Thursday, December 8, 2011

Field Trips and Free Time Galore!

My mother has requested another post, so here it is. She also kindly reminded me that I only have one week until I leave Jerusalem, meaning I will lose all of my interesting material to blog about. I'm so glad my life will be returning to complete mediocrity. Awesome. One week until the semester is over. This is nuts. All of our classes are coming to a close, we have our last days in the city, and our schedule is loaded with field trips and free time. Yes, free time is considered a scheduled activity. Ironic, I know. But with time in the Holy Land running out, our free time is even more hectic and tiring and busy than our planned field trips and outings. Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights:

Synagogue Visit, Nov. 25: We’ve been going in groups for the past few Sabbaths to visit a synagogue service with our Judaism professor, Ophir. I went to the Orthodox synagogue that Ophir and his family usually attend. I’ve never been exposed to a Jewish worship service before, so I thought it was fascinating. Everyone was very welcoming to us, and one man even congratulated us on BYU being invited to the Armed Forces Bowl (yay Cougars!). The service was split into a few parts: the Friday afternoon, the welcoming of the Sabbath, and the Friday evening services. Each of them were outlined in a book, which also had all the prayers and songs that were sung and recited. One thing I loved about it was all the singing! It was interesting because there wasn’t any music staff or notes or anything written in the books; everyone just knew the melody, or even just sang their own thing. Just like at the Western Wall, there were separate sides for men and women. There was also the prayer leader in the middle of the two sections, but instead of facing everyone, they faced the front. That way, they aren’t placed above the group and “preaching” to them, but part of the community; they just happen to be leading the prayers and songs that week. I was also surprised by the fact that they have little sermons or speeches by members of the congregation, since we also do that in our church. They just cycle through the community, and each person can speak on the topic of their choice. Obviously it was all in Hebrew, so I didn’t understand what they were talking about. But that’s ok, it was still really interesting to observe and soak in the different ways people worship God.

Christian Jerusalem Field Trip, Nov. 30: This was just a half-day field trip in the morning. We went to a good sampling of the most important Christian churches in the Old City of Jerusalem. First was the Terrae Sancta, which is the Franciscan church. The Franciscans are considered the “custodians of the Holy Land.” We also visited the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Church, Alexander Nevsky, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. My favorite was probably St. Mark’s because of the little lady that spoke to us there. She is a native Syrian and used to be a math teacher, but then she gave that up to serve God in this church. St. Mark’s is thought to be built on the site of the home of Mark the apostle’s mother, and also to have been the site of the last supper and the Pentecost, according to Syrian tradition. She expressed a powerful testimony of her belief in Jesus Christ, and shared some of the miracles she has witnessed in the church. I am thankful for her faith and willingness to talk about her experiences. After the church visits, I went out in the city with Rivkah, Liz, Allyson, and Jaclyn. We did a little last minute shopping in the Old City, then took the light rail to the open market in West Jerusalem. For most of the semester, we haven’t been allowed to take any public transportation (other than taxis) because of security risks. However, our awesome security personnel here decided last month that it was safe for us to start using public transportation. One of the biggest blessings has been the brand new light rail in West J! It’s been free for this whole time because they’ve been trying to promote it and get people to ride it. Lovely! The open market (called the Shuk) is on Mehane Yehuda, just a few stops down from Damascus Gate. It is full of fun restaurants, fruit stands, and best of all... DOUGHNUTS!!! There are other delicious pastries, but the jelly filled doughnuts are top notch. We all get them from this one specific stand, and the guy even lets us fill our own doughnuts sometimes. My personal favorites are the chocolate, strawberry, and caramel filled doughnuts. Mmmmm my mouth waters just thinking about them. The dough is actually the best part- it is really light, not too greasy, and just so sweet and delicious. These doughnuts have become an obsession of everyone at the center. So naturally, we each got about 4 when we went today. I might have also saved one for breakfast the next morning... best decision ever.

Dead Sea Field Trip, Dec. 4: Today we drove out to the Dead Sea and surrounding areas to see some sites. The first was Masada, which is a huge fortress set up on a plateau in the middle of nowhere, overlooking the Sea. It is most famous for being one of the last Jewish strongholds during the Great Revolt against the Romans. It ended up that the Romans were able to besiege and take the city, but not before almost all of the people committed suicide. They figured killing themselves was better than being taken prisoner. It's quite the story. The ruins were interesting, but I'm not going to lie, I was a little disappointed. I guess everyone had just been talking it up so much, I had higher expectations. But it was still really cool to see and the landscape was incredible. Next we went to the Dead Sea! We were all really excited about this, although our excitement was a little dampened (pun intended) by the warnings that Brother Skinner gave us the week before: The Dead Sea is not only extremely salty, but also toxic! It has the highest concentrations of potash, bromine, and magnesium in the world, so if you ingest hardly any at all, you are in trouble. With that in mind, I was personally a little wary of getting in the water, but I knew that I'd regret it if I didn't, so into the Dead Sea I went! The legend is true- you can't help but float in the water. It was such an odd sensation! I almost felt like it was constraining because it was sort of difficult to even push my legs underwater to stand up. But it was so fun! I got some cheesy pics of myself reading in the Sea, and my book didn't even get wet. Score. After about 10 minutes floating though, I was done. The water kind of burned my skin a little, so it wasn't the most comfortable float/swim ever. But, now I can say I've floated in the Dead Sea! (and I think I lost a few layers of skin) After the Dead Sea, we went to Ein Gedi, which was a nice national park with wildlife. It is also the traditional place where David came upon King Saul in the cave, but didn't kill him. There were some pretty waterfalls and streams. Good photo op. Last we went to Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found! I thought this was really cool, especially since they found the scrolls so recently (relatively speaking). We saw the caves they were found in, even Cave 4 where the most scrolls were found. We also saw the ruins of the Qumran compound where the Essenes lived and copied scripture.

This past week has been pretty low key, other than finals. Our testing schedule is kind of crazy compared to Provo. We had finals for our language, Old Testament, and modern Near East classes in the middle of the semester, then we have our New Testament and Ancient Near East finals this week. We had the last of our formal classes, and I have my last test tomorrow. I just need to finish up a few papers and then I'm home free for schoolwork! Next week will just be full of glitter and rainbows as we have our last week in Jerusalem and have a bunch more field trips and free time and spent our last moments as a group. I can't believe this semester is already coming to an end. As it gets closer and closer to when I'll be home, I'll admit it, I'm getting pretty antsy and ready to be home. But, I also don't want to leave Jerusalem and all the people here! It will never be like this again. The end of an era. But, I'm super excited for all the adventures that lie ahead! They have great potential to be both classy and sassy :)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving! Galilee- Day 11

Thursday, November 24
Today was our last day in the Galilee as we made our way back to Jerusalem. It was so odd to me that it was Thanksgiving! This was my first Thanksgiving ever without my family, and so today was really the first day this entire semester that I’ve been truly homesick. It was hard to not be with my family and not have all of our holiday traditions and know that they were all together without me. Not to sound too depressed or anything, because I’ll be home soon! (Which is a whole other feeling in itself that I haven’t figured out yet). Anyways, today was a little rough, but I was surrounded by my 80 of my closest friends and saw some pretty cool stuff!

The day started off in Haifa, where we visited a Templar cemetery. I know, that seems like a really random place for us to visit, but it actually has a lot of meaning for the LDS church and the Jerusalem Center. Buried in this cemetery are two couples that converted to the gospel in the late 1800s, along with two missionaries who died of disease while serving in Haifa. It is sad that these missionaries (both from Utah) were not able to be buried close to their families, but it actually just shows how Heavenly Father has a greater plan than we realize. When the church was trying to get permission to build the Jerusalem Center, the Israeli government required there to proof that the LDS church had a presence in the country before the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948. These converts and missionaries in Haifa from the turn of the century provided this presence. Without them, the center probably wouldn’t have been built. I know that I am eternally grateful for these people that I’ve never met, and who were not planning on being buried here (at least the missionaries). Aside from the historical and spiritual significance of the cemetery, the site itself was incredibly beautiful. It was just unkempt enough to feel organic and comfortable, but not too trimmed up where it felt sterile and austere. The sun was shining the beautiful way it does in the morning, and it was a nice autumn temperature. All in all, a great Thanksgiving morning. The second stop of the day was Caesarea Martima, which is a Herodian city built right on the coast of the Mediterranean. In ancient times it even extended over the harbor on big platforms and pylons. The history was really interesting, and the ruins were pretty, but I mostly just liked being by the sea again. Parts of the city that are right on the harbor have been converted into restaurants and a few little shops, which is fun. It was fun to explore around the area. I’m not going to lie though, I was ready to get back to the JC! I loved Galilee, but I just wanted to be home. Crazy that the JC is home, but I like it.

After the bus ride, we finally arrived back! All of us were so happy, and as we rounded the corner to come up Mount Scopus, we were all pointing out the arches of the Center and talking about how happy we were to see it again. We were practically running into the center, but then I legitimately broke out in a run... I saw Christmas lights! Our dear service couples had decorated for Christmas while we were away! There are now Christmas trees and lights and wreaths all over the JC, and I could not be happier! I may or may not have started crying when I saw it. It just reminded me of home, but then made me so happy that the couples would go to all the effort to decorate for us and make us feel at home. I love them and I love Christmas! It definitely got me ready for Thanksgiving dinner. After showering and cleaning up a little bit, we had out Thanksgiving feast in the Oasis. Achmed (our chef) and Sister Chapman are miracle workers! They worked so hard on making us a delicious meal that was “American.” We had big roast turkeys, stuffing, sweet potatoes, that one fruit salad with the whipped topping, it was great. Of course, I will still be looking forward to the frozen leftovers that Mom has promised me (DO NOT GET RID OF THOSE MOM- I WANT THEM SO BAD), but it was still so nice to have familiar holiday food. I sat with Robin, Adam, and Alyse, and we even went around and told each other what we were most thankful for. I’m so happy I got to share this holiday with them. And the turkey really was so good. To finish off the night, I got to talk to my whole family on the phone :) All my siblings are home, so I got to talk to my parents, siblings, and grandparents! I was so excited! (Again, may or may not have cried) It was a great Thanksgiving over all, and it really reminded me of the things I am thankful for most right now: my family and the fact that I can be with them forever; my health; my opportunity to be Israel; those who have gone before me and provided a way for me to be here; the students and faculty here; and most importantly, my Savior Jesus Christ and his infinite atonement on my behalf. I cannot be more blessed than I already am.

Galilee- Day 10

Wednesday 11-23
Today we went to Chorazin, Sepphoris, and Acre/Akko. I can’t remember anything too interesting about Chorazin, but Sepphoris had a lot of nice mosaics on the floors of old homes. There is even one called the Mona Lisa of the Middle East. Acre was my favorite today because it wasn’t just one site, it was a whole Crusader city! Inside the fortress was a lot of big vaulted ceilings and columns, which I loved. Then we just got to walk through the whole city and along the sea wall. There is just something about the Mediterranean Sea that I love so much! Everytime I see it, it becomes more beautiful to me. There were a lot of fishermen out on the wall, and it was quite picturesque. Another highlight of the day: got a Magnum bar at the end. I don’t think I’ve blogged about the Magum obsession that our JC group has, but it’s a little ridiculous. It all started in Turkey when Papa Hunts would get one of these Magnum ice cream bars at literally EVERY SINGLE stop. So naturally we all followed suit. Now, the rating of a site is based on whether or not they have Magnum bars for sale. The Nok Out brand is also acceptable, but not quite as good. My personal non-Magnum favorite is this cookie ice cream sandwich because the cookie is like a chocolate oatmeal one, and it’s soft! (It’s hard to find good soft cookies here) You can tell that we have all become connoisseurs of ice cream bars here, since I just spent as much time talking about ice cream as I did about the entire day’s field trip. I have my priorities.

My very favorite part of the day was in the evening when we had separate class bonfires. It was a little more of a serious fireside with musical numbers and a message from Brother Harper. The first musical number was a group singing “He Sent His Son.” It’s a Primary song, but the lyrics are so strong and truly testify of Christ and his mission on earth. I love the last lines of the the song: “What does He ask? Live like His Son.” It’s so simple, but so profound. Brother Harper then gave a message about Christ walking on the water. It was so thrilling to talk about this amazing miracle and be sitting at the edge of the water where it happened. He posed the same question to us as Christ did to  Peter: “Where is your faith?” It really made me think about how strongly I need to place my faith in Christ alone and not worry about the thoughts of men. But also, and maybe more importantly, even when I fail in my faith, if I cry out, Christ will always be there to reach out His hand and pull me out of the water. I love that. It gives me so much hope and comfort that my Savior is always there for me, even though I definitely don’t deserve it. Afterwards, Rivkah sang the song “His Hands”, which if you are not familiar with, I strongly recommend looking it up on YouTube or something. It’s a beautiful song about the works Christ did with his hands and how he showed us what we must do as well. It was especially touching to me this time because the ending phrase of the chorus is “I will make my hand like those from Galilee.” Hey, we’re in the! It’s little references and things like this that really stick out to me and remind me of the spectacular opportunity I have to be here and learn about my Savior. After the song, we just stayed around the fire and people had the opportunity to bear their testimonies of their belief in Christ and God and the gospel. It was such an edifying experience to hear my classmates and friends share their love of Jesus and how they have come to believe and know. It was such a beautiful evening with a beautiful spirit and feeling as we sat right on the beach of the Sea of Galilee under the stars.

Galilee- Day 9

Tuesday, November 22
To me, today was a lot of nature walks and reserves, but that’s nice. I was just pretty tired today for some reason, so the “walk” part wasn’t as enjoyable as the “reserve” part. We started off in Hazor, which had some ruins. Then we went to Tel Dan, which marked the northern-most part of Israel in Old Testament times. There was a nice mix of archaeology and beautiful nature here. The two most interesting archaeological sites were the red dirt gate dating from the time of Abraham and the HUGE sacrificial altar. The altar was so so big, it was ridiculous. It definitely wasn’t difficult to imagine a fully cow barbecuing up there. As for the nature part, there were a lot of springs that fed into the Jordan River, a few waterfalls, and even a Winnie the Pooh tree! I don’t really know why this tree is considered the Winnie the Pooh tree, but there was a sign next to it, and I took a picture with it. After Dan we went to Caesarea Philippi, which is where the events in Matthew 16 took place. This is when bears testimony that Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus says “upon this rock I will build my church” etc. There wasn’t a church or anything to mark it; it’s actually just a nature reserve with all the springs that are there. There are also a few ancient pagan worship areas for the god Pan. The next nature reserve was Bannias, which had beautiful waterfalls. It was also right next to a cow pasture. I was a little disappointed that there were no Texas longhorns. Last stop of the day was Nimrod Castle, which was fun because I like castles. Unfortunately it was more ruins than castles, but it was still a nice idea. Actually I lied- the last stop was Har Bental, which is an overlook bunker that was used by the military. From the top you can see into both Syria and Lebanon (I think... definitely Syria). There were some cool bunkers and tunnels that we went through, though it was a little creepy!

Tonight we had another bonfire! We were invited to create some skits and such for the bonfire, and Harper’s class stepped up to the plate! I’m so proud of all those who did the skit. They did a little skit about some of the faculty and how they would act if they were all stuck on a deserted island. It was really funny because the students perfectly personified each of the faculty with their funny phrases and mannerisms. Accents, vocabulary, singing, and all. We also had a lot of guitar playing and singing around the fire, which I loved.

Galilee- Day 8

Monday, November 21
Jezreel Valley field trip day! First stop was the church at Nain. This marks the place where Christ raised the widow’s son from the dead. The church itself is pretty small and tucked away, but it’s a nice little way to commemorate this great miracle. We talked a lot as a class about the incredibly compassion that Christ had and how it always moved him to act. The scriptures always talk about Him being “moved with compassion” and how it served as a motivating force for many of His miracles. I’m so thankful that Jesus is the perfect example of love and compassion, and how it should motivate us to do good works and show loving kindness to each other everyday. Inside the church we sang “I am a Child of God,” and it was a really beautiful reminder of how much we are loved by our Heavenly Father and how we need to show that love to others through out actions. Our next stop was Meggido. The Hebrew name for this mountain is Har Meggido, which then gives us the word Armageddon. Meggido is the traditional place where the armies are to gather for the final battle of the world, as written in Revelations. It was an impressive area with some interesting ruins. We didn’t spend too terribly long there.

The next place we went was Mount Tabor, one of the traditional sites for the Mount of Transfiguration. I actually loved this site, which kind of surprised me! The beginning was a little rocky though. We had to take a bunch of taxi-vans up the mountain because our bus wouldn’t fit up the tight switchbacks. That’s always a good sign. Personally, I don’t think the vans were that much better at navigating the little roads. I still felt like I was going to careen off the cliff at every hairpin turn, and it didn’t help that our drivers were hardly paying attention to the driving. Maybe some people like that, I don’t know. Anyways, we finally made it up the mount, and the loveliest sight was there to meet us. The church of the Transfiguration is kept up by the Franciscans, and they also apparently have quite the green thumb, because the gardens there are beautiful. They have all of these different species of plants from all over the world, and the plants were a wonderful frame and complement for the church. We spent a lot of time there talking about the biblical account of the transfiguration, when Christ took Peter, James, and John up to the mount. I really enjoyed the discussion, and I’m constantly in awe of the faculty we are privileged to have here. Brother Harper is truly amazing and so knowledgeable. We asked him so many questions, and he pulls his answers from so many resources and his own opinions, and he is able to synthesize them into one beautiful, thought-provoking, and comprehensible response. Anyways, the church was really nice. I especially like the wooden rafter ceilings, and the way they were juxtaposed with the smooth, clean cream stone of the building. There was also incredible stained glass and mosaics.

The final stop of the day was Gan Ha-Shelosha which is a swimming hole! This water was much much warmer than the waterfall from the hike. No half-frozen muscles this time. It’s a spring-fed pool within this little rocky grotto, caves and all. It really was breathe-taking. The pool also fed into a waterfall that you could climb down to. I sat underneath it and had the best back massage ever. It was like one of those massage chairs on steroids, it was so nice. It was a nice little swim, and then we got hot chocolate and went back to the kibbutz.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Galilee- Day 6

Saturday, November 19
For Sabbath , we went to the branch in Tiberias. The church really enjoys beautiful views, and this chapel is no exception. The little rented building is set on a hillside and overlooks the whole Sea! It was beautiful. It was a beautiful meeting, and there were some really great messages that were shared. There were two things I thought were pretty special. Number one: for sacrament prayer over the bread, the young man said it in Hebrew! It’s normal for the members of the branch to pray or speak in their native languages, and he has lived all his life in Israel, so naturally his native tongue is Hebrew. It was just so interesting because obviously, Hebrew is inextricably tied with Judaism, so it was cool to hear it in a completely Christian setting. Second cool thing: as the last speaker was closing their remarks, a huge storm came over the sea. Because of the placement of the Sea of Galilee, it is a crossroads for hot and cool air and all sorts of climate changes, so storms can hip up at a moment’s notice. The sea became completely clouded over and it was raining sheets and sheets. Now this would just be an interesting weather report, but for the closing hymn we sang “Master the Tempest is Raging.”
“Master the tempest is raging, the billows are tossing high. The sky is o’ershadowed with blackness, no shelter or help is nigh. Carest thou not that we perish? How canst thou lie asleep when each moment so madly is threatening a grave in the angry deep? The winds and the waves shall obey thy will: Peace, be still. Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea or demons or men or whatever it be, no waters can swallow the ship where lies the Master of ocean and earth and skies. They all shall sweetly obey they will: Peace, be still, peace, be still. They all shall sweetly obey thy will: Peace, peace, be still."
It was such an awesome moment to be singing this all together, overlooking this huge torrent on the Sea of Galilee. I am continued to be amazed at how real the stories of the bible become as I am here and experience the things that Jesus and the apostles might have experienced. After church we headed to Yardenit, which is a part of the Jordan River. This is actually the site where one of our professors, Dr. Ludlow, was baptized when he was 8! He came here as a faculty child when his dad taught at the JC back in the day, and he turned 8 while they lived here and got baptized. It was a lovely river, though it’s very commercialized now (something I’ve just learned to ignore). One thing I like about Yardenit is that they have all of these tile plaques that quote the scripture of Christ’s baptism in tons of different languages, from Aramaic to Spanish to Fang (I’ve never heard of this last one either). I like this because it’s a reminder that Christ came as an example and Savior to all nations, tongues, and people, and that we are all children of our Heavenly Father.

Galilee- Day 5

Friday, November 18
Today was our Golan Heights field trip. We started off by visiting Gamla, which is a big fortified city that was one of the last Galilean cities the Romans besieged and destroyed during the First Jewish Revolt. Basically, it’s a big mountain sticking up in the middle of a valley with a lot of ruins on the top of it. The really fun part about this site though was the hike to it. Like I’ve mentioned before, the area has experienced some precipitation, so it was SO MUDDY. We basically just slid down one side of the valley and slipped our way up the hillside of the city. To say it got a little messy would be an understatement. But the ruins were pretty cool once you got there. Michael Sean even dug and found some roman glass! After Gamla we went to Katsrin, which is an old Talmudic village (meaning it was established during the period when the Talmud was being written and compiled in this region). There was a nice synagogue and reconstructed houses, but the best part was probably the cheesy film we got to watch about the Sanhedrin. Let me just say that we’ve been lucky enough to view some of Israel’s finest touristic videos, and it has been fantastic. This was definitely one of the best ones: made in the 90s, featuring kids with braces, striped sweaters and leggings, dubbed in English, and some felt-figure animation thrown in. What could be better than that. In addition to all these wonderful features, the story it told was actually pretty interesting. It talked about how there was a member of the Sanhedrin who received revelation from God, but the other members of the council were convinced that revelation ended with Moses on Mount Sinai. So, the film chronicled the Rabbi trying to prove (with God’s help) that his revelation was from God. It was interesting to see another religion’s perspective on revelation and whether or not they accept it. The last stop of the day was Kursi, where Jesus cast the devils out of the man Legion, cast them into swine, then the swine ran off the cliff edge. There were some nice ruins of a church there, but we were all pretty tired and ready to head back to the Kibbutz for lunch by that time. Especially since some of us were going on a hike afterwards!

The hike was so fun! We went all through the Golan Heights nature preserve, led by our fearless guide Eric Maltzman. All I can say is I hope that I can be him one day. He is the funniest, little old man! So granola-y with a sweet beard, skinny little legs, big thick glasses, fanny pack, and a quick pace! But he really is so educated, and I really enjoyed his comments as we went along. Especially the brain-teasers that he gave for us to chew on as we hiked along. The Golan Heights are beautiful. It was so nice to just be out in nature, which is something we’ve been doing a lot of here in the Galilee. We saw two waterfalls, the Black Falls and the White Falls. You can probably guess why they’re called that. The most “fun” part of the hike was swimming in the White Falls! I mean, who doesn’t love swimming in a freezing water hole in November? It was seriously so cold, I think my muscles froze a little bit. It was so cold that once you got in the water, you went through a few stages of feeling: sharp knives because of the cold; numbness; then a searing burn. Great, right? No, I’m exaggerating a little bit. But really, it was so cold, but definitely an experience! I’m glad I did it, and I can now say that I’ve swum in a waterfall in the Galilee. My muscles eventually thawed during the remainder of the hike, and I had a good time. I was very excited to get back though and take a nice long, hot shower.

Galilee- Day 4

Thursday, November 17
We just had class in the morning today, so nothing too exciting happened. It’s nice having our field trips every other day since they’re so tiring! We go all day long without stopping, even for lunch. Yay for sack lunches on the bus! (but we’re actually really sick of them...) So luckily today we had lunch at the Kibbutz. The food here has been really good! The only funny thing is that the dining room is completely Kosher, so there are different rules. For example, there is no mixing of meat and dairy products in the same meal, so breakfast and lunch are usually meat free with a dairy component, and dinner is meat with no dairy. The Oasis at the JC doesn’t follow Kosher law. But otherwise, the food is yummy at Ein Gev (especially the granola for breakfast.) The only sad part about today though was that they leave a very short window open for us to get food. Today they pushed lunch up about 30 minutes, and both Whitney and I thought they would still be open for an hour. But we were wrong. We showed up and lunch was closed. Yes, we had no lunch. It was a very sad occasion for us because we were hungry girls, and there is no other place on the kibbutz to get food! We were able to beg some rolls out of one of the younger male servers at the restaurant, but otherwise, we were on our own. Then Whit remembered she had a dragon fruit in her little fridge! Don’t ask me why she had one... but bless her heart. I’d never had a dragon fruit before, so I was excited to try it! We had the kind with the bright magenta fruit on the inside, and it was pretty good. We felt like such wilderness savages though because we didn’t have any knives or napkins or anything, so here we are peeling this dragon fruit with our bare hands and eating over the sink as it drips down our hands and chin. So attractive. The rest of the day we spent doing homework, then we fall asleep for a few hours watching the news. We figured we shouldn’t do anything too active on an empty stomach... at least that’s what we told ourselves.

For dinner, Brother Harper’s class went to Tiberias for dinner. Tiberias is almost directly across the sea from Ein Gev, but we took a bus around the coast to get there. We went to a fun little fish restaurant. Whit and I heard that the fish wasn’t very filling though, so I got pizza, she got the fish, and we did halfsies. I was really glad we got the fish though, because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on eating fish from Galilee. After dinner we were able to walk around Galilee. It’s a cute little harbor town, but it’s very quiet after dark, so there wasn’t much to do. Of course, the ice cream and hot chocolate shops are always open, so we were forced to buy treats there. I mean, I would say that I really tried to resist, but that would be a lie. I am my mother’s daughter, after all. Other than the very nice Disney medley we sang on the bus ride to and from Tiberias, nothing much else happened!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Galilee- Day 3

Wednesday, November 16

Ok so it’s rainy here. I am not a fan of the rain; I just hate getting my clothes all wet and stepping in puddles and getting cold. But, I feel like I can’t complain too much because we have had no rain at all in Jerusalem this entire semester. In fact, I think the only time it has rained on us was in Turkey at Pergamum, which was a downpour. Like I said, I cannot complain, especially since complainers are one of my biggest pet peeves. I figure the best way to have a good attitude about something is to be prepared, so for the field trip today I had on about five layers, including two hoods, a rain slicker, and an umbrella in my backpack just in case. I was nice and toasty and dry all day! Maybe not my absolute cutest outfit, but that’s besides the point. And let’s face it, my entire style sense has completely gone out the window this semester.

Our first stop was the Mount of Beatitudes. As in THE mount where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Awesome. As in “It completely fills and overwhelms me with awe,” not like “Dude, that’s awesome and rad.” I was so excited to be there. The mountainside is beautiful, and there are some lovely gardens to walk around outside the church. The church was built by the Italians (I think Mussolini commissioned it), and it is octagonal in shape to reflect the eight beatitudes. I like the outside of it a lot more than the inside, but it’s still really beautiful. We had a lot of time to sit in the gardens (if you could find a dry spot) and read the Sermon on the Mount and reflect on it. I really enjoyed this. I’ve always liked the Sermon on the Mount and knew it was important, but I really came to love it and understand it better. It just makes it so much more real when you’re sitting on the actual site that it was given. That’s one thing I really like about the Galilee; at most sites in Jerusalem or the surrounding areas, you don’t really know for sure if you’re actually in the place that Christ taught or whatever. But here in Galilee, it’s pretty accurate in where things took place, so it just seems more real. I appreciate that. Anyways, I really enjoyed reading the scriptures at the church, even in the rainy drizzle.

The next two churches we went to were right around the corner from each other. The First was the Tabgha Church, which commemorates the miracle of the fishes and loaves. So I know I just said that the Galilee is pretty accurate on location, but this is the exception. Sorry. The traditional site for the miracle is actually something like 15 miles away, but they just have the church here. There are some beautiful mosaics on the church floor. The second church/site was the Church of St. Peter’s Primacy. This is the site where Christ called in the apostles from the sea, coked them fish, and had the conversation with Peter (“If you love me, feed my sheep”) in John 21. The church was quite small, but the altar is around this rock called the Mensa Christi, which is traditionally the stone table that Christ used to prepare the apostles’ meal. What I loved most about it was that the church was literally right next to the sea. It was just a little rocky beach right down to the water. It was so nice to stand on the rocks and look out over the water where the apostles fished and where Christ walked. I took some really pretty pictures, but unfortunately technology was not my ally and I lost them while uploading them on my computer... thank goodness for my friends’ cameras! One other cool thing about the church is that outside of the current structure are leftover foundations of “siamese columns,” which are two columns put together to form a corner of a building. There are only the foundations left now, and it made a heat shape! Tender.

The last site of the day was Capernaum, the hometown of Peter. There is a really big synagogue there, and also the foundations of a 1st century basalt synagogue which archaeologists believe to have been the one where Jesus would have been. Cool! Other than the synagogue, there are some ruins of houses, most particularly Peter’s, and a modern Christian church which sits right atop Peter’s house. The church has a glass bottom in the center so that you can see the ruins. One interesting thing about the ruins is that you can see the progression of the building from being a private dwelling to eventually a community meeting place. As the early Christian church grew and the people would meet in Peter’s home, the house would get progressively bigger. Just an interesting thing to actually see the growth of the early church during Jesus’s time.

My very very favorite part of the day (and probably the whole trip) was at the end, when we were able to sail on the Sea of Galilee. As I've said earlier, it was rainy all day, but as we were getting ready to sail on the boat, the raid dried up and the sun came out. It was like Christ's command of "Peace, be still" was still in effect, like He had calmed the storm for us. Just another tender mercy that each of us is given everyday by the Lord's hand. The first part of the boat ride was a lot of good fun, especially since the boat driver turned up some nice gospel tunes for us. Who would have thought that we'd be singing some good ole gospel music on the Sea of Galilee?! Not me. But all I have to say is "Our God is an awesome God!" (Look up this song right now). Once we got out to the middle of the sea, we just floated for a bit and had a little devotional. We sang "Master, the Tempest is Raging" and it was so cool to sing those words and imagine the scene right before my eyes. I have to admit, that particular hymn has never been my favorite, but I like it a lot more after this experience (how could I not?). I have always loved the accounts of Christ calming the storm. It gives me such peace to think about how Christ can calm the "storms" in my life, and how I can always turn to him for help. After our devotional, we had the whole boat ride back to read and ponder if we wanted to, and there was such a lovely spirit.

Galilee- Day 2

Tuesday, November 15
Let me describe more for you where we are staying. Ein Gev is originally a kibbutz, compounds created during the Jewish immigrations in the early 1900s to house all of the new immigrants. Everything within these communities is shared, and everyone works and contributes to the greater well-being of the kibbutz. We aren’t staying at the actual kibbutz here (that’s just down the road), but we’re at the resort that’s been created right on the beach of the Sea of Galilee. My little bungalow is probably 200 yards from the sand. So fun! Ein Gev is situated on the south eastern coast of the Sea.

Today my group (Brother Harper’s) had class today while Brother Huntsman’s had their fieldtrip. That is my only complaint about the Galilee-- we are always separated from the other class! We’ve always been split up for field trips and stuff, but usually we at least go on the same days and then have our big lecture classes and free time together. But here, we switch off days for field trips and free time and only have a few big lectures. So basically we only see each other at meal times and after dinner in the evenings. I guess it’s not that big of a deal, but now that time is ticking away on the semester, I just want to spend time with everyone! I cannot believe how fast time is going. Only 4 weeks left. I feel like I’ve only been here for 4 weeks, not almost 12! It will be so weird to go back to Provo to “real school” and not being constantly surrounded by the same 80 students. I’m honestly going to miss it a lot. I feel like our whole group has really grown together and we have so much fun together. I’m so blessed to be a part of it! I feel like this isn’t actually real life, so all of these friends aren’t actually “real.” But they are! That’s so great!

Anyways. I’ll wax nostalgic later. We had class this morning, then free time all afternoon! It was sunny today, so naturally we all headed to the beach. I always forget how much I like the beach. Of course I always think, “Ya, I like the beach, it’s great.” But then when I’m there, I think “THE BEACH IS AWESOOOMMMME! I LOVE THE BEACH! IT’S SOO FUUUNNN!” Just like that. I think that about sums up my feelings about it. I didn’t get in the water today, but I played on the sand and found seashells with Whitney and took lots of pictures with my new camera. Don’t worry, we took the requisite “jump” pictures, and they turned out great. Some people then put together a touch-football game! I spectated and cheered so well, you have no idea. It was funny to see the guys that played football in high school, the ones who didn’t, then all the girls mixed in. Quite humorous to say the least. I got some good pics.

After dinner, we all got together for a big bonfire! Let me tell you, this group loves a good bonfire (and dance parties). I think it all started in Turkey when we had one at the hotel there. This one was great though because Sister Skinner (our Academic Director’s wife) brought us stuff to make S’mores! It was so nice to have a little bit of America, even if some of the components were foreign. I love roasting mallows. It always reminds me of when I was little and all of the cousins would roast marshmallows around the firepit at my Grandma and Grandpa Goulding’s house in California during the summer. These S’mores weren’t quite the same, but it was still super fun. After the food, we all sat around the fire and sang some camp songs; that died down pretty quickly though when only the girls knew the Girl’s Camp songs. Then we told scary stories, and I’ll admit, some of them were pretty creepy! But it was more fun than scary. These are some of the times that I love most on this trip-- just spending time with everyone. And who doesn’t love a bonfire?

Galilee- Day 1

Monday, November 14
This morning began bright and early- on the bus to leave for the Galilee at 6:15! And even better is that my roommates and I all missed our alarms and I jerked awake at 6:08. Good morning! Obviously I ran around our room for about 2 minutes like a chicken with its head cut off, but then I calmed down and got my stuff together. It was definitely a tender mercy that we had all packed the night before. I’ve never seen us all move so quickly before-- it was like we were all in hyper-speed mode. Even Robin with her hurt ankle was speedy! I’ve never been so proud. Anyways, we made the bus right on time (which I think is very impressive), and we were on the way to Nazareth! En route to the city we stopped at a place called Beth She’an. There were some pretty cool ruins there... yay! I actually love ruins, Roman or otherwise, so it was fine with me. Beth She’an was an important crossroads city, and the name means “house of safety.” It is also mentioned in 1 Samuel 31 as the place where Saul’s head was displayed after he was beheaded. Lovely. Nonetheless, it was a very nice collection of ruins with a theater, bath houses, and Roman toilets (our personal favorite).

I loved Nazareth. Granted it was a little more commercialized and whatever, but I still liked the sites there. We first visited the Church of the Annunciation, commemorating the angel Gabriel visiting the Virgin Mary and telling her that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ. It is a fascinating church because on the outside it looks very traditional in the sense that it will be either romanesque or gothic style on the inside, but the inside is very modern architecture. It is all exposed cement with interesting use of supports, kind of like an exposed skeleton of the building. It was very beautiful, just an interesting juxtaposition between the exterior and interior. On the ground floor was a big open area around an altar to Mary, then the ceiling was open to the second floor and the big dome. The second floor was the more traditionally arranged worship area with pews and an altar in the front. One thing I liked about this area was the variety of artwork of Mary donated by all of these different countries around the world. It was interesting to see their depictions  of the mother of Jesus Christ and what aspects of the story they emphasized. Just around the corner from the Church of the Annunciation is a church dedicated to Joseph and his annunciation. I thought it was kinda cute that their churches were next to each other... tender. St. Joseph’s Church was mush smaller and was more traditional in its architecture; it was pretty. There was this beautiful sculpture outside of it though that I loved. It was made of all white stone and was just a depiction of the Holy Family when Christ was an infant. It’s not a big statue or anything, but I just thought it was a really tender depiction of the family and made them look almost... normal. I think it’s important to remember that they really were a family unit and loved each other. Often times I will maybe overlook Joseph, or forget that Jesus was a child learning line upon line, or that maybe Mary would get frustrated with something. This sculpture though helped me remember that they were a real family, even if Jesus was more than just a child. The last stop in Nazareth was a church synagogue. Contradiction? Maybe a little; it’s an old synagogue that was made into a Christian church. The reason it is significant to Christianity is that it could very well have been (or been near to) the synagogue in which Christ would have taught the Jewish elders. We had a little devotional there and sang two hymns: “Come Unto Jesus” and “Our Savior’s Love.” I just continue to be amazed by where I am. Everyday I have to pinch myself and realize that this is my life! I am in the Holy Land, living the Bible and seeing where my Savior lived and taught. Nazareth was Jesus’s hometown, where he grew up, and now I’m off to the Galilee where he spent most of his mortal ministry, teaching us all how to be more like God. I feel like every scripture and hymn has more personal significance to me now, not necessarily because being in a place makes it more special; but for me, being in the places has made me ponder more about my Lord Jesus Christ, and I have developed a stronger testimony of his life, mission, atonement, and resurrection.

Our first introduction to the Galilee was on Mount Arbel, a beautiful mountaintop overlooking the entire Sea. This hillside is pretty much exactly what I picture when I think about Christ teaching in the New Testament: a green hillside, little outcroppings of greyish-white rocks where people would sit, and overlooking the water. It was so beautiful! Not to mention all of us were super excited to just see grass again- Jerusalem is so dry during the summer- early autumn that it is all dust and no grass. We had some time here to contemplate the teachings of Christ and the time he spent here. It was an awesome introduction to the Galilee, and I felt like it really helped me set the tone for the rest of the week and the things I will learn about the early apostles and Jesus.

After this we headed to our home for the next 11 days: the Ein Gev holiday resort. Yay for Galilee! We’ve arrived!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Yad Vashem

This past Sunday (November 6) we all went with out Judaism professor, Ophir Yarden, to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. I don't remember ever having been to an entire museum dedicated to the Holocaust before, so I was really excited (can I use that word?) to go and learn more. It did not disappoint me at all. I thought it was a beautiful and informative museum. The name "yad vashem" means essentially "a name and memorial," which taken from a verse in Isaiah about how God will give his people a name and memorial to always be remembered. It amazed me how many things the museum has acquired over time; the collection was very impressive. One of the displays that I really liked was a collection of diaries, photos, and artwork from a specific ghetto. The young adults at this ghetto felt the changes that were happening to their world, so they decided that they needed to document everything for future generations. They kept diaries and personal accounts, letters, sketches, paintings, photographs, anything that would help tell their story. I was so impressed by the dedication to their cause, and how they made sure that their work was preserved. Some of them put their things in pots and buried them, and others sent them to distant relatives. All I can say is that I'm so thankful for their record keeping, and it has definitely inspired me to be better about my own journaling (I know the fruits of my labor haven't been seen quite as much on this blog... but it's a process). Yad Vashem focuses a lot on personal accounts and vignettes, which helped me better relate to the victims and not just see them as a collective whole. One of these vignettes was about a Jewish engineer who did photography as a hobby, nothing too serious. But when he began to see the effects of the Nazi rule, he felt it was his mission to photograph and record the experiences of his people. He would carry his camera hidden in his coat and secretly take pictures of the Jewish people and German soldiers, even though he would have been killed if he was caught. Stories like this are so inspiring to me because they show how many faces of heroism there are, and how each is needed in this world. The museum also had a display of "the righteous among the nations," meaning the non-Jews who risked their lives to help the Jewish people during the Holocaust. Obviously one of the most famous of these is Oskar Schindler, but one that I read about was a woman doctor who would help the prisoners in the concentration camps stay healthy and avoid the dreaded "selections" that would send them to the gas chambers. She would do all she could to keep them alive, and even put rouge on their cheeks to make them look a little livelier when the soldiers came by. When a German captain asked, "Why are you helping them so much? Can't you see that you are different from the people here?", she boldly responded, "Yes, I am completely different from the people here, starting with you." She ultimately was sent to a concentration camp herself because of her compassion, and she survived. At the very end of the exhibits is a circular hall lined with bookshelves which hold the names of all the recorded victims of the Holocaust. It is an ongoing process, and the library is continually researching and adding names and records and photos. The Holocaust definitely became more personal to me after seeing this huge collection of names, the names of actual people who lead happy and normal lives, until suddenly they were captured and tortured and killed, all because of their religion and lifestyle and heritage. I definitely learned a lot more information and facts from the museum, but I think what I took away most from the visit was an appreciation for the individuals who suffered through the darkest part of the night, most to die, but some to live.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Ok I know. I haven't updated my blog in way too long, meaning I've probably lost all of my readers. So for those few who have held on to the hope of reading my posts again, this post (and the next two or three that I'll probably write tonight) is dedicated to you.

Now that that's out of the way... Bethlehem! We went on Tuesday, November 1. It is definitely not the "little town" we sing about anymore, but rather large with its own university. This was our first stop of the day. At Bethlehem University we had a tour of the campus, listened to one of the priests, and had a Q&A session with some of the students. It's a Christian school, but about 70% of the students are Muslim. The school is a really awesome example to me of how religions really can be integrated peacefully, even here in the Holy Land where it seems practically impossible. Over time, the University has faced a lot of hardships because of its openness and determination to teach all willing students, but it has continued to provide an affordable education to students from both Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories. Bethlehem is in the West Bank (Palestine), so if the students live in Jerusalem, they have to pass through the separation barrier everyday. Without the wall, it would be about a 20 or 30 minute trip, but with the wall, it can take up to 3 or 4 hours! Everyday! It just depends on the mood of the soldiers at the wall that day. Hearing that really opened my eyes to some of the ways that "the conflict" affects the people of the land. While we as students have seen a little bit of the separation and conflict in Jerusalem, visiting with students showed me how real the political situation is and how it plays into these people's lives everyday. Students from Bethlehem haven't even visited Jerusalem because their identification won't allow them through the barrier. It was fun to walk around the campus with some of the students afterwards and see them interact with each other. It's a tiny campus and student body (especially compared to BYU), but I liked that cause then I felt like I could get a feel for all of it.

After the University we had lunch at the Tent Restaurant. You guessed it, the restaurant is actually a Bedouin tent. Following lunch was our tour of Bethlehem, concluding in Manger Square, the main plaza in Bethlehem in front of the Church of the Nativity. The Church of the Nativity is a little plain on the outside, but I really liked the inside. The ceilings were wooden rafters with beams, and then there was a clerestory of windows and some mosaics along the nave. Most of my time in the church was actually spent in line to go to the grotto underneath. Kind of unfortunate, but I'm still glad I did it. When else am I going to be able to see the traditional site of the Savior's birth? Never. So I saw it. I really liked it, but our tour guide kind of rushed us through so I didn't have as much time as I would have normally wanted. But that's alright, because my favorite part of the field trip was still to come- the Shepherd's Fields. As the sun was setting, we all went to a hillside outside the city walls, overlooking Bethlehem. It was amazing to sit there and watch the stars come out over this holy city. We read the account of the nativity, and right as we got to the part about the shepherds watching their flocks by night in Luke 2, a flock of sheep passed right behind us on the hillside! Talk about bringing the scriptures to life! It was so cool. Once we finished reading the story from the Bible, we sang Christmas hymns. I love Christmas songs so much (it's actually my favorite genre of music), and it just made it even better singing them in Bethlehem, where Christ was actually born. I didn't think it was possible for me to love Christmas songs more than I did, but it is, cause I love them even more now. When we sang "Angels We Have Heard On High," I felt like we actually the chorus of angels proclaiming Christ's birth to the shepherds, bearing testimony of the coming of our Lord and Savior. We also had some time to sit and ponder, which was my favorite part. I just felt so much joy! I don't think you could think about the birth of Christ without being so happy. There I am, sitting on a rocky hillside overlooking the town of Bethlehem, under the stars, having just sang Christmas carols, thinking about baby Jesus, and picturing the angels coming to the humble shepherds. Life doesn't get much better. I am infinitely thankful for the birth of Jesus Christ, because without his birth, we would not know the way, which he showed to us through his life, death, and glorious resurrection. I know that Christ is the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, in a manger in the little town of Bethlehem.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Parent's Weekend!

Holy Land, watch out- cause Derk and Lori Pelton are coming through! My parents just came on a tour of the Holy Land, and I got to see them while they were here in Jerusalem! I didn't realize how much I've missed them until it got closer and closer to me being able to see them. They got to Jerusalem Thursday night, the same night we got back from Jordan. So I got to see them really quickly then, and they dropped off my loot at the Center. They brought me lots and lots of barbeque sauce, Sour Patch Kids, Raisinettes, other candy, goldfish, the movie "Elf", and some "new" tops (meaning ones I already had in my closet but are brand new to me here since I've been wearing the same thing for the past two months), and a new camera! The camera is my Christmas present, but being in Jerusalem is a pretty good excuse to get it early. I was almost as excited to get all these treasures as I was to just see my parents... Just Kidding Mom and Dad! No, it was so nice to see them and begin to share with them all of the things that I've been seeing and learning. 

I didn't see them Friday because we were each doing fun things with our own groups, but then they came to Sacrament meeting at the JC on Sabbath. It's felt like forever since I've been able to sit at church with both of them. Their tour group was only staying for the first hour, so I tagged along with the tour for the rest of the day! I had already seen everything that they were seeing in the city, but everything is worth seeing again, and the company was even better. We went to the Upper Room, St. Peter of Gallicantu, Pools of Bethesda and St. Anne's Church, and the Ecco Homo Monastery. St. Anne's Church is the one with the amazing acoustics that I mentioned in this post, and the second visit did not disappoint. We had perfect timing and got to the church right in between groups, so we had it to ourselves for a little bit. One of the ladies in the tour used to be on a singing show, so she always leads their music and songs, and she also sang a beautiful song called "His Hands." It talks about all of the amazing things that Christ did with his hands- the miracles he performed, the atonement and sacrifice he performed, how he shows us the way. After she sang, we all sang "As I Have Loved You," then I sang. Yep. I guess my mom had been talking about me and mentioned that I liked to sing, so their tour director John Madsen (who is phenomenal) asked me to sing. I decided to sing "Jesus, Lover of My Soul." It's one of my favorite hymns, and I felt like it was appropriate for the venue. One of my favorite lines of the song is the last part of the second verse. "All my trust on thee is stayed; all my help from thee I bring. Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of thy wing." As long as we truly place our trust, faith, and hope in the Savior, he will help us endure any hardship we come across. He will cover and protect us from temptation and heartbreak. He will love us always. 

Sunday was my free day, so my parents and two other couples from the group (the Larson's and Clark's) ditched their tour group after the morning's activities and hung out with me in the Old City! They hardly got to be in the Old City at all, so I took it upon myself to take them around a little bit. First they met me at the JC and I showed them around the gardens. Then, they got the full JC Student experience of walking down and up the valley to the city. We went through Damascus gate, then around to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We then got hummus and pita at Lina's and of course visited Shaban's store. It was a pretty busy day! Showing them all around the city made me remember how awesome it is to be here. Now that I've been here for about 2 months, I've gotten used to the hustle and bustle and craziness of the little alleyways and shops, but all of this was brand new to my parents and their friends. It was fun to see it through their eyes again. I took them back to their hotel when it got dark, then my parents took me back to the JC to meet up with my friends to go to dinner. My parents were so nice and offered to take me and some friends out for dinner and not have the Oasis food again (not that it isn't good... but it's nice to have a change). The group was me, my parents, my roommates Robin, Whitney, and Amy, Melissa, Michael Sean, and Matty. We went to West Jerusalem to the first Chinese restaurant in Israel, and it was so delicious! We definitely never get chinese food at the center, so it tasted even better since it's been a while. I had so so much fun being out with my parents and friends just eating and chatting and having a good time. While waiting for the taxi to pick us up, we got ice cream across the street, which was also very yummy. Overall, it was such an exciting weekend! I love my parents, and I'm so happy that I was able to share just a little bit of Jerusalem with them. Hope they enjoyed their trip to Egypt too! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


We just got back from Jordan! I realize that I missed writing about pretty much all of last week, but it will just take too long for me to write and too long for you to read, so I'm just skipping to Jordan. Here is a recap of our Jordanian week:

We left for Jordan early Monday (October 24) morning and started to make our way to the border. The border crossings to and from Israel to Jordan are intense. The actual drive between the countries is pretty short, but the largest chunk of the time was just spent sitting on the bus while they inspected the bottom with those bent up mirrors and had us file through the passport processing stations. Luckily we didn't have any problems, it just took some time. After the crossing, we went to Mount Nebo. This is the traditional site of where Moses was taken up into heaven. Following this we went to Madaba, which is a famous site for mosaics and the home of the Madaba Map. First we went to a mosaic school/factory where we saw how they create these amazing pieces with micro stones. They go through this whole process of making the image upside down on a canvas with a special type of glue, then they flip it right-side-up onto a piece of wood, and as they add water and mortar, the other glue dissolves. It was really interesting the see the entire process, along with the painted mosaics and pointillism ostrich eggs. The Madaba map is in an early Byzantine church of St. George. It's part of the mosaic floor, and it is the oldest map depiction of the Holy Land. That night we headed towards Petra, and stayed in a hotel in the Wadi Musa. The hotel itself was pretty cool- it was a stepped village converted into a hotel. Luckily, this village had a pool, so naturally we played water bottle water polo! It was way fun, and I think the security guards at the hotel almost had more fun watching us than we had playing.

Today was PETRA! Think "Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail"and you got it. The place of the grail. That's where I went. It's basically the coolest thing ever. Petra is this huge city carve out of a canyon/mountain. I've never been to a lot of national parks in the US or anything, so I was completely in awe of the majesty and enormity of the rocks and mountains and carvings. We hiked EVERYWHERE, and I was definitely sore the next day from trekking around the Jordanian desert. I rode on a camel in front of the famous treasury (the place they show in the Indiana movie), and I also rode a horse back up to the gate at the end of the day. It was fun to ride the horse because the guy let me do it myself! I haven't ridden a horse for a while, and it was exciting to get back on and remember my childhood horse-back riding lessons in Spain. Let's just say I still got it. My horse's name was Yazmina, and she was a very nice horse. The camel wasn't so nice- smelly and ornery. But, it didn't do anything scary while I rode it, so it's ok. To summarize the day, we walked through the entire Siq (canyon) to the Treasury, went to the basin, hiked up the million and a half steps to the monastery at the "end of the world," came back down, then hiked up to the high place of sacrifice. It was a busy day. We were there from about 7:30 am to 3 pm, so we were quite worn out and dusty and feeling adventurous by the end. Afterwards, we headed to Jordan's capital city Amman.

Lots of stuff today. Started off with going to the King Abdullah Mosque in Amman. We're always really careful about dressing modestly when we go to mosques and other religious sites (and just in general), but this mosque is especially strict about clothing. So, they just gave all the girls these huge black robes with hoods to wear over our clothes. As I'm sure you can guess, they were really attractive. But that's not what matters; what matters is that we were respectful to the religious customs. Still, it was kind of funny to see all these black hooded robes floating around the mosque with little bare feet sticking out! (Muslims remove their shoes whenever they enter a mosque as a sign of cleanliness and respect) After the mosque, we went to some ruins of a citadel, then we left Amman for a quick trip to Jerash. On the way, we had lunch and had the MOST AMAZING PITA EVER. Back to Jerash: The first order of business was the gladiator show, and let me tell you, it was great. Especially the one gladiator who would flex and unflex his pectoral muscles during the entire performance. He stole all of our hearts. The show also included chariots and swords and shields, but they paled in comparison to the gladiator. Once we tore our eyes and hearts away from the arena, we headed to the old Roman ruins of Jerash. I was so impressed! I hadn't been expecting too much, and I was overwhelmed by all of the remaining architecture and beauty of the city. On the way back to Amman, we stopped quickly at the Jabbok River which is traditionally near where Jacob wrestled with God and had his name changed to Israel. Back in Amman, the boys and some of the girls went to the Royal Jordanian Automobile Museum, and the rest of us went back to the hotel to meet the BYU Study Abroad students that are studying Arabic in Amman. BYU has an Intensive Arabic semester program in Amman, so some of them came to our hotel to show us around the city! One of my friends Lizzie already knew a boy in the program (most of them are boys), so Whitney and I tagged along with them and a few of his friends. We had so much fun! And it was really nice to go around the city with someone who actually knew what fun things there were to do, versus us just wandering around. First, we went and got shwarma (shaved meat in a pita wrap with some veggies and a dressing) at one of the most famous places in Jordan, named Reems. It was so so delicious. I don't think I can get a shwarma here in Jerusalem again because it just wouldn't be the same. Then, we went to the most famous kanafe place called Habibas. Kanafe is this dessert thing that is a really odd combination, but so so good. It's basically melted cheese on the bottom and a sweet crumb cake layer on the top. Sounds disgusting, I know, but it was surprisingly delicious! I think it helped a lot that it was really hot and fresh. Like the shwarma, I don't think I can get it in Jerusalem because it won't be as good (but I'll probably still get shwarma again). Then we walked around the city for a bit, got some juice, then just hung out in front of the mosque (which serves as the town center and plaza). While we were just chatting, some Jordanian teenage boys came up and started talking to us all. It was so interesting to observe them interacting the with Arabic students and view their mannerisms and such. I pulled out my three useful Arabic phrases early in the conversation, but then I just listened to the rest of it. However, they did give me and Whitney some Arabic names! Mine is Rania, after the queen of Jordan. She's really pretty, so I'm going to take it as a compliment. They were fun to talk to (or fun to watch them talking to the students), and the guys said that meeting us probably made those teenagers' week since they don't traditionally talk to girls very much. And we're American. Well, glad I could make them happy by just standing there and trying to understand Arabic. It really was such a fun night though, and I'm so grateful that the BYU guys took time to show us around the city! It was a blast!

Last day in Jordan! First thing was the Roman theater in Amman. The theater itself was nice, but we've seen a few so I wasn't that crazy about it. But, we did just have an impromptu talent show! I love how wherever we go, we sing and dance and do other silly things. We always ask Rivka to sing for us since she's a Performance major, so she did. And then we sang together, and then Taylor sang (she's doing music as well), and then I sang Little Mermaid. It was great. Then we had KFC for lunch (which was a little disappointing). Next was my favorite part of the entire week: the River Jordan. We had a really nice devotional with Bro, Huntsman right on the riverside. He shared a message and read scriptures about Christ's baptism, we sang a few hymns, then Michael Sean and Shalyn were asked to share their testimonies and feelings about Christ. I loved hearing them speak to us, and it was a nice time to reflect on Christ and my own baptism. I am so thankful to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and I know Jesus Christ is the son of God and my Savior and Redeemer. Only by coming unto Him can I become a better, more pure person. I know He and God love me, and will help me with anything I stand in need of. I am so thankful for this experience in the Holy Land where I can come to know Christ even more and become a more diligent disciple.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

City of David and Olives

Monday was field trip day! Yesterday we went to the City of David, which is on the southern slope of Mt. Moriah, in between the Hinom and Kidron valleys. This is the city that David took from the Jebusites in order to establish the capital of United Israel in Jerusalem. Most people think that the Old City and the City of David are the same thing, but they're not. Really the only parts of them that overlap are the Temple Mount and some of the area surrounding it. The Old City is set up more on the hill, while the City of David was on the slope in order to have easier access to the Gihon Spring (the main water source). When we arrived, we watched a little 3D movie about the history of the City, which was actually very helpful. Then we walked around the city to see some of the ruins. Brother Huntsman was getting a little antsy though, so we hurried to the main event- Hezekiah's tunnel! I had really been looking forward to the tunnel, and I was not disappointed! We had so much fun. The tunnel was built in order to direct the water from the spring to a gathering pool, that way there was easier access to it. We actually got to trek through the entire tunnel, with the water still running through it! The best part was that we got to wear our headlamps (Mom- the Wal-Mart investment did not go to waste, mine was perfect). I just had so much fun. I had some really fun people around me, we wore headlamps, we had water up to our mid-thighs (ok, my mid-thighs... other people just had it to their knees), people popped out and scared each other, we turned out our lamps and walked in the dark, it was a party. The tunnel then drops the water into the Pool of Siloam. Well, actually the one you come to at the end of the tunnel isn't the real one. The actual Pool of Siloam is around the corner and they've only excavated some of it. This is one of the places mentioned in the Bible, and where Christ sent the man to be healed of his blindness. One special thing we did as a group was sing the hymn "Come, Follow Me." It's a song about taking the invitation to follow in the footsteps of Christ and become more like Him. It was especially significant to me when we sang it because we actually were where Christ walked, where his footsteps had been placed. Most places in the old city, you don't really walk where Christ did; you walk above it because layers upon layers of building and roads have been added over time. Except here at the pool and the City of David, you actually walked where Christ did. We also walked in an excavated tunnel that lead from the pool to the temple mount, which is most probably someplace that Christ and his disciples would have walked. So, not only were we learning about Christ to follow his example, but we were literally walking in his footsteps.

After the field trip, we pressed olives! You might remember that we picked olives last week. Well, they've been soaking for a few days, and it was time for them to be processed! We are so lucky here at the center to have all of the authentic methods and presses for olives and grapes. So first we put the olives into the round stone press. This is a big stone basin with a heavy heavy round stone wheel with a beam in the center. You walk around the basin, pushing the beam, which then rolls the stone wheel around the basin and grinds the olives. It's a lot simpler than I probably just made it sound. By crushing the olives first, it's easier to get the oil out when you press them. After all, about 30% of the oil comes from the pit of the olive, not just the meat, so you need to get the pit crushed before pressing it. After grinding the olives, you pack the mush into these big woven baskets shaped like doughnuts. Then you take the baskets over to the presses, stack them up, then let all the oil be pressed out. We have two kinds of presses: one with a screw-type press that you turn to increase the pressure, and one with a beam that is weighed down by stones at the end. The screw on worked better, at least that's what I thought. I loved being able to take part of the actual pressing of the olives; doing things like this make the experience seem real. I mean, you don't just press olives everyday in the USA, do you? No, you don't. But you do in Israel! Also, our Judaism teacher, Ophir Yarden, came to visit with his two little children, and they are simply cherubic. I'm not even joking- beautiful light blonde curls and blue eyes and round faces. We have a running joke here that all the girls are baby hungry; this just made it even worse. If a girl here wasn't baby hungry before, she is now.

Snorkeling in Eilat

Sunday was our free day and we had the option of going to Eilat to snorkel... needless to say, everyone took that option. Our day started at 5:30 am (hello again seminary days), and then we had a four hour bus ride to Eilat. Once we got there, we were oriented on the rules of the beach and water. The place we went to is actually a national park, so they are very specific about where we can swim and snorkel and what we can touch. They had a lot of rules to orient us about. I don't think too many of us really truly cared though- we were all just so happy to be on the beach! Eilat is right at the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba above the Red Sea; the Sinai peninsula is on one side, and Jordan and Saudi Arabia are on the other side. It was really beautiful: the sea was blue, the beach was sandy, the palm trees swayed, and then it blended from beach to mountains. So picturesque! It was also very sunny, which I loved (though my slightly sunburned skin might not have loved it so much). At first the water was a little chilly, but as soon as you got in it was fine. Unfortunately, we were only allowed to snorkel in one little strip of water, but it was still fun and exotic and fishy. Some people even saw a sting ray! My favorite fish were the long, needle-like, clarinet fish (I don't know if that's their real name, but it's what we all called them), and these little jet black ones with a small white dot on the upper back fin. Vague description, I know. There was this one big coral head towards the edge of the allowed swimming area, and it had lots of fish and sea urchins and beautiful coral. There were even those big school of fish like in "Finding Nemo" that switch direction all at the same time and glimmer in the water. It was beautiful to watch. After snorkeling for a bit, we just sat on the beach and ate our sack lunches and sun bathed, then we wet out to swim again. I loved just being out of the city and sitting on the beach! Such a nice little weekend escape. After our snorkeling time was over, we headed into the resort town of Eilat and walked around the pier for about an hour. We saw some cool boats and fun shops and nice hotels. Then, we got on the bus to grab dinner on the way back home. The best part about dinner was dessert. They had a wide selection of gelato/ice cream, and I got the mango; it was so delicious. It really is about the little things in life. After dinner we just headed back to the center. We were all so exhausted from a fun day in the sun!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Talent Show!

Friday nights at the JC are always hoppin, but last night was especially so! But let me back up. We had class in the morning, and then a service project. It was actually the third time we've done our service project. The Bentleys are the service couple here in charge of humanitarian activities, so one of the things they have organized for us to do is make hygiene kits for local charities. We put in towels, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and combs. Like I said, this was our third session of packing, and we've gotten a lot done! With over 80 pairs of fast and willing hands, it's more of a challenge to find enough things to do than it is to get a lot done. Our goal is to make 10,000 kits. After the service project, we had a little bit of time to kill in the center. On Fridays, we're not allowed to go out to the city until after 3 pm, then we have to be back before nightfall, by 5:30. The reason we can't go out before 3 is that Friday is the main day that Muslims go to the mosques to pray. They can go any day to do their prayers, but the Friday noon prayer is the one that is required to be at the mosque. So, there is a lot of religious tension and crowds of people that security wants us to avoid. That being said, we had about two hours after the humanitarian project was finished until we could go out. We all just chatted, blogged, watched movies, etc. anything to avoid homework (what else is new?). Then I went out to the city with Matty, Nick, Izak, and two of the professors' kids, Joe Ludlow and John Harper. Side Note: One thing that is so fun about living in the center is that it's all students, but then you have your professors and their families. We love hanging out with the kids and playing games with them, especially Wii Just Dance! And the professors' wives and the service sisters are like our moms; they even bake us cookies sometimes. We love them :) end side note We didn't have too much time to wander around the city, so we just walked through the valley up to Lion's gate, then made our way through the city to Damascus gate, then back down the valley and up again to the Center. It was nice to just get out for a little bit, and the boys were fun to be around! It's definitely a different experience going out in the city with boys rather than girls. First of all, whenever I go out with girls, there is usually a set plan of things we are going to see and we all have an understanding of the plan. With boys, there isn't. Second of all, shopkeepers always talk to us girls and try to get us to come into into their stores. But with boys, I don't think I got a single comment from shopkeepers. It was great! Apart from those perks, they're just fun people to hang out with. I'm constantly amazed by the quality of people here. I feel so lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to become friends with them.

Speaking of amazing people, tonight was the "informal" talent show where all these amazing people showed us funny things they can do! It was quite inspiring to say the least. A little long, but fun because so many people were able to participate. We had dancing, singing, elbow-licking, short films, slideshows of cat pictures (yes, this actually happened and it was hilarious), skits, improv, flexibility, and a demonstration of how to make our beds. Overall, the evening was entertaining, enlightening, educational, and energetic. I did something as well. I didn't really want to sing, so I rapped. Yes, you read that correctly. I, Cassandra Pelton, the whitest girl on the face of the planet, let the beat drop and busted a flow. My inspiration was Nicki Minaj's song "Super bass," where she raps and then sings the chorus. It's a fun song, so Whitney (roomie), Melissa, and I played around the with rap part last week (while procrastinating our midterm paper for Professor Bashir Bashir). The fruit of our labor was pretty sweet- an entire rap about the boys of the JC. There are only about 20 so it wasn't too hard to fit them all in. We just tried to fill it with funny inside-the-center jokes and make it entertaining. Then, all I needed was music to rap/sing to. Luckily, Izak is a very talented guitarist and seems to like being friends with me, so he played for me. He was so awesome. I definitely could not have done my little song without him. I was actually pretty nervous about the song! I wasn't sure if people would think it was funny or not, but I got a pretty positive response! Everyone thought the rap was pretty clever, and even though I was giggling so hard that I couldn't sing, they thought the chorus sounded good too. Yay for a successful rapping debut! I'll probably end my career on a high note.

West Jeru

We only had two morning classes on Thursday (October 13), so free day until Arabic at 5 pm! Woot! I went out with Robin (roomie), Michael Sean, Liz, and Tyler. We decided to visit the Greek Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene, located on the Mount of Olives. It is very recognizable because of its golden onion domes. I love the way it looks. It is only open at very few and specific times though, so we were lucky we had the free day during one of its open times. The church is up the hill a little from Gethsemane, and it is set amidst trees and has a nice stairway/pathway leading up to the church from the entrance gate. The outside is the most impressive; the inside was pretty small, but still nice. Afterwards we just walked through the valley to the Old City, passed the Pillar of Absalom and the Western Wall, walked through the Jewish Quarter. Then we headed over to the Muslim quarter near the Austrian Hospice and got shwarma!! Shwarma is shaved kebab meat that is put in a pita or wrap with other deliciousness. I've been wanting to get one in the city for a while, but I'm never out when I'm hungry or without a sack lunch. So today was my day to get one! It was chicken, and it was pretty good, but I really want to try a beef one, because I think they are more authentic. Anyways, after lunch we just basically wandered around and let the roads and alleys lead the way. We found ourselves over in West Jerusalem by the afternoon. We found a nice grassy park to sit down in, and we all took a little rest. That is, until three huge horses and their riders just galloped on over and started training in the middle of the park. Ok, not what I was expecting, but that's cool. After the park we went and saw Montefiore's windmill, the YMCA, and walked on Ben Yehuda street. It was a pretty quiet day overall because it was the first full day of Sukkot, the holiday in remembrance of the tabernacles and tents of the wandering Israelites. The YMCA was definitely a highlight. It is a beautiful stone tower in the center, with wings on each side. Now it's a hotel and restaurant. And don't worry, we definitely took a picture of us doing the YMCA hand/arm signs in front of the building. I know that's what y'all were thinking about. After walking for so long, we all really just wanted some ice cream or something, but like I said, everything was closed for Sukkot. In that moment of despair, we saw them- the Golden Arches. Leave it to McDonald's to be the only thing open, and for us Americans to find it. Let me just say that the hot fudge sundae I got there was incredible. Thank you MickeyD's for always being there for me.

Olive Picking

This past week we harvested the olives on the Jerusalem Center grounds! The time for harvest is marked by the first rainfall, and while it hasn't been rainy, we did get a little sprinkle a few weeks ago. So... OLIVES! We have tons of trees around the center, so we all split up into groups to pick them off the trees. I felt so lucky that we were able to do this, because no other semester is able to, only the Fall students. Yet another reason I am so happy that I decided to come this fall. We picked the olives this week, and next week we are going to press them into oil using the different presses at the center. Picking was fine. It was super exciting to start out with, then as we got more and more dirty and our arms got tired, I was kind of glad to be finishing up. But I really am glad that I got to participate. Just a work to the wise: olives are nasty right off the tree. Don't eat them. We were told this before, but of course we all had to try it out and see what the big deal was. Ya, that was not worth it. They are so bitter and strong! The juice was almost numbing, that's how strong it was. So just be patient and wait til they've been brined. You'll thank me.

Seder Dinner

This last week was a little different, because we had our field trip on Sunday rather than Monday, then free day on Monday (October 10)! It was actually a blessing though because then we got to go the Western Wall in the morning and see all of the bar mitzvahs! Here in Jerusalem they are traditionally done on Monday mornings, but I forget why. So we headed down there to see what it was all about. It was so funny to walk down the entryway tunnel to the plaza because all of these families had their tables of refreshments set up and were just having tons of parties to celebrate the occasion! It totally reminded me of our after-baptism refreshment parties, it was great. So since women aren't allowed on the men's side of the wall, we just all peeked over the barriers with the proud Jewish mommies and grandmas to watch the ceremonies. It was so fun to see the little thirteen year old boys carrying the huge Torah scrolls around the worship area then read them out loud on the tables. It was baking hot in the sun, but they set up some umbrellas around the barriers so there was a little shade. Besides the bar mitzvahs, they also had some sukkots (tabernacles) set up to celebrate the forthcoming Sukkot holiday. Sukkot commemorates the tabernacles of the children of Israel in the wilderness during their wanderings. All of the Jewish families build a little tabernacle/hut in front of their house, and they eat in there and sometimes sleep. The rest of the day we just wandered around the Jewish Quarter and at  lunch in front of the Hurva Synagogue. It was really fun to just people watch.
That night we had a Seder, the dinner Jews have before Passover. Yes, it is not normally in October... but we do things out of order here so that we can just experience it all. Our Judaism teacher, Ophir Yarden, officiated the dinner and served as the patriarch to our little family of over 100. The Seder meal has a lot of singing, and reading, and of course, eating! I even sang in a little group. It was a song about why the Passover is important. The dinner was fun to experience because we followed along with Ophir using the Haggadah, which is the book of prayers and songs used for the Seder. We had the symbolic foods of the bitter herbs, matza, bone, etc. Then we had actual dinner, which was really yummy. I hope that I'll have another opportunity to experience a Seder dinner, because I couldn't really focus on the symbolism and meanings behind a lot of the ritual, just because everything was so novel. Nonetheless, it was a fun experience and I felt like Ophir gave us a pretty accurate depiction of what a normal Jewish family Seder dinner is like.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Shephelah Field Trip

Sunday was our field trip to the Shephelah, the low lands of Israel between the highlands and the coast. We started off with Beth Shemesh, which means the house of the sun. This place is in the valley of Sorek, and it is known for being next to the birthplace of Samson and where the ark of the covenant returned to from Canaan. There was a cool cistern there and a pottery dump where we all got a little shard of ancient pottery. It was hot. Next was Azeka, which overlooks the valley of Elah (where David fought Goliath!). It was a beautiful outlook point. From there we went down into the valley and slew Goliath! We each got to try our hand at slinging stones around and trying to hit bushes. Some were better than others... let's just say I was one of the others. We discovered though that the way to do it is not to swing it in circles before, but just give it one hard sling and let it fly! I liked to swing it in the circles though, so I did. We had fun reenacting the David and Goliath scenes and some others from our own imaginations. The only bad part about this was we had to walk around a squash field to get to the little wadi to throw stones, and on the side of the field were HUGE piles of chicken droppings to use for fertilizer. It stunk to high heaven. Luckily we didn't smell it in the wadi, but walking back and forth was a smelly occasion. Next was Lachish where we had our picnic lunch then hiked up the hill to see the ruins. Again, it was hot. But lunch was fun. The highlight of the day was Marishah and the Bell Caves! Marishah is an ancient settlement with tons and tons of underground caves and cisterns! They built it all underground because it gets so hot in the summer and for protection in the winter. I was very thankful for their foresight because it meant that we were also saved from the heat while touring around. The cisterns were impressive. They even had an underground oil press! It was incredible, and really pretty too because it was all plastered in white. There was one really deep one with a tall ceiling, and naturally we all sang. The acoustics were really fun to play around with, and it sounded really beautiful. Next we rode in the bus for a few minutes to go see the bell caves. This was different than the cisterns because cisterns are man-made, dug into the ground, and caves are... well, caves. Natural and not in the ground. I've never really been to national parks or caves before in the US so I don't have much to compare it to, but it was amazing! The caves were so so tall!! I loved it. There was this big circular domed area in one of the caves, and we all circled up and.... you guessed it, SANG! We had a lot of different songs, even a set of hymns outlining the entire life of Christ. I love singing with this group. It is always so beautiful and spiritual. Marishah and the Bell Caves were definitely the best parts of the day... otherwise it felt like the longest day ever haha. We were all so happy to get home and shower off the heat and dust.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bedouins and Beersheba

On Monday we visited the Negev (the southern desert of Israel), and yes, it was really a desert. I don't think I've actually seen so much desolation in my life than here in the wilderness, away from civilization. We first went to a Bedouin settlement where there is a women's outreach program to help them use their traditional crafts (such as looming and weaving) to support their families. Since the establishment of the Sate of Israel in 1948, the Bedouins have been required to settle down and discontinue their nomadic lifestyles. While this may seem like an improvement to many people, it has been rather devastating to the Bedouins because their entire livelihood and social structure was centered on the ability to move around to different lands and (especially) to be self-sufficient. Now settled, the people have essentially lost their lands, and the roles of the women have been discontinued in this new lifestyle. So, this foundation/program helps women support their families and regain a role in the leadership of their households. One of the Bedouin women who was demonstrating the looming techniques to us was quite the pioneer. She had been able to gain some education (which is reserved for mostly men), and her goal was to be a teacher. However, that profession was not allowed for women, so she made sure that all of her children were educated and now they are nurses, lawyers, and doctors. She was also the first Bedouin woman to ever get a driver's license! It was really cool to hear he talk about the developments and progress that society had made, but also about the problems that still exist. We also went to an actual encampment, which was a culture shock. It was very very primitive, with corrugated metal shacks and tents and dirt mounds. Needless to say, it was a very simple but difficult lifestyle. It made me feel very blessed and grateful for what I have, both here in Jerusalem and at home.

The other sites we went to were more archaeological. We visited Tel-Arad and Beersheba, both mentioned in the Old Testament. By the way, just a little educational note: Most old sites have the word "Tel" in front of the name. This is because a "tel" is an earthen mound that has been built up over the centuries from building cities upon cities. Now, these tels are being excavated layer by layer. These layers are known as "strata". Both sites were interesting to see, and definitely tied into what we have been covering in our Old Testament class. Arad is famous for the Israelite temple in the city, complete with a sacrificial alter, holy place, and a holy of holies. It was really interesting to see an actual set up of a temple similar to the tabernacle described in Exodus. Beersheba is known as the place mentioned in Genesis where Abraham built a well and made an oath with King Abimilech. This is also the place where God appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (at separate times). It was amazing to me to be able to stand in the place and imagine the scene of God appearing to these patriarchs. Brother Huntsman, one of my teachers, gave a really nice message and then we sang. We actually always sing... Papa Hunts (as we fondly refer to him) is a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, so he gets a little song happy at all the places we visit! Which is fine, cause I love to sing, but it's always just funny to see what he chooses and if we know the song. Usually we do, but there have been a few cases where the only person really confident with the melody is Hunts, so we get a little mumbled and confused. It's the thought that counts, right? Overall, it was a long hot day, but definitely interesting and educational. And I'd probably be fine if I didn't go to the Negev again.

Sunday in the City

Sunday is always our free day since we observe Sabbath on Saturday. So, since we have midterms this week we were all planning on just studying and stuff.... naaaaahhhhh. Instead of being responsible students, we just went out on the town all day long. I went out with Whitney, Michael Sean, Melissa, Matty, Izak, and Nick in the city. Let me tell you, the day started off with quite the experience. I've mentioned before that the men here are very forward, especially to foreigners, but other then Turkey, I really hadn't experienced it. Well, now I have. Whit and I walked into this shop that the three boys were in, and the shopkeeper (Charlie, as we found out) was very excited to meet us! He wrapped us both up in a big hug and gave us smacks on the cheek. No joke. Then, he showed us his magic silk Persian rugs, which were actually pretty cool. As we were leaving, the boys joked with Charlie about how they didn't get any kisses, to which he responded that it didn't profit him anything to kiss them, but we ladies were gold and diamonds! We opened his heart. So, naturally, he gave us both kisses again, but then kept me under his arm and proclaimed his love for me. By this time, I was getting a little uncomfortable. I mean, I love Armenian men, they're great, but maybe not when I'm stuck under their arm and being taken out into the street with my group trailing behind. Just saying, not exactly what I had in mind for my morning. Charlie just kept going on and on about how we were gonna get married and he was gonna give me his shop and his heart and his family, it was all sounding pretty great. But, I was still stuck in his armpit. Being the nice American girl that I am, I tried to politely play along with his fantasies, but secretly I was hoping one of the sturdy boys I was with would do something to get me out of there! Finally Nick discreetly slid his arm in between me and Charlie and was able to pry me out of the dear Armenian man's daydream, for which I will forever be grateful.

And that was just on the way to our first event! We headed to the Tower of David Museum after this lovely happening, which is located in the old Citadel of the City of David. It was actually quite fascinating. We were feeling a little guilty for skipping out on studying, but our guide Henry Israel (yes, that is his real last name) was more than thorough enough in his three hour guided tour of the museum to make us feel that this activity was an adequate substitution for reading notes and meeting with study groups. It was a great tour, and extremely educational, and it lasted three whole hours. We were expecting just an hour and a half, but no, the museum gives you all the bang for your buck! In all honesty though, we all really enjoyed it, and Henry was a very interesting and informed fellow. After the tour we ate our little sack lunches (we always pack lunches on Sundays) and planned out the other stuff we wanted to do. Unfortunately, many of those things didn't happen, but we still had fun! One of the coolest things (I think) that we did was see the Armenian Patriarchate Church during one of their services. First of all, the church, St. James, was incredible. It was really dark, the only light coming from the windows in the drum of the dome and the small candles on the altar. There were also three huge, beautiful, crystal chandeliers and tons of small incense burners/lamps that were strung across all of the open spaces between the columns. It looked like an orthodox wonderland. The priests then started to chant and sing and perform the ceremony, which was really interesting to watch. It lasted about half an hour, then we wandered around the Armenian and Jewish quarters of the Old City. We found a lovely bakery with cookies and treats, and also found Oskar Schindler's grave, but we couldn't visit because it was closed. It was getting dark by this time (we just had daylight savings) so we needed to rush back to the center. However, we were on the complete opposite side of the city! So it was an adventure trying to get back in time, including witnessing a few car crashes, flagging down taxis, and jogging through the Kidron. But have no fear, we made it back.