E ven at sunrise. Even with three liters of ice water on his back. Even with a group of friends. Climbing Masada in August, Daniel thought as he panted up the path, was not the most brilliant idea.

It’s still dark when they arrive at the bottom snake path, but the sun rises rapidly and before they’re halfway up the long, winding path, sweat is already running down his forehead and stinging his eyes.

The guys are getting ahead of him.

Daniel’s calves burn, his heels blister. He slips further behind, then catches up and slips into the circle of banter: Zach, Max, on summer break from university; Yoni and Efraim, who have been here all year in yeshivah, waiting anxiously for approval — from parents, from university courses — to stay a second year.

There is no dawn moisture here in the Judean Desert, only sun on skin, scorching arrows through the air, the ground turning from black to gray to brown to dun, and now it is light enough for him to see the streaks of red and copper in the sand.

Another step, another. They’re all out of breath, except for Zach, who works out every day, even during exam time. When Max went off to Oxford, he made a big deal about punting on the Cherwell, said he’d do it with sublime competence. With all the essays he humblebrags about writing, seems like Max has conveniently forgotten to unearth his latent talent. (Excerpted from Calligraphy, Succos 5778)