Michigan Artist Climbs Masada for Her Children, Her Ancestors and Herself
People climb the Israeli mountain-fortress of Masada for many reasons: to be inspired by the anti-Roman rebels who lived and died there; to pray; to get exercise; for the view. For Michigan artist Dina Kawer, who conquered Masada on July 1, 2008, it was all those and more.
In 2000, Dina’s daughter, Shanna Goldenberg, took a teen tour that included a Masada hike. Shanna volunteered to carry the group’s 30-pound water pack — because nobody else was willing, she claimed.
Shanna got sick during the climb; it turned out she had a heart condition, which was later corrected surgically. In the course of telling her mother what happened, Shanna fessed up about the real reason she carried the water: to symbolically carry Dina, who, she presumed, would never make this pilgrimage because of her MS.
“With tears steaming down my face, I swore to myself that I would one day climb up Masada with my daughter,” said Dina, whose father is a Holocaust survivor.
Her next thought: turn the challenge into a fundraiser for the National MS Society. With her son Shay's help she launched a Web site called How Will I Get Back Down??, got some press coverage, and raised nearly $12,000. (The site continues to accept donations.)
Years of preparation culminated in two-and-a-quarter hours in the desert heat, which is intense before sunrise and potentially life-threatening after. Dina is a ferocious exerciser who knows her strengths. She always loses feeling in her feet when it’s hot, but gets around successfully with canes. On Masada, limb after limb sputtered to a halt. Her speech and thinking slowed. Halfway up, she was struggling to walk and losing coordination in her left arm. A cousin poured water on her to keep her temperature down but she refused to let anyone physically boost her — something Shanna and Shay have been doing since childhood.
Emotional boosts came thick and fast, however, as word of Dina’s quest spread from hiker to hiker. Many stopped to tell her about relatives with MS, and to jot down the Web site to make a donation.
“I could hear people from the top yelling words of encouragement,” she said.
“All of a sudden I remember getting really emotional. My cousin Larry looks at me and says, ‘You can’t do this right now. You can’t get emotional. You have to save your strength. Save it for the top.’ So I sucked it all in and continued.
"I had been handing my canes over to Shanna at times, using the handrails to hoist myself up the steepest trails, but for the final ascent I took my canes back from Shanna and said, 'I'm doing this with my canes.'...
“They all burst into applause when I got to the top. These were strangers, not just my family. I sobbed. I hugged my daughter. I said, ‘I did this for you, I did this for Shay, you guys have always been my rock.’ I said, ‘You never have to carry me again. I carry myself.’ It was a sob fest."
Dina phoned Shay in California from the summit, rested for an hour to let her body recover as much as possible in the 105-degree heat, and took a cable car back down.
“On the way down I turned around and looked, and I thought to myself, ‘Holy crap, how did I ever climb that mountain?’ This was a total out-of-body for me. This was a power beyond me that allowed me to do this.”
Alas, a camcorder containing footage Dina wants to put on her site went missing. She thinks it was nicked at Newark Airport and is trying to get local law enforcement to search for it.
Dina — whose work is in the collections of the Smithsonian and the Detroit Institute of Arts — compares living with MS to a challenge she faces with her art. She uses Polaroid film as her printing medium, but Polaroid has stopped making film. When her current stock is gone, she’ll have to reinvent her career.
But she’s not worried: getting creative is what she does.
"An artist is always constrained in some ways and freed in others by their chosen medium," she said.
"In life, we are all limited at times. MS may present limitations but our individual creativity has the ability to free us."