Dead Sea

Shortly after 911, political consultant and former Senate Staffer Roger Wolfson went with Al Sharpton and other luminaries to Israel, with the goal of addressing the impact of Terror

In early 2002, Roger Wolfson went to Israel.  The trip started with planning to introduce the Reverend Al Sharpton to Shimon Peres and to Israeli victims of terror, and ended with two days in the desert, swimming in the Dead Sea.

Thirteen years had passed since his previous trip to Israel, and the country had already changed in more ways than he could have imagined. The Israel he remembered overflowed with joy. In the past, when planes landed in Israel, all the passengers broke out in cheers, song, and tears. People leapt from the plane and kissed the blacktop. The Israeli people were defiant, proud, holy. Everywhere lay evidence of the transformation the land had seen under Israeli stewardship; the desert, indeed, had bloomed.  

But during his 2002 trip to Israel, terrorists struck twice. The first time, in the town of Hadera. The second time, within range of Roger Wolfson as he drove outside Jerusalem. The Israeli people seemed bitter, mistrustful, jumpy. Words of war fell from everyone’s lips, from the old, from children, from settlers, from Chasidic Jews near the Wailing Wall.  

It was in this atmosphere that Roger and his friend Mark Harrison escorted Hadera high school students, many of whom had witnessed the terrorist attack, to a night-time light show at Masada. Masada, the mountaintop fortress where 900 Jews resisted 10,000 Roman Centurions two thousand years ago, is one of the great symbols of the Jewish State.  After the Romans burned Jerusalem to the ground, they lay siege to the Jews hiding in Masada. When all hope of rescue or escape was lost, the Jews committed suicide rather than become slaves.  

There wasn’t room for Roger and Mark to drive in the students’ buses, so they followed in their rental car.  One of the teachers joked “you are probably safer in your car than you would be in our bus.”  At that moment, Mark and Roger laughed.

Then for the next hour-long drive, they wept.  Because the teacher was right. Wolfson followed those buses and watched the children laughing in the windows and doing all the things that children do. He and Mark watched such precious cargo dancing in a fragile shell of steel and glass. 

Both of them knew that next year, all those high school students, just kids!  Just kids; would all serve in the Israeli army.

As they drove, the full moon rose up over the hills on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. Due to the outstanding clarity of the air, the moon seemed larger than the hills, as though it were a mountain warming up and taking flight. They watched that moon rise and fall only four times before Sunday, when another bus, ahead of them on its way to Jerusalem, was perforated with gunfire.  

When Roger Wolfson thinks of Israel now, he thinks of what it feels like to float in the Dead Sea. The sea, lying at the center of Israel, a thousand feet below sea level, contains ten times as much salt as do oceans.  There are no fish or seaweed, so the water is completely clear, more crystal green than the Caribbean on its finest day. One cannot sink or drown in the Dead Sea, a person will float no matter what, and one can swim, or drift, sit or lie, without effort.  One can rest as long as they like, and their skin doesn’t shrivel, because the salt prevents osmosis. You cannot sunburn because, so far below sea level, extra layers of atmosphere shield the skin, and you are prone to euphoria from the area’s ten percent over-abundance of oxygen, more than you’ve probably ever tasted. When you finally emerge, you do not get cold, because the salt clothes you. The Dead Sea is a miracle, defying everything you have ever known about water.  

On one side of the Dead Sea is Jordan. On the other side, Israel and parts of the Palestinian territories. A road runs down the middle of the sea for military cars to travel. The people who live on its borders are dredging the land beneath the sea for minerals.  The Dead Sea, miracle that it is, is drying up, day by day.  Not enough water is coming in to replace that which evaporates. 

Roger Wolfson thinks of the Dead Sea because it is without question the most minor of the miracles that is being lost in the Land of Israel.