Columnists Features

Inspirational places: Masada in Israel

Spider’s Web with CHEELA CHILALA
ONE of Israel’s most visited and most treasured tourist spots is Masada, the mountain-top fortress located on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert.
In fact, Masada means “fortress”. Overlooking the equally famous Dead Sea, Masada was built by Herod the Great between 37 and 31 BC as a fortified palace.
Herod was made king of Judea by the Romans in their quest to extend the reach and power of the Roman Empire.
Herod built the fortress on an isolated rocky plateau.
Apart from being located right at the summit of the plateau, Masada boasted a defensive wall, a storehouse, barracks, an armoury and large cisterns filled with rain water.
Masada is a feat of engineering, a testament to the ingenuity of human beings – and this was the feeling that overwhelmed me when I visited the site in 2005 while on a visit to Israel.
Masada is a place of spiritual, symbolic and historical significance to the nation of Israel.
Masada assumed great significance to the Jews after the birth of the nation of Israel in 1948. It is a symbol and reminder of Jewish resistance to domination – it is a testament to the resilience of the Jewish national psyche.
Masada is more than just a symbol of national pride: it is a source of inspiration to the Israeli nation and in particular its military forces.
When newly recruited Israeli soldiers finish their training they are taken to Masada to swear their oath of allegiance, which includes the shout, “Masada will not fall again!”
The Masada oath, therefore, helps inspire the soldiers to fight for their land and defend it with their lives.
What then is the story of Masada that has inspired a whole nation and its army?
Some seventy-five years after Herod’s death around 4 BC, a group of Jewish rebels overran the Roman garrison stationed at Masada.
They were later joined by some Zealots and their families who fled Jerusalem after it fell in 70 AD.
The Zealots defended Masada for three years, led by Elazar ben Yair.
In 73 AD, however, the Roman forces, led by the Roman governor Flavius Silva, laid siege to the fortress, breaching the wall the following year.
When the Zealots realised that they were vastly outnumbered and could no longer defend Masada, they decided to commit suicide: close to a thousand men, women and children.
They thought it better to die than to allow themselves to be captured by the Romans.
Elazar said to his followers in his final speech: “Since we long ago resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice …We were the very first that revolted, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favour that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom.”
Masada is a symbol of the refusal to be enslaved, dominated or conquered; a symbol of the determination to fight to the end.
Which is why, to the Israeli soldier, taking the oath of allegiance at Masada is a great source of inspiration – borne in the words, “Masada will not fall again!”
Masada is an example of how history, or historical places, are a source of inspiration.
You do not have to be Jewish to be inspired by the extraordinary story of Masada.
When you feel like abandoning your dreams, when you feel like surrendering to negative forces – remember Masada.
When under threat, remember Masada.

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