Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A Visual Tour of Jerusalem and Southern Israel

During the weekend, we took a break from the fast-paced business world and our frequent visits to explore the natural beauty, culture, and history of Israel. We got off to an early start with a sunrise hike of Masada, which is an ancient fortification in Southern Israel with a fascinating history. It was built by Herod the Great and is particularly impressive due to its location, atop a very high plateau. The location was chosen because it was very difficult for attackers to access. Masada is believed to be the last Jewish stronghold during the Roman conquest in the 70's CE. Ultimately, it was taken over by the Roman invaders who used Jewish slaves to build a ramp to the top. Although much of it is destroyed, there are some beautiful remnants that show the architecture including an ancient Roman bath area. From the top, there is a stunning view of the Dead Sea, which was our next destination.

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth at 430 meters (1,412 feet) below sea level. It's also famous for its hypersalinity; the water has extremely high salt content, more than 9 times that of the ocean, which makes you float on top. Once you wade in past standing height it's impossible to touch the bottom! It's quite a surreal experience to feel yourself literally lifted by the saltwater, and you can float either on your back or standing up (if you have good balance or stabilizer muscles).  The location is also popular because of the minerals in the water and mud, which are used in beauty products. In fact, it was even used as a health resort in ancient times by Herod the Great.

We then went back up to Jerusalem and got lunch at the Machane Yehuda Market. It's a bustling market with narrow streets that are packed with vendors in different stalls. It is known as a "shuk" which in both Hebrew and Arabic means marketplace. It is part open-air and partly covered, and located centrally. It is in some ways the heart of cultural life as it unites people around food! It's a unique opportunity to try a wide variety of local cuisine, from shawarma and falafel to pastries like knaffeh and baklava; you can truly eat to your heart's content!

We continued the historical part of our trip with a walking tour through the Old City of Jerusalem. We had a personal guide who was incredibly knowledgable and explained to us the over 3,000 years old history of the city! We walked through the four quarters--Armenian, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish--exploring the incredible diversity of the city. One of the highlights was following the Via Dolorosa, following in the literal footsteps of Jesus Christ on his walk to the crucifixion. It was incredible to follow along and learn about the history that has had such a significant impact on our world. We also had the opportunity to go inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is recognized as the official site of the crucifixion and Jesus' empty tomb (from which he is said to have resurrected), the holiest sites in Christianity.

We also had the opportunity to celebrate the Sabbath at the Western Wall, one of the holiest places in the world for Jewish people. It was incredible to see hundreds if not thousands of people there, from all different backgrounds, nationalities, ethnicities, faiths, and all walks of life, united together to welcome the holy day. It was fascinating to observe how differently people celebrate; some were praying silently, others were praying out loud together, and others were singing and dancing together. It was truly a beautiful display of humanity. It was nice to take a break from the business trip and enjoy traveling, but stay tuned because we have 2 more chock-full days of the world's leading innovative organizations!

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