Posted by: heatherlehrman | August 30, 2011

Shabbat in Jerusalem, Masada and the Dead Sea

Friday morning, I left at 11:45 to go to Jerusalem. My friend Chip and I barely made the train, but we did. The train took much longer than the bus would have but we decided to take the scenic route. One thing I noticed during this trip was that on the electricity lines there were round orange balls. I remember when I was little my mom and I were driving out of the Nanuet Mall and I asked her why there were basketballs on the wires. I just googled what they meant and all I could find is that they are an indicator for low flying aircrafts and also, it is suppose to reduce the amount of birds that fly by. Just something random I noticed in Israel.

When we got to Jerusalem we walked towards the Shuk and got Marzipan (the best bakery in Jerusalem).  I ate some rugelach and a delicious cream puff. After, we met up with my friend’s mother’s childhood best friend who lives in Israel. She took us to her house that was right around the corner from the Shuk.  We hung out there for an hour and then left because we had to get into the old city by a certain time to check into our hostels but I will get more into that. We took the brand new light rail from the Shuk all the way to the old city, which was very nice but slow.  Our ride was packed! As we got off the light rail, we walked about 100 feet and found ourselves in this giant dance party outside of the old city with very loud music! It was filled with young people just going crazy as having a good time. It was awesome. We walked through it as well. I have absolutely no idea if there was a reason for it.

Now let me explain why I was going into Jerusalem. Through Tel Aviv University there is this program called Dollars for Learning. This amazing and wonderful orthodox couple, teach classes twice a week and you get paid for it. I really enjoy the classes because we can pick the topics and the speakers are usually good. Also, they also almost always provide us dinner. Anyway, the couple who teach DFL (Rifky and Shmuel) host students at their house for Shabbat. A group of 8 of us from DFL decided to meet up and go together. DFL is funded by a bunch of donors but this guy Jeff, deals with all of the logistics. Jeff also finds families to host the students for Shabbat meals in Jerusalem. It is really nice. The walk to Rifky and Shmuels was about a 40-minute walk from the old city. The dinner was so delicious! I ate way too much, obviously. On our way back from dinner, we noticed that the streets were unusually busy and that something was going on. There were cars parked all over the sidewalks and there were cops left and right and masses of people walking from the old city.  It turns out it was the end of Ramadan. It was quite interesting to walk through that outside and in the old city.

Let me back track to before Shabbat. We went to the Kotel because one of the girls we were with had a note she wanted to put into the wall and I wanted to go to the wall as well. It was breath taking as usual. Being at the Kotel before Shabbat was amazing. There were about 100 men in the IDF singing and dancing in a circle about Israel and Shabbat. They sang Yerushalayim Shel Zah Hav, which is an incredible song about Jerusalem that my A Cappella group sings and it was very special to hear them singing it on the top of their lungs.

About the hostel we stayed at: There is this amazing hostel called The Heritage House that is in the old city. What is amazing about it is that if is free. There is one for woman and one for men and they are right around the corner from each other. Orthodox Jews run it. The people are so great and welcoming and they are all affiliated with Jeff, the man who finds us families to spend Shabbat with and he also runs DFL.  I met a lot of great people through this hostel. I will get more into that.

On Saturday morning we met Jeff at the Kotel to find out where our lunch was/which family, etc. Someone met us there and walked us to the house, which was lovely and right around the corner from The Heritage House. The meal was delicious. The father of the family had everyone (about 30 of us) go around and say why we loved Israel and why we were here. It was very cool to hear everyone’s story. The best part about this meal was that most people at the table were complete strangers, yet the hosting family made everyone feel so welcome. It was so nice!! The family was also American and moved from New Jersey to Israel about 5 years ago.

There was this newly married couple of one week who joined us for lunch. They were spending their honeymoon in Israel. They found out about the meal through Jeff. When they walked into the house for the Saturday lunch meal all of the men at the table started singing this prayer really loud- I guess it was to bless them for being newlyweds. They just stood there awkwardly, but very happily. There is also this thing in Judaism (or maybe just in Orthodoxy) that after a couple gets married, for the following 7 days they have be blessed by others. These blessings that are done are the ones that are done at their wedding ceremony. It was really cool to hear the men do the blessings for them. The couple looked so happy. They’re from NY. They seemed like conservative Jews. The husband was dorky looking and she was beautiful and innocent looking. He was cute though because no matter how dorky looking he was he seemed like he’d do anything for her including fighting a GIANT UFC fighter – ahh!

After the meal some people in the group I was with, left and the rest of us either napped or hung out around the hostel. The people staying at the hostels were very interesting. A lot of them live there and work there or help out. Some of them were staying for a few days or a few weeks. I was going to leave Jerusalem that afternoon to go to Tiberius with my friend but we decided to stay for the third meal (of Shabbat) and go to Masada and the Dead Sea the next morning. The third meal was hosted at the men’s hostel. It was really nice to spend a meal with everyone who was staying there. That night a bunch of us went out on Ben Yahuda Street and then walked along the out skirt walls of the old city. (We walked along the top of the wall.) It was dark and awesome. The view from the top was incredible! The floors were very slippery and I almost slipped but I caught myself. That night my friends and I slept on the roof of the men’s hostel, under the beautiful stars because the women’s hostel closed at 12 meaning the doors were locked. It was very cool to sleep up there! We had blankets and pillows and everything (we planned it in advance because we knew we wouldn’t get back in time). I thought I would wake up to the call for prayer in the morning and for the sun rise but I slept right through it.

That morning, one of the guys who worked at the men’s hostel took those of us who were left of a tour of the different quarters of the old city. After that we headed out to go to Masada.

I spent a lot of time with Orthodox Jews that weekend and one thing I realized was that most of them do not speak Hebrew. And none of them are Israeli.

On the bus to Masada I fell asleep. Supposedly we drove through a tunnel and then we were in the desert. I was bummed I slept through that. We drove through the West Bank to get there, which was interesting. There were two checkpoints that the bus had to stop at.

We stayed at this brand new hostel called The Masada Guest House. It was really nice. The rooms we stayed in were dormitory style, so I had 3 roommates, which was fine because we ended up traveling around with them.

There were 200 people from the army also staying at the hostel. They had American accents so I asked two guys what they were doing here and it turns out none of them are in the army – it is basically a 2 month program living the life of what a soldier goes through. They dress like them and train like them. They also carry around guns that look real but are fake. The program is strictly boot camp. They were going to climb Masada in the morning with us.

We woke up at 4:30AM to start our climb up Masada at 5AM. The sky was beautiful. It was so dark and there were so many stars. I was loving it. The climb was extremely hard. We went up and down the snake path. (There are different paths- this was a very hard path) I also took a short cut on our way up that was probably a 70-degree angle and that killed me. I was exhausted. I had to stop a few times but I made it to the top in one hour. The view was unbelievable. It was cool to watch other people hiking their way up because they looked like small poly pockets. The sunrise was amazing as well except for the large cloud that was blocking it. But the rays were still incredible. After the sunrise, we walked around with some people we were with and looked at all of the things on top. There are many different sights to see and view points to look out at. Another really cool thing about Masada is that there is a Tramcar you can to the top if you can’t climb – I think it is great that they cater to all kinds of people!

After a delicious breakfast that was included in the hostel fees, we went to pack our bags and check out. Then we sat outside by this gorgeous pool in the backyard of the hostel. It was a pool in the middle of the desert. We stayed at the pool for about an hour and then all of us took the bus together to En Gedi (Dead Sea). When we got to the “beach” area we saw a bunch of people from OSP (the program I am on, Overseas Program) who were camping out. We talked to them for a while and then walked to the sea area. It was so cool to float like that. My skin stung a little bit because I had some bug bites that I scratched but besides that, it was a very cool thing to experience. I was very careful not to touch my face too much because getting that water in your eyes is so painful. I only stayed in the Dead Sea for about 30 minutes and after I rinsed off, got dressed and was headed home.

We traveled with a guy from Brazil and Spain and then these two girls from London. It was nice to meet different people. We also met these two guys from Long Island who ended up driving us back to Jerusalem. That was awesome because we saved money on another bus, and it took one hour less to get home. Once we got to Jerusalem we got into a Sherut (a large cab) and went back to Tel Aviv.

This was an awesome few days, but I was exhausted when I got back! I slept for about 12 hours that night.

Although I had been to Jerusalem a number of times, every time I go back it is a different experience. I am so glad I went, and I will definitely go back to the Heritage House. I feel like I have a new community/family over there. Shout out to all of them! I love that I climbed Masada and went to the Dead Sea on my own travels.



  1. Loved that you enjoyed Masada and floating on the dead sea. Heather, I’m loving reading all about your trip!! Can’t believe you did the hike up. We took the cable car! LOL Okay, so we’re a bit lazy (well maybe Rick). LOL It’s amazing their isn’t it? Love the adventures you’re having. I so loved Marzipan too! Did you get nuts from all the market places too? Keep blogging (Jess is too). We love you and miss you and are definitely living the trip thru you.
    Love you, Mother Other

  2. Heather,
    What a joy reading of your adventures. You are just full of wonderful impressions, emotions & of course outstanding photos. We can feel your joy at all that you experience.

    We LOVE YOU!!

    Gram & Gramps.

  3. you should read this

    It should like you’re having an amazing time, but be very careful of Kiruv ( whatever they might tell you at first, they have no respect for Reform (or Conservative) Judaism and their goal is to convince you to return to the “true” Judaism.

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