When I was a young person, I was lucky enough to go to a religious school that focused on the wonderful, rich Bible stories and Jewish history from the beginning of time. It was a special time, and it was more sacred for me than attending Saturday services. We learned the songs and the traditions of of all of our holidays, some better well known than others. Between that school and my parents, I learned everything I would teach my own children: how to light a menorah, how to stop and relish in the quiet of Yom KIppur, what counted as bread in this American Jewish family. I adored my teacher, and looked forward to my after-school and weekend classes with joy. I can still picture the classroom where we learned Hebrew in my final year, and the basement rec room where we had our celebrations with songs and food. Prior to that year of Hebrew, we learned Yiddish. I still have the first book that we all had memorized. It was the Jewish version of See Spot Run:
Der kinder geyn.
Der kinder geyn in shul.
The children learn.
The children learn in school.
In 1981 there was a miniseries called Masada about the mountain siege of the Israeli Zealots by the Romans. They were led by Eleazar Ben Yair, and there was no surrender. When the Romans were finally able to enter the fortress, they found what was left of their provisions, their mass suicide the statement that they would not return to slavery. There were survivors; two women and five children left to tell the story. I collected newspaper articles and previews of the 1981 series; in fact, I probably still have those clippings in my basement somewhere. Of course, there were some changes for dramatic effect, but it was our story on primetime television.
On my recent visit to my Florida family, my cousin’s son was looking at my aunt’s pictures from their visit to Masada. He recalled his own visit. In our talking, I was reminded of the Peter Strauss miniseries, and he recommended a book that he thought I would like that was about the Israeli fortress.
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman.
I filed it away in the back of my brain, and came home, forgetting once again about something that had commanded my young life for what seemed like a very long time. Fast forward to one of my library visits. I sat and wrote for about an hour and a half, not including being bothered, and in turn, bothering a random ladybug, and before I knew it, it was time to go.
They’ve been redoing the layout of the library and in order to continue their renovations, they’ve moved shelves and spinny racks. I had to dodge a table, a spinny rack, and found myself in front of a rack of recommended reading. Exactly at eye level was the book my cousin, something removed, recommended. The Dovekeepers. I picked it up, turned it over, and read the synopsis. I didn’t have my library card, so I thought that I would wait and get it next time. As I went to return it to its shelf, there, staring me in the face, directly behind the book in my hand, was the same copy of The Dovekeepers.
I guess I was supposed to take this book home that day!
It was a wonderful journey through the lives of four women, how they each arrived at Masada, and how they found each other, their lives crisscrossing and mirroring the others. There is tradition and magic, and family and love and forgiveness. Knowing the outcome made their stories more poignant. These were strong, powerful women that spoke to me and would speak to anyone interested in history, women and life.
It reminded me of life growing up, the simplicity that we remember wrapped in the real life that was. It’s good to remember the past, and put it into perspective. Now, I have a longer list, but in those moments of high school, Masada was the one place I wanted to see; to stand where choices were made and where so much mattered.