In the summer of 1972, traveling alone on a super-low budget, I managed to latch on to an American tour group in Israel. They gave me a free ride through the country, and I kept a journal of that extraordinary month. I was an aspiring teenage writer, on the verge of turning 20, and I'd gotten it into my head that serious writers kept journals, especially when they were on the road.
The past several years I've been working on a book about the 1970s, and in the process I've been excavating old journals, including the one I kept in Israel. The excerpt below occurred 51 years ago tomorrow, when I visited Masada. I include it here because tomorrow is also Thursday, August 10—the 1972 calendar, from March through December, is in sync with the 2023 calendar. And what happened in that barren patch of desert 2,000 years ago is a story I heard that day for the first time.
A good journal entry is like a time machine for the mind.
Thursday, August 10, 1972
Sunrise over Masada, the Dead Sea gleaming in the distance as we gaze upon the ruins of the "impregnable" Jewish fortress, perched on a mesa in the Judean desert. Here, 1,900 years ago, King David and 960 Jews held off the Roman army. The Great Siege of Masada went on for months, until the Romans breached the walls that seem to grow out of the brown and lifeless earth. Inside they found dead Jews—everybody had committed suicide or killed each other rather than be taken prisoner or enslaved, and two millennia later our tour guide calls this mass suicide an act of "heroism," though some, like me, might mistake it for death-cult insanity.
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