can describe it as to the likes of my Los Angeles Area friends, but with the added benefit of its history, story and location as well. It takes about an hour. Starts out easy and gets harder half way and up and up and up. I'm winded but invigorated. Doable at anytime if you are in shape and careful and prepared. Theo and I had done it twice together, once at high noon but the hottest of days and another on an afternoon after the sun was shaded by the mountain on the climb. First time he was at the age of 9. That's when he first heard the story as we took each step up. That's when he made the decision to have his Bar Mitzvah there, on the mountain. Whatever that means at that moment cause we're far from religious and he's 9. Regardless, the seed was planted and the kid is focused so the watering ensued. As the years and months got close, it just became a matter of logistics. 

A small and intimate and highly symbolic, simple ceremony, in line with who we are, was thrown together just in time and in just an organized enough manner to make it all happen without a hitch. My Mother and Orit get full credit for that and oh so much if not everything more. Orit's parents, who for 20 years have heard the stories and seen the photos of our yearly Spring or Summer Israel visits to my family (and hers), but have never experienced it with us, came along for the first (and as they like to say "last") time. That was a BIG deal and it was wonderful to have them and have experienced a nation changed with them and through their eyes. Family and close friends in close proximity and spaces intensely and intensively making a norm of an unusually not normal space and period while trying to make every second both last and count. That is our visits in a nutshell and are the reason they require a "vacation" from the "trip." This year being special and boy was it ever! Back to the Bar Mitzvah - Masada and Family and Friends and a Photogtapher, a Rabbi, several vehicles and one morning of June 14 2017 is all it took. A few of us brave ones (6 started, quickly dwindling down to 4) climbed up for the sunrise experience. 4:30am start, 5:30am summit and the sunrise doesn't wait for anyone. It happens and it's quick and the whole side of the mountain's Eastern perimeter wall is lined with people on it and groups behind it, all photographing and/or entranced by it. And for that quick moment which everyone decides for themselves what it is and how long it lasts, it is everything. A moment that will never be forgotten. And then it gets hot! And the Bar Mitzvah is still several hours away so we climb down. Quickly. 25 minutes. More like jog cause we're pumped with adrenaline and we want to get down to shower, change, breakfast and regroup for this Bar Mitzvah thing we got going on. And by the time we get down at 6:30, the Snake Path is officially closed for the day due to excessive heat in the forecast. Ok. No one else in our group intended to go up this way. 

At 8:15, after we all have breakfast together in the dining room it's off to the cable car option for going up the mountain in minutes. Swiss engineering right up and over the "closed" snake path that somehow still has small figures attempting its scorching terrain below. The third ascending option is the easier Ramp side climb which the Romans built over several years for a lazy 20 minute stroll up the Western face (other side) of the mountain. So at the cable car we meet the Rabbi, Photographer and off we go ascending our own joke. We end up in a pergola covered room (soldiers quarters from back in Herod's day and every stone has historical significance in the history laced tiny land) on the south eastern side of the mesa topped mountain. And we have our quaint ceremony as the sun arced higher towards it peak and the shadow and sun leaks clocked our faces an hour and a half. The Rabbi talks a little too much as any one of them does. Theo is amazing and the whole thing is as simple as it is beautiful. I'll get all the video and all the images from the professionals present soon. The event was very well documented. But none of us who where there need that. It is that memorable. He reads and sings his Parasha/Haftorah and prayers. We take turns reading our roles and everyone is included with one. He begins to take on responsibility for his actions starting right there and then as his voice adolescently cracks with symbolism. He owns this setting and himself and us and we all break down in small personal moments and pick ourselves together again. It is special for all involved and all there are involved. And then it is done. And we give the Rabbi his cash and the transaction of manhood is completed. 

Off the mountain we go and we make a day of it. Make our way North on a caravan family field trip. Lunch. Dip in the Dead Sea and call it a day. Not to mention the part that I dipped in the Dead Sea and covered myself with Dead Sea Mud with my rental car electronic key in my pocket. And it worked just enough to get us back home and started manually, barely. And then I took it apart when it was deader than dead and scraped off the crystals and washed it in fresh water and left it in a bag of rice and revived it for the remaining weeks rental... there are always vector adventures to every story... And so, we have a Man in the house. Another one. Yay. Not really a Man but a "Jewish" Man who can't drive, nor work, nor vote nor drink... a useless man indeed. But still a tremendous boy. Before I get too depressed about the meaning of all that, I'd like to end with sharing what I shared with the few who were present during the actual ceremony. My speech to him at the end. My words to Theo as I sputtered them about in-between blowing my drizzling nose and wiping my tearing eyes. Somehow I got through it. But in my mind it flowed more smoothly as as it will when you read it in your heads;


We first climbed this very mountain together when you were 9. With every step and breath of hot air, filled with the weight of history, you took the story of this place and your people deeper into your self. We watched you lean your head against Herod's column, both in rest and reflection. We stood there creating images on Polaroid, film and pixels as you remained still, longer than the typically allotted time that meets the burden of having two image maker parents. Having justified the schlep and satisfied our selfish creative addictions, the various cameras and devices came down and still you stood. Your head touching stone saturated with time, sweat and blood. Deep thoughts of comprehension trickled down from your mind, sparking a fire in your heart, setting roots down through your legs and into this hard hallowed ground. I recognized the moment as a defining one, knowing we'd be back on this very occasion. I closed my eyes for a second and suddenly, here we are. Time and circumstances are jumping in exponential increments larger than I can control for me now. As I begin my struggle to try to slow things down, you begin your journey of independence with the urgency of looking forward to shaping your own defining moments. Your Mother and I, along with the core few people here today and few notable others, have given and shown you the tools it takes to build atop your most stable foundation. You are wise beyond your years. You understand that the journeys you set forth on towards discovery will be long and sometimes more meaningful than the discoveries themselves. I've seen your foresight work better than others hindsight and trust that your self assurance will lead to your self reliance. As you begin to take on more responsibilities, those of manhood, lean on me still, even at times
with all your weight.
I can still hold you.
I can still pick you up.
I plan on staying strong and around.
I am the roots for you to stand taller and add another dated notch on our wall.
The Parents Prayer I was meant to say has all the wishes a parent can have for a child, all the wishes a people can have for one of their own and all the wishes God can have for his people. They are all grand and they all apply and go without saying, so I don't. I'm a simple man with simple tastes and in moments as grand as these I have just one wish. 
Rely on me forever.
Because as is my role, as your father, 
I rely on you to need me as much as I need you.