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?