As I stood downing a cool glass of orange juice before breakfast this morning, someone asked me how I was — “Dry,” I answered. Here in southern Israel, it is just that. Water was and is so important, something driven home again and again as we visited Masada, Engedi, Qumran and the Dead Sea.
The ingenuity of the people that live(d) in these places in finding, delivering and storing water is impressive. Masada, being on the top of an isolated mesa, provided a great challenge; first rain water was caught, then hauled up the mesa through the Water Gate, then stored in cisterns. Ritual and regular bathing was a big deal for the Jews living in the community, so more water than for drinking, washing utensils and preparing food was needed.
The Essenes that lived at Qumran (and more than likely transcribed the Dead Sea scrolls) chose the area because it was remote, harsh and dry enough that no one would bother them — but they still needed water. A looonnnng trench begun in the surrounding hills and extending throughout the entire community brought rain water to them.
Khalil, our guide, remembers the level of saltiness in the Dead Sea being 27% when he was a high schooler; now it is 35%, highlighting how much water has been and is being appropriated from the sea (rising population, industry, and mineral extraction). Although you can’t exactly tell from this picture, these folks are able to bob on the surface of the sea as the salt keeps them easily afloat.We have been encouraged by Khalil to drink lots of water as we tour. We carry our water bottles with us everywhere. Our breakfast, lunch and dinner tables have carafes of cool water which the attentive waiters refill often. I know I have taken the abundant water we have in the US for granted. I hope I continue to value it once I’m back home.