Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Back in the JC

Being back in the JC has been so nice. It really did feel like coming home after Turkey! On Monday we went to Neot Kedumim, basically a biblical garden/learning center. We did all sorts of fun things like crush hyssop (which looked suspiciously like another crushed herb...), draw water out of a cistern, run (literally) a water wheel, work an olive press, herd sheep and goats, and my personal favorite, make our own pita bread on an outdoor fire/stove! It was the best pita I've ever had in my life. My friend Tyler and I worked really hard on ours and put a lot of love into it, and we actually got a pocket in the middle! Highlight of my life.
Tuesday and today have been full of classes and trying to get our noses back onto the grindstone after our little vacation in Turkey. It's not going so well for some of us (me). But today did have a few highlights worth blogging about! This morning I went to Omar's shop. He is an extremely talented olive wood sculptor. Not only does he do nativities, but he does the most beautiful sculptures of Christ and then Mormon figures such as Joseph Smith, Lehi, the first vision, Mormon, and other popular sculptures usually found in ceramic or scenes in paintings. He is not only an amazingly talented sculptor, but just a quality person. I bought the most beautiful nativity set today! It was definitely an investment, but it was so beautiful and detailed and perfect, I had to get it. My favorite piece is the Mary figure, because, as Omar said, it doesn't have praying hands like the Catholic Mary, it has crossed hands like a Mormon Mary haha. And she is just so beautiful and young. I love it. If anyone goes to Jerusalem, go to Omar (shameless plug). Tonight we also had our Palestinian/Arab culture night! We had a muslim sheik come and recite the Koran and do the call to prayer, then they (he and his son) actually prayed for us so we could see the cycles and motions of the Islamic prayers. It was fascinating, not to mention very enlightening now that we know what they are actually saying at 4:30 am during the call to prayer. We then had a feast of Palestinian food, then an evening of folk dancing! The teachers were some kids from the school at which our Arabic professor is director. They were fun to watch and dance with, even though we were awful students! Oh well, we just had fun. We also all had a lot of fun with dressing up- we all got on our best arabic wear which included A LOT of scarves, genie pants, bangles, headdresses, sandals, and billowing shirts. Some of the guys even got the traditional long white dress-like shirts, robes, and kafiyehs to wear. It was intense. Don't worry, we took a lot of pictures.

I'm Hungry for Some Turkey!

Turkey was fantastic! I loved the ruins, the people, the language, the clothes, it was all great. Here is a day-by-day account of the best bits of the trip:

Monday, Sept 19th: First off, we visited the Blue Mosque and the hippodrome of Istanbul. The Blue Mosque is amazing!! It is mostly blue tilework on the inside (hence the name...) and it has a large center dome with four half domes surrounding. It really was incredible; it was so ornate and the tiles were incredible. It was definitely a great introduction to Islamic architecture and style. Next we went to the Topkaki Museum, which is the Sultan's palace. It is HUGE. There are four different courtyards, and it depends on how well you know the sultan to see which courtyard you are received in. Once again, I loved the architecture and domes and tiles. I think I took more pictures of the tiles than anything else. One part of the museum is the treasury, and let me tell you, the Sultan was not in need of anything fancy- I think he had it all. My personal favorite was the pear cut 86-carat diamond set with a double halo... don't mind if I do, thanks. Another part of the museum that we were lucky to visit was the harem! It was interesting to learn more about something that Westerners always stereotype into the Arabic culture. I was surprised by how much of a place of learning it was. The director of the whole shabang was the sultan's mother, and she would train up the girls then choose the best ones to go serve the Sultan at tea or something. Then, if one of the girls caught the Sultan's eye, he would marry her (for the first wife). However, if he wanted another wife after that, he had to get permission from the first. I thought that was funny. After the museum (which took a LONG time) we went to the Grand Bazaar for a bit. Let me tell you, if you thought the men in the Old City were a little forward and flirty, you would have died in the Turkish Grand Bazaar. I think I got proposed to (or set up with their son) twice, was told I was beautiful 10 times, and was given "very low" prices because I was so special at every store. Now, I'm not saying this to try to show off or something, but I'm trying to illustrate how ridiculously forward these men are! It gets a little uncomfortable sometimes. Luckily though I never felt unsafe, just a little awkward. Tis life. After the Bazaar, we had a beautiful scenic cruise down the Bosphorus and dinner in a fish restaurant where we were served whole fish that looked up at us as we ate them (and they were delicious).

Tuesday: Ferry across the Dardanelles to get to Troy! Yes, the actual city of Greek Mythological fame. Unfortunately, other than the huge Trojan horse tree house at the entrance, the site was a little dry. But, there were some pretty cool columns and ruins at the end where we had a nice little photo shoot to keep us occupied. The best part of the day was the hotel that night! It was right on the water, and it had a huge long dock that stretched out over it. It was beautiful to watch the sun set over the water and just sit out on the dock. They also had a pool that was right next to the water, and it was greatly appreciated by all of the students! Needless to say, we all had a blast playing Sharks and Minnows, losing (and finding) our professor's wedding ring in the pool, and watching our Turkish guide Fatih get inaugurated into the group through multiple rounds of Chicken Fights. The hotel also had a little bitty stretch of beach in front of the water, and they let us build a bonfire and have a dance party! It was so fun. I've never really done something like before, so hey, why not do it in Turkey? It was definitely a bonding moment for us all as we danced around the fire, tried to dance to Turkish music, and doing a conga line down the entire dock in the moonlight.

Wednesday: First stop was Assos, one of the places that Paul mentions in Acts. It was such a cute little town with cute little people! They all had these little stand along the street going up to the ruins, and they sold their little handicrafts such as crochet and embroidery and knitting. I got some awesome woolen booties. They are so cute and the lady was so old and precious, I couldn't say no. The ruins of the temple at Assos were incredible, especially since they were set up on this cliff overlooking the sea, and we got there in the morning so the sun was reflecting on the water. Picture perfect. The second site of the day was Pergamon... that was interesting. As the original site of the Altar of Zeus and other Greek gods, I guess it was only appropriate for Zeus to rain down mightily on us non-pagans. We got drenched to say the least. I think I get less wet in a shower. The site was incredible, but the experience was a little dampened (pun intended) by the thunder and lightening. We were all very nervous because we had a long drive ahead of us to get to the hotel, and we didn't want to sit in the bus in our soaking wet clothes for three hours. So luckily we got to pull off the road, kick the boys out, close the curtains, and the girls changed inside the bus. I don't know what the boys did, all I know is that I was nice and dry and comfy on the way to the hotel. Thank goodness.

Thursday: Ephesus was the main focus of today and it was grand! I loved that it was so well preserved/reconstructed, because then you could actually see how the city was organized and get a better feel for how life was. One high point for everyone was the latrine room... everyone was very fascinated by the Roman's version of indoor plumbing. Who knew that ruins of toilets would be so engaging for a group of 19- to 28-year olds? No, the entire city was great, especially the library. The architecture was beautiful, look up a pic online if you have time. We also stopped by the site of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world- the Temple of Artemis! It was a little anticlimactic to tell you the truth. There is only one column standing now in the middle of a marshy field. Not too picturesque. After lunch and a drive, we also stopped at Miletus, another city in ruins (are you catching the trend?).

Friday: First stop of the day was Hierapolis! The exciting part of the site was the hot springs! The water has a lot of calcium in it I guess, so it has deposited tons of it down the mountainside, creating a white wonderland! It is just layer upon layer of white calcium deposits along the plateau and then down the mountain. The best part is that you can walk on them, and then the hot water is running in a little rivulet down the side! Ok no, the best part was all of the middle-aged European tourists who came in their Speedos and bikinis wade in the pools. That was a sight to see. The rest of the day was spent on the bus... such a long bus ride. We had some interesting conversations to pass the time, that's all I'll say about that. Once we got to the hotel (which was so so nice!!) we had a little church meeting since we would miss Sabbath this weekend. It was a really great meeting and nice for all of us to be able to be together and sing and pray and listen.

Saturday: Last day in Turkey! The morning was spent in Iznik/Nicea, where the Nicean Creed was established in Constantine's lakeside palace. Even though we as Mormons do not subscribe to the Nicean Creed, we do believe in God, his son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, who together form the Godhead. It was a really spiritual experience to talk about what we believe and how it is similar and how it differs from other Christians. We sang "I Believe In Christ" right next to Lake Nicea, which was a really powerful experience. Next... THE HAGIA SOPHIA!!! This is what I was looking forward to for the entire trip. No, my entire life. Seriously, I was so so excited to go! I still can't believe that I've now been inside the Hagia Sophia. The best part (but not really) was that as I walked in and started taking pictures... my camera dies. Oh the irony. I may or may not have had a minor emotional breakdown, but I quickly recovered and did some reconnaissance on an unsuspecting student's camera so I could take my pictures. Anything for the Hagia Sophia.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Week Updates

This week has been so busy! I've finally caught up on my class readings (probably because I haven't been blogging haha) and we've been busy with classes and field trips. Basically we just either had class or walked around the city during free time (and spending more money than I should!). The highlight has basically been the Garden Tomb on Thursday. Here is what I wrote earlier this week about it:

"Today was just a really great day! You know how some days are a little rough, some are mediocre, and some are fantastic? This one was very close to fantastic. This morning we had Old Testament class, then right afterwards we went to the Garden Tomb. The Garden Tomb is an alternate site to the location of the tomb and resurrection of Jesus Christ (as opposed to the Holy Sepulcher). There is also a possible site of Golgotha right next to the Tomb which really has the whole skull-like appearance in the side of the hill. I really liked the Garden Tomb. It was so peaceful and so beautifully kept. One thing I also really appreciated was the emphasis on the event of the resurrection, and not on the supposed place it occurred. Whereas a lot of places (especially here in the Holy Land) overdo their commemoration and seem to focus solely on the location of holy events, the workers at the tomb were very clear to say that this might not be the actual site of the resurrection, but that’s not the important part- the important part is that it happened. It truly is a little oasis inside the city. The garden is outside of the old city, just along the main road going up into downtown Jerusalem. Even if it wasn’t a religiously significant site, I would still love to just sit on a bench amidst the greenery and beautiful flowers. The place just has a really nice atmosphere and spirit about it. Personally, it was much easier for me to imagine the resurrection here in this organic setting than in the shrine of Holy Sepulcher. I’m not trying to make one better than the other or say that one is right and one is wrong, but I was just able to better personally relate to and picture the story of Jesus Christ’s resurrection in the Garden Tomb. It’s funny because all the workers there really love the Mormon student groups, and they kept telling us over and over again to come back. I would have gone back even without the invitation, but it’s nice nonetheless to be welcomed. After taking the short guided tour around the garden, we were able to wander a bit, take pictures, and just contemplate. Then all of us sang hymns together. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but everyone (or a great majority) here is so musically talented! I mean, they are all talented in a lot of ways, but there are a lot that are really gifted musically. So, when we sing places, it’s a really beautiful chorus (if I can brag a little bit). I was still sitting down by the tomb when they started singing, so I was able to listen to the “choir” sing about the death and resurrection of Christ. It was really powerful for me to be in this peaceful place that is similar to what Christ probably would have been surrounded by, then hear voices of my friends sing inspired words about the miracle of the atonement and the resurrection. It was an amazing testimony and confirmation to me about how God knows each of us and how to touch our hearts. The atmosphere was perfect to me for those few moments, and I was able to feel the love that Jesus Christ and God have for me. I’m really grateful that I was able to go to the tomb, and I can’t wait to go back."

Tomorrow we go to Turkey for a week!! I can't wait. I won't have my computer, so I probably won't update my blog until next week. I'm just giddy about going. We're going to Istanbul, Troy, Ephesus, and a bunch of other places. We're really going everywhere. Yay! Turkey, here I come!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho

...And the walls came tumblin down! Today we went to Jericho and the Judean Wilderness for a half-day field trip. Jericho is the lowest elevated populated city on earth (about 850 feet below sea level). It is an oft-mentioned city in both the Old and New Testament, but it's most famous for the walls tumbling down at the sound of Joshua's trumpets. Our first stop of the day was at the Herodian, King Herod's winter palace in Jericho. It was quite the place back in his day. While Herod always gets a bad rap for being exceedingly cruel (which is probably mostly true), he did have one good quality- his buildings. Herod was an amazing and accomplished builder of cities and palaces. His palace, the Herodian, had a grand entrance on one side of the wadi (seasonal river bed), then a bridge going to the main palace with pool, bath houses, and colonnaded courtyards. I was actually quite surprised by how much was left of the ruins. You could actually tell where the walls were and one of the bath structures was pretty intact. However, it was HOT. Because the elevation is so low, it stays really warm (hence the location of Herod's winter palace). So, the extreme heat at 8 am kinda of put a damper on our excitement. We would have enjoyed staying longer though, even in the heat, but we had to move on to our next site!

Next was the old city of Jericho. We went to the site of the archaeological dig, and saw a little informational movie beforehand (yay airconditioning!!). I'm glad we got to watch the movie, because the site would have been a little boring if we hadn't. Not that it wasn't interesting, it was just that it hasn't been maintained as well as other archaeological sites have been, so it mostly looked like a lot of dirt and then some rocks. But, with the help of our teachers and scenes from the movies, we were able to pick out the interesting things! The main attractions were the neolithic tower and the glaci. The tower is said to be the oldest structure on earth. It was originally 8 meters (about 26 feet) tall, and completely solid rock except for the staircase going up the middle. Now there is only a little bit of the bottom left, but it's really far down in the ground because the level we were walking on had been built up over the centuries by civilization building upon the ruins of the previous civilization. The glaci is the "retaining wall" that helped hold up the walls of Jericho. Basically, the city was set up on higher ground, so instead of just building the wall on top or digging into the ground to build a foundation, the glaci rock wall was built up the sides of the hill to the base of the wall (kind of like a buttress). The exciting part is that at the base of the glaci is a bunch of rubble that is dated back to the time of Joshua! So, it could very well be the wall that fell to Joshua's trumpets, then the rubble has been covered over time. Kind of cool! Around the corner from the dig site is a place called Elisha's Spring, where, as recorded in the Bible, Elisha "healed" or purified the waters of the spring (the only water source) with a handful of salt. It was a really beautiful area. They have built a little rock fountain and river around the spring, and there are big trees and a grassy area next to it. Because the water is right from the spring, they said we could drink it from out of the spout! So naturally, we all did. We also got to wade around (ankle deep) in the little river. Let me tell you, it was a very refreshing experience! We were all so sweaty from the heat and hiking around, so the cool water felt so nice on our feet and legs.

The last stop of the day was the Mount of Temptations in Judean Wilderness where Christ fasted for 40 days and the Devil tried to tempt him. I actually enjoyed this a lot more than I expected. Well, except for the hiking part. We basically hiked up the side of an extremely rocky mountain, but the view from the top was worth it. Let me just say that when the scriptures say "barren wilderness", they mean it. There is nothing there. It is just tan rock and dirt and mountains. The amazing part is that people actually live there. We went to a particular site where there was a view of the St. George monastery which was literally built into the side of the mountain, about to fall into a huge gorge. It was incredible though. It looked exactly how I think an oasis in the desert would look, with blue and palm trees and water. Anyways, we hiked up this mountain (with little Bedouin men trying to make up buy their wares). We talked about Christ's experience and sang "More Holiness Give Me." I really enjoyed singing this song because that was really what Christ went into the wilderness for- to commune with His Father and become more holy, line upon line precept on precept. It was incredible to me to be able to look out on the wilderness and picture how Christ would have been and try to understand why He would have come here to be with God. I really enjoyed the experience. Also, I rode a camel. I'd actually ridden one before when my family went to Morocco, but I was pretty little. Plus, how cool of a story is it to be able to say, "Ya, I rode a camel in the Judean Wilderness." Um, it's awesome. I thought I was only going to be on there for less that 2 minutes, but I got a little surprise. I decided to ride it at the very end of our visit, and most people were heading back to the buses. My teacher said I had time to though, so I did. The camel man took me around in a little circle, and then since I was the last customer, he took me all the way down to the buses! It felt quite regal to be riding a camel down to my ride.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

It's crazy to think that today is the tenth anniversary of 9/11. It's really hard to comprehend how different the world has become over the last ten years because of this singular event. I still remember where I was when I found out: I was in fourth grade, and I was getting ready for school. When I went down for breakfast, the TV was on (which it never was in the morning). My mom and I watched the news as it covered the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. I still went to school and everything, but that day there was just a really tense and sad atmosphere. I don't know if I truly understood what was happening though. I knew what I saw on TV, but it seemed like something that was so far away, nothing that could ever happen in the USA. I remember how we talked a little bit about it at school, and some kids didn't even know it had happened because they left their houses earlier that morning or something. Suddenly everything at school was so patriotic and we made countless numbers of handmade cards for wounded victims, their families, and soldiers. I feel like I don't notice the changes in American psyche as much since I was so young to begin with. I mostly just noticed the changes at the airport and how every house starting flying their American flag everyday instead of just on 4th of July and Memorial Day. I do know though that no matter what changes occur and continue to occur, I am and will always be proud to be an American. While I won't always agree with all of the decisions that leaders make, the wars that are waged, and the image that other countries have of the "American tourist," there are so many things that America represents that I have faith in. I believe in apple pie, baseball games in the summer, Texas barbeque, the stars and stripes, Lady Liberty, the "melting pot" of cultures, mini vans and soccer moms, Friday night football games, trusting in God, backyard cookouts, Jell-O, red white and blue, freedom, jazz, wide open spaces, voting, civil rights, democracy, and life. May these things always be part of the American spirit, no matter who may try to take them. United we stand.


Here is just a random list of little tid-bits about Jerusalem that I forget to put in my posts:

  • Falafel: I didn't think I'd say it, but falafel is delicious. I had a bad experience with it previously, but it's delicious here. Basically it is a little fried ball of mashed up chickpeas and spices. Then you put the falafel balls in a flat bread pita thing that has been prepared with hummus. After the falafel balls you put on a little salad (mine was a cucumber-tomato vinaigrette thing and a little lettuce). Then drizzle on a little olive oil. Fold it in half like a taco, and voila! You have a delicious falafel. One friend in the group lovingly calls it a Hebrew-ito. 
  • Shaban: He is the best! Shaban is a little shopkeeper that we ALL go to. He loves BYU students, and his shop on Christian Quarter road is like our little home away from home as we wander around the Old City. You can always count on him for air conditioning, a stool to sit on, a cup of juice, some pita, and plenty of good conversation! Plus, he has lots of fun things to look at in his store. Everything there is priced really well (probably only about half as much as every other merchant), and he's a really honest salesman. We know we are getting a good deal when we buy from him. And, if he doesn't have something in his shop, he can tell you where to get it for the best price. Conveniently enough, he usually refers you to his brother-in-law's shop across the street, but hey, why not keep in all in the family? Shaban also caters to the BYU crowd specifically by providing a bunch of exclusive LDS items like scripture cases and BYU tees. We love him.
  • Markets: It's so odd to think that these markets that fill the streets of the Old City aren't just for tourists. The people of Jerusalem actually shop there for their daily items. I can't figure out how they find their favorite shops amid the chaos and know where everything is, but more power to them. One thing that I think is so ironic is the open market for bras and underwear. I feel like this is ironic because they are right in the Muslim quarter where women are covered from head to toe in clothing, either regular clothing or the long robes. So if they're so modest in dress and don't allow anyone to see their skin, let alone any signs of their underwear, how are they comfortable shopping for bras and panties right out in the open where everyone can see? I mean, I even get a little uncomfortable walking into Victoria's Secret, and I don't follow quite the same dress code as they do. Maybe only I think it's weird, but I do.
  • Call to Prayer: One of the daily things that Muslims do is pray five times a day. To remind them to do this, they have a call to prayer (azan) that is broadcasted over loud speakers throughout the city. It is recitations of the Koran and other religious things in Arabic that I can't understand, but it is sung (or at least sounds like it is). Everytime is comes on, I'm definitely reminded that I'm in Jerusalem! It's actually really cool to hear it go off throughout the day. Except at 4:30 am. Since it is 5 times a day, they spread it out from morning to night, so the morning prayer is pretty early. The first few nights I was here, I would always shoot out of bed when the prayer would start at 4:30 because I had no idea what was happening! Luckily, I've calmed down a little bit and I've trained myself to sleep through it. Just for reference, the Center is in a predominantly Palestinian/Arab neighborhood, so there are multiple loudspeaker towers around the area. Basically, we are constantly being reminded to pray. If we were Muslim, we would be super devout, because there would be no way that we would ever miss a prayer.  
  • Roommates: My roommates are awesome! I really did get so lucky with girls I was put with. Whitney, Robin, and Amy are the cutest girls, and we all get along really well and just have a blast. Whenever I go out, at least one of them (but usually two) are always with me. It's been so great to be able to bond so quickly with these girls.
That's what I can remember right now, but I'll periodically do little posts like this to record the fun little things about the Holy Land. Love you all!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wailing Wall

A lot of stuff happens everyday, but in order to try to keep everyone up to date with most things, I'm probably just gonna talk about the coolest things that happen each day. This is basically what I've already been doing, but I'm going to really stick to it in the future. Like today, we did a lot of different things and had class, but the focal point of the day was really the Western Wall, so that's what the post is going to be about. (Thank you for indulging me with allowing me to try to talk myself into writing less so it doesn't take so long to do updates...)

The Western Wall is amazing. As one of the last remnants of the wall surrounding the temple of Jerusalem, this segment of wall is one of the most holy places for many Jews across the world. It truly has an undeniable spirit about it. It's amazing to see how the people love the wall and what it represents, and to see all of the notes and prayers that have been pressed into the crevices of the stone, along with all of the notes that have fallen to the ground. It is split into sections for each gender, according to the custom of a traditional synagogue, so I was with all the women who were worshipping and welcoming the Sabbath. When we first arrived at the wall, it was a still, calm atmosphere. It wasn't quite crowded, but there were a number of people there. It wasn't loud, but there was a faint murmur as people recited prayers and visited with each other. It wasn't  clique-y or exclusively Jewish, but it had a strong sense of tradition and importance. I loved it. As the evening progressed, the celebration and sense of joy became more and more pronounced. I don't fully understand the traditions and everything, but the Sabbath (starting at sundown on Friday) is greatly anticipated in Jewish culture, and it is something to be celebrated and welcomed, almost like the coming of a bridegroom at a wedding. So, they sing and dance and clap and celebrate! It's fantastic how much energy and life is there. Granted, it seemed like some of the more orthodox and conservative women opted out of the dancing, but it was fun nonetheless. The orthodox men certainly didn't opt out of the fun! There is a barrier about 5 feet tall between the genders, but suddenly during a particularly rousing song that started up, we saw all these men being lifted up on people's hands a shoulders! It was Jewish crowd surfing! The best part was when we spotted some of the boys from our group being lifted up among all the Jewish men. They made me proud. It was also really fun because there was a group of girls from a Hebrew school that were about high school age. Their teachers had them all singing and dancing, and they invited us to join, so it was really fun to be part of the celebration. Unfortunately we had to leave at about 7:30, but it was such a cultural evening. I don't yet know a whole lot about the Jewish people (that's why I'm in a class and I'm learning), but one thing I really admire about them is their loyalty to traditions and their dedication to their religion. Even the super fashionable girls from the school were singing every line of the songs and dancing every dance- no one was "too cool" to be Jewish. I think that a lot of times people get too nervous to be religious, and they think that it's not the "cool" thing to do, so they give up parts or all of their religion, its customs, or its standards. Well here's the thing, if these beautiful, fashionable, and teenage girls can be separated from boys, sing in Hebrew, dance around, and spend their Friday night in front of a wall, I think we can all be a little better at living our religion and beliefs. Cause when people are Jewish, they are JEWISH. Can we each say the same about our faiths? Just something to think about.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rock & Jazz

The past two days have been FULL of classes! Pop quizzes, hundreds of pages of reading, arabic classes... this stuff is real. I still feel like I'm on vacation or something since I'm in such a cool place, but no, school has begun. Luckily we sometimes have breaks between our morning and afternoon classes (I especially do since my Arabic class starts the latest). So, on Wednesday my roommates Whitney and Robin, our friend Kimberly, and I went to visit Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock! I have been obsessed with the Dome of the Rock since forever. I became even more so when I took Art History my senior year and learned about the architecture, etc. I've always thought it is one of the most amazing and beautiful buildings. The tiles are so intricately painted, and I love the way that Islamic churches/monuments use the Arabic script to decorate. Plus, the huge dome is gold. Awesome. A little history: the Dome of the Rock is located right on Temple Mount (aka Mt. Moriah). It is said to be in the exact place where Mohammed ascended to heaven and where Abraham took Isaac to sacrifice (but did not kill him). So, this place is a sacred crossroad for all three major religions. I was freaking out when we got there because I was just so excited to see it in person. First we had to go through security because we entered the Western Wall plaza. Then we had to go through security again because we left the plaza to get to the entrance to the Temple Mount. Then we had to go through a third time to actually go up the mount! Let's just say they are a little protective of their sacred places. It was so worth it though. The Dome is incredible. I really don't even have words. Needless to say, I took a whole lot of pics, but I can't upload them. Y'all will just have to wait :) That night we had a forum speaker, Paul Hirschner, who is from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was so interesting to hear a public officer speak about some of the problems that Israel is facing. It will be an exciting month here as the holidays start up, but also as the Palestinians have submitted to the UN a plea for recognized statehood, and the decision is to be made on the 20th. It will be really interesting to see what happens and the reactions that will be here.

Today (Thursday) was just a busy day of classes. Not really anytime to go into the city in between, but that's ok since we all have a bunch of homework to do. So I did laundry, reading, practiced piano... still not as cool as the city, but that's ok. BUT there was a concert at the Center tonight which was incredible. Once a month on Thursday, the Center hosts a Jazz/Ethnic music concert, and tonight was Jazz. I've always loved Jazz because my grandpa would play it in his car whenever we would drive around. It was the music he liked to listen to, so I liked it too. Ever since I was little, I've loved jazz and the standards. So already I was excited for this concert. Just to make it better, the pianist in the trio is a legit prodigy. I'm not kidding. He started playing the piano by ear when he was 6 months old. 6MONTHS. He's only 15 now, but way beyond his years musically. It really was incredible. They played with such vigor and I loved to watch their interactions with each other as they played and improvised. It's so nice that the Center hosts these concerts for the community, free of charge! They host classical concerts every sunday, then the jazz ones. Can't wait for the one this Sunday!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"How Great Thou Art"

I love Israel!! Classes started yesterday, and they are pretty intense, but really interesting. We are currently taking Old Testament, Ancient Near East Studies, Modern Near East Studies (one section on Judaism/Israel and a second section on Islam/Palestine), and a choice between Arabic and Hebrew. I'm taking Arabic. All of my teachers are so great and interesting. My Old Testament teacher is from BYU Provo; his name is Eric Hunstman. He is extremely accomplished- published books, member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, professor... he's truly legit. Look him up. Plus, he's a really engaging professor, which is refreshing because I've had other very accomplished professors who were not engaging at all. Our Judaism professor is a Jewish man that was born in the US, but has lived in Israel for the past 30 years or so. He has taught at the center for a while, and he also is an important figure on an international board for religious cooperation between Muslims, Jews, and Christians. We just dove into the material today and he shared some really interesting things about what Judaism is really is (apparently, you can't really define it as one thing... it's a bunch of things) and when it essentially began. It was quite fascinating. Our Islam class was equally interesting- we only had an hour though so we didn't get into the material, just talked about the class procedure, etc. Our professor is younger, but is already very accomplished. He got his bachelors, then went on to the London School of Economics for graduate work. He is technically a political analyst and researcher, but he is really passionate about the subjects of Islam and Palestine (plus the Center has really allowed him to teach whatever he wants), so he's teaching! He is from northern Israel, near Galilee, but it's essentially a Palestinian town. He wouldn't tell us his religion or anything so that we wouldn't have a bias for or against him, which I can appreciate. I really liked him though because you could tell he loves to teach, and just for the simple reason of sharing knowledge and appreciation for new things with students. He talked a lot about how he wants the class to be about gaining knowledge for the simple purpose of expanding horizons and learning decency, rather than gaining knowledge in order to dominate something or someone. I haven't started my Arabic class yet (that will be tomorrow), but I'm really really excited for it. i can't wait to start trying haha but I'm sure it will plenty difficult. Last but not least, Ancient Near East is basically an intense history class of the ancient civilizations of the middle/near east. It shouldn't be too bad for me since I've studied a lot of them through World History and Art History in High School, not to mention in Humanities this past year at BYU.

I'm excited for all of my classes, but it will be hard to balance all the reading and studying with going out into the city and socializing! I already experienced this today... Hebrew started today for half the kids, but the rest of us had about a 4 hour break in the afternoon to do as we pleased. I had kind of been thinking that I would just stay in and do reading or something, but then at lunch I had been talking with people who were going to go out. One of them wanted to go to the Pools of Bethesda, and I had just been thinking yesterday that I wanted to go do that. So, I decided to be social and join the group and add some of my own friends :) I know it sounds kind of silly, but before leaving on the trip, I had been extremely nervous about making friends and being included in the group on this trip. I was worried that I would just be a homebody and not go out as much as I should and be shy and stuff. So, I've been trying really hard to include myself in things and talk to everyone! I think it's going well haha at least I hope it is! No one wants to be that one person that always tags along... that's the worst. But as I've looked around the group, everyone is so awesome! I really never see people being left out, and everyone is so friendly to each other. That is something I am really thankful for. Anyways. The Pools of Bethesda. These are some water cisterns/pools (now empty) that are mentioned in the Bible. There is some controversy over exactly what they were used for, but it is generally accepted that the pools are associated with healing. Now, there is only a little bit of water in some of the deep, underground parts; otherwise it's mostly a lot of ruins of old stone basilicas and temples. I'm a sucker for broken columns and rough stone, so I loved it. It was one of the most peaceful places that I've been to in the city. It is right inside the Lion's Gate of the Old City, and it has some beautiful gardens, the ruins, and an amazing church. The church is very well-known for its acoustics, and let me tell you, it is amazing. I honestly don't think I have heard anything like it before, and I've been in a lot of churches. The beautiful vaulted ceilings just echo sounds forever, and the columns are specially placed so as to not trap the sound. Our group really wanted to sing inside, which a lot of groups actually do. As we were gathering and taking pictures and sitting down, another tour group from the US came in. Later we found out that the focus of the group is healing through Christ. They started singing and it was so powerful. I didn't recognize the first song they sang, but it just had so much feeling and power behind it; they were truly singing with all of their hearts. Then (I guess it was previously arranged), one of the women got up and stood in the center on the perfect acoustic spot, and sang a solo. It was so beautiful. The echoes were incredible, and it made it sound like her song and prayer were truly being raised up to heaven. She had such a beautiful, clear voice, and she had so much raw and honest emotion. Nothing over the top, but just right. Other people in her group adding some harmonized humming, and with echo, it sounded like angels singing. I'm just constantly in awe of the power of music to touch people's hearts, and how it can connect people of any faith or sect of Christianity. Some of the words really touched my heart. I don't remember them exactly, but they had something to the effect of, "If there is anytime that I come to thee, Lord, it is now." It just reminded me that all of us are really here in the Holy Land to come to know our Savior Jesus Christ better. We are here where He lived, taught, performed miracles, died, and was resurrected. If there is anytime for me to come closer to my Lord, it really is now. Afterwards, we all sang "Amazing Grace" together. This has always been one of my very favorite religious songs. I just love the words to it and the recognition in it of how small we are ourselves, but how great we can be through His help and grace and love. They left after that, but it was an incredible experience to join in songs of praise with them in this beautiful church, at this place of healing. After they left, our group went on to sing "How Great Thou Art," another of my favorites! After such an amazing experience, it fit well that we were sing about our awe and gratitude for God and Jesus Christ. My favorite part is the last verse when it talks about Christ's return and our individual awe, and how we'll kneel and say "My God, how great thou art." I am so thankful to be here in this place with so much history, both secular and religious. I cannot imagine a better time to grow closer to my Lord and continue to marvel in His love and grace for me, and all of us.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hurrah for Israel!

I've made it to the Holy Land! The flights were uncomfortable, long, and I felt disgusting afterward, but none of that seemed to matter as we raced down the highway (literally raced... Israeli drivers are crazy) to the Center :) I cannot believe I'm finally here. The Center is so amazing, the pictures do not do it justice, at all. It truly is so beautiful and well-crafted. Best of all, the rooms all have porches that overlook the old city, with a perfect view of the Dome of the Rock. I really can't say enough. I'm so thankful to be here. I'm surprised that I haven't gotten too emotional about everything yet... maybe it's just building up. But I really can't explain how grateful I am to be able to study here and live here FOR 4 MONTHS! Even today as we walked around, I felt like I had to just slow down and remind myself that I didn't have to rush. I have plenty of time to explore and see everything I want to and experience life as it really is. 

Today started with our little group's orientation walk around the city of Jerusalem. There were 12 of us who flew in yesterday, so that's the group that went on the walk today. It was about a 3 hour ordeal, and let me tell you, my feet were quite sore afterwards! Not only were we walking for 3 hours, but Jerusalem is very hilly. The Center is on the ridge of Mt. Scopus, right next to the Mount of Olives, then Jerusalem is beyond the Kidron Valley, set up on a hill (hence Temple Mount, etc). Literally, we walked mountains and valleys today. So exhausting by the end, but so worth it. By the way (MOM) it was probably a mistake to not break in my blue shoes... I now have a few blisters. Obviously it was orientation for mind, body, spirit, and clothing. I was just in a state of amazement as we walked around. I'm still shocked by how three, count them, three prominent religions are represented here and how they (try to) coexist with one another. It was so interesting to walk through the mostly Arabic East Jerusalem and the Muslim Quarter and see burkas, Arabic writing, mosques, then keep walking and see tons of Christian churches, including many Christian Pilgrim's "Holy of Holies," the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Then, keep going on to the Jewish Quarter and West Jerusalem, and you see the Hasidic Jews with their black coats and hair ringlets. I love it! 

After our official walk, we went back to the Center, ate lunch, then went back out! We all have lots of reading to do to prepare for class tomorrow, but I decided to not let that stop me from exploring, experiencing, and making friends! So, I went out. We decided to head back to the Church because we didn't get to explore it or anything during orientation, we just stepped inside for a few minutes. It is a beautiful building. Think of the Byzantine gold mosaics, huge domes, and tons of incense burners, and you've imagined less than half of it. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the traditional Christian site of the Crucifixion, entombment, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the final stop of the Via Dolorosa, the road which, as traditional holds, it the road that Christ took on His way to be crucified, and along the way are little "stations" which commemorate instances along the path, like when Jesus dropped the cross and where he saw his mother Mary. I was surprised that the church was open to visitors today, it being Sunday. (FYI we have our Sabbath on Saturday here in order to coordinate with the rest of the city. However, some Christian Orthodox churches still celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday). Some of the other students thought it would be interesting to attend a mass there on a Sunday, just to see what it's like, so I might go with them if they do. The main shrines at the Church are the Stone of Unction in the entryway, Christ's tomb, and Golgotha. The Stone of Unction is just a commemorative stone that represents that slab that Christ's body was laid upon after the cross to prepare for burial with oils and wrapping. It is right in the entryway of the Church, place in front of a huge mosaic depicting the Deposition. It was so interesting to see how people reacted to the shrines. For example, there was one lady in a wheelchair, accompanied by about four other people. The wheelchair made her too high to reach over and tough the stone, which she was trying and trying to do with all that she had. The people around her though would touch the stone and then rub their hand over her legs, or her face, or her arms, like they believed that it would be healing for her. It was so interesting to see them manifest their faith in this stone, even one that was just a representation and wasn't actually used for Christ. Other scenes like this were common at the other stations as well. The tomb is said to have been the one used for Christ. Constantine found it, then had the mountain carved out around the opening se he could build a church around it. Because it is no longer in a mountain or stone environment and now enclosed in a shrine, it was a little hard to imagine it as it was when Christ would have been there. But, as shown before, everyone exhibits their faith a little bit differently, so Constantine felt he needed to dig out the cave and enshrine it. On the other side of the church is the traditional site of Golgotha where the crucifixion took place. This was inside the building as well, so again, a little hard to picture, but that's ok. There is an altar over the place where the cross stood, and an opening below where you can touch the rock. It was a very enlightening tour. One of the objectives of this study abroad is to learn to appreciate what others find holy. While I don't think I've ever been rude about what another person believes, today kind of widened my eyes. Even within Christianity, I need to try to see things as others might. While I don't feel the need to touch a particular site or rock or relic, I do understand the significance of these places and objects and I'm trying to see how the affirmation and confirmation of being able to physically see and touch something is very important to a lot of people. I'm thankful for the opportunity I had to be able to go and not only see the incredible sites of Christ's death and resurrection, but also how other people responded to it. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thrifty Phoenix

Today is the last day (hopefully) that I will be in Phoenix. I feel like I've already been here like a week, but no, it's only been two days. We just relaxed this morning and went to breakfast. Then, a group of us decided to go out and about, so naturally, we went to Goodwill. Everyone loves a good thrift store. It was dollar day too! It was really exciting except for the fact that 1) I don't want to spend my Jerusalem spending money NOT in Jerusalem, 2) I don't have any weight allowance in my suitcase to add anything, and 3) there weren't that many treasures at this Goodwill Store. That's alright though. Afterwards we went back to the hotel to have lunch and chat. I figured I should probably work on my reading for classes, so I tried. We have to read Genesis 1-20 and a bunch of readings that our teachers emailed to us since we've missed class. Like I said, I tried, but I failed. I just kinda fell asleep... the beds are so comfy I couldn't help it! Traveling always makes you really tired, so I figured I better catch up on as much sleep as possible beforehand... right? I think it's really smart. I did actually get some reading done after my nap though, as well as packing. My suitcases are actually being a lot easier to pack than I anticipated! It's a relief. For dinner I got a delicious burger with green chilies, bacon, pepper jack cheese, and avocado. Afterward, we just played games in the conference room. We played Scattergories (one of my favorites) and Apples to Apples.