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Masada – HerStory: The performance, 2018

…“Thus these men died supposing that they had left no living soul to fall into the hands of the Romans; but an old woman escaped, along with another who was related to Eleazar, in intelligence and education superior to most women, and five little children. They had hidden in the conduits that brought drinking-water underground while the rest were intent upon the suicide-pact.“ Josephus Flavius, Of the Jewish War, Book VII, Chap VIII

The two women, mentioned at the very end of Masada’s fall, were courageous women. They made a different choice the night of the sacrifice of 960 men, women and children. They defied their leader Eleazar Ben Yair and by choosing to hide, they granted the 5 children a different fate. Moreover, they were the ones who conveyed the story to the Romans when they entered the fortress the morning following the fateful night of “15th of Xanthicos” (15th of Nisan, about A.D.73).

“…Seeing no enemy, but dreadful solitude on every side, fire within, and silence, they were at a loss to guess what had happened…the noise came to the ears of the women, who emerged from the conduits and gave the Romans a detailed account of what had happened, the second of them providing a lucid report of Eleazar’s speech and the action that had followed.” J.F, Of the Jewish War.

We know nothing about the final fate of these two women and their children. Maybe they were brought as prisoners to Rome, like many others after the fall of Jerusalem. Maybe they met with Josephus Flavius in person. Maybe they were killed. We do not know.

The performance and the short movie “MaSada, HerStory” bring forth a different voice to the history of Masada. Each of the 5 characters relate to Masada in her very own intimate and specific way in contrast with the dreary expanse of Masada. One woman sings her prayer and cry for Masada in the empty cistern, another one wanders through the ruins of Masada while playing the flute. A mother reads her son from an ancient book of Josephus Flavius in the synagogue, while another woman dances her sorrow in the Rebels’ House, her face covered with gauze. And all along, ‘the spirit of the place’, lies in burial shrouds amongst the remnants of a long gone palace.

At sunset, the women leave and Masada once again wrap herself in her cloak of mystery.

“Here stand mountains round about, congealed and silent. They are eternal witnesses, ever intelligent, seeing everything always, hearing everything always, and knowing how vain the toil of the climbers has always been.”  (Yitzhak Lamdan, Masada: A Historical Epic 1927).

 

The Performance at Masada took place on July 5th 2018, following several months of research on Masada’s history, its myth, Yadin’s excavation reports and more recent critical analysis of the myth. Crucial to my readings was Josephus Flavius’s writing Of the Jewish War.

Starting from the fall of Masada in 73 CE as my point of departure, I went back to the time of King Herod, the Jewish wars against the Romans starting in 66 CE eventually leading to the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple on 30 August 70 CE by Titus.

I made several visits to Masada, interviewing Amnon Ben Tor, Professor at the Institute of Archeology on his experience as a member of Yigal Yadin’s excavation team of Masada from 1963 to 1965. His book “Back to Masada” was a important source of knowledge as I had to carefully chose the locations for my performers.

I also discussed with Eitan Campbell, director of the site for more then 20 years. Masada being crowed all year long with tourists, he was extremely helpful with all the logistics. Eitan encouraged me from the beginning in my determination to bring forth a different voice to the history and myth of Masada.

Short movie in process

Performing: Flutiste Hagar Dagan, Dancer Maya Yogel, Singer Yaeli Tai, Spirit of the place Alexandra Lavastine, Mother and son: Sigal and Avner Weissbein

Crew: Talia (Tulik) Galon (cinematographer), Lior Mamon (assistant cinematographer), Ishai Ilan (sound), Aviv Kegen (Aerial cinematographer), Idit Algem (makeup), Lera Lamberg (Costumes)

Photos: Gal Mosenson