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 :)

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