It took a long time, but I'll admit it: I was a little tired today. Not even that tired because of lack of sleep (I actually got to bed before 11:30!), but just tired of touring in general—it does get a little laborious after awhile. As a result, I will be brief: we visited another mosque, another archaeological dig site, another museum filled with really old stuff, etc... I was just restless. Nothing was just “wow, cool!” at the beginning of the day. But then we went to a temple dedicated to Hercules which was cool, as well as one of the most important sites in all Christiandom! That's right, the last two popes have come out and said it: they have found the site where Jesus was baptized! We visited Bethbara, “beyond Jordan.” I read some scriptures and touched the river Jordan. The drive home from there was short... and since this was our last major trip... everyone was talking about what they were going to do when they got *home*. Ahhhhhhhh!
July 14, 2010
Our last full day in the Galilee. Our first stop was Zippori (it means 'bird' in Hebrew). It had some really famous, pretty cool mosaics. Bro. Brown made the connection that these mosaics were focused on Abraham and the aaronic priesthood and how it is passed via lineage and some mosaics in Italy that shows a chalice and shewbread—all of them are acceptable offerings... and anyone can offer them up. The blessings are based on righteousness, not lineage. Akko was moderately cool. It had some beautiful shoreline. It was the last major crusader stronghold. Bro. Hamblin retold the final siege when Saladin defeated the templars. It was really interesting. Then we had free time and Chris and Brooke and I got trapped in a Turkish bath house. Long story. To make it shorter, it was a really underwhelming experience. To be honest, it was one of my least favorite field trips. I took more pictures and movies today than any other, though, because one of my favorite people in the whole program was sick today! He did not go, so we made him a special video telling him about what we learned and saw so he wouldn't feel left out. We got home and swam for a few last hours together (it was way fun—the water was perfect), had dinner, and then a testimony meeting. I really can't believe that this is over. I am so happy. I am so nostalgic. I have had so many experiences here. I will never be the same again.
I went to a Passover dinner last semester hosted by Dr. Ludlow of the Religion Department and in a lot of ways that was a bit better from my point of view. Dr. Ludlow has studied things like this for years, had way cool teaching insights, and never forgot anything... ours at the JC was hosted by our Judaism professor, who brought his 4 year old daughter as a guest--so cute. It was really cool, because he himself is an orthodox Jew, and sang portions of the service in Hebrew for us... But at the same time, it felt like he was just winging it--and he left out some minor things. But the main things were there... and hey, we were in JERUSALEM! There's about an hour and a half of reviewing the history of the exodus (10 plagues, etc.), praising God, and rituals before dinner. This is when we take the parsley leaf (a symbol of spring/rebirth) and dip it in salt water (a symbol of tears), eat the bitter herbs (for the trials they passed), look at the lamb bone (representing the lamb blood over the doors), etc. We also have two ritual cups of "wine" before dinner--we had this really awesome grape juice that is bottled here and it tasted way different (good, but really on the sweet side--best if diluted) than any other grape juice I've ever had--and two glasses after dinner. Then after the rituals and singing, we eat a big dinner (fried fish, THEN the soup, then the salad, then the meal, then fruit, then dessert---huge!). Then we have the redeeming of the matzah bread (matzah is unleavened bread symbolizing the haste with which the people fled Egypt)
The favorite part: the symbolism of the matzah. We didn't talk about this during our Passover, but my friend told me about it before, and it is soooo cool! So, at the beginning of the ritual, the head of the house puts three loaves of matzah inside a cloth, symbolizing the Godhead. He takes the middle piece of matzah (Christ) and breaks it in half. The larger of the two halves he puts inside a different cloth. It is needed to conclude the Passover--you can't end without that last, set apart piece of matzah (given the special name of afikomen), so it is very important that it doesn't disappear. ...but it always does. When I was at the religion department's Passover, we just passed it around under the table throughout the whole dinner. Last night someone hid it somewhere in the building. At the end of the dinner when we need the matzah in order to end, the head of the house offers a price to "redeem" the matzah (note symbolism of the atonement--so cool!). Generally the person who has the matzah names his price, but last night our professor just offered something--chocolate--outright for it. After he redeems the matzah, they eat it as the last thing in the Passover dinner (this is after dessert). And this is the best part! THIS is the bread that Jesus likely broke and gave to his apostles as the very first sacrament of the Lord's Supper!!! It's a symbol of himself, that he already paid the price for, which redeems us. The Atonement. I LOVE BEING HERE AND HAVING SOOOOOOOO MANY TEACHINGS COME TO LIFE!!!!
Today we went to one of the most iconic, most recognizable, most talked about places in the entire history of the world: Bethlehem—the birthplace of our Savior Jesus Christ. We sing about it. We reread the happy story of His birth.
But have you wondered: What is the state of Bethlehem today? I hadn't. Until today. To be sure, I have heard a few details about it since being here, but I just didn't think about it much until I went there myself...
Bethlehem is actually very close to Jerusalem, but it takes a little longer than you would think because of traffic and because Bethlehem is in the West Bank... so you have to cross the border which is Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory. The occupation really isn't a good situation... for disputable but not totally unjustifiable security reasons, a very large portion of the West Bank is literally enclosed by a high, barbed wire-topped wall. It's very Berlin Wall-esque. When we passed through it, it almost felt like we were losing our freedom, even though we were only visiting. Some Palestinians who live there literally can't leave at all unless they have a really good reason, and when they do have to leave, it's a huge pain for them (the exit checkpoints are almost akin to airport security... so many people, so many needed official papers). Even when they travel within this area from city to city, they still have to go through small checkpoints. They say that the Palestinians really resent having to live under such conditions.
The first part of our Bethlehem experience was visiting Bethlehem University, which is a Christian-operated university where both Christian and Muslim Arabs attend (the ratio is about 1/3 Christian, 2/3 Muslim). We were given a tour of the University which included a Q&A with 5 of their students. We talked about a lot of things...It was really interesting to hear their opinions, since we usually hear from older, more politically-active scholars or professors, but these were more like our peers. The things they said weren't that extreme, but the underlying message that I got was that they didn't like the American government or anything that supported Israel's existence. The sad thing was was that it truly dominated their lives—they think about it a lot... to the point of dwelling on it. At their library, they showed us a hole in the wall from a missile during an Israeli attack... they made a big deal out of it, even though it was almost 30 years ago. I asked our guide about one of the pictures they had up in the library... and he really didn't answer it... instead, he talked to me about how the American political system was completely controlled by the Jews (actually, a paraphrase of what he said was 'every politician that has risen to power is because he was pro-zionist, and every politician that doesn't get into office is because they don't support the Zionist agenda). After we walked around the campus a little, we went for lunch. It was the most amazing thing ever. We went to this restaurant that was like a huge tent, with a low roof all the way across. We sat in groups of 8 at tables, and ate all traditional Arab foods. The first course was these DELICIOUS whole wheat pitas, and like 10 small plates of stuff you could dip them in. My favorites were the hummus and green sauce. For dessert they had baklava that was so good. When we went into the city proper, We had a tour guide, our Palestinian teacher's wife, who took us through the city and showed us some of the historical stuff. We walked through the streets and saw some of the different churches from the outside, but we went into the Church of the Nativity, which was built by Constantine over the place where they believed Jesus was born. There was one spot that was the birthplace and one that was the manger. It was a really cool place to see. There was a chapel connected to it that had a grotto underneath where Jerome translated the bible into Latin. This one wasn't decorated like the Nativity one, so you could see what the stable really might have looked like back then. We went down and sang some Christmas hymns, and there was a really special spirit there, despite the backdrop of political unrest.
Today I went to the oldest known man-made structure in the history of the world (the tower dates back to 8000 BC!). It is located in Jericho, an oasis in the middle of the desert. There's a spring there that provides water, and it's very green (in complete contrast to the surrounding area). A lot of things happened with the prophets Elijah and Elisha in Jericho (the whole 'falling of the mantle' thing, as well as Elisha healing the oasis spring—the entire place would have died without that miracle, as well as the crumbling of the walls of Jericho). While in Jericho, (besides enduring the intense, oppressive, so-sticky-you-feel-like-you-are-swimming heat) I tried some of the local orange juice, hiked up to a Greek Orthodox monastery built into the side of a cliff which commemorated Jesus' fasting for 40 days in the wilderness as well as his resisting of the devil's three temptations (See Matthew 4:8-10).
It was really humbling to see such a desolate place and imagine our Savior in that environment, all alone, having just realized the full enormity of his calling and responsibility, and imagining what He must have been thinking and praying about during that time. Of course I don't know, but I kinda feel like my Savior was feeling something that I struggle with so often: inadequacy. As Elder Talmage comments, “His acknowledgment by the Father [at His baptism], and the continued companionship of the Holy Ghost, opened His soul to the glorious fact of His divinity. He had much to think about, much that demanded prayer and the communion with God that prayer alone could insure” (Jesus the Christ, 120). I imagine Him saying to Himself: I am the chosen Messiah? I am to preach a complete restoration of the Gospel to these people—to the entire world? Am I really to suffer the sins of all mankind—of the history and future of the world? How...How, Father, how is it possible? Though I know it is possible, can I really drink this cup? I imagine that, at the beginning of His fast, that He would “shrink” or even “feel sick” at the mere thought. This perspective, for me, gives a whole new dimension of meaning to Alma 7:11-12. Yet he went into the wilderness immediately (Mark 1:12-13) to grapple with the profundity of what lay before Him, until He could say that He felt right about the mission before Him and He was invested in it with all His heart, might, mind, and strength. What comfort this gives to me! Our Savior, the Greatest of all, needed words of confirmation and assurance, just like I do. Additionally, I really doubt that even after his fasting and prayer, that He was given the answer as to exactly how He would accomplish the task. He had to struggle with the “how” just as much as I do when faced with uncertainty. Yet I know that just as it happened for Him in His life, that everything will work out. He accomplished what He needed to, and so can I, if my heart is right and my faith and determination are true.
Today is Saturday. But it was also... Sunday. We observe the Sabbath day on Saturday in the Holy Land. I still don't understand all the reasons why—partly it is because of the Church and wanting to jive with government policy stuff. But it is also because everything closes—there would not be much to do anyway. So they make Sunday our free day and Saturday the Sabbath. It is so weird! Today was fast Sabbath, and so we had fast and testimony meeting at the branch. There was a huge tour group that came, and so the center was filled to capacity (which is actually very rare). After sacrament, something COMPLETELY unexpected happened--Sunday school was in Spanish! Or, at least, mine was. I opted to go to the Spanish class because it was offered. It is taught by a sweet new convert lady from Bolivia named Hermana Torres. Priesthood meeting was cool as well, taught by Bro. Stoneman who is studying at Hebrew University. I then went to Orson Hyde garden and the garden of Gethsemane. I could not believe where I was—it still hasn't completely hit me. I want to go back there again after I have properly prepared. It was too surreal. Then had a fireside with Bro. Brown who talked about the Jerusalem center and how it is a miracle that it is here at all (when the Church was in talks with the government about building it, there was a huge reaction from the orthodox religions in the region—some of it very bitter, then the builder was threatened, and to top it all off if the excavators found one grave under the site, the whole project would have to be scrapped. None were found.
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