Friday, January 26, 2007

Land of the Patriarchs

Every week, we all climb aboard a bus (we leave promptly on the hour, if you're not five minutes early, you really do get left behind) and head off on a field trip to see different important sites from the time periods that we're studying. Last time we went on the geography trip, but yesterday we went to what many call "The Land of the Patriarchs." This is the area that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob spent a lot of their lives.
Our first stop was Gerar. If you look in Genesis 20 and the following chapters, you find the stories of Abimelech, the birth of Isaac, when Hagar was cast out of the tent of Abraham, and many others. There were all sorts of old archaeological digs around but the interesting thing about this site was the absolute serenity. I took about 15 minutes to lay down in the grass, even if it was a little coarse, and just think about my time here. It was beautiful and green as far as the eye could see, and, even though in a few months it will be bone dry, you could see why the patriarchs would have wanted to settle here. Interestingly enough, even though both his father and his son traveled far and wide, Isaac never went more than 100 miles from this spot.
Next on the list was Be'er Sheba. The name of this site literally means "Well of the Covenant," or "Well of Seven" because of the covenant that Abraham made with Abimelech that they would get along peacefully with each other. From this vantage point, it seems strange that anyone would want to live here. There seems to be very little water for irrigation, and the deep well outside the city appears to be the only source of water for miles. Even the position of the well is quite uninspiring, as during a siege it would provide water to the opposing forces, but not to the people within the city wall.
The strength of Beersheba, however, comes in the yearly rainfall, and when it rains, it really rains (we've seen that already). The city is designed so that most of the water would flow to a point and collect in huge, underground cisterns. The cisterns(the entrance is shown in the picture) could hold 500 cubic meters of water which sustained the city through the coming 10 months of drought.
While the first two sites were at least habitable, it would seem that those who settled in Arad were gluttons for punishment. This city, just like Beersheba is designed to catch the rainfall that it received. The fascinating aspect about this city is it's religious worship. Three Canaanite temples occupy a central location in the city, just across the street from the palace (probably about 60 feet square). These temples, according to modern values, would be pagan and similar to houses of prostitution, but they were fascinating all the same. The fourth temple in the city was up on the citadel, and this one was Israelite. The layout of the temple was quite interesting, with a sacrificial altar in the outer court, a holy place, and a holy of holies in the back. On each side of the holy of holies, oddly enough, there are storage rooms. We don't know if the temple was authorized or apostate, but either way it was cool.
Just to let you all know, we leave for Egypt on Sunday. There is no way I'm taking my laptop, so I'll be talking to you after we get back, but I'll have plenty to write, so check back!

Thursday, January 25, 2007


On Wednesday we had our first free day. No class, no scholastic obligations, we just got into groups and left Jerusalem for a day. Earlier in the week we divided into groups according to where we wanted to go, Tel Aviv, Rehovot, or Soureq Caves. I went to Rehovot and my sister went to Soreq caves. Everyone enjoyed their prospective trips. Those who went to Tel Aviv enjoyed a Mexican dinner on the beach and a lively atmosphere. The caves were beautiful and they went to the Tower of David Museum afterwards.
Rehovot was actually more of a historical trip, but entertaining just the same. We saw the house of Dr. Weisman, the first president of the State of Israel. We also went to the Weisman Institute, one of the leading research and development schools in the world. They are working of cancer, diabetes, microchip technology, and thousands of other projects. They even have their own particle accelerator. The last place in the Weisman Complex that we visited was the Science garden. They have all sorts of hands-on scientific experiments. It's principally made for pre-college students, but toys are toys no matter what our size :) . They have those whisper dishes like in the Eyring Science Center, but they actually work. My favorite was an exhibit to simulate the gravity one would feel on the moon. Apparently I could be a great gymnast on the moon.
After the Weisman Complex we went to a historically important orange grove (sound's strange, I know), picked our own oranges (Most of us hadn't done that before), and squoze orange juice. I was amazed that some members of our group had never squozen oranges before. Oh well
The next destination was really a highlight of the trip. At first glance, the Ayalon Institute is just a kibbutz, a jewish settlement in which everything is communal. In a kibbutz, food is eaten together, clothes are much the same, even children are raised by the community and not the parents. Well, underneath the kibbutz is an ammunition factory. It was created before the 1948 war for an independent Israeli state. At this time, the Israeli's couldn't make arms openly, they had to hide production or be found out by the British. They therefore built a tennis-court-sized production facility deep underground. It was responsible for 16,000-40,000 rounds of ammunition a day, and all the while, the other members of the kibbutz didn't know that there was a factory under their feet. The opening was covered by a washing machine in the kibbutz laundry and 40+ people worked down there 8 hours a day, 6 days a week.
The last destination was a beekeeping facility where we found out more about bees and honey then we ever thought possible. The highlight for most of us was having him open up a hive, extract a section completely covered with bees, and then stick our fingers in and enjoy the honey with bees crawling all around. It was amazing.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Peace in the Middle East

As students in the BYU Jerusalem Center, we can't even avoid seeing the current situations or having people give us their point of view. Oftentimes, we are asked what our opinions are, and we always answer with an "I can't talk about it." I would, however, like to relate the key points dealing with the tension. I think that for people to really understand the .
The first source of tension is the most visible to the outside world but the least felt in Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip is an area on the coast by the Egyptian border that is about the size of the Salt Lake Valley. There are 1.3 million people living there, and, as our teacher describes it, it is pure anarchy. Suffice it to say that there will be no field trips into Gaza. The reason why this area barely even make local news is because between Gaza and Jerusalem, you have the Israeli Army. No one goes in, no one comes out. Period.
The second source of tension deals with what is commonly referred to as either the West Bank or the Occupied Territories. These areas, like Gaza, are not officially part of the nation of Israel. They are areas controlled by the Israeli Army, but are inhabited almost exclusively by Palestinians. After the escalation of violence 6 years ago, Israelis started piling up debris, blocking roads, and sealing off the West Bank from Israel Proper. Stemming from this action, a huge wall, shown in the picture above, is being constructed by the government. Because of huge security restrictions at the checkpoints along the wall, Palestinians are almost unable to travel to different locations either in or out of the West Bank.
Another problem is that for the past several years Jewish people have been creating settlements in the West Bank. Israeli forces want these settlements to be on their side of the wall, so it delves deep into Palestinian territory, wraps around these settlements, and then comes back.
While the tension with the settlements is felt, it's almost overlooked with the tension from the Wall. The three-story wall is seen by Israelis as a necessary effort to protect themselves from the violence experienced 6 years ago. The effect of this wall on Palestinians, however, is a stranglehold on their economy and, for lack of a better term, "harassment" at the checkpoints.
Peace is a common greeting over here, "asalamu aleyqum" in Arabic and "shalom" in Hebrew. Hopefully an agreement can be formulated that will make this vocal desire a reality.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Geography 101

The geography field trip was really fun! We were able to go to several different areas and start to get the feel of the land. One adjective doesn't suffice to describe the area around Jerusalem, it needs two: up and down. Jerusalem sits up high in a mountain range. If you were to go 11 miles to the east, the elevation shoots down 4000 feet to the lowest place on earth, the Dead Sea at 1300 feet below sea level. But if you go just 1/2 mile south east of Jerusalem, you'll come to Kings Dale, where the Kidron, Tyropean, and Hinnom valleys meet (These three form the natural boundaries of Jerusalem), Kings dale itself is at least 1000 feet below Jerusalem.
From Deir Mar Elyas we were able to look into the west bank and into Bethlehem. Unfortunately, the haze didn't make for good pictures. We also went to the traditional tomb of the Prophet Samuel. It doesn't actually hold up historically, but one cool point is that there have been over 20 cities that were built and leveled on that hilltop. The picture at the top shows why it's an archaeologist's best dream and worst nightmare: because of all the layers of debris.
One highlight of the trip for many people was the sight of our first camel :) . "Kojak" was quite amiable, even though he mistook Lindsey's hair for a tasty snack just seconds after this picture was taken. She claims he was just trying to give her a kiss.
Well, It's past my bedtime. :)

Shabbat Shalom!

In my opinion, everyone should go and see the Jews welcome in the sabbath at the Western Wall at least once before they die. It was a sight to behold, but because the sabbath had been ushered in, it was not a sight to take pictures of...unless you want to get in trouble with some Hasidic Jews who consider pushing the camera button working on the sabbath. Everyone has their own ideas of devotion, and I respect them for that.
After the sun went down (the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath), different groups and sects began to gather in different parts of the courtyard. They then began to dance in huge circles while singing songs to welcome in a joyous sabbath. After a while, they formed one huge square and went singing and dancing down to the Wall with their Torah Scrolls. The force of that many faithful people was impressive.
After the procession, different groups began singing different songs and dancing in circles. I got to dance in one of the circles for a few minutes with my little paper kippa. I may not have fit in 100%, but I enjoyed it all the same.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Old City

Jerusalem is different from how I would have ever imagined it, but surprisingly similar to how I should have imagined it. As a native Utahan, I imagined the city being laid out in nice squares with the dome of the rock being at the starting point. All city streets should be wide enough for a 40-oxen wagon to be able to turn around, and garbage has absolutely no place in the streets.
The opposite is true. In the Arab quarter, which is quite fun as long as you watch your wallet, the feel is strikingly similar to a crowded street market in any other Arab country. Small cars, donkeys, carts, and pedestrians all share the same 12-foot wide walkway, and it's impossible to really tell where people live. I think they have to access their apartments through back doors of the shops and such, because living quarters aren't at all visible from the street. Farther along, in the Christian Quarter, the narrow streets persist, but shops keep their merchandise inside. The shops are a bit more tidy, if less fun, and everything, just like everywhere else, is up for bargaining.
The Armenian quarter seems principally residential in nature. There are a few shops, schools, and parks, but all in all the area is quiet and clean.
Finally, the Jewish quarter tops it all off. The shops are principally art-based. Ruins are on display and wide (not too wide, mind you), clean streets are the order of the day. The walls, instead of being covered with graffiti, are covered with murals next to wide glass windows that allow everything in the shop to be easily seen. Many people would prefer to spend their time there because of the open, safe-from-pickpockets feeling.
Just a few days ago we went to the Western Wall. There were just a few of us and I can honestly say I cried. The dedication of those people and the longing for a time when they had a temple and prophets and guidance from God was overwhelming. I was able to touch wall that was built over 2000 years ago for the purpose of worshiping the Lord and it's just amazing to be right there.
Outside the Old City is a bustling metropolis. Last night five of us walked about 2 miles to ben Yehuda street. It could be confused with any street in San Fran or Western Europe. There was an old guy with a huge white beard outside a van that was literally bumping some hebrew pop/rap while about 15 kids were trying to make a mosh pit out of too few people. Up the street it was really busy. McDonalds was busy with their kosher burgers, a guy was making 2 foot wide crepes.
On the other side of the Old City, between the city and the Jerusalem Center, is the Kidron Valley. It also isn't what you imagined, but it once was. For instance, t used to be a lot deeper, but the rubble of at least 3 complete destructions of Jerusalem and several partial destructions have filled it in substantially. It isn't too inhabited because it still acts as a drainage system for the city, but there are still people living there. Mary's Sepulchre, for instance, is located there, as well as the tombs of Zachariah and Absalon.
Tomorrow we're headed out on a local geography field trip. We're seeing Jerusalem and the surrounding areas from 7 different angles. We should see Bethlehem in the distance, but we can hopefully get there in the time that we're here (It's only five miles away, but it's in the West Bank, there's a big concrete wall that they're building to try to separate Israel proper from the West Bank . . . well, I don't quite see what they're trying to accomplish. Oh well.)
Just to give you a heads up, in about 10 days we're headed to Egypt. I'm excited to tell you all about that :). Good night, I'm beat!

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Most of the students sang in the choir today in church, making it at least three times bigger than the rest of the congregation. We had a special visitor today, Truman G. Madsen and his wife, who are in town for the wedding of some muslim friends, taught our sunday school class. It was really fun. After church we all divided into groups and went to different sites before dinner. Eight of us went to the Garden of Gethsemene and the Church of all nations, that takes care of it. I've included a picture of the inside of the Church of All Nations.
The area that the friars consider the garden is actually about 100 feet square and is beautifully cultivated. Because of because of that side's neat rows of Olive Trees, I felt a stronger attachment to the other side of the church, where there was a bit more natural landscape and beautiful hedges and fences. It felt like it would be more like where Christ had been.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Mary's Tomb

The past two days have been incredible. Yesterday we went through a few more orientation sessions and then went on a tour of the city. Brother Whitchurch was our guide. Aren and Hazik, our executive and assistant directors went with us as well. It wasn't as much of an in-depth tour as it was another orientation session, but a lot more interesting. We were stopped by no less than 6 merchants who are overjoyed to have us back. Even though the center didn't tell them, they knew a ton about our arrival. They've been waiting for us for a long time and all insist that all the students come to them.
We passed by the garden tomb and several of us plan to go there tomorrow. We got to see the inside of the Old city for the first time. Honestly, it was cramped, but rather than detract from the experience, it added to it. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where dozens of religions believe that Christ was buried, is right off the marketplace in the Christian Quarter of the city. The old city is in no way flat. Very little of it is accessible by any vehicle other than your feet. There are paving stones that date back to the time of the Romans. Outside the newest gate, Jaffa Gate, the atmosphere completely changes. Instead of a bustling open-air market, suddenly you're in a busy city center surrounded by cars, busses, and taxis. The funniest thing I saw was a 50 year-old Hacidic Jew (very Orthodox) walk down the street with an iPod in his ears.
Today, after our first classes, we took some of the afternoon and went to different parts of the city in groups. Several went to the Garden Tomb, some went to the Garden of Gethsemene, and some went to the Western Wall. My group went to see the tombs of Zachariah and Abdalom, but weren't able to find them. Instead, we decided to stop by the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. Even though we don't believe many of the things that other religions do, the spirit of reverence there was inspiring. The grotto steps went down at least 50 feet and there were beautiful, but unlit chandeleirs. The ceiling was dark with mold and smoke from incense, and there was a large shrine with plexiglass covering where Mary is believed to be buried. We didn't take any pictures inside out of respect, but it was beautiful outside as well.
Tomorrow we have our church meetings. Sunday here is just another day of the week and Friday and Saturday constitute the weekend. After church I hope to go to the Garden Tomb, so I'll let you know what it's like.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

We're Here!!

Well, we're finally in Israel. After 29 travel-hours, a near loss of baggage and passports by members of the group, and, let's face it, many sleepless hours on the plane (I don't do well with sleeping non-horizontally), we landed in Tel Aviv's Ben Huron airport 4:00 local time. We're all in one piece, all properly admitted into the country, and have everything we came with. I'm writing this in a bus on the main freeway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The freeway looks exactly like one in the states, even the signs are the same colors, we even just passed a McDonalds in a strip mall just off the road. It should take about an hour to get to the center. Our bus driver is an Palestinian Muslim named "Eddie." Apparently the students have given him the nick-name "Fast Eddie" over the years. Brothers and Sisters Whitchurch and Huntington were there to pick us up at the airport.
Most of the signs here are Trilingual, Arabic, Hebrew, and English, so it's really hard to get lost. I just regret not knowing how to read hebrew, because I've already seen bumper stickers and billboards that would have been interesting, had I known what they were saying.
Tel Aviv is on the Coastal Plain, right near sea level. It's the epitomy of a mediterannean city. When you're there you feel like you could be in any other area on the Mediterranean. There are bars, pubs, nude beaches (so I've been told) and the works. You wouldn't think of it as being in Israel. Jerusalem is at about 2500 feet, so we're climbing quite a bit. The Geography and architecture are beautiful. The principal difference between freeways here and in the states is that this one is beautiful. There are beautifully landscaped hills surrounding the freeway, each landscaping job is done with the rocks that were taken from the same hill while they were building the freeway. Even the Mcdonalds seems to grow out of the same rock that composes the hills around it.
We just arrived in Jerusalem. Even though it's 50 miles, there isn't much of a break in the cities. I think it's safe to say that real estate is in high demand. THERE'S THE DOME OF THE ROCK! The sign on the side of the road to the center says "Mormon University" :) . We're going into dinner and orientation sessions now. I'll let you know more later.