Masada: One of the Greatest Stories of Jewish Heroism
The history of the Jewish people tells of many heroic stories, from the times of the Bible to modern Israel. Yet few heroic stories have made the same impression as the story of Masada, the last proud stand of the Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans.
Masada's name refers to a fortress at the top of a cliff in the Judean Desert which rises high above the Dead Sea. Evidence exists to life in the area since ancient times, but it was King Herod who built the great fortress, as both a palace and a place of refuge in case of a rebellion. Rebellion indeed came, but it happened after Herod's death. In the year 66 CE, after a long period of abuse by the Roman Governors, the Jewish population of the Holy Land had enough. What started as an uprising in Jerusalem in response to a Roman attempt to ransack the Temple has quickly turned into a violent struggle. Despite the rebels' early success, tide has soon turned in favor of the Romans and in 70 CE Jerusalem fell and the Temple was destroyed.
Even after the fall of Jerusalem, rebels remained active throughout the Holy Land. The Masada fortress was taken over by the rebels early during the revolt, and after the destruction of the Temple, served as a base for the ongoing struggle by the rebels under the command of charismatic leader Eleazar Ben Ya'ir. In 72 CE, the Roman army has laid a siege on the fortress. The rebels managed to hold their position, but in the spring of 73 CE, the Romans have managed to breach the fortress' walls. Historian Josephus Flavius has described in his book how, in an inspiring speech, Ben Ya'ir managed to convince his comrades to take their own lives rather than being taken prisoners. Indeed, when the Romans have finally broken into the fortress, they have found all of its defenders dead.
Masada became a symbol of Jewish heroism and struggle for freedom. Zionist movements have arranged trips to Masada as early as 1912, and trips to the area are held by Israeli schools to this very day. It is also the site of swearing-in ceremonies for soldiers of different arms of the IDF. The story of Masada also caught the attention of Hollywood, and in 1981 inspired the production of an epic television mini-series starring Peter Strauss and Peter O'Toole.
Today, Masada is also one of the most popular tourist sites in Israel (almost 800,000 people, for example, have visited the site in 2010). The site hosts one of the most ancient synagogues in the world and special museum devoted to the history of the area. The view offered by the site is also gorgeous. Between March and October, a special audiovisual light show which tells the story of Masada can also be enjoyed at the site. Though getting to the site has involved a tough journey in the past, it was made highly accessible in recent years, and a visit to it is highly recommended as a part of any trip to the Holy Land.