Saturday, September 1, 2012

First Adventures in the Old City

Hi, everyone! I'm back again! I want to keep posting frequently, and so far I'm keeping up pretty well (though admittedly the fact that my blogger tabs are in Hebrew does not make things easy).

Yesterday I finally went against my studious nature and decided to forgo homework in favor of a brief excursion into the city. I went with about ten to twelve students, and we headed out at about 3:30 (we are not permitted into the city until then on Fridays since it is a day of worship for the Muslims, which sometimes makes the city a little crazy). We had inteded to go to the money changers to stock up on some shekels only to remember at the top of Saladin street that they are closed on Fridays. Instead we took a sharp left and entered the Old City by way of Herod's Gate. Usually we would go through Damascus Gate, since the main roads to about everything there is to see are down that way, but we wanted to do a little exploring off the beaten track.

We ended up in a quiet residential area, where a kind (or possibly annoyed) Arab pointed us in the direction of the Via Dolorosa, the road tradition holds that Jesus walked on his way to Golgotha. We stopped to study a map while a procession of Christian pilgrims in t-shirts and shorts walked slowly down the way, most holding hands while a select few carried a small-scale replica of the cross on their shoulders. I imagine they were headed for the Holy Seplechure, walking out the way that Jesus walked.

In the end we found our way to the Western Wall. The area in front of the wall is partitioned into men's and women's sides (which Katie and I discovered by trial and error--whoops). The women's side was smaller and very crowded and a little noisy, but also very reverent in its way. Women sat and stood everywhere, some with heads covered and some without, some reading the psalms, some praying, and some chantng hymns in Hebrew. A Bar Mitzvah celebration was going on over the partition on the men's side, which involved some jovial song as a young man of twelve or so was hoisted onto the shoulders of the men and carried while the men danced.

The Western Wall from a distance--women on the left, men on the right. Does it seem a little disproportionate to you?
A kind, American-born Jewish woman near me was telling another visitor about the traditions associated with the wall. When she had finished with the other traveler, I asked her if she might repeat what she had been saying to me. She ended up teaching our whole group of girls about the Western Wall and its significance to the Jews. She said that part of the Jewish faith is the original commandments given to Adam, Noah, and Moses--in basic form, not to kill, not to commit adultery, to keep a system of law and order, to worship God, and to (one other--I forget, I'm so sorry. I'll post it if I remember). She said that as Christians and Muslims also keep these rules, they are also heading in the right direction for Heaven (which holds true with our faith and the teachings of Mohammed). She told us that without the temple, the Jews feel that there is something missing from their world and from their faith (I think we all had a moment of cursing the non-prosylatizing agreement just then). She told us also that the coming of the Messiah would happen whether we were worthy of it or not, but that the building of the temple would require righteousness, repentance, and all people turning to God.

Wow. I guess we have more in common than I thought. Her words gave me hope. I think that when, someday, the gospel finally comes to this land, some of the Jews may find that it fills the hole the destruction of their dear temple left behind. I joined both Jewish and Christian women alike in making my way to the Western Wall to place my hand upon it and bow my head in a few moment's quiet prayer.

We made our away out of the city by the round-a-bout route, which I have decided is the only way to go around here. We took some fun pictures with a bunch of collumns in a sort of exhibit below street level. We walked by tons of shops--including one with backpacks hanging from the ceiling and walls, a spice shop displaying a pyramid of different colored powdered spices topped with a miniature model of the Dome of the Rock, and a candy shop that sported more varieties of gummy candy than I've ever seen in my life (I'll be going back there before too long, I think). Eventually we made it back up the hill to the center, where I gratefully went to the cool of my room to shower and get ready for dinner.

The Haram Es-shariif a'la curry and cinnamon. Cool, no?
That evening I took up studying for Ancient Near East class with Katie and Mary. While we were at it, Mary got the idea to write a song with the dates and events we were memorizing. So we did it. Annie soon joined us and I broke out my jelly beans and swedish fish, and it became quite a party. It took us over two hours, but we put out a good two minute song about our Ancient Near East timeline. The song goes along with the tune of the Disney song "I Won't Say I'm In Love" from Hercules, inspired by the line "...that's ancient history--been there, done that!" My favorite round of the chorus goes "Who can find the ten tribes / lost in 722? / Babylon takes Nineveh / Lehi knows just what to do..." My other favorite line is "Then Alex dies 323... / Then after that comes Pompey / Seluecids 198 not heaven / the fighting Maccabees 167!" I ellicited a lot of laughter by suggesting (in all seriousness) that the "fighting Maccabees" sounds to me like a college football team. And your opponents today are the guests, the Syrian Seluecids, against your home team, the FIGHTING MACCABEES! YAAAAY! I drew a comic along those lines that everyone got a kick out of and that is now hanging on my bulliten board with two of my necklaces and my center ID card. It was a great night. We are not joing to forget our timeline dates anytime soon (at least not before Friday, which is when we're testing on them) and I really came to love my roommates as we spent our evening being silly and having a great time together. When we finished we were shocked to discover that it was 11:30. Time flies when you're having fun! I'm not sure whether I am at liberty to post all of the song, but I'll find out soon (and may or may not post it anyway. We'll see).

The muses hard at work on our next big hit.

Today was the Sabbath. On Saturday. Yes. And apparently the jet lag finally caught up with our apartment, because we woke up at 8:35--twenty five minutes before choir pratice. Oops. Cue the mad scramble for dresses and makeup and mirror space! Yay! The meeting was neat--we heard testimony from members from Chile, Russia, Honduras, and the USA. I bore mine in Relief Society. I also got a blessing today from the Branch President. I had some pretty bad anxiety attacks yesterday and the day before and wanted some extra help so that they wouldn't get worse or make my trip too miserable. President Schafer talked with me for a while to get to know me and my situation, then proceeded to bless me with God's peace and comfort and healing. I feel much better now. I don't think the anxiety will be as big a problem before. I am so grateful for the leaders in God's church--I know that as long as I am part of this church, I will always have someone to turn to for help and guidance.

I just came away from a delicious fast Sabbath dinner in the Oasis (complete with ice cream) and a very statisfying nap down in the room. It has been a wonderful day.

More soon! Love always! Shalom!

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