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When I leave Israel, it will only be a question of when I will return, not if

Jan 30, 2017

If someone had told me six months ago that I would wake up at 6:00 am in a Bedouin tent full of Ducks in the middle of the Negev Desert, I would not have believed it.  Yet there I was, looking out as the sun rose over the desert, sipping bitter Arabic coffee, and waiting to ride a camel train outside the Bedouin encampment. It was the start to beautiful day that included a hike up Masada and a dip in the Dead Sea.

The camels infused the day with energy from the start. Everyone was laughing; brainstorming camel names (I was lucky to be riding Camela Anderson with Justin), and the 20-minute ride flew-by. We then boarded the bus for Masada. The mountain is breathtaking. After hiking up the Roman ramp, we gazed across the Dead Sea into Jordan and looked down on the eight Roman encampments that circle the mountain. The fortress came to life with five of us acting out various historical characters with fun scripts provided by Lilach for different locations on the mountain top; Alex took on the role of King Herod, while I had a little more fun as a Roman soldier.  

The most powerful experience of Masada was the telling of the story of the Jews who took their own lives rather than suffer slavery under the Romans. In discussing the tale, Roberta mentioned that some families in Aleppo took their own lives rather than face rape and abuse by the advancing forces of Assad. Her sharing of the news from Aleppo was a reminder that the story of Masada not only speaks to the survival of the Jewish people, but also to how the Jewish people must care for the world, Tickun Olam.

We descended Masada on the snake path, the winding trail a challenge as the desert sun continued its climb. The trail ended at a large Ahava factory store, the largest tourist trap in the Negev. After buying the necessary Dead Sea mud facemasks for friends at home, we grabbed lunch and then headed to the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea was stunning, freezing, and left many of us with soft skin and beat up toes. The beach was covered with salt crystals and everyone took advantage of the mud.  Wading out into the waters was treacherous, the bottom covered with rocks. But once we got far enough out, floating in the surprisingly warm water was surreal. The sun decided to disappear for our brief time in the water and the trek back from the beach was freezing. I’ll take it as a sign we need to come back over the summer and experience the Dead Sea in all its glory.

The evening ended with a quick dinner and an evening program preparing for our trip to Yad Veshem. In small groups we discussed our family stories and personal experiences of anti-Semitism. It was sobering and enriching. I discovered that part of Nathan’s family had come over from what is now Moldova (formerly Bessarabia), the same area from which my great grandparents had escaped pogroms in the early 1900s. I also learned that my experience of anti-Semitism at U of O was not unique to the law school, but to the campus at large.

The day was full, long, and one of the most fun of the trip. A day of desert sun was invigorating; especially after the harsh winter chill in Jerusalem and the rain we had in the north to start the trip.  It is hard to believe our journey is coming to a close so quickly. The time has flown by, but I know when I leave Israel, it will only be a question of when I will return, not if.

Aaron Haynes
University of Oregon Law School Class of 2018
Anchorage, AK

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