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 ProcessingThe 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 - ForumA 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, FiresideBrother 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 tripThis 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 Tour6:30 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.