Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Early Days

It took a a long time and a lot of effort. It took hours and hours of packing to make two suitcases and a carryon bag weiging in a fifty, forty, and eight pounds respectively. It took over fourteen hours of plane travel--including two tickets, a passport that never seemed to be in the same place twice, a five hour layover, a long game of Uno, several rounds on the in-flight beverage service, two movies, lots of pretzels, and hardly any sleep at all. It was long and hard and hot and tiring--but I have made it.

I am here. In Israel. In Jerusalem--the Holy City. I still can hardly believe it. I look out the great big glass windows of the center and I can see the Old City walls, the Dome of the Rock, the Horva Synagogue, three Christian churches, and a whole crowd of limestone buildings and paving stone streets. I have to mentally remind myself that this isn't a picture from national geographic. The wall, the streets, the Golden glittering dome--it's allreally there. The real thing.

My first moments in the Holy Land--sleep deprived and disoriented and happy. Hurrah for Israel!

I settled in alright yesterday and crashed into bed after so little sleep (four hours the night before we left and a few hours of uncomfortable half-sleep on the plane). I get the feeling that jet lag isn't going to be much of a problem, seeing as being tired at night has been absolutely no problem at all.

Today we were oriented. A lot. I believe the current count is six orientations we've done so far, and we have a security orientation briefing tomorrow that will bring it to a lucky seven. It was a little tedious sometimes, but I've been glad to have it. Being in such a different, totally unfamiliar place was a little daunting at first, but all the orienting has begun to make me comfortable again.

My favorite orientation was this morning--the forced-march walking tour of the Old City and surrounding environs. I still just couldn't believe what I was hearing. Just listen to the directions we took leaving the center:

Walk down Mt. Scopus and cross the Kidron Valley. Proceed to Saladiin street until you've passed the money changers and come to the next block. Take a left at the remnants of the Jerusalem rebellion wall and proceed up the next street. Take your first right and enter the city through Damascus Gate. At the fork, hang a left for the Dome of the Rock, stay straight for the Jewish Quarter, or go right for the Holy Seplechure.

Can you believe that? Our guide took us right at the fork, but we didn't get to the Dome of the Rock today, but I believe we're heading to the Western Wall in the next day or two, we'll see it then. What we did do was climb five flights of stairs to the top of an Austrian Hostel and looked out over the City. It was just breathtaking. Unfortunately, they Center faculty told us not to bring cameras, since the walk would be fast and we would be coming back anyway. They were right of course--I will be going back to the Austrian Hostel soon for both the view and the Sachertorte.

We passed through the Old City, descending through a dark monastary and taking a brief look at the Church of the Holy Seplechure. I got a real sense for what a sacred place it is as I watched as a woman with her hair covered in a scarf bent down beside the annointing rock, brushed her rosaries over the oil on the stone, then leaned forward almost prostrate to kiss the place where she believed the body of Christ had lain to be annointed for burial. I don't know whether that is the spot where Christ lay, but it no longer matters to me. That woman's quiet devotion has made the place sacred for me. When we return for our more extensive tour I will kneel there myself, thiking of her faith and of my savior Jesus Christ, and say a prayer.

We left the city through Joppa Gate and found ourselves in East Jerusalem. Our guide told us that East and West Jerusalem aren't really on the East and West ends of the city, but that they name is still appropriate in the sense of "East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet." The division is very stark. Every sign in West Jerusalem was in Arabic, but suddenly in East side they were all in Hebrew. The first thing we saw was the old city hall--the side of which was riddled with bullet holes. It was a chilling reminder that amidst all of the color and richness and bustle of the city, there was a frightening past and dangerous present as well. I feel perfectly safe, though. The scariest thing that has happened was a series of loud bangs the other night that I worried were gunshots at first--until a kind Center faculty member put me at ease by explaining that the Palestinians were shooting off fireworks. East Jerusalem turned out to be very pleasant. We picked up some gelato and enjoyed it at a sidewalk table before heading back.

I did a lot of homework this afternoon amidst more orientations. Most of my reading time I spent on the patio outside my room with four other girls, enjoying the sunshine and breeze, listening to the chanted strains of the call to prayer, and eating jellybeans (thanks, Mom). When I needed a break I walked through the gardens and saw the old olive presses and snuck some grapes from the grape arbor. This evening I went back to the gardens again with Katie after dinner and watched a flaming golden sun descend over the city. One of my new friends--Lorina--took individual shots of us and another friend (Kate) against the backdrop of the sunset and the Old City. Speaking of, I will post what pictures  I can soon--I can't do it here at the Center, but when I have some more shots on the camera I will walk over to the Hebrew University and get them up for your viewing pleasure.

There are eighty two of us here, and I haven't a hope of remembering everybody's names at this point--but since everyone else is in the same boat it's perfectly alright. I've made several good friends, whom you will probably hear about much more from here on out. Suffice it to say for the moment that they are all great people and are making my time here pleasant and cheerful already.

Now I must go complete my reading--ten more pages to go! I also need to braid my hair and get some sleep so I will be ready for more to come tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A New Adventure

I am about to go on the adventure of a life time.

This last year I applied twice to go study abroad in Israel--the Holy Land. The first time I was flat out rejected. The second time I was placed on a waiting list in the eighteenth slot. It was better than a rejection, though, so I celebrated a partial victory. And I waited. And waited... and waited. By June I had moved to place eight, and I rejoiced at the possibilities. Three weeks later I hadn't moved at all, and despair sat in again. After the final payment deadline had passed, I had moved to place five--though I doubted whether anyone would drop after that point.

I was wrong.

A week later I called the Jerusalem Center representatives in Provo and was informed that I had moved to place three. The next day they called me to say that they were sorry for the late notice but it happened that they had an opening for me and would I like to take it?

Let me think about--YES. Hooray! Victory! I went to my Heavenly Father with praise and thanksgiving that night--He knows more than anyone how much I desired this opportunity and how difficult the waiting was. I am so grateful that He saw fit to try my patience (which of all my qualities needed refinement) and to give me this gift  when I was ready.

So it is settled. Two weeks from today I will board a plane with some one hundred and fifty students and will fly to Tel Aviv, then go by to arguably the holiest and most revered city in all the civilized world.


As you can see, my happy little blog has been the recipient of a complete makeover, both in appearance and title. From now until mid-December it will become the annals of my discoveries and adventures and wonderings and everyday magic in the Holy Land. I begin now, as opposed to before we leave, so that when I look back someday I will know what happened as I prepared to go.

I welcome you to join me on my adventures in these little writings. I can't wait to see what the next few months will bring. 
Ahlan wa sahlan--you are most welcome here. Ma'assalaama, my friends! 'Til next time...

The Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies--my new home.