The Sublime & The Silly: Day Nine, April 2, 2012


The Sublime

Masada – “They’re ridin’ camels like they’re their cars!”

As we journeyed from Jerusalem to the Judean Desert, we were intrigued by sudden terrain changes, majestic mountains, Bedouin villages, and the locals saddling up their camels. When we arrived, 12 brave members of our party decided to hike to the top of Masada on foot; they called themselves The Twelve Disciples, and they emerged at the top singing triumphantly.  I recognized Gatsinzi’s voice long before I saw their flushed, shining faces emerge, and it occurred to me that I would recognize the voices of these people who have shared this journey with me anywhere on Earth. The following poem was inspired by Casi’s hike up the mountain, but given our work, it reflects much more.


M a r c h I n g

Head down


Look up…

                How much farther?

                There’s no hope?


Look behind

Where we’ve been

                What we’ve accomplished

Leave it? Take it?





Those of us who rode the cable car were packed in like sardines – there must have been 80 or more people in our car. Despite the sightseeing and adventure of the day, our work is never far from our minds, as evidenced by one of our HEN’s soft question as the door to the cable car closed, “Do you think this is what it was like. . .in the cattle cars?”

At the top of Masada, history that, for some of us, seemed like fairy tales or stories from children’s books ceased to be fiction. Mankind’s genius and ingenuity are juxtaposed with its barbarism and inhumanity at Masada, which is entirely unsurprising in this land of dichotomies.


Ein Gedi – “It’s hy-rex, with an h!”

We saw critters that reminded us we aren’t in Kansas anymore, like hyrexes and ibexes, which sounds very Dr. Suessian, but they’re real, promise! This oasis in the middle of the desert was quite an interesting spot. We enjoyed people and flora and fauna watching, and came across a tourist, who, when he overhead Casi’s question directed to me, “What is that thing, a hy-rix?”  said, “It’s hy-rex, with an h!” I quickly replied, “Oh, that’s what she said, she’s just from Kentucky, and you probably couldn’t understand her!”

Nature of Change

Desert….Sprout of green….desert….sprout of green….desert

We go

                And go

                                And go

Along the way we see hope here and                                      there

So is there, indeed, a sea of change of ahead?


The Silly

Dead Sea – “This is the most fun I’ve had in years!”

Members of our party who were the last to reach the sea heard and recognized the giggles from our group long before they could see us bobbing like corks, squealing with laughter “like 6-year-olds.” We emerged from our sea swim, mud bath, and sulfur spring dip refreshed and relaxed. We felt like it was the first day we could actually say we had “fun.”


The Sillier

Dinner with Abraham – “You have camel s*** on your shoe, but it doesn’t stink, though, so that’s good!”

We enjoyed a most excellent feast with Father Abraham in a Bedouin tent with a view to die for (which, I suppose, many have).  It became unintentional comedy when Abraham spoke with an unidentifiable Brookyln/Australian/English accent, and he and Eleazar exhibited some incredibly bad acting. (I’m convinced that these gentlemen attended the same acting classes as the narrator of the Masada welcome and introduction video.)

We traveled to Genesis Land

not by camel, donkey, or ram;

he offered us wine

till our eyes had a shine

and we left in a robed caravan.


After a full day, it’s time to reflect. When we watch the 12-minute clip Steve and Roger have worked so hard to capture, every viewer will see the unity and harmony of this group of people. We have grown so close that we have become a family migrating across the globe in the name of teaching the Holocaust and social justice.  We have a common goal that has enabled us to maintain a beautiful sense of peace- on a bus, no less!  I don’t know how many times I have heard, “I couldn’t have done this with any other group of people.” We recognize each other’s laughs, sneezes, voices, and in most cases, dreams.  We have come to care for each in such a way that – no matter religious background, familial background, etc. – we work as one.  We have sense of community, a routine, and a mission to make a difference.  And, as Abraham mentioned in the tent  several times, “Everything is unlimited! Yes?”  This trip will never be over.  The connections we have made and the unanimity we share are unlimited. Yes?

Casi Owens

Stephanie Smith


Please enter the password to comment on this post:


For more information about The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights (TOLI), please contact

TOLI is located at 58 East 79th Street in Manhattan. (get directions)