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.