Sunday, October 28, 2012

Highlight Reel of Finals Week (and then some)

Yeah, we’re doing it this way again. Rachel’s a slacker on the blog—no big deal.  I do have a valid excuse this time, though. In the past two weeks I have had to juggle five tests, two papers, a field trip, several reading assignments, a field trip, and some part-time volunteer work as both a storyteller and a shepherd (don’t ask—I’ll get there in a minute). I should hope it is understandable, then, that my happy little blog has taken a backseat this week. I promise I didn’t disappear into the Judean Wilderness—I’m still here and still kickin’. So let’s do this. Here are the highlights of the past week and a half, for your viewing pleasure.

#1) I took my Ancient Near East midterm last Wednesday. I spent the two days prior to that trying to cram as much information into my head as possible about the whole history of civilization from 8000 BC through the fall of the Persian Empire (332 or so). I went over study guides, made many timelines and family trees, reread sections of the packet, Googled what I was too lazy (or too tired) to find in said packet, and conducted a study group the evening prior. By the time we were done, I could tell you anything you wanted to know about cuneiform, Hittites, chariots, ancient irrigation systems, Kathleen Kenyon, the Hyksos emperors, any Assyrian king that did anything worth doing, and the names, specialties, and (maybe) personalities of the superstars of four or five different ancient pantheons. I also felt like my brain was going to explode if anybody told me ONE MORE DATE or EVENT anywhere south of the BC line. I am happy to report that all that studying paid off quite nicely. I was at first a little put off by my 87%--but when I found out that the class average was a 76% I was very happy indeed. Brother Stratford is letting us gain back partial credit by doing some test corrections, so I should be able to earn back a few more percentage points from that. On the whole, I am pleased.

#2) Last week we watched a movie for Israel class called “Sallah Shabaty.” It starred the same guy who played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in later years. It was a very funny show—and all the funnier because I got the jokes about Kibbutzim and Israeli immigrants and all of that from having learned about them in class. Speaking of Fiddler, we watched that one for the Friday night movie that same week. I quickly discovered that I have the show memorized. I can literally quote almost every line in the whole two and a half hour musical. I may or may not have actually done so under my breath (apologies to the girl sitting next to me).

#3) Our fieldtrip this week was AWESOME. We went to a Biblical nature preserve called Neot Kedumim (Nee-ote Kdu-meem = Beautiful Past). There I got to have some practice at my lifelong ambition of being a shepherd. None of us had really done anything like that before (though when asked May offered that she had a little lamb once). For having had no experience, we did pretty well. We took turns in groups and actually hearded a dozen or so sheep and goats around various obstacles and into a pen at the end. I carried little Abby Stratford around because she wanted to see the sheep but was too scared to go very close on her own. We got the sheep around just fine, albeit a little slower than the first group. My group had a special job after that, though—we were to separate the sheep from the goats. It was not easy—they simply did not want to go separate ways. I think maybe that’s what it will be like at the judgment day. Heavenly Father will have to figuratively separate the “sheep and goats,” but it will be hard for us to part from each other. We talked about that a little after we let the sheep go their own ways. Brother Judd brought a sign that said “I Love Ewe,” so of course I had to get a picture with the sign and the sheep. That’s what my name means, after all—“beautiful ewe.”
We did a lot of other things at Neot Kedumim as well. We observed different plants and learned about their biblical significance, including an almond tree, reeds, and fig trees (out of the leaves of which our guide fashioned what she called a “Biblical bikini”). We learned about hyssop and ground dried hyssop leaves into powder with mortars and pestles. We made pita dough and fried it up for lunch (Jackie did ours Navajo fry bread style—nobody else had any sort of experience with this sort of thing). We dipped our pitas in olive oil and date honey, and also ate some kind of lentil stew and hyssop herbal tea, all of which we made ourselves. It was all really good, actually—I could definitely go for the Biblical Brunch now and then.
After lunch we visited a Torah scribe and saw a real Torah scroll (it was huge!). Writing the Torah is a very sacred and very precise and very time consuming art that has been passed down from father to son since before the destruction of Jerusalem—so it was very cool to see it in person. Our last stops were to see a working cistern (from which we drew water) and to press olives. The olive press was another eye opening experience. We placed the flat baskets full of crushed olives one on top of the other, then started twisting the huge screw down harder and harder, increasing the pressure. As the pressure became greater, dark red olive oil began to seep through the baskets and trickle down the sides, running off into a basin at the bottom. I was shocked—it truly looked as though the baskets were bleeding. It made me understand the idea of Gethsemane so much more—the atoning olive press.

#4) I did not get out much these past weeks, as you can imagine. When I did depart the center, it was mostly for brief intervals—a walk around the city, some olive wood hunting, a stop by Aladdin’s, that sort of things. I went with Eliesha and Sarah and Liz and Kate (not Katie—different girl) down to the 7-to-11 for an ice cream run not long after our Israel final, and that was fun—we got back just in time to sit on the grass and watch the sunset. The other really fun outing was Thursday after our Old Testament final. I had planned to watch our rebroadcast of the foreign policy debate, but after about ten minutes of listening to Obama and Romney say essentially the same things about Syria, I sought bluer skies. I ended up joining a few others to go play a game of soccer down the street with some of the local Palestinian kids. My team won, and I even facilitated a goal or two (though the only thing I actually managed to get into the goal was my shoe). The Palestinian kids—Hassan, Yazzan, and Roget—were amazing players, tossing the ball around between their feet as naturally as walking. I felt perfectly clumsy by comparison, but I fought hard for my team—even taking a speeding ball to the chest (I would like to tell you it was as brave and self sacrificing an act as it sounds—but actually it was just me  being conveniently in the way and having the breath knocked clean out of me). It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. We bid goodbye (or ma’asalaama) to our new friends and walked back to the center in time for lunch—breathless and sweaty and dust-covered and triumphant.

#5) This weekend is a Muslim feast celebrating the pilgrimage to Mecca. Almost every store in the Muslim quarter and East Jerusalem is closed—which makes it problematic to visit the money changers when you need to.

#6) I have discovered something just as delicious as the peanut butter and nutella pita—if not even better. It is my new favorite: warm, toasted pita with honey butter. Oh, yes—heaven on earth.

#7) I am now an official employee of the Shekel Shack—or, rather, an official intern. I had my first shifts on the job last week. I think I am going to really enjoy being part of the team—it really is a fun thing. We sell all sorts of things—pitas, candy (chocolate and otherwise), drinks, Magnum bars, granola bars, pudding, pringles, bowls of cereal, and non-edibles such as soap and stamps and envelopes. My first night was a Blues Night with music from Paul and Michael. We were kept especially busy that night for a few reasons. 1) Because Paul and Michael are both very funny and everyone wanted to hear them bust out the blues; 2) Because an anonymous donor (aka Brother Stratford) provided for everyone to have a free drink; and 3) Because Paul and Michael had promised a song that included the name of every single girl at the center. There are some fifty-three girls here, so that’s nothing to turn your nose up at. The totally delivered. The song was about studying for Brother Stratford’s exam and was entitled “I Have Fifty-nine Problems and a Woman Isn’t One of Them.” I was also thrilled that instead of saying the name Rachel once and having it serve for all of us, they actually said it four times. It’s nice to be individually recognized.

#8) I called my family last week, which is always fun. I also surprised my Grandma and Grandpa Pullan with a call from Jerusalem. It made my day just to hear my Grandma get all excited when she realized it was me. She got Grandpa on the line as well and I talked to both of them for over half an hour. I have missed my family very much--it was so good to talk to them. Along this same vein, some traveling friends from my home ward came to the Jerusalem Branch yesterday and brought me a hand-decorated care package from home. It contained notes and letters from most of my immediate and extended Pullan family and pictures from some of the little ones (thank you, Kathrynne and Justin, especially). There was a whole scroll of pictures and ink stamps from my brother Nathan and a typed letter from my Aunt Amy and my cousin Ellie, who was recently baptized. There was a card from my Grandma Molen also (thanks, Grandma). The box also contained generous amounts of Halloween candy, a few Halloween/Fall decorations (including a picture of a turkey to color), my watch (which I left on the dresser the day we left despite many reminders not to do just that) and a refill of my second best friend, omeprozol (second only to Ibuprophen). I feel like a little piece of my home and family was delivered to Jerusalem. Thanks, everyone.

#9) I survived finals week. I did it. I went through ALL my finals and so far have gotten As on all of them. It has been long and busy and stressful, but I'm finally coming off the end of it. Now we are starting a new block, with only New Testament and Ancient Near East and field trips to occupy our time. I will miss Brother Judd's class, but Brother Schade is great so far, too. It will be a fantastic new adventure.

Sorry--I know that was a lot. Thanks all for tuning in. I want to give you details about our Arab Culture night from last week as well, but I will do that in a separate post for the sake of time. We leave early tomorrow morning for our four-day adventure in Jordan, so there will soon be many adventures to share from that as well. Love you all!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Name and a Memorial

Warning: this post is not approved for all audiences. Parental guidance is suggested for young children. It’s nothing profane or anything like that—but it may be that only the adults will want to hear about the holocaust museum.

The words “yad veshem” mean “a name and a memorial. They are taken from a scripture in Isaiah, as follows: “I will give themi n my house and within my walls, a monument and a name (yad veshem) better than sons or daughters. I will give them an everlasting name that shall not perish.” Yad Veshem is dedicated to the six million Jews who perished during the holocaust. Visiting there was not easy, nor is it easy to write about. I’ll cover the basics, at least, for anyone who cares to hear about it.

We walked around the grounds some first with Ophir as our guide. To enter the museum, we walked along a walkway lined with trees. It’s called the walk of the “Righteous Among the Nations” or the “Righteous Gentiles.” Each tree is dedicated to some brave non-Jew who helped to hide or save or rescue those who were caught up the holocaust. Beyond that was a courtyard, where stood a monument to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising—one of the few Jewish revolts from those years. There Ophir told us how in Israel, at least, those uprisers were given a lot of glory and honor because they were willing to act and fight back, while the victims were looked down upon to an extent for going “like sheep to the slaughter.” It’s not fair, or course, but there it is.

We visited a monument to the children who perished—a dark, ethereal room filled with the reflected images of candles, while somewhere overhead a muffled recording read off some of the names of the dead. It was rather abstract, but also peaceful in a way. On our way out from there we passed a tree that had grown from a cutting of a tree that grew by the Jewish ghetto Terezin, which was the ghetto my holocaust play took place in senior year—and as such it was particularly special for me. Then we finally entered the museum.
It was not what I had expected. The walls and floors were of cement, which wasn’t particularly inviting, but it was well lit by windows high above our heads. I went through the rooms mostly alone, though members of my group were never far away. I read about the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party to power and saw instances of their propaganda. I watched as the anti-Semitism became worse and worse, from street abuse to forced moves into ghettos to the first of the mass killings, then finally to the industrialized concentration camps. I watched videos of testimony from those who had survived to tell about it and were willing to share their stories. I saw the belongings of those who had perished—dolls, shoes, household silver, pocket watches, prayer books, even a pair of little girl braids. I was struck and horrified and saddened by so many things. A letter tossed from a train with instructions to the finder to give it to his family in case he should not come back… Pictures of young women no older than me waiting in a huddled group by a mass grave… A part of a Torah scroll, the Jew’s sacred scripture, along with a quote of a letter to a purse and bag maker that the writer had several rolls of good parchment to sell to him, and though it had a little writing on the back it could easily by washed off… So many things. I had to rush through parts of it. I could have spent a week down there and not seen everything. I had just enough time at the end to walk around the big, dome-ceilinged memorial room, where photographs of those who perished were displayed, alive and smiling, on the arched rotunda above.

As I said, it was not what I expected. The primary reason for that is that I did not cry. I had expected to, but didn’t. I felt distanced from all of it, and was actually a little disappointed about that. I discovered later what a blessing it really was. Two occasions made me think as much.
The first was at our next stop—Mt. Herzel, a military cemetery and the sacred ground of the Zionist movement. The founder of Zionism (Herzel) is buried at the top of the hill. We did lunch there and went to a few sites while Ophir lectured to us. I learned a ton, especially about the traditional vs. secular conflicts within the Jewish community (for example, Mt. Herzel is like a temple to the secular Zionists—hallowed ground- while many Jews still look to the temple mount only for the holiest site in Israel). At one site Ophir asked for a volunteer to read a poem, and I was nominated (apparently my storytelling has earned me a reputation). I was still feeling drained from the museum, but of course I said I would do it. He gave me the poem to look over while he lectured. I glanced it over and new immediately that I could read this. It was from an Israeli poem called “City of Slaughter.” This part described a pogrom—and with no effort to sugar coat or ease anything. The principle abuse described was the raping of Jewish women in this town, and went on to make scathing commentaries of the passiveness shown by the Jewish men. It wasn’t obscene necessarily, but it was blunt and pointedly graphic. I was so horrified by the image it described just by reading it silently—I knew by the second stanza that I couldn’t say it out loud. When the time came and Ophir indicated that I was to read, I said something like “I would prefer not to read it,” and somebody else volunteered. As we listened I broke down entirely and wept. For some reason the poem had managed to hit home in a way the museum had not.

The other occasion was later. I had heard a couple of my teachers and a speaker mention a man named Mengelle in association with Nazi atrocity. I looked up his name to see who he was—and almost wished I hadn’t. Even the Wikipedia article disturbed me. Mengelle was essentially the mad scientist of the Nazis, specializing in human experimentation and the like. I won’t go into details. Suffice it to say that this man was not like Hitler, calling the shots from a distance—he was hands-on, heartless, up-close-and-personal evil.

After reading about him and feeling the impact of the harsh descriptions in the poem, I realized why I hadn’t cried in the museum. Yad Veshem was well lit, airy, and pleasant. The horrific events of the past were described in matter-of-fact, simple and non-descriptive ways. It did not pull me down into the dark and twisted world of the holocaust, but rather allowed me to view it from a safe distance. I didn’t realize what a blessing that was until I had experienced the dismay and horror and grief a little more acutely. Suddenly I was grateful for the way the museum had allowed me to experience the holocaust—closely, not excluding or covering up anything, but in relative peace and safety.

One other comfort came that evening. For FHE, we went up to the Dome Theatre and listened to a holocaust survivor speak. Mr. Einzelberg was from South America, where he fled after the war—so two of our boys (brothers, actually) translated for us from Spanish. He told us his story start to finish. He survived no fewer than 9 camps (some work camps, some concentration camps) and a death march. He even showed us the scar on his arm from his time in Auschwitz. He was liberated just shy of being killed and weighing in at a mere 79 lbs with many others at the end of the war and was sent to an American camp to recover Despite the subject matter, Mr. Einzelberg was surprisingly cheerful. He insisted that the one thing that had really got him through was working hard wherever he was. Hard work, hard work… that was the battle cry. I told you in my previous post how he managed to make us laugh. I think it was just what we needed after such a hard day—to see someone who had actually been there being happy and making others happy as well.

Well, there you have it. It was not any easy day, but I am glad we went. As we walked back from the museum along the walk of the Righteous Among the Nations, I was given some hope that although there is great evil in the world, there is great good in it, too. In hindsight, I have also thought that the name Yad Veshem is an appropriate one in more ways than just a memorial marker. Having been through the museum and seen more of what happened, I will never forget those perished—and so I have become a memorial to their names as well. It is the best memorial there is. In a way, if the memories of all those people (and all those many others who have perished on this earth), they will continue to live.

Thanks for listening in, if you went through all of that. Love you all—and I’ll write more soon.

Adventures at Eilat

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for—the snorkeling trip post.
Last Sunday (our free day) we all rose up early in the morning and took in a very early breakfast—around 5:30am. We all grabbed a lunch, packed our suits and our ANE study guides, and boarded the bus at 6:45. Everyone on the program went except one—Stephen—and I never was really clear about why he had decided not to go. It ended up being a blessing, though—but we’ll get to that later. We pulled away from the center in the early hours and started for the Red Sea. I occupied my time with reading, eating the banana bread I suck out of the oasis, joining some nearby bus riders in going over the history of the near east from 8000 BC onward for Dr. Stratford’s midterm, and slept a bit. I also joined a few girls in a fascinating conversation with our bus driver, who turned out to be not only a very friendly person but also a Quran chanter. He chanted us a few aya right there on the bus.
It took us nearly four hours, but we finally ended up at Eilat (ay-lot) on the very southern-most tip of Israel (we found out in hindsight that if we had driven another three miles we would have been in Egypt—but I’m glad we didn’t know that then. Brother Jackson would have killed us if anyone had even attempted it). We got our snorkel gear and found a pavilion to call home base. We were divided into three groups to take turns with the snorkels, so as my group wasn’t scheduled for a couple hours I entertained myself in other ways.
First thing, I walked down to the shore and took in the view. It was breathtaking. The water was the bluest  I have ever seen, light near the shore and dark further in. The sky was clear, with only a few scattered cotton ball clouds. Wind surfers and paragliders dotted the sky with their multicolored sails.  Where the water began, I discovered hundreds of multi-colored pebbles shimmering under the water instead of sand. The sun was shining, a gentle breeze blew, and the water was cool and inviting. It was all so vibrant and colorful and perfect it hardly seemed real. It felt like I had jumped into a painting.
I went swimming for a bit (succeeding in elevating the salinity of my entire body, I imagine) and ate lunch with some friends at the pavilion. Before too long it was my turn to snorkel. I walked to the end of the pier, pulled the mask tight over my face and popped the snorkel into my mouth, and slipped into the cool, blue sea. Instantly a new world opened up before me. A wall of a coral reef stood before me, teaming with life. I swam slowly along, feasting my eyes on everything—every colorful fish (beta fish, blue rays, you name it), every sea cucumber, every coral. I even saw a huge school of tiny silver fish swimming as one great cloud. I found myself having thoughts that would have instantly qualified me as either a nerd or slightly crazy if anyone else could have heard them. “Hey look—brain coral! Cool!” or, upon seeing a little clownfish , “It’s Nemo! I found him!” Every now and then I would splash around a little from the surface just to create beautiful silver air bubbles and let them tickle my face. It was all so beautiful, and so quiet (all except for the “hss—hooh—hss—hooh” of my breathing through the snorkel. I stayed down almost the whole hour, coming up only to spit salt water out of my snorkel or clear my goggles. It was amazing to be part of such a beautiful little world—one that I would never have discovered otherwise.
After I had dried myself out and hydrated my system again, I took to the beach. I sat in a plastic lawn chair on the shore and sipped mango juice and did some reading and let the golden afternoon sun warm me up and dry me off. I had previously been severely disappointed to discover that I had left my novel on the bus—so instead I read my Israel class assignment about the holocaust for a bit, but ended up giving it up. The article was fascinating and I enjoyed it. Still, as I glanced from my homework packet to the beautiful ocean view, I could just picture a young lawyer-to-be sitting the stands of Lavell Edwards stadium reading a Torts book, and wondered what my father would think if he could see me now.
After a while I joined a circle of friends swapping “most rebellious thing you’ve ever done” stories and stayed there until it was time to leave. We regretfully left the beach at around 4:00 and boarded the busses again. I watched the shore as we left—I knew that although I was tired and ready for dinner now, it would not be long before I would long to be here again.
We did dinner on the way back (including ice cream—yum). I studied some more on the way back (though admittedly I was not very efficient), read my book some more, and did a little sleeping. Eventually we made it back just past 10:00. We all promptly went to bed—but a part of me was still in Eilat, discovering a magical world of fish and dancing with the paragliders over the waves of the Red Sea.
As a side note, I told you about the one student who didn’t go with us and stayed behind at the center--Stephen. He became violently ill late that afternoon, and over an hour before we reached the center he was rushed to the hospital and had his appendix taken out. We were all very happy that he hadn’t joined us—we didn’t have the center physician with us and wouldn’t have been able to help him. Everyday miracles again—we’re so glad Stephen is alright.
That's all for now! Ciao!!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tender Mercies at the JC

This week has been and will continue to be crazy. Next week will be the same. Crazy means hours of classes, even more hours of studying, five exams, and very little time in the city. Therefore, this post is dedicated to the things that have made this week not only bearable, but also a little sweeter.

1) Yesterday evening I came to dinner to find a marvelous surprise waiting for me--a bright pink envelope adressed to me from my darling little sister Lydia. She had sent me a colorful card with filled with her sweet, third-grade handwriting and her beautiful, heartfelt love. It took four stamps and probably a couple weeks to get it all the way around the world for me to read those few words, but they made my day. My little sister is one of the people I love most in this whole wide world. I prayed for her for so long as a child, and one of the happiest days of my life was the day she was born. It made me so happy to get her note--I will treasure it always.

2) I wrote an email to my best friend and worst enemy, Sasha Alexandra Cone (don't ask about the titles. I know it's a paradox--only she and I know why it's funny) and yesterday morning I checked my email to find that she wrote back. It was so good to hear from her again--it just made me smile all over. Sasha and I have known each other literally all our lives--or all of her life, more specifically--and our friendship is the sort that only a long list of  crazy, rough-and-tumble childhood (and adulthood) adventures can make. I have some amazing friends here at the center, but I sure have missed Sash. I was overjoyed to hear her voice, even via email.

3) The security office finally has calling cards! That work! It's fabulous! I went and picked mine up on Monday night and then, unable to wait any longer, I got up the next morning at 6am and called home. I talked to my dad for about forty-five minutes (Mom was at work and the kids were in bed). My father is one of the people I love most in this world. He has been my support and confidant and friend (though each of those words are woefully inadequate) for much of my life, especially now that I have grown older. He has always been the one I talk to when I have something on my mind or when I am stressed or when something is bothering me. It was so good to tell him the things I have been thinking and wondering about and hear him give me comfort and advice.

4) On Monday night we listened to a holocaust survivior speak. He was a survivor of no less than nine concentration camps and a death march and had lost his whole family to the camps. He was also surprisingly funny, if you can believe it. The following was some of the Q&A afterwards:

Q: Why did you decide to talk about your experience?
A: I like to talk!

Q: Why are you such a happy person?
A: My happiness comes from vengence on the Nazis--that I got through this whole thing and Hitler didn't.

His infaliable optomism was refreshing and pleasant after the low points at Y ad Veshem (more to come). It made everyone happier to talk to him.

5) Today I went out with three other girls. We swapped crazy stories and talked about bad dates. We moseyed our way down the streets to the Austrian Hospice, where we took some pictures and then sat in garden chairs on a small tower/parapet (could even be a pedestal--I don't know what to call it) under the trees and the blue afternoon sky and talked about what was on our "list" for a future husband. I haven't had such a downright girly conversation in quite a while. I loved it. I also bought a dress. Check off "local costume" on my list of desired soveniers. It's a bit big and needs some taking in, but I love the color.

6) I got through my Ancient Near East midterm today. I don't know how I did and I don't care--I'll find out soon enough. Right now I will revel in the victory of having done my best.

7) Three words: Chocolate Chip Cookies. Eliesha and Sarah and Liz and little Lisa Judd just brought in a whole plate of them. I am in heaven. The food here is amazing, but I think all of us have hit a little "I could really do with a ---insert American food: In-N-Out burger, piece of pizza, etc.--right now" phase. It's not that we don't enjoy falafels and schwarmas--we all do--but there is nothing like a sweet little taste of home. I never thought I could miss chocolate chip cookies--or enjoy one so much.

More details soon to come, I promsie. I have had homework and studies out my ears the last few days, so blogging was unceremoniously shoved onto the back burner. I still have tests to come, but with ANE done a lot of the pressure is off, so there will most certainly be time for posts about the snorkeling trip to the Red Sea and the field trip to Yad Veshem and Mt. Herzel.

Yes, I said snorkeling. In the Red Sea. Excited yet? I love a good cliff hanger.

Love you all! Ma'asalaama!

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Rest of the Week--Studies and Happiness

Things have looked up since the sadness of Tuesday. As an update on that note, Jackson flew home that night to be with his family this week. The students are going to fast for him and his family tomorrow--and we've certainly been praying hard for them all week.

This week has mostly been a week in. I went out for a time on Wednesday to run some errands--stop by the post office, get a few little olive wood hearts at Omar's for Relief Society birthdays, and wander about the Christian Quarter (OK, that wasn't an errand, but it was still fun). Besides that, I've been inside a lot. Classes have been going on full throttle, and if I said I have kept up on the reading I would be unabashedly lying. Am I behind? Absolutely. Have I done a lot? Of course. Am I OK with this? Yes. I aced my Hebrew exam, wrote a paper, read many many pages of the Old Testament, made up part of a study guide for Ancient Near East, attended all my classes, and tried to get whatever in on the other readings. I also took time out for meals, the Forum address, a little leisure reading, and (last night) to watch a chick flick ("While You Were Sleeping"). I call that a productive week.

The forum the other night was about the history of the Jerusalem Center, which was amazing. Brother Jackson has been in on this program since the very start, so it was really neat to hear from him. He actually gave what I know as the "Kearl Speech"--the orientation talk--to my mother when she came here, as it happens. We learned when the program in the Holy Land began. We saw pictures of the program's previous home, Ramat Rachel--a place with a great name, of course, but with bad food and very poor air conditioning, which made all of us very grateful for this beautiful building. We heard about when President Benson looked over the land with the first presidency and David Galbraith. President Tanner said to everyone "All those in favor of this piece of land please indicate by raising the right hand." Everyone did, including the prophet. We heard about the opposition that came up the moment the ground was broken--protests, demonstrations, signs that proclaimed "Mormons Stop Your Missionary Project Now!" and "No Mormons!" I was surprised to find that part of our modesty code is for our safety--in the past there have been violent outbreaks based on people scantily dressed at bus stations and the like. Eventually the local people began to accept us here. They found us to be trustworthy--true to our word that we would not proselytize -and the protests became less and less worth it. Now we are trusted and accepted almost everywhere we go in the city--we are well known and even well liked by many. The program is a wonderful

I was even more surprised to hear that the total number of applicants for this semester was 110 people. 81 actually got in and 29 were placed on the waiting list, of which I was one. If somebody told me when I was placed in the #18 waiting list spot that I was 18 out of 29, I might have dropped out. As it is I am so glad that I kept with it--and I realize exactly how fortunate I am. I felt that all the more when I told brother Jackson that I had moved off the waiting list two and a half weeks before the departure date and watched him literally jump back in surprise.

I went out today with Jackie and Katie to grab some juice at the 7-to-11 (Strawberry Banana nectar--very good, though mango is still my favorite) and to just walk around some. We went out the lower gate to the 7-to-11, then walked up around the hill to the upper gate. We walked single file along a curb for a stretch along the crest of the hill where there was no sidewalk, which made me feel like a balance beam gymnast. It was marvelous to get out into the cool afternoon air. I also spent some time this afternoon watching a bit of a movie while I mended a pair of pants (belonging to my friend Lindsay, who seemed terribly reluctant to ask me to sew on a button--I took her button while assuring her whole heartedly that it was no trouble at all). I really have done hardly any homework, but it has been nice after all the running around and hard work that has constituted the week. I am writing this while I watch the vice presidential debate, which is both making me very annoyed with Joe Biden and very appreciative of the lady behind the desk trying to make him be quiet.

Tonight's Friday Night Movie is Megamind, but I think I'm going to do something different--a holocaust movie, if I can arrange it. Our teachers have been preparing us this week for what will probably be the hardest field trip of the entire program--Yad Veshem, the Israeli holocaust museum. I plan to spend some time mentally preparing myself through the assignments as well as my own readings and thoughts for that experience. It won't necessarily be fun, but at the same time I am looking forward to being there and seeing these things, if only in the honor of those involved.

At any rate, there will be a movie tonight, which will be great no matter what it is. Right after class today, our amazing chef, Achmed, set up some tables in the Oasis and let us all help make dinner--so tonight we will all be eating food we made (the stuffed tomatoes, in my case). We will have a prayer meeting to open our group fast for Jackson and family, and then we will all enjoy the evening. There are more tests and lots of study to come, no question--but for now, the weekend is here, and we are all rejoicing.

More soon! Ma'asalaama!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Christmas in October...?

Yes, I know, it has little do to with anything, and I promise to write things of importance later, but for the moment I wanted to show this to you. This is the nativity I am currently in love with. I doubt I will get it--it costs about $350--but here it is anyhow.

The full set. It may be noted that the star winds up and plays "Silent Night."

The Holy Family

Wise men (sorry for the blurriness)

Shepherds plus donkey and camel (sans sheep, I guess--except for the one on his shoulder)

Well, there you have it. I really adore this one mostly for the figures. Many of the olive wood sets I've seen have tall, elongated figures that I don't like quite as much--this smaller, flowier, more delicate style is really attractive to me. It so happens that this is the same nativity Katie bought a couple weeks ago, but in my own defense I fell in love with it before she saw it--we just have similar tastes, I guess. I'll be going out with a group next week to do some nativity hunting at other places besides Omar's so we can all make educated choices. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Somber Day

Today has been very solemn and rather quiet here at the center. One of our students has received some terrible news. Jackson is one of my marvelous home teachers--a kind and sweet and enthusiastic young man (our one and only non-RM) who loves Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. We were informed at announcements today that last night his father took his own life.

We were all stunned, and no one said a word as we left the forum for linen exchange. I don't think I've ever seen everyone so quiet. Nobody knew quite what to say. We were all heartbroken for Jackson. He was keeping a low profile, staying in his room for the moment--and rightly so. I wouldn't have wanted a lot of attention either.

As the compassionate service leader and because I love Jackson, I wanted to find a way to do something for him. I thought we might be able to do what we do for birthdays--writing happy notes to the lucky boy or girl--for Jackson. Within ten minutes of my making to suggestion to Sister Bench, the project was under way. We collected over sixty-five notes within the next few hours--one from almost everyone on the program. Sister Bench put them in an envelope to send along with him when he goes home for the funeral. He plans to rejoin us afterwards, but when exactly we aren't sure. I also got to give him a hug when I saw him this afternoon. He needed it.

Anyway--besides all that the day has been good. Classes went well even though I hadn't finished the reading (this is aparently becoming a regular thing--I should fix that). I found our lessons in Israel and Palestine fascinating, as they were both getting into the realm of Zionism, but from different perspectives. I am ashamed to admit that I feel alseep for about fifteen minutes of Bashir's class. I feel so badly for him sometimes--if I was him I wouldn't want to teach our class. The two hour block after lunch is a terrible one for staying alert.

I did not go out today, but probably will for a little while tomorrow. I spent most of the afternoon on my bed, reading the writings of Isaiah. I can't believe I haven't studied this book in depth before. I am in awe of Isaiah and the Lord with every new chapter. I officially love Isaiah.

I must be off to dinner. More tomorrow!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Adventures in Dark Tunnels and City Streets

OK, so first things first. General Conference. It was the fourth mass-broadcast that has been done with all the students at the center. The first was our 5am BYU football game. The second was the AMAZING CES devotional by Elder Holland (which Katie and I accidentally missed half of and then rewatched in the Green Room just afterward). The third was the Presidential debates of last week, which were excellent and extremely informative to the Jerusalem Center electorate (and which made me develop some real sympathy for the poor guy behind the desk who's job it is to make the president and opponent shut up). Those broadcasts were all excellent, but Conference was something special. Everyone at the Center was looking forward to it for weeks like small children look forward to Christmas. We counted down the minutes until we could start the broadcasts (at 6-8 and 10-12pm over here). Then it finally came, and in the first five minutes...

Oh. My. Word.

The whole Forum burst into gasps and screams and tears the moment President Monson had the words out. We all kept exchanging blank stares, saying quite plainly "Did you just hear that?!" We've all talked about nothing else for the past three days. Most of the boys are RMs (save one), so its the girls' lives that have suddenly been turned upside down. I've been trying to remind everyone I meet who seems troubled that the decision to serve a misson isn't one that they need to make overnight and that they can take the time to pray about it and let that confirmation come in the Lord's way and time.

The entire conference was just amazing. Many students had their "lightining bolt" answers and promtings, as Katie put it. For others, like myself, the guidance was gentle and came slowly, piece by piece. Some talks felt like they were written for me, but even those who didn't taught me something. I loved that the story of Peter and the Savior on the sea of Gallilee. Even before Elder Holland used that story for His talk it was one of my favorites. I have always been touched by the intimate and tender love the Savior showed to Peter at that time when He didn't know what else to do than to just "go a-fishing" again. I am moved by Peter's love and desire to be with the Savior, so much so that he lept over the side of the boat to be with Him sooner. I read that story by the Garden Tomb and will do so again on the shores of the Sea of Gallilee.

Yesterday we visited the City of David--the location of the original Jerusalem. I went with a group a little early to go to the Western Wall and see the final part of Sukkot, what Ophir calls the "Wacking of the Willows." Everyone gathers at the Western Wall at sunrise and says prayers for bounty and rain, part of which (ceremonially speaking) is to take a willow bough (lulav) and beat it against the ground (note from Ophir: wacking your neighbor is optional). I was not with the group that left at 6am (I love my sleep too much) so I didn't see a lot of the wacking, but I did get the idea. It's so neat to see these things here in the Holy Land. It's been amazing to go out and be a part of the Sukkot celebrations this week.

After the willow wacking we headed to the City of David archaeological park to meet up with our classes. I took a great picture of Katie by the giant David's Harp at the entrace. We saw a somewhat corny but still informative 3D movie about the City of David, from its capture by the Jebusites to its destruction by the Babylonians. After that we went through the sites. We saw another trench site dug out by the irrepressable Kathleen Kenyon (really, this woman is awesome), which included a "step stone structure" that was probably meant to hold the side of the hill in place and keep it from eroding away (it may also be what the Bible calls "millo"). We saw the foundations of what may have been David's palace--or if not that, at the very least a massive government complex. We looked out over the Kidron and Tyropian valleys where they meet at the end of the Southern spur the city is built on.

But by far the coolest thing of all was Hezekiah's tunnel. This is the very tunnel King Hezekiah built back in Biblical times to channel water from the Gihon Spring into the city. It is the engineering marvel of the ancient world. Somehow, with none of the technology we have today, the ancient artisans were able to orchestrate two teams starting at either end of the mountain tunneling toward each other and meeting in the middle. Nobody knows how they did it, but the story of the two groups meeting at last was told in an inscription etched into the wall at the end (which we did not get to see because it has been removed and taken to a museum in Istanbul. We didn't see it there, either). Just as amazing is the fact that today the tunnel is still doing what it was designed to do three thousand years ago. And we walked through the whole thing, singing all the way.

It was great. We all wore watershoes and headlamps and got soaking wet. The tunnel was dark and low, but because I am so short I hardly had to bend at all (hooray for the short genes!). Sister Judd lent me a flashlight, which was marvelous (she also lent me sunscreen earlier--I love having moms around to look after all us crazy kids). As we moved through the cold water and dark stone, a few students started singing Amazing Grace near the back of the line. The music made the tunnel feel eerie, the music ehoeing on the walls making me think of the tunneling teams three millenia ago straining to hear each other's voices. Then somebody else started singing "Eeeeeee, eeeeeee, the Lion sleeps tonight!" which made it less eerie. Sister Judd and I joined in with "As I Went Down to the River to Pray" and "Lead Kindly Light." I did a little of "The Lord is My Light," and towards the end we all did our "We're the Lucky Judd Bus" Cold Play refrain. The music echoed around the tunnel and was as fun to hear as it was to sing. We paused to admire "the seam"--the place where the two teams met--and on a few occasions we turned out our lights and foraged along for a little ways in darkness. It was quite an adventure--I most definitely want to go back.

I managed to Skype my family on Sunday night, which was marvelous. I have missed them so much--it was a great blessing to see their faces and show them the view from the Terrace and assure them that I was well. It was especially good to talk to Daniel, who now has to tackle the question of a mission sooner than expected. Regardless of when he decides to go, it will be awesome to prepare with him this summer.

Today was a free day, and thank Heaven for it. I woke up this morning only to be greeted by a bad anxiety attack. Good morning! What a way to start your day! I walked around outside for a while, sat on the grass, read my conference notes, prayed some, and tried to get my stomach and breathing to settle. Eventually they did, and I was also blessed to have Katie around after breakfast to listen to me talk it out a little and to give me a much-needed hug. My day went uphill from there. I did some homework (though not nearly as much as I should have). I had a picnic lunch with Katie and Jackie (an absolutely amazing Navajo polotician and world-changer to be--and also a great friend) out on the terrace--right by the doors under the eaves because it was starting to rain.

Later on we walked over three miles to the Israel Museum (we have free passes and an ANE assignment there). The walk was great--I got to see a lot of West Jerusalem I have never seen before. The museum was also amazing, though we didn't have nearly enough time. We got to see a display of manuscripts and artifacts found with the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, and also a manuscript of the Old Testament books written not long after the second destruction and thought to be the most accurate copy in the world. We saw a huge replica of what Jerusalem would have looked like during the Second Temple Period (complete with gilded Temple of Herod). We walked through huge rooms of Chalcolithic (copper age), Canaanite, Egyptian, and Israelite artifacts. The bad news--we didn't get through our ANE checklist of things to see. The good news--that means we will just have to come back and see the rest later! Hooray! We walked another over three miles back to the center (stopping off for Mango nectar at the 7-to-11 on the way) and got back just in time to watch the sunset.

So here I am blogging. I still haven't finished my homework, but I am OK with that. FHE was a bunch of fun. There were mashed potatoes at dinner, which made me happy. I wore my retro shirt today because my friend Tom and I promised that we would both wear our retro shirts so we could get a picture (and it was a very good picture if I do say so myself). I discovered that the electronic piano in classroom 2 has an organ setting, so I can now do my organ exercises and have them sound right. I danced the Batchata and Marenge (Latin dances) out on the terrace in the cool night air with one of the guys who was teaching some of the girls as well as his FHE group.

It feels as though my anxieties of the morning have vanished. My home teachers gave me a blessing, so I am feeling spiritually uplifted and strengthened as well. I will be forever grateful for worthy, willing, compassionate home teachers who were willing to put on white shirts and ties and help me feel my Heavenly Father's love. It had a rough start, but it has been an amazing day.

I love you all! Thanks for reading my crazy thoughts and ponderings and adventures. Thanks for all your love and support--I feel it all the time, even here on the other side of the world.

Ma'asalaama! Shalom!

PS--Look at my profile picture there on the right. See that smiling flower? Meet Mr. Sparkle.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Big Events of the Week

Obviously I have not posted in a while, and it is because my life has been crazy this week. I had two midterms, one paper, and more reading than I care to think about. At any rate, blogging was not my top priority. However, if you go back to the first four-ish posts of my Israel adventures, you will see that I have added pictures! Go enjoy!

For the sake of time and coherence I am going to go with a tactic I have used for catching up in my journal--turning the entry into a highlight reel. Here goes!

1) I turned in my third Old Testament response paper on Tuesday. The assignment was to answer some reflective questions about the temple of Solomon. Based on a poem my father sent me earlier that week, I wrote about how in the dedications of both the temple of Solomon and the Kirtland Temple, it seems that it is not only the temple building being dedicated--the saints who will use it are being dedicated as well.

2) I took two exams this week and did excellent on both. The first was for Israel class (Tuesday) the second for Palestine (yesterday). I way over prepared for both, but as a result the actual taking of the exams was a breeze. I got 22/22 on our Israel midterm and 21/20 on Palestine (yay for extra credit!). Studying for the Israel test was easy, as Ophir gave us a study guide. Professor Bashir did not, so I took the liberty of making one myself and emailed it to all my fellow students, along with a note disclosing that this was for their use if they so desired and to ignore it otherwise. They did not ignore it. About twenty minutes after I emailed it I had a dozen people come up to me and thank me profusely for putting it together. I realized exactly how much worth a study guide might be when, just before I decided to email it, this conversation happened:
       Paul: I'm not looking forward to this test. I don't know what to study!
       Me: I actually just finished making a study guide. Do you want it?
       Paul: How many shekels?

3) I only have one music book out here--my Jon Schmidt "Hymns Without Words." I found myself regretting not bringing my Anna Magdalena's Notebook with all my Bach pieces in it. Then I sat down at a piano and realized that I still had two minuets and a chorale memorized. Who needs music books?

4) We had another AMAZING forum on Wednesday night--this time from an Arab Muslim Palestinian Israeli (sort that out if you can) who is an international reporter. I crowd in too many details about his address--in essence he told us about how things have gone in Israel since Yasser Araphat and the Oslo Accords. It was not a happy story. During the Q&A at the end, somebody asked him about the two-state solution. He says that Israel is currently under a three-state regime: Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. He also says that the two-state solution might have worked several decades ago, but as far as he can see it won't work now--the Palestinians and Israelis have become too intermixed for a division to take place. One thing that struck me particularly was his description of freedom of speech back here. He said that he works for an Israeli newspaper because he knows they will publish what he writes and that he can therefore speak freely. He feels far safer in Israel than in Gaza or Ramala, where he knows reporters who have had police knocking on their door in the middle of the night to arrest them for writing what they did. He said that if he wrote in Gaza what he usually wrote in Israel, by now he would probably have been hung in a public square. Can you imagine? Hearing things like that makes me infinitely grateful once again that I live in a country where I can speak and write freely without fear.

4) I went out into the city on Thursday afternoon for Sukkot as I had hoped. I went with a group over to West Jerusalem to see what was up. It was awesome. There were Sukkot--booths or tabernacles, as you might say--made of wood and palm thatch and decorated with colorful streamers and garlands everywhere you looked. During Sukkot (the feast of Tabernacles) the Jews "dwell" in these booths--and according to Ophir to "dwell" in a sukkah means to eat there, so every restaurant has a sukkah out front for anybody who wants to eat in there. Sukkot is also a time for Jews to gather to Jerusalem, just like in Biblical times. Today this gathering is celebrated by having the groups and guests march through West Jerusalem in a parade, which we got to see. An endless line of people marched down the street, waving their nation's flags, playing tambourines, and singing praise--there was so much color and music I hardly knew where to look. After that we went to a courtyard we saw during orientation where there are a bunch of colorful cushions to sit on--all made of cement. We took many pictures, including some fun glamour shots, reclining upon them and pretending to look comfortable. I also tasted my first Chala bread--the Jewish braided bread--that afternoon. It was heavenly--light and sweet and soft and perfect. We went on a forced march through East Jerusalem to be back to the center by sunset, then stood on the terrace and watched the clouds over the city turn pink. It was a marvelous day.

5) Thursday night was the center's informal talent show. I am on the talent committee, so I've been looking forward to it for a while. The head of our committee, Michael Stallings, has been making announcements at forum for the past two weeks, calling himself the "Tyrant of Talent" and telling everyone that we, his minions, must sign up for the talent show so that he could look good by proxy through our talents. He was the MC, fittingly enough, and did an awesome job keeping the acts smooth and the audience laughing. There were some great acts. A couple of guys turned on parts of the Star Wars movies with the sound off and inserted all the lines and sound effects themselves while it played. Sarah Townsend played Jon Schmidt's "All of Me" blindfold. One girl brought up ten audience members and impressed us by precisely locating each of their belly buttons through their shirts. I performed, too--storytelling. It was AWESOME. I told my usual crowd pleaser--"The Three Sacks of Truth." I had a scary moment going into the forum and realizing that it was a very big space and I had never practiced in it. It went great, though. I made everyone come sit up close and spun my tale as I always do. They were all enchanted. I even made Katie laugh, which is saying something--she was my guinea pig last year and has probably heard it more than anyone. The kids were absolutely enthralled and laughed hysterically at all the right parts. I've never told it better. I've already had several requests from the parents of those kids and from my fellow students to come and tell bedtime stories. I can't wait--I have more where that came from.

6) Yesterday night I attended synagogue with a group of students and Ophir. Two of Ophir's children came, too--including little Yamima from Passover. We attended a reform Synagogue, which was a little more modern than the orthodox ones. We sang the prayers to the Rabbi beating a rhythm on the table--including a few special prayer for Sukkot. I followed along in the prayer book and sang every prayer, right down to the last "Amein." I sat with Liesel on one side and an elderly Jewish woman on the other, who helped me find my page sometimes when I got lost. She thanked me several times for coming to pray with them and warmly assured me that we were welcome here. Honestly, the synagogue felt a whole lot like a normal LDS ward. I could just picture all of those women sitting beside me in Relief Society. It was wonderful to come and worship with them for the evening.

7) This week's Friday Night Movie was "The Incredibles." I quoted along a lot. "You can't! It's impossible! So quick ask me now before I can become sane..." Or this one: "You tell me where my suit is woman! We are talking about the greater good!" "Greater good?! I am your wife! I'm the greatest good you're ever gonna get!" And also: "We're dead! We survived but we're dead!" It was excellent.

8) I tried out for a volleyball team and signed up for the ping pong tournament (which I lost at). I am also going to teach some sign language to anybody who wants to learn this afternoon. Nobody can accuse me of not being involved around here.

9) Yesterday there was a riot on the temple mount. Muslims threw rocks at provocative radical Jews, whereupon the Israeli police responded with stun grenades and the like. We heard the bangs and saw the grenade smoke from the center. There were some demonstrators near the center later on as well, so we were told not to go out on our balconies and not to do anything stupid like trying to take pictures of the demonstrators. Everyone was kept safe.

10) The restrictions were lifted this morning and we were able to go out. I went with a big group over to the Garden of Gethsemane. Thanks to some smooth talking from Michael and some Italian from Will, we were able to go into the private garden. I walked about for a while and sat beneath the olive trees, thinking and pondering and praying. I also joined a group that was singing hymns. It was a peaceful, beautiful hour we spent there. We went home by way of Orson Hyde Park, which was also beautiful. I am now enjoying the afternoon here at the Center. We are all looking forward immensely to General Conference tonight. I never looked forward to it as a child, but now it's like waiting for Christmas morning. Just a few more hours and we will hear to words of the prophets!

More soon! I love you all! Please comment or email me--I want to hear from you, too! Ma'salaama!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Another tell? Oh, what the... heck.

Sorry--I know that was suggestive, but I just couldn't resist. I want to tell you about this week's field trip to the Shephelah--but first, a few thoughts on field trips in general:

1) Every field trip day is about the same scheduling wise. We get up early, eat breakfast, make a lunch, and be ON THE BUS by 8:00 or get left behind (it has happened--not to me, but still). We then run around all day trying to keep all the sites and digs and historical facts straight.
2) Our lunches are always as follows: Two pita sanwiches, one bag of chips, two pieces of fruit, two cherry tomatoes, half a cucumber, and an Ali Baba chocolate wafer bar (which most of us may or may not be in love with). On free days we are permitted a bit of creativity in that we make our own sanwiches (though this can be dangerous, as peanut butter and nutella are usually available as options).
3) We have sing alongs on every field trip. Brother Judd hands out the lyrics and cranks up the volume and we sing. The songs always have something to do with what we are seeing that day. Sometimes the connection is a good one, like this week's selection "Every Goliath Has It's David." Sometimes it's a little distant--like the Smurf Song on the Negev field trip because it was written by a guy with the psuedonym "Father Abraham." That one wasn't such a big hit--all of us were hot and tired and not really in the mood for little singing smurfs at the time. Most of them are really fun, though, and we all enjoy it.
4) I forgot to tell you about an important member of the Lucky Judd Bus crew--Mr. Sparkle. Mr. Sparkle is a plushy, smiling, two foot tall flower that comes with us every time we go somewhere with lot's of crowds. Brother Judd or somebody else holds him high above our heads so that those near the back can easily see where the group is going. Mr. Sparkle was our constant companion in Turkey, and though the leader usually looked a little riddiculous holding a giant smiley flower over their head, he kept a good many of us from getting lost.
5) After several attempts and trial runs, I have come to a very important conclusion: it is next to impossible to do homework on the bus.

Now for this last week's field trip. We visited the Shephelah (pronounched Shfay-lah, two syllables)--the low hills between the coastal plain and the tall Judean hills in which Jerusalem sits. Some amazing things took place in the Shephelah valleys. Samson took a wife from a town we looked out at--Timnah. We stood on the hilltop at Azekah, a great military city of the Old Testament. There the reenactment committee performed a skit of the Samson story, with Dallin as Samson and Cassie as Delilah, which we all found hillariously appropriate. We walked on the ruins of Lachish, where the Assyrians built a siege ramp up the sides of the city to break in and destroy it before attempting and failing to capture Jerusalem. We there looked at a drawing of an Assyrian frieze that depicted the battle. We also read the ominous words of a soldier in Lachish who wrote that those at Lachish could no longer see the signal flares at Azekah--which meant that Azekah had fallen and the Assyrians would be there in only a few days.

We sang hymns in the Bell Caves--including "Ring Out Wild Bells," which few of us knew but was perfect all the same. The caves were carved by punching a hole in the hard upper surface and carving the bell shape down into the soft limestone beneath. It would have been a breeze--the soft stone literally crumbled into my hands as I brushed them along the walls. We also walked down into deep and surprisingly extensive underground sisterns and systems of rooms. One long chamber contianed nothing but dovecotes to keep messenger pigeons in. Others went on for ages, linking to other rooms with small staircases and tiny doors. I felt like I was in the Cave of Wonders, sans piles of gold and jewels. The caverns were also a blessed respite from the weather--hot and with something like 90% humidity, which was miserable even with the blessing of cloud cover (for which we were all grateful--we hated to imagine what the day would be like without it). The cistern stop also included optional ice cream at the gift shop at the end, which I gratefully took advantage of (chocolate hazelnut ice cream bar with whole hazelnuts in it--AMAZING).

The highlight of the day, however, was the Valley of Elah, where young David defeated the Philistine Goliath. Right there, beneath the ridge where the Israelites' encampment would have been, within sight of Goliath's hometown of Gath, we watched a reenactment skit of the battle. Brother Stratford's son Isaac played David and Brother Judd's daughter Amanda sat on Andrew's shoulders and played Goliath's head (the Israelites cut her off and gave her to King Saul at the end). We were then issued slingshots and spent the next half an hour picking smooth stones from the river bed and slinging them into the field beside us. Lorina got a great picture of me slinging like David himself. Sort of. Not really. The picture was cool, my slinging skills were not. I did alright, though--I actually managed a good twenty feet a couple times. The point was, though, that it's harder than it looks. Mary's conclusion was that in order to slay Goliath by slingshot, David must either have been divinely guided or had way too much time to practice while tending the sheep (I'm inclined to think both). The champion was Andrew--he could shoot his rocks halfway across the field no problem. I kept one of the white stones to remind myself of the day and the story of David.

The past couple days have been busy and packed with homework. I turned in one paper, did very well on one midterm, and studied for yet another for Friday. Speaking of academics, I have news to share. I completely ACED my Old Testament Midterm! I got my score back last week. The class average was an 85%. My score... drumroll please...99%! I could hardly believe my eyes. Before the curve it was 95%, so I only got two or three questions wrong. Hallelujah and thank heaven!

That's all for now--I'll write more tomorrow. I haven't got out into the city the past couple days, so I am very ready to book it out of here first thing tomorrow afternoon. The festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles) is going on this week, so I am eager to get into West Jerusalem to buy Chala bread and see festivities (especially the sukkot on people's lawns and balconies). More adventures to come!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Over the Weekend

Friday was classes until afternoon, and I decided not to go out that afternoon. Instead I did some studying out on the terrace, catching up on my Old Testament reading for earlier that day, which I hadn't read a word of. Why? Because my Palestine paper--the one I was so jubilant about finishing early--by Thursday night had disappeared into the depths of the JC Lab hard drive. It's my fault--I was stupid and didn't back it up to my email--but I was still terribly disappointed about it. I had worked really hard to make it good analysis, and although it was an easy paper it would be hard to replicate in one night. Katie came into the bedroom to find me on my laptop in a state of some distress. I soon became the recipent of the Katie Graham Prescription for Less Stress and Happier Living--smiles, encouraging words, a rub on the back, and a chocolate cookie. Mary came in and between the two of them I started feeling better very soon. I have an awesome apartment. We just started a quote wall--I'll have to share a few of the good ones sometime.

Well, I did finish it and turn it in. Friday was a little miserable here and there in such a way that made me very grateful indeed to have a supply of ibuprophen. My mother and aunts will get it, nobody else needs to worry about it. I felt better by later that afternoon, though, and was perfectly well to go to the Friday night movie--"Samson and Delilah," by the same director as did "The Ten Commandments." I stayed for Brother Schade's marvelous introduction (including a synopsis that turned out to be comprised of the chapter headings for Judges 13-16) and the first few minutes. I then bounched back and forth between movies. I watched some of Harry Potter 7 with Carrie Judd and David Schade until it was their bedtime, caught the latter half of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (which I really want to watch again), then came back to Samson and Delilah in time for Delilah's betrayal and the toppling of the temple, which was all I really wanted to see anyway. It was big and colorful and dramatic, but still amusing by virtue of its being as big and colorful and dramatic as other movies of its day.

Sabbath was wonderful. I didn't touch my homework all day. After church I went with Katie and some others to the Garden Tomb. We walked about as a group for a while, then went off separate to read and pray and think. I sat on a bench beneath a tree and listened to another group singing. I hadn't brought my scriptures or journal, but I did think and ponder some. Nobody knows whether the tomb there is the one Jesus Christ was laid in, but in the end I guess I don't care. I come anyway because it's a wonderful place to think about what was done for me by the Savior--which is the most important thing in the end. After the other group left I decided I ought to sing myself--though whether by prompting or by sponteneigity I'm not sure. I'm inclined to think the former, though, for the notes came easily and I wasn't nervous at all. I sang "I Stand All Amazed" all on my own. I felt very much at peace afterward. I went to see the tomb again and took a couple pictures.

When the group I came with left, I joined another so I could stay a little longer. Some of my best friends were part of it--Sarah and Liz Donakey (a pair of sisters), Aleisha Goff (one of the happiest people I know) and Jacob Crowther (a most wonderful young man and a great friend). When I came up to them Sarah embraced me and asked me how I was and Liz told me that I looked wonderful today--both sisters managing to make my day with in two minutes of each other. Katie joined as well and we all sang another couple hymns--"I Know That My Redeemer Lives" and "In Humility Our Savior" (the latter at my request). Liz and I talked humanities most of the way home--she's a humanities major and I've been to Italy, so we get on well. A beautiful afternoon in one of the most beautiful places I know with some of the most wonderful people I've ever met. I don't see how it could be any better.

Today I went to the Haram esh-shariif--The Dome of the Rock--for the first time. [Note: This post is post-dated because the internet wasn't functioning well when I tried to put this up. I went to the Dome yesterday]. It's far more beautiful close up than far away. We made it past the security checkpoint just in time. They closed the gates at 10am, and we got there at 9:56. We only got to spend about ten minutes on the temple mount, but it was enough (we can't go into the mosque or the shrine, so walking around is about as good as it gets). The outside of the dome is covered in the most beautiful blue and green tiles and the some of the earliest known written passages from the Quran in the script around the sides. I took pictures of the group and of me and of Katie (Katie particularly, as her camera charger is broken and she has been unable to find another as yet among the group--I've been trying to make a concentrated effort to help her get whatever shots she wants in the meantime). We also met a whole heard of beautiful little Arab girls who seemed to really enjoy talking to us and who were very excited to speak Arabic with me and Katie. I also helped a little boy drag a rug up the steps to the main platform with which he was struggling. The temple mount platform is huge--I can hardly imagine the size of the temple that once stood there. I intend to return again before too long--it was a great time.

After that I joined a part of our group that was going to Dormition Abbey--where tradition supposes Mary fell into an eternal sleep and was taken up into Heaven. The traditional upper room of the last supper was there, too. We sang there--"I Stand All Amazed"--and of course after only a few measures a whole huge Asian tour group came in. We kept singing, though, and some of them filmed us on our iPads. A few of them thanked us later. We listened to the tour guide for a few minutes (I translated little bits into ASL just for my own practice) before going to see the chapel of Dormition Abbey and the crypt of Mary. It was all beautiful and covered in stunning mosaics. We did not sing there, as we were unsure whether it would be welcome.

We finished off the day with a stop by a delightful bakery in the Jewish quarter, where I bought some wonderful fresh white bread that served as my lunch. We got home in time to do some homework. I tried to study some Israel history for Ophir's midterm on Tuesday with Mary and Katie, but I ended up feeling stressed about it all the same, which didn't make the study session as pleasant as it might have been for me or for them. Fortunately I have forgiving roommates.

I have continued to put off my homework all evening, even though I really should be doing it. All the girls in the center had a girls night by the shekel shack where we painted nails and braided hair and talked about first kisses and awkward first date stories. I paid a few sheks for a glass of milk and oreos--which was worth every agarot. I've been updating these posts while I watched "The Sound of Music" with those same friends who made my day so pleasant at the Garden Tomb. It's getting late, but we are going to forage ahead and watch the whole thing. I will probably regret it at 6am tomorrow morning, but for now it is worth it. It's always worth it to spend time with such wonderful friends.

More tomorrow--love you all! Keep commenting when you have a minute--I love hearing from you all. :)

PS: Amanda, I have just sent off a letter to you. It may not be to you for a couple weeks, but it is on it will be on its way from Israel via email by tomorrow. Love you!