We had climbed up Masada at 5 am, arrived at the top and assessed the situation. Light breeze, sun rising over Jordan, the Dead Sea coming into view. I immediately transitioned into my annual fantasy of waking up on Masada, a simple worker on Yigal Yadin's dig from 1963-65. I had this thought, of time collapsing, back to birth, what one is born into. King's "I Have a Dream" speech is delivered (and he's preceded by Rabbi Joachim Prinz; Kennedy is assassinated; Koufax sets a World Series record for strikeouts; "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" is released; and Yigal Yadin begins his full excavation of Masada. One goes through life uncovering its meaning, excavating events that occur independently of oneself but from which sustaining ideas will be wrought in the journey hence.
The Fellows scatter--those who have come to daven move toward a place in the shade; those who have chosen not to pray form a kind of social mass, eat breakfast, kibbutz, take pictures. I dole out a couple sandwich halves like a surrogate dad and hear my name being called. "Andy, we need a tenth for a minyan."
I alight to my duty! Masada! Born into service on this rocky mountain top! There may be no more ostraca to find but at least I can unearth a mitzvah or two. I arrive at the appointed location to discover I'm the tenth male and that there are 4 females as well. They have all already begun prayer. All the young men are wearing tefillin (Yadin found tefillin up here, I think) and two of the four women are wearing it as well. Since I knew I wasn't planning on praying this morning, I have nothing but a book. I sit down to read.
The tefilot were beautiful. Gentle as the air that moved about atop the mountain and the leader's voice was genuine and sweet. One of the Fellows, a Cohen, blessed his friends with the traditional Priestly Benediction, hidden under his tallis. ( He later described learning this custom from his father, underneath his father's tallis, a thousands year rite passed on to another generation. I wondered how many cohanim are in CBE and would they like to learn the Blessing and convey it to the community this Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I make a mental note. )
Prayers finish. We move on. Tour the mountain top, hit the old favorites. Tell some good stories. At the far western end of the site, we shout names into the hills, hearing echos, ephemeral attachments to eternity.
Twenty-four hours later I host Fellows for Shabbat lunch, a weekly BYFI tradition. We eat well--supplemented by salads from my favorite Moroccan cook on Emek Refaim. At the end of lunch, one of the young women who had not been counted in the minyan of the young men but prayed beside them nonetheless, wearing her tefilin, fulfilling her obligation, talking to God, said, "Rabbi, I noticed you didn't pray with us on Masada but you did pray in shul last night and this morning. Why is that?" I explained my reasoning--I had planned to be with the kids who didn't pray that morning, so didn't bring my tools of the trade, my bat and glove, as it were. But when I was asked to make the minyan, I moved without hesitation.
"But you know the women didn't count yesterday," she said smiling. "But that's okay, because even though you counted for the guys without even praying, I didn't count you either."
We both laughed.
Another excavation. Another uncovering of an old tradition on an ancient mountaintop, given new meaning for a new time.
This is why I get so much joy out of teaching on this program each summer. The Fellows searching inquiry into Judaism, their relationship to it, and their sense of evolving obligations to peoplehood, language, custom and land, are uniquely inspiring.