N.B.: This is my third post of four today.
When I was fourteen, my father, brother, and I went to Israel to visit our 88,000 cousins there. Very few of them spoke English, so my brother and I spent most of our time listening to my father talk to them in Yiddish, which we do not speak, and eating the bad food they cooked for us.
We spent one day, however, touring Masada, a desert mountain fortress that was the site of a famous Jewish rebellion in the first century A.D. and the subject of a terrific TV miniseries in 1981 starring Peter O’Toole and Peter Strauss. A thousand Jewish Zealots, led by Eleazar ben Yair, managed to resist a siege by 15,000 Roman troops for a year, and on the eve of their defeat, the Zealots all killed themselves rather than submit to Roman capture. They set fire to the fortress and everything in it except the food, to show that starvation had nothing to do with their fall.
We were in a tour group with several other people, including a family of four (two parents and two daughters) who had given the younger daughter the trip to Israel as her Bat Mitzvah present. (A Bar or Bat Mitzvah, for those of you who don’t know, is the Jewish ceremony that marks a child’s passage into adulthood at age thirteen.) As the tour guide showed us various parts of the fortress—”this is where the cisterns were, where they had enough water to last them another two years,” etc.—it became clear that the younger daughter was very unhappy to be in Israel, where it was, she said, hot and boring. Her complaints to her older sister became more and more vociferous until we got to the room where the Zealots had drawn lots to see which ten men would kill the others, and which of those ten would in turn kill the remaining nine and then himself. We all stood in silence, even the younger daughter, and I was pleased that she wasn’t so callous as to remain unmoved by the thought of such a defiant refusal to submit.
And then she turned to her sister and said, “I mean, we coulda been in Aruba!”
I tried to push her off the side of the mountain but unfortunately my father wouldn’t let me.