Girth of a Nation: A Naked Trek Up Mount Masada

Here I am in July of 1991. I am 15 and being forced to climb Mount Masada, naked. In my hippie Socialist youth movement, climbing Mt. Masada was the final step in the sacred transformation from camper to counselor, that started with a six‐week trip to Israel and ended with a swearing‐in ceremony atop the mountain at sunrise.

Around 70 AD, a band of Israelites had trekked up Masada and then decided to off themselves with poisoned Manischewitz rather than succumb to an encroaching army of Roman guidos. To this day, Masada is considered the ultimate symbol of Jewish courage.

Our movement, established in 1913, had a simple tag‐line: “Be Strong and Brave.” We had been leaders in the Warsaw Uprising and key figures in establishing communities in Israel. But by the time I joined, much of the bleeding and pioneering had been taken care of.  Our new goals took place in the Catskills and revolved around field trips to Pizza Hut and scoring pot and hand‐jobs.

Yet the movement still took itself very seriously, and our leaders had decided that climbing Masada was the best way to instill its values. The nudity came later. So I wasn’t being forced to streak up a cemetery by a gang of sword‐wielding Arabs or bored Roman perverts, but forced nonetheless. Masada in the nude, like ritual scarification or group–strangling of a boar, was the only way to advance.

I only cared about three things leading up to the Masada trip: One, I had a bird’s dick nestled in my underwear; two, none of my friends did; and three, if I wore shorts or didn’t go, I’d be ridiculed and ostracized for many years to come.

Our tour bus had driven through the night, from Be’er Sheva east across the Judean Desert. Within seconds of reaching Masada, my group—twenty Semitic hormone cases—began disrobing with a fervor usually reserved for people on fire.

T‐ shirts, belts and fanny packs fell to the ground. Bras, panties and boxers flew off bodies and were stuffed into backpacks. In its wake stood a tribe of skin: thick wagging dicks anchored to hairy man balls, swinging, big‐momma Woodstock breasts and tan perky tits sloping to the sky. Their bodies tantalized and mocked me. I quickly estimated that the diameter of some girls’ areolas was larger than my own penis.

“I need some volunteers for the canteens,” Dave, our counselor, said. “Who wants first round?”

“Me, I do!” My hand shot up. Any objects that could help conceal me were holy gifts to be gathered and used. I turned to face the bus and dropped my shorts and underwear. I kept my T‐shirt on, and mumbled just loud enough, “Man, it’s fuckin’ windy here. It’s the desert but it’s cold.”  Were others chilly? It was July but it was also dawn. If I could establish a need for clothing, maybe I could be saved—partially protected.

I looked over to see a completely nude Julie Zimmer piggy‐backing on Jonah Roth’s back, both lost in laugher, her glorious breasts swinging pendulously and in tandem with Jonah’s bouncing dong. I guess not. I decided to keep my T‐shirt on and, if questioned, say I was planning to use it as a bandanna when I got sweaty. Wearing nothing but a pair of Teva sandals, my Cure concert T-shirt and a canteen shielding my crotch, I joined my Hebrews for the trek up the venerable mountain.

The hike, already fairly difficult, was made exponentially more so by my circus act of steadying the canteen over my penis, tugging on the hem of my T‐shirt and avoiding eye contact with anything that moved. All the while, the group walked alongside, joking around and singing camp songs together. I kept my head down and kicked gravel. Against my better judgment, I looked at the girls from time to time, all of them taller than me, with their muscular thighs, swinging tits and mounds of pubic hair. The guys were sweating and laughing—their hefty tubes of confidence flopping around without a care in the world.
When someone would shout, “Who’s got the water?” or “I need a fuckin’ drink,” I’d ignore them, pretending to be deep in Socialist work song—“Oh we planted and we sowed till the early morn”—as I waited for another canteen‐holder to step up. My canteen was not to leave my penis. It was my wubbie, my crotch‐shield. I’d sooner have seen my brothers and sisters collapse from dehydration. March and avoid. March and avoid.
An hour into the hike we were nearing the 1,300‐foot plateau. The sun had begun piercing the horizon and was doing its daily job of illuminating things. Sock colors revealed themselves and scrunchies and back zits suddenly sprang to life. With the sun came heat and the need to quench a growing number of parched throats. Water was a commodity but so was my dignity.

As the thirsty approached me, I’d shake my head and say regretfully, “Sorry guys, canteen’s tapped.” They knocked on the canteen like it was a door. “Really? It sounds like something’s in there.”
“Yeah, but it’s all backwash. Nasty, man. You don’t want that.” I felt like Edward G. Robinson in The Ten Commandments, betraying my fellow Jew. On Masada, of all places.

With day breaking, something else appeared—other human beings. In the distance we spotted an Asian study group followed by a flock of meaty Evangelists in matching green T‐shirts. Glory Hallelujah.

“There’s too many people,” Dave shouted. “Put your clothes back on, guys.”
“What the Fuck?!”  The self‐righteous groans of teenagers spread through the line, followed by an outpour of motherfuck, goddamn, and bullshit. I covered my mouth to mask my excitement.

As a movement, we were rebellious—mighty and fierce iconoclasts, but only to a point. We were also the same Jews who took SAT prep classes, enjoyed theater games, and did what we were told.  Backpacks rolled off shoulders and clothes were grudgingly thrown back on. Each bra fastened and underwear snapped into place meant another level of safety for me.

“Stupid fuckin’ Jesus freaks!” Jonah shouted down the mountainside. “Bible thumpin’ homos!” someone else screamed.
Then everyone joined in, assaulting the invaders from a safe distance with angsty barbs like, “Go back to Kansas, you churchy bastards,” and “This isn’t The Great Wall, you dickheads!” In solidarity I let out “This is total shit,” followed by a more convincing, “You SUUUUCK!”

Our tribe remained snarly as the Chinese and Americans eventually caught up with us on the edge of the path. They nodded and walked past us blankly, as if they had just beaten us in a game of softball and had been forced by their coach to do the “Good game, good game” walk‐through.

“Destroyed by the Second Coming,” Jonah said as they walked by. “Destroyed again.” He was half right. I had been saved.
Gentiles had once again stormed the great desert plateau. Like the Romans nearly 2,000 years before them, they came and ruined everything.
I couldn’t be happier. I turned to my bitter Hebrews. “Who needs water?”

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