The Dead Sea
Shalom! Welcome to the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea. Nestled between Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea is 422 metres (1385 ft) below sea level. Not much lives around these parts. With a 33.7 percent salinity level, nothing lives in this water. The shrinking sea is 67 kilometres long by 18 kilometres long and is fed by the Jordan River. The fight for fresh water between Israel and its Arabic neighbors has led to numerous dams upstream which have diminished the flow to the Dead Sea. This has led to intense desertification of the area and created dangerous sinkholes for tourists. This has created difficulties for the Dead Sea resorts. Resorts that were built on the water a few years back have watched the waters recede enough to put nearly a mile of distance between the front door and the water. It has been a fiasco for tourism, as investors are scared to build nice hotels.
The Dead Sea has attracted visitors from around the Mediterranean basin for thousands of years. Biblically, it was a place of refuge for King David. It was one of the world’s first health resorts (for Herod the Great), and it has been the supplier of a wide variety of products, from balms for Egyptian mummification to potash for fertilizers. People also use the salt and the minerals from the Dead Sea to create cosmetics and herbal sachets.
The landscape of the Sea is dominated by the imposing cliffs of Masada. Masada was a Jewish outpost that refused to accept the sovereignty of the Roman Empire. In 73 AD, Roman governor Lucius Flavius Silva ordered a seige of Masada. The Jews fought off the seige for three months, but were eventually overcome by a rampart and battering ram built by their enslaved countrymen. When they entered the fortress, however, the Romans discovered that its 960 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide rather than face certain capture, defeat, slavery or execution by their enemies. The account of the siege of Masada was related to Josephus by two women who survived the suicide by hiding inside a cistern along with five children, and repeated Eleazar ben Ya’ir’s exhortations to his followers, prior to the mass suicide, verbatim to the Romans. Because Judaism strongly discourages suicide, Josephus reported that the defenders had drawn lots and killed each other in turn, down to the last man, who would be the only one to actually take his own life. Josephus says that Eleazar ordered his men to destroy everything except the foodstuffs to show that the defenders retained the ability to live, and so chose the time of their death over slavery.
After touring the fortress, we descended upon the shores of the Dead Sea. The sun here is cooking! It was about 90 degrees in February. We floated in the Dead Sea. The water is so salty that it is impossible to sink – you can float on your bottom with your feet and hands in the air. The salt formations on the bottom are very sharp so wear water shoes when you go.
The natural black mud around the Sea is known for its healing and anti-aging properties. As most visitors do, we completely covered ourselves in mud and baked ourselves in the sun. We felt 5 years younger the next day! There is a nearby manufacturing outlet that produces every Dead Sea beauty product imaginable. We brought back an entire suitcase full of products for our friends and family.
Our trip to the Dead Sea entailed a 12- hour flight from Washington to Sharm El Sheik (Egypt) with stopovers in London, Athens and Cairo. From Sharm El Sheik we drove 7 hours up the Red Sea coast to Tel Aviv. From Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea is only a two-hour bus ride. Piece of cake.
The Dead Sea is 7 hours ahead of Ocean City. Everyone speaks English and the weather is ALWAYS sunny and hot. It rains less than 50 mm a year here – driest place on the planet.
This is truly the “Bible Belt” and really gave us a perspective on history. It’s an adventure we’ll never forget.
Kol Tuv (Be well in Hebrew)!
– The Rox