Monday, November 7, 2011


October 24-27
Once again, I found myself on a trip to another country (in this case, "another" is referring to someplace besides Israel, which is the norm at this point), touring around places that mostly I'd never heard of, let alone had any idea that I'd ever visit, with 81 of my best friends. 

Here are some of the cool places we got to visit:
  • Mt. Nebo, from which Moses looked across the Dead Sea into the land which would someday be inhabited by the Israelites, and where they say Moses was buried.  Our tour guide told us that they still haven't found his grave.  Our Old Testament professor told us that, according to the Book of Mormon, he was never buried at all -- Moses was translated.  Sometimes I wonder why we get tour guides, since I'm almost always more interested in what our professors have to say. 
  • The Church of the Map in Madaba with the famous floor mosaic map of the Holy Land from the Byzantine era
  • Machareus -- the palace ruins where Herod once lived, or one of the places he sometimes lived, I guess.  We talked a lot about John the Baptist here, as this is a possible setting of the story of his beheading. 
  • King Abdullah's Mosque in Amman . . . this was an instance in which it was really neat to have a tour guide.  Mohammad is a Jordanian and a religious Muslim.  It was really neat to hear him tell about the mosque and describe some aspects of Muslim worship that were clearly an important part of his own life.  One thing I will definitely take from this experience abroad is a great sense of respect for the other religious groups which I have had a chance to learn about. 
  • Amman Citadel, where there were some cool ruins from way back when and an archeological museum with some really old artifacts.  Okay, this is where I realized that I am really starting to take things for granted.  When I start thinking, "All right, some more Roman columns," or "Great, more old pottery shards and stuff from the Middle Bronze Age . . . is there any special reason we've come to see more of this?" . . . I guess I haven't been in the States for a while. 
  • Roman Theater in Amman, which was, to be completely honest, not extremely unlike other Roman theaters we've seen on this trip . . . but that didn't make it any less cool.  Really, actually walking on, in, around the colossal remains of some old civilization is incredible.  And, of course, such an occasion provides an excellent opportunity for more singing, photo shoots, etc. 
  • Jerash -- I have been joking a bit about seeing a lot of old stuff and maybe not appreciating it as much as I should, but I was certainly not anticipating the awesomeness of this site.  Honestly, Jerash was on our schedule, but I had no idea what it would be.  As one of our professors later put it, Jerash was an ancient Roman city just as neat as Ephesus, but without the crowds.  We walked through Hadrian Gate, across the Oval Plaza, down the column-lined Cardo Road, past temples and monuments.  And then, we had free time to go in, over, around, through the ruins, exploring . . . and taking lots of pictures, of course.  Jerash was awesome.
  • Royal Automotive Museum in Amman -  I guess the idea behind this museum was to display all the cars of King Hussein, serving as a tribute to him and giving a history of Jordan and the legacy of the Hashemites.  Well, I don't know much about Jordan's history, and I probably know even less about cars, but I do know that I saw some really cool cars.  Ferrari . . .  Bugatti . . . anyone?  (David and Eliott should look up the Bugatti, but I call it!)
  • Jabbok River, the setting described in Genesis 32.  Here Brother Harper taught us a little bit from the Old Testament.  It was a really neat moment of us being able to read from the scriptures in the (approximate) location where the events actually took place, our study guided by a professor who was able to give us much more insight than I would have gotten from those few verses on my own.  Brother Harper has taught us a lot about covenants, and I feel like the things I've learned in his class will be some of the best temple prep I'll get.  I am really grateful for this incredible opportunity to study the scriptures in this unique way. 
  • Jordan River, site of Brother Ludlow's baptism. . . . and the site of the baptism of Jesus Christ.  (Actually, Brother Ludlow said he was baptised further up the river -- still really neat.)  It was really neat to be able to visit this place.  It was certainly one of the more sacred sites we've visited.  We read some scriptures, and then had some time down by the river to touch the water and sing a few hymns.  There were other people around and it looked like some baptisms were taking place.  On a side note, there were a lot of flies. 
  • and . . . PETRA!!!  Grandma Kathy especially was excited for me to be able to come here, so I knew it had to be good.  It was awesome.  Maybe it doesn't really have a direct biblical connection, but Petra was certainly one of the coolest sites we've visited.  One of the coolest things I've ever seen.  The rocks and cliffs and canyons themselves were spectacular . . . and then there were absolutely magnificent carvings in the rock face left by the Nabeteans.  A lot of people have seen the incredible face of the treasury, the spectacular sight that greets you as you emerge from the long, narrow siq . . .but realize that that is just one structure among many.  We kept hiking around and, even after spending the day in Petra, there was lots of stuff I hadn't seen.  A couple interesting things . . . there were people selling stuff everywhere -- mostly jewelry.  Bedouin women and even children - lots of little boys who would come right up to us and follow us around with their postcards.  As I was coming down the trail from the monestary, there was a little table of the same sort of jewelry we'd been seeing all day, but I guess whoever had been selling it had stepped away, and a young French boy had picked up some necklaces and was saying "For you, one dinar!"  His mock accent was great, everyone around - tourists from all sorts of countries - were getting a good laugh.  We stayed one night in the the Taybet Aaman hotel in the Wadi Musa near Petra -- that was so cool: a hotel built on the ruins of an ancient town, so we felt like the little rooms we were staying in were stone cottages of an old villiage.   And there were, I think, some actual ruins in between some of the buildings.  It was really cool.  One last thing, I got to ride a horse out of Petra, and my horse-leader-guy even let go of the lead rope, gave me control of the reins, and let me just gallop along.  That was exciting. 
A few more comments on the Jordan field trip: One day, we had a ton of KFC meals delivered to us.  That was sort of fun, getting KFC food in Jordan.  Muhammad, our Jordanian guide, told us that in the states KFC stands for "Kentucky Fried Chicken," but here, the C is for "Camel."  :)  As we came back through the border into Israel, I felt a little bit like I was coming home.  I thought how that sentiment of homecoming, multiplied by about a thousand, is what I will get in about a month as I come back to America.  It will feel so good to come back to my own country.  But for now, Israel is feeling more and more like home . . . and what an amazing home it is!

More Highlights: October 10 - 23

October 10 - Day in the City and Seder Dinner

The Western Wall - or "Kotel" - is one of my favorite places in the city.  We spent some more time there and got to observe some Bar Mitzvahs.  I walked around an open-air market in West Jerusalem, then headed back to the Old City and finally went in to see the Dome of the Rock up close.  We are not allowed to go inside, but it was neat to be up on the temple mount. 

Ophir Yarden, our Jewish professor, lead us in a traditional Seder dinner.  This is a Passover custom which we got to experience, even though we are not going to be in Jerusalem for the actual time of the Passover.  The word "seder" means sequence, or order.  There was a specific sequence of events for the evening, and as is a common aspect of Jewish custom, there was a song to guide us through the sequence.  LDS people - especially kids from BYU - fit in great with any sort of custom requiring music and singing.  We ate and drank symbolic foods and grape juice, participated in traditional games and activities, and read and sang traditional scripture passages and songs.  I had a narrator part and got to sit at the head table with Ophir and the other narrators, which was fun.  The Oasis was very nicely decorated, we were all dressed in Sunday best - with the addition of some kippas here and there on the men.  It was a very neat, culturally-enriching evening. 

October 12-17 Olive Harvesting and Processing
The students at the Jerusalem Center during fall semester get the unique opportunity to participate in Olive Harvest.  We spent quite a few hours on two different afternoons picking olives from the trees around the center.  Brother Skinner informed us of the steps of olive oil production and shared with us some of the symbolism surrounding the olive tree and the olive.  I really enjoyed picking the olives.  If I take only one thing from the experience, it will probably be that olive trees are strong!  I guess they'd have to be, their wood is valuable and the trees themselves last a long time . . . but I realized this for myself as I climbed up and in and around the trees -- even the smallish branches were able to support a surprising amount of weight!  About a week after the harvest, we pressed the olives!  We used this gigantic stone wheel to grind the olives to a pulp, then put the pulp in baskets which were then placed under big, heavy presses so that the oil was squeezed out.  It was a fun afternoon activity, and certainly full of symbolism.  I am glad to have had the opportunity and experience of participating in these events -- I think that references to olives, olive trees, and olive oil will be much more meaningful to me now. 

October 12 - Forum
A physics professor who had been in our branch for a while came as a forum speaker and presented some interesting ideas on the relationship between science and religion.  This was not exactly a typical forum subject, but I just ate it up!  I was so excited about the concepts discussed . . . I guess it's not a mistake I've ended up studying a lot of science at BYU.

October 15 - Sabbath, Fireside
Brother Ludlow gave an excellent fireside address on the Holy Ghost.  We are blessed with some really wonderful professors here, very knowledgeable and humble men who have strong testimonies and are wonderful examples to all of us.  Their wives and families are wonderful as well.  It is neat to be able to learn from them in settings outside the classroom. 

October 16 - Snorkeling at Eilat

Super fun day!!! We bussed to the beach at Eilat and got to snorkel in the Red Sea.  Awesome!  Friends, Fish, Fun!!!  And ice cream at the end of the day.  Perfect.

October 17 - City of David field trip
This was a cool field trip -- we didn't have to go far.  We just walked around and learned more about the really, really old part of Jerusalem that King David first established to be his capital just south of Mt. Moriah.  We went to a lookout at the approximate location of King David's palace, and watched a video going through the history of the city.  I was actually pretty impressed with the video -- it was in 3D, so we had little glasses to wear.  Just a side note, my seat was a little broken.  We saw some really old tombs (those seem to be everywhere here).  Definitely the highlight of the day was going through Hezekiah's Tunnel.  Fed by the Gihon Spring, Hezekiah had the tunnel constructed to channel the city's water to the Pool of Siloam -- a safer location -- in anticipation of the Assyrian siege.  So we got to walk through this long tunnel chiseled out by some ancient guys through running water.  Unlike the days of my friend's mom, who had to  swim underwater through part of the tunnel when the water level suddenly rose, the Gihon Sprin is now regulated, so we were completely safe, and it was lots of fun.  Thanks to Eliott for letting me bring his headlamp, which I used in the tunnel!!

October 19 -- End of Sukkot and Separation Wall Tour
6:30 am on the last day of the Jewish festival of Sukkot found a group of us taking in the height of the festivities at the Western Wall.  Allie had told me that this would be a neat thing to experience, and Ophir recommended it, so I was excited to witness this festival.  To welcome in the rainy season, the Jews wave an assortment of branches -- date, myrtle, and willow -- and a citrus fruit, and beat willow branches on the ground.  As Ophir put it, in perhaps not the most reverent way, after a week of praying, the Jews just have a temper tantrum, as if to say "God! Give us rain!"  The area in front of the wall was full of this sort of activity, praying and waving and beating willow branches.  Definitely a neat thing to experience. 

 Daniel Seidemann, a specialist in Israeli-Palestinian relations, gave us a brief lecture and tour, taking us to a couple lookouts and letting us see, up close, the Separation Wall.  I am learning so much just being here.  Things that would have seemed like fiction to me -- men with machine guns just walking around a crowded city, people who get put into jail without any just clause or due process, and walls built to keep people separated, and people living under a constant fear of violence -- these  things are a reality here.  Don't worry -- I am really completely safe, but I am really having an eye-opening experience to the fact that my life is really a very sheltered existence.  I kept being reminded of the Hunger Games, a trilogy I read just before coming here.  There are so many stories of dystopian societies that I guess I always thought were a little extreme, but here there really are high cement walls topped with barbed wire, and people who are not allowed to travel from place to place.  I am so grateful to be a citizen of the United States of America.

October 23 -- Free Day
 This was one of my favorite days here in the city!! I went to the Israel Museum for a second time -- it was more meaningful and enjoyable after having gone through it once, and having learned more about the history behind the ancient artifacts.  And still, after two visits, I feel there is a TON that I still haven't really seen.  How cool to live in such an awesome city -- so much to do and see!!  Nothing against Cheney, of course, but I'm starting to feel like even a semester is not nearly enough time to feel like I've seen all I'd like to see in this city.  Amy, Calli, and I did some shopping in West Jerusalem.  It was so much fun to have a girl's afternoon and get some new clothes!  I had been feeling pretty tired of my wardrobe - not to sound high-maintenance, but I only brought so many outfits in my one suitcase - and I was very glad to get a few new things.  Completely justified spending, in my mind.  We also found a little craft store and a shop with yummy waffles!  It was just a really fun, relaxed day -- fun to just be walking around the city with a few good friends. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Highlights: September 26 - October 9

For Grandma Winters and anyone else who has been wondering whatever happened to the blog, I am still alive and well! -- also a bit busy.  Here's what has been going on:

Sept. 26 - Neot Kedumim Field Trip
Neot Kedumim is a biblical landscape reserve here in Israel. (Much of the vegetation had actually been planted there for the purpose of re-creating a biblical landscape; it wasn't all just natural growth.)  Our class was led around the reserve by a guide who helped us understand the "Bible text in the right context." She pointed out specific plants and explained their significance.  I learned about the humble plant hyssop, the mighty cedar, the cool shade of the tree of Abraham, the diligent almond tree, and the sycamore-fig tree.  We also learned about wells and water cisterns, the traditional sukkot (associated with the Jewish feast of tabernacles), the ancient olive press, and the terraced structure of agricultural land here.  Among other things, I have a new understanding of the importance of water and rain in this land.  Perhaps the coolest parts of the day were the interactive activities: herding sheep, grinding hyssop, and making pitas and cooked wheat over a fire (almost like girls camp!).  At the end of our tour, we watched a Torah scribe at work, carefully writing each Hebrew letter on a scroll that will take about a year to complete.  Mistakes on the scroll must be carefully corrected, even buried if they include the name of God.  An interesting tidbit I learned is that the name ISRAEL in Hebrew is more or less an acronym of the names of the ancient patriarchs and matriarchs: Jacob, Sarah, Rachel, Abraham, Leah.

Sept. 18 - Free Time and Arab Culture Night
A group of us explored Zedekiah's Cave; an ancient limestone quarry right under a corner of the old city.  It was really cool. 
In the evening, we had our Arab Culture Night.  We got to dress up - in theory like Arabs, but really the general costume was kind of a Middle East-cross-gypsy look . . . or pretty much anything involving scarves.  We had a neat presentation by the Arabic professor and some men who recite the Muslim prayers at a nearby mosque.  We had an amazing dinner, prepared by the amazing kitchen staff.  Then we got instruction in Palestinian Folk Dancing!  It was a fun evening.  And I got to help fold the napkins for the dinner.  :) 

Sept. 30 - Humanitarian Activity and Movie Night
We put together hygene kits!  Friends, music, cookies, towels, toothbrushes, soap, combs - all in the garage.  I think the final count was around 2,500 - a record!  This service project was seriously a ton of fun, and we get to do the same thing almost every Friday afternoon!
Also, I finally experienced Indiana Jones.  You'd think they could have gotten that girl a pair of jeans at some point.

Oct. 1 - Fast Sunday/General Conference
I was SOOO excited for conference!  We had our normal fast sunday meetings, I went with a few other students to the garden tomb for a while, then, after dinner, we got to watch the Saturday morning session of conference live!  It made me miss Utah a bit - specifically Temple Square, and Grandma and Grandpa Winters' apartment.  We had to wait another week before we got to see the Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning sessions.  I have yet to see Sunday afternoon and the General Relief Society meeting.  Oh, I love conference!  One of my very favorite talks was President Uchtdorf's: You matter to Him.  :)

Oct. 2 - Free Day
I spent some time meandering around the Old City with a few other students.  At one point, we found ourselves in a Jewish art shop with a man who knew that we are unable to talk about what we believe.  "But," I said, "we love to hear what you believe."  So he told us.  He told us how his mother walked to Jerusalem years ago, how the Jews had survived through so many years, how he had fought for the State of Israel and seen how the artillery could not even reach enemy lines, yet they won the battle.  He testified that the Jews are God's people and that He has fought their battles. 
This place is heavy with history, with rich meaning to so many people.  They all have deep ties and feelings associated with this land.  And they are all God's children.  Things aren't really very simple here.
A Jerusalem Center Sunday evening concert series was the perfect end to this day. 

Oct. 3 - Negev Field Trip
This was a really neat, day-long field trip to the southern end of ancient Israel.  We visited a couple Bedouin communities.  This was so fascinating.  I remember - years ago - seeing pictures of children living in other parts of the world (third-world sort of places) and thinking, "but people don't really live like this anymore."  Mom tried to explain to me that they do, that not everywhere in the world is like Washington and Utah.  There are places where people dress differently, where they have to carry water in big jugs because it doesn't come out of a faucet in their kitchen.  The first community we went to was a place where women were given opportunities to weave products to sell to help them continue to support their families -- it was called Sidra. The second Bedouin community I saw was probably the culture furthest from my own that I have ever experienced.  Homes were built of sheets of metal or big sheets of heavy fabric, surrounded by a pen for livestock.  There was a sort of central electricity feed for the community (yeah, that sounds pretty advanced).  I guess the community has to manage their own electricity since the State does not grant certain such things to un-recognized communities (the second one was not a "recognized" community). 
We went to Tel Arad, the site of an ancient Canaanite city from the early Bronze Age, and Israelite fortress, which included some temple remains.  Our last stop was Beer Sheva, a significant biblical site, visited by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.   

A little stressful . . . amazing how we fun-loving, adventurous kids all crack down and study when we have to.  And since we're all studying the exact same things, google docs and study groups abound around exam time here.

Oct. 6 - Evening Concert
I went with a group of other students to an organ concert in a church in the Old City.  That was amazing.   And it was really good to get out after so much studying in the center.

Oct. 8 - Yom Kippur
Between Conference showings, I got to go to a torah reading/prayer meeting in an Orthodox Jewish synagogue.  That was so neat.  The Jews were celebrating Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement.  The women are separated from the men in synagogue (we are so distracting), and we were able to sit by a woman who was kind enough to explain what was going on, the layout of the synagogue, and some interesting traditions to us.  I felt really welcome - it was a really, really neat experience. 

Oct. 9 - Shephelah Field Trip
This was a really neat Field Trip to some cool biblical/historical sites, most associated with Israelite vs. Philistine battles.  We went to Tel Beth-Shemesh, Azekah, Lachish, and Marisha.  We got to sing in some chalk caves, which was cool.  We got to overlook the Valley of Elah, where David slew Goliath.  We looked out on Sampson's homeland.  We often read the scripture stories associated with the sites we were visiting.  Our bus was having some trouble by the end of the day, so we didn't actually stop in the Valley of Elah to throw rocks like David, but it was still cool to see it.  I've really been to these places, sites of the great stories of the Bible.  How cool is that?

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Our group got to spend an entire week in Turkey - a country that I hadn't really known anything about, but that I now love!  We did and saw so many amazing things!
  • We ate out every meal.  We had pretty fancy lunches and dinners - either buffets or multiple courses brought in by servers.  Sometimes the meals were pretty good, but I think we all got a little tired of white french bread and pasta and rice . . . since that was about all that actually seemed edible at many of our meals.  Dessert was usually either watermelon or strange little soggy cakes that seemed to have been drenched in some kind of syrup or honey.  One night, when the main course was brought out, we were each given a plate with a whole fish just laying there.  Yes, a whole fish.  I was actually pretty proud of myself for getting most of the meat out.
  • We stayed at a variety of hotels.  They were usually pretty nice - one was right on the beach!  (That was a pretty fun night - we had a beach bonfire and dance party!) Another hotel had a hot spring-fed pool.  Most of us were convinced, however that "nice" by Turkish standards is a little different from "nice" by American standards.  We still used bottled water to brush our teeth in the hotels and some people were convinced there were bedbugs.  But the last hotel was incredible! Really posh, with a super nice restaurant, a couple pools, among other things (it was really fun to explore). 
  • We experienced Istanbul - an amazing city of both Europe and Asia, rich with both history and modern urban life.  Here we saw some old monuments, the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bizarre, the Basilica Cistern, and Hagia Sophia.  I could go on about how incredible each of these is. . . the architecture of Hagia Sophia especially just boggled my mind.
  • We took a boat ride through Istanbul.  This was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip.  It was so fun to be on the water, seeing the amazing city. I loved it!
  • We saw the ruins of the ancient cities of Troy, Assos, Pergamum, Ephesus, Miletus, Hierapolis, Thyatira, and Nicaea, as well as the ruins of the Temple of Artemis.  I don't think I had realized how many Greek and Roman ruins there are in Turkey.  Really, I didn't know much of anything about Turkey before this trip.  We stopped at many of the cities associated with Paul's travels, some of the Seven Cities of Asia spoken of in Revelation.  I loved seeing the ruins.  This was so incredible, so fascinating to me.  I feel like seeing these ancient things has fulfilled something that I have longed for for much of my life. Some of the ruins were definitely, well, more ruined than others.  Some, like Ephesus and Pergamum, were absolutely incredible.  Incredible.  And to think - to imagine - huge cities where we walked, the columns and stones erect and the buildings complete, roofed, and decorated, and inhabited, people - not just tourists - walking around the streets . . . these places must truly have been spectacular wonders.
  • We spent a lot of time on the bus.  Talk about a road trip! - I think we drove about all over the west coast of Turkey and back around to Istanbul.  We saw city, coast, and countryside.  (We also saw Robin Hood and Tangled.) Really, though, it was fun to be on a bus with 40 good friends and some amazing instructors.  Each day we prayed, sang hymns, and heard the testimony of a classmate. Another highlight of the trip was listening to Brother Harper and Brother Skinner share insights from the scriptures, answer and expound upon some of our gospel-related questions, and talk about how they met their eternal companions (this was probably the most attentive our group was the entire trip).
  • We had a wonderful sacrament meeting in Bursa (at the really nice hotel) on Friday night.  Most kids were just in travel clothes - only the few guys who had been asked to help with the Sacrament had brought white shirts and ties.  This was one of the highlights of the week for me.  It was so neat to have that nice meeting all together.  The speakers shared excellent messages and the closing hymn, Each Life That Touches Ours for Good, well paralleled the warm friendship that was felt.  But the best part was how, perhaps more than any meeting I have ever attended, I felt like the focus was really on the Sacrament.  Sometimes we get into routines or traditions and forget the true meanings of what we are doing, but in that basement hotel room on a Friday night after a long bus ride, 82 kids and their teachers and leaders enjoyed a sacrament meeting that really seemed focused on partaking of the Sacrament of Jesus Christ.
  • We flew back to Tel Aviv last night and bussed into the Jerusalem Center around 3:00 a.m. (*** so tired!***  I couldn't even form a complete sentence for the lady stamping my passport at customs.) And now we're back home.  Home in Jerusalem. 

Week Two

Although this is a little delayed, I thought it would be good to post last week's events. 

Saturday (Sabbath) - District Conference
These meetings were so neat!  It was a combined conference with members of the Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Galilee branches and remarks from Elder and Sister Porter.  They talked a lot about humility and following promptings of the Holy Ghost.  The closing hymn in Relief Society was I Am a Child of God - a group of women took turns singing in their different languages, and we all joined in in English at the end.  It was so neat. 
In the free time we had in the afternoon, I visited the Garden Tomb and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Monday - Free Day
A group of students bussed to Tel Aviv.  We spent a lovely day on the Mediterranean beach and shopping around the flea market area of Jaffa.  I really need to work on this bartering business;  thankfully there was a male group member in the little shop with me when I found myself under the arm of the shopkeeper who was whispering in my ear, "You have beautiful eyelashes." Oh dear.  Nothing bad would have happened . . . it's just comforting to know you have friends around in a situation like that.  (Mom, Grandma, don't worry - they say things like that to everyone to try and get them to buy stuff.)  And the beach -- um, it was warm!  Crazy, novel concept: ocean water that doesn't induce hypothermia!  But there weren't really any good waves, it was a tiny little crowded beach just right there in the city, and I decided that I think I actually prefer good old Newport with the Winters fam.  :) 

Tuesday -- Field Trip to Jericho
When Brother Harper asked us what was cool about the field trip, my immediate thought was, "Nothing.  It was all hot."  But despite the sun, it was an awesome trip.  Now I can visualize the Old Testament city which was like an oasis in the midst of a desolate desert, and the wilderness where Elijah and Jesus wandered in solitude.  I sure wouldn't have wanted to stay there for more than about fifteen minutes, let alone forty days.

Wednesday -- Classes
Also, a small group of us went to Omar's olive wood shop -- this was neat because he really caters to church members and treated us like his grandkids.  He had pictures of himself with past prophets and carvings based on temple square statues and gospel art and Greg Olson images.  Pretty neat.

Thursday - Field Trip to Garden Tomb / Classes
The Garden Tomb is in a beautiful, peaceful garden maintained by some British Christian group.  I really appreciated how they emphasized that, while there is lots of speculation as to exactly where the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection took place, where these events occurred is not nearly as important as the truth that they occurred. 

Friday - Classes
I also spent a little time in the city, and then went to movie night: Part 2 of The Ten Commandments.  Good old Moses.  It's so much more fun to watch when we've all been reading and studying Exodus, and also when kids shout out, "hey look!- they're eating pitas! . . . with Nutella!"  (a staple of our Oasis cafeteria).

Saturday -- Sabbath
Church, walk to the Garden of Gethsemane (the group of kids I was with got in to an area of the garden that they don't let most tourists into, because we're Mormons - we have a good reputation here.  We took turns reading from the atonement accounts in the gospels.  It was really neat.), amazing fireside with Brother Skinner on the Atonement (this was incredible).

Friday, September 9, 2011

First Week

Already, I feel like I have to apologize for not keeping anyone following my blog up-to-date.  In my defense, there has been a lot going on!

My first chance to walk around the city was on a brief group orientation tour.  I'm not really sure what I was expecting - maybe sandals on dirt streets, street vendors under canopies, sacred and historical sites off on the outskirts of a big city? an old, crumbling city? I don't really know.  But Jerusalem . . . it's like nothing I've ever seen or experienced or even imagined in my life.  Here's what I experienced:
  • crowded, dirty, littered streets
  • limestone everywhere: paving the streets, built into walls and floors
  • so many people, so many different people
  • the goods of the little street shops crammed into small rooms, spilling out on the edges of the narrow, crowded streets, hanging overhead
  • "Mormon" some people observed as we passed . . . one man was saying "Googars?"
  • intimidating drivers - crossing the street is like playing frogger
  • and everything is so close!  - right in the middle of the city, standing by a busy street with a man blowing his flute/recorder at us saying "you buy more, we love you more; you buy less, we love you less" - and there, right there, is the entrance to the Garden Tomb.
  • and then, passing from East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem on the Sabbath and experiencing a huge difference: broader, cleaner streets that were almost completely empty - West Jerusalem is a Jewish community; East Jerusalem is mainly inhabited by Arabs
And then we started classes!  I am taking an Old Testament class and am in awe at how much I am learning from reading - sometimes about 10 chapters a night - and lectures.  We have an Ancient Near East course which is sure to be extremely informative, and two Modern Near East courses - one taught by an Israeli instructor and one taught by a Palestinian.  Those classes are amazing.  I walk out feeling overwhelmed by the the rich, new perspective being presented and am not sure if I'll come home at the end of the semester feeling very knowledgeable or feeling like I've just stepped off a roller coaster . . . probably both.  I have a beginning Hebrew class taught by a wonderful woman who also teaches us so much about her Jewish culture.  And I'll get a credit for participating in field trips!

What amazing field trips we've had already!  There is so much I could say, but I'll just tell briefly about some of the places I've been:

We traveled to some key lookout points from which we observed the amazing city of Jerusalem, including a hill that overlooked Bethlehem, from which we sang "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Once in Royal David's City."  We've also been able to sing in a couple amazing chapels - it is such a wonderful experience to sing sacred hymns in such special places with this very talented group. 

Today I went to the Israeli National Museum.  We had an assignment to view all the items on a long checklist, and as we were running out of time, we had to hurry a bit - walk quickly by the displays of Romans and Egyptians, and after four hours, I've seen evidence of millions of years of human life!  I'm filled with lots of thoughts and feelings, but a phrase I heard that probably gives the essence of what we were feeling is, "the world is real." Wow - here's tons of artifacts, ancient items and records that really exist from the places and people and cultures that I've been taught my whole life to believe existed, once upon a long, long time ago . . . in a place where I am right now.  Oh, and I saw the Dead Sea Scrolls.   (I have to note that another main thought on my mind right now is how grateful I am for the scriptures and for a knowledge of God and His dealings with, and plans for, His children.  It is so wonderful to know what our purpose is here on this Earth.)

And tonight, Friday night, we went to the Western Wall - the remnant of the outer retaining wall of the Temple Mount built in the days of Herod.  This was an amazing experience.  The Western Wall - or "Wailing Wall" - is probably the most sacred place on earth to the religious Jews.  It was amazing to watch the crowds gather, to watch the Sabbath begin as the sun set.  The wall itself was an amazing structure, and crowds of people - men and women in separate sections - came to pray at the wall, some pushing little written prayers into the cracks of the wall.  There was such an air of solemnity, of reverence, and of awe of the significance and sacredness of the place.  And then, a little further from the wall itself, crowds were celebrating: dancing and singing songs of praise in Hebrew.  This was truly an amazing place.

What an eventful week!  Oh, there is so much more I could tell, so much I could elaborate further on!  I hope that this blog helps my family and friends have a small taste of what I am experiencing.  I have also been writing daily in my journal, of course, so hopefully I will always be able to look back on and remember the things I'm seeing, experiencing, and learning here. 

Shabbot Shalom!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Our Journey to Jerusalem

I am so glad to finally be here at the BYU Jerusalem center on Mount Scopus!  Our journey here was quite the adventure.  Tuesday morning Mom dropped me off at the Salt Lake airport, where I met up with the 50 or so other students on my flight to Phoenix, Arizona.  (The other 30 had gone already on another flight.)  In Phoenix, our flight to Philadelphia was delayed . . . then cancelled! Our group spent about six hours in that Phoenix airport as our group leaders (fellow students) talked with agents, called our BYU trip leaders, passed out meal vouchers, and the rest of us got to know each other a bit.

We eventually were shuttled to a nice hotel in Phoenix.  I felt like I was on vacation - wonderfully comfortable beds, meal vouchers for the great hotel restaurant, shuttle service to the nearby pool and mall - with 50 other college students!  I'm sure the hotel staff was terrified.  It turned out to be such a wonderful group to be a part of.  We came together so well.  Our group leaders were wonderful; they kept in touch with the BYU trip leaders -who must have been working like crazy to get us to Israel in less than the week the airline told us to expect - and they kept us well-informed.  We were allowed to use a conference room where we held meetings in the mornings, played name games and do-you-love-your-neighbor, and met for evening devotional.  I was able to go with a small group to the Mesa, Arizona Temple and Visitors Center.  We thought we would have to pay for taxis, since it was out of shuttle range, but a generous shuttle driver overheard our group and agreed to take us anyway.  That was such a blessing and a wonderful experience.  By Wednesday evening, we all felt like good friends.

We were handed new travel schedules Wednesday night.  I believe our group was broken up into 11 smaller groups, all leaving between Thursday and Saturday.  I was lucky enough to be one of the 12 leaving Thursday morning.  We flew from Phoenix to Charlotte, to Washington D.C., to Frankfurt (my first time overseas!!), to Tel Aviv.  With only slight difficulty - some cancelled tickets, lost luggage and such - we all made it out of the Tel Aviv airport, were greeted by a faculty member, and were bussed to the Jerusalem Center, where more group and faculty members welcomed us.  I am still so exhausted, a little confused as to what time it is supposed to be, overwhelmed a bit by the reality of being in a completely new part of the world, and so, so glad to be here.  "Welcome to Israel" - that's what the man next to me on the plane said as we finally landed.