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
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.