Praying, learning, and floating.
That was the agenda Saturday for members of Temple Beth El and Myers Park Baptist as they neared the end of their interfaith tour of sacred sites in Israel.
The day started with a Shabbat, or Sabbath, service atop Masada, the mountain-high desert fortress of old where Jewish rebels made their last stand against the Romans in the 1st century.
Roman soldiers had already destroyed the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and they were determined to defeat the escaping rebels -- called Zealots -- by somehow breaching the walls amid cliffs more than 1,400 feet high.
"It is beautiful to be on top of the mountain . . . which Zealots escaped to in that moment of crisis to keep Judaism alive in this land," said Temple Beth El Rabbi Judy Schindler, who led the service in Hebrew and English.
Christian ministers in the group stood to offer prayers, a poem, a song, and a story about Jesus from the New Testament. Among them: The Rev. Sam Slack, a retired United Methodist minister who first visited Israel with wife Natalie Slack in 1959. They now attend Myers Park Baptist.
Chanting the Torah in Hebrew was Temple Beth El member John David Kling, who has twice lived in a kibbutz, or Jewish community, in Israel. His passage Saturday, from Exodus, was about how Moses told the Israelites that God commanded them to set aside the Sabbath for solemn rest.
Next stop: Qumran, a long-ago desert refuge for a separatist sect of Jews called the Essenes. It was in a cave here in 1947 that a young Bedouin goat herder found Essene scrolls in earthen jars. They caused a sensation when they turned out to include ancient Biblical texts. Many of these Dead Sea Scrolls are now in the Israel Museum. The famous cave can still be seen from a distance by tourists -- including, on Saturday, the group from Charlotte.
And then, after nearly a week of crossing seas, climbing hills, walking through tunnels and touring every sacred building in sight, it was time for some R&R. Time to follow the example of this loafing beast of burden the Charlotteans saw Thursday after the long hike up the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
So the group headed for the Dead Sea. Its shores are the lowest point of dry land on Earth, at 1,373 feet below sea level. Nine times saltier than the oceans, it can support no fish or other life. And tourists love to float in it -- that's what happens when they lay back -- and to slather mud from the sea floor all over their bodies. The Charlotte pilgrims did both Saturday.
And the Rev. Steve Shoemaker, outgoing pastor at Myers Park Baptist, was among the muddiest.
-- Tim Funk