As part of a tourism initiative this week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited the wind-swept Judean mountain top fortress of Masada, along the Dead Sea.
During his visit, the prime minister participated in a special ceremony and then was filmed writing a letter in a Torah scroll that is currently being written atop the mountain fortress in the ancient synagogue uncovered there decades ago by famed archaeologist Yigal Yadin.
Wrapped in a prayer shawl and wearing a yarmulka, Netanyahu was filmed by an international tourism crew as Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Shimon Elharar guided him through the intricacies of writing a letter in a Torah scroll. Elharar, director of Chabad of the Dead Sea region, initiated the Torah scroll project atop Masada, as well as the site's popular Bar and Bat Mitzvah project, "The Masada Experience."
Netanyahu wrote his letter in the passage, “And each of you, wise of heart, will come and will do that which the L-rd has commanded.”
Built by King Herod during the Second Temple period, the ancient palace held many treasures. Among them were parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls in which the prophet Ezekiel confirmed the site where sacred objects were found had indeed once served as a synagogue.
Today the synagogue has been enhanced with a special room for a Torah scribe who sits and works, inviting passing Jews to participate in writing a letter in the Torah scroll. The room is enclosed in glass and equipped with temperature and air moisture controls that help preserve the ancient materials used to prepare and write on the parchments.
Soldiers who complete their training participate in the ceremony to celebrate their induction atop the mountain site where nearly hundreds of Jews committed suicide, rather than be captured by Roman conquerors. Jewish boys and girls come from around the world to celebrate their bar and bat mitzvahs in the special ceremonies conducted by Elharar in “The Masada Experience.” Hundreds of thousands of tourists – including school groups and even non-Jewish groups from as far away as Japan – stream through the site each year, curious about the ancient Jews who were willing to die, rather than give up their freedom and their land.