Sunday, October 25, 2009

The worst and the best

I'm on my way out the door to Jordan, therefore, I have not had the chance to proof this for errors... though if you were to look at some of my earlier posts, you wouldn't think I proofed them at all. Nevertheless, hope you don't mind. I'll be back in four days! :)

Sunday, October 25, 2009 2:24 PM

This week encompassed essentially every emotion possible—anger, sadness, flashes of hate, grief, great joy, plenty of pain, excitement, laughter and silliness, and so forth.
Why the first of these? Monday was the day we went to Yad Vashem—the Israeli Holocaust Histotry Museum. I’ve studied the Holocaust on and off for years. This is mostly because I find the storiy of how people were able to survive astounding. They were thrown in the most difficult circumstances known to man, in most cases without more than a shred of hope, yet they still made it through somehow. With this background knowledge of the holocaust, I went into preparing to go to the museum thinking I pretty much knew the major points already. But reading the fifty page assignment our professor of Zionism gave to us, I realized how incredibly out of the loop I’d been. Concentration camps were just one part of it—there were Nazis who marched around Eastern Europe gathering the Jews of every town they visited, marching them to a pit where they would have them strip and get inside, and then shoot them all. There were death camps, which, if you were brought to them, within about four hours you would be dead. There was no separating of the fit and unfit in these camps—they were all just murdered. There were ghettos where the Jews were smashed in so tightly, the disease and starvation would do most of the work for the Nazis. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning with Yad Vashem.

When we arrived, it was a pretty warm day for this time of year, and I was already feeling a little exhausted. Our professor of Zionism took us on an hour long tour of the museum and memorials, focusing specifically on the way that Israelis over the generations have regarded the Holocaust. Remarkably, for the first twenty years after it, no one ever spoke of it unless they had been part of the few people who had resisted the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto. This was because there was a pervading belief that if you survived, it was because you did something selfish or horrible to keep yourself alive—you may have bribed someone, or hidden behind another person who died in the holocaust. Essentially, the survivors were regarded as cowards.
This all changed around 1967, when the Israeli people began to realize the similarities of fear and so forth with the impending war with their Arab neighbors (later called the Six Day War). It was then that the definition of heroism broadened from those who had physically attacked the Nazis to those who had fought to live when all the Nazis wanted was them dead. This was said by a famous Rabbi, he declared (to paraphrase poorly) that because the Nazis wanted the bodies of the Jews, it was heroic to keep that from them, and to therefore win against them. That was about when the holocaust began to be spoken of again. That and the trial of a famous Nazi Otto Adolf Eichmann who had hidden in Argentina for years. When he was found and brought to Israel to be tried for his war crimes, the chief prosecutor, Israeli Attorney General Gideon Hauser, who is a national hero in Israel, starting his opening statement with, (and this is another poor paraphrase), “With my finger, I point the fingers of six million people in accusation.” It was then that the holocaust became almost the religious basis for secular Jews—it is the reason a lot of them are proud to be Jewish and want to live it fully. They still won’t let people like the Nazis win.

After this tour, a tour guide for the museum came to replace our professor as guide. She was short, wearing all black, and spoke with a British accent. She led us through the museum. This is not your typical museum. I’ll try to describe it to you the way I’ve described it to a couple of other people, but it’s difficult. Imagine a tall triangle, elongate it into a column, make it out of gray rock and then shove it through a hillside with part of it hanging off either edge. That is essentially the way this museum is designed. When you walk in, you go underground and you don’t go above ground again until you leave. At the entrance to the museum, they had a continuous reel of old movies playing about life for the Jews of Europe just before the Holocaust. It is a good reminder of how unaware they had been, and of all they lost. When we turned around, we could see to the end of the long triangular building, literally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. But to proceed through the museum, you have to turn to your right and enter a dark room full of the exhibits of the rising of Nazi Germany.
We went through that and crossed back across the hall to where we could see the end again, then entered another dark room where we learned about the beginning of persecution. We considered this all the way through the museum, continually getting closer to the end, but having to enter many rooms full of reminders and stories about those who suffered and died in the holocaust. There were a couple of things which stuck with me most: First a letter by a Nazi soldier who traveled around in the “Einsatzgruppen” throughout Eastern Europe, systematically shooting Jews, and, secondly at the very end of the museum where they have the names of three million of those who died contained in thousands of cases on the walls, leaving room for the other three million names they’re still gathering.

The letter of the Nazi soldier to his family was fascinating because for me, it explained how a seemingly normal person could become such a monster. He wrote something to the affect of, “It is considered a weakness to have trouble seeing dead bodies. The only way to fix it is to do it more often…” and then, We have great faith in our Fuhrer and that gets us through doing these difficult and thankless tasks.” While I still have questions about the process a person travels from goodness to evil, this letter answered a lot of them. It was because they trusted their “commander,” (Hitler) who had, after all, pulled them out of a broken state of a depressed economy and lost honor leftover from World War I. The soldier did it because of this trust and his desire to help what he saw as his country. This was at least his excuse for his actions.

The room with the names in it was incredible, partly because of a quote in the entrance. I wrote it down, “Remember that I was innocent and, just like you, mortal on that day, I, too, had a face marked with rage, by pity and joy, quite simply, a human face!”—Benjamin Fondane, Exodus. Murdered at Auschwitz 1944. This stuck with me for obvious reasons. When you walked into the completely circular room, you immediately were drawn to look up at the large canvases of faces that surrounds you. They created a collage of peoples who died in the holocaust. Then you look downwards toward the center of the room where a large stone pit was dug, much like a very wide well, with a pool of water at the bottom. This, they said, was put there was because water is a symbol of continuance in Judaism and we must continue to remember what happened. It was a striking chamber to be in—surrounded as we were by the thousands of black boxes stretching from floor to ceiling for several stories and knowing that each of those contained thousands of names of the dead. And why they were dead? That is still beyond me. The children who died should still be alive as grandparents now.

When we left the museum, it slopes upward and the triangle column splits open like a banana peel, revealing the hills of modern Israel filled with comfortable suburban houses. The guide said that this was the future and ihat we had the choice in assuring that something like this never happens again, to anyone, anywhere.

As difficult as this all was, the hardest was yet to come. We went to the children’s memorial. It is not what you would expect; there are no graphic images of the dead, in fact, there are hardly any pictures at all. The building is entered through a short tunnel, and after passing a lit collage of some of the faces of these children who were murdered, you enter a completely dark room. All around you, the walls and ceiling is made of mirrors which reflect the lights of the candles they have somewhere. It creates the affect of there being thousands of little golden lights, some closer some father, strewn through the darkness. As you walk on the little winding path holding hand rails, a voice calls out the name of each child who died as well as their age and birthplace. We were asked to remember one name. I crouched down by the footlights and listened for mine, writing it down in my notebook. He was Vol Spres, 12 years old, Poland. Then he was gone, another of the 1.5 million names of the dead children being read. Our guide told us to never forget the name of the child we had heard because if we didn’t forget, then that child would never be forgotten. I stood in the memorial for a good fifteen minutes, feeling like I was in space, looking at each star from a perspective not clouded by the atmosphere. Why should they have died? The sadness was momentarily replaced with anger at the people who did this, and those who began it. But then it was gone, and I felt completely -- empty.

When we left Yad Vashem, we immediately went to a place which our professor calls the holy of holies of secular Judaism. I suppose it is appropriate that this place of hope is right next to the place of reminder. Together, they should show the observer what happened and should never again be, and then how they are trying to resolve it. That is at least what I think the designers intended. This is where Theodore Herzl, the father of Israel, is buried. It is also where the various prime ministers are buried. But I won’t go into it any more than this, there is just too much to say.

That was essentially my Monday, most of the day filled with Yad Vashem, and the rest filled with mt. Herzl and scrambling to prepare for tests and turn homework in. I didn’t go out at all the rest of the week because of having four different midterms, but at least they’re over now. On Friday, when I was finally able to get out again, I went with a group of nine people to the American Consulate here in Jerusalem. There are actually four consulates, but this is the main one. The US does not have an embassy here because they do not want to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. To do so would be to say that it was not going to be the capital of the Palestinian state that the US is hoping to help create, and that would be a poor diplomatic choice. But much of the consulate here is beautiful—the main building was actually a monastery, so it is old and the architecture is medeivel and quite stunning. Our group was being given a lecture on becoming Foreign Service officers. We have about six different people in our Jerusalem branch who work for the consulate, so two of them gave us this lecture. I’ve heard some of it before, but it was informative nonetheless. By the way, this week we also had a wonderful Arab culture night, featuring a performance of the call to prayer by two of the men who do it at Al-Aqsa mosque every day (the main worship mosque in the dome of the rock compound). They also did their prayers in front of us so we could see how they are done, and they “sang” (they call it “reading,” though there are notes and it sounds like singing) the chapter in the Qu’uran about Mary and Jesus. After that we had a wonderful Arabic food dinner, then traditional Palestinian folk dancing. It was fabulous.

Continuing now with the best day of the week by far. If Yad Vashem was the low point, this was certainly the high point, though it was so remarkable it is almost to compare a foothill to its mountain. For church, we had the primary program (for those of you who do not know LDS lingo, that means that the children were given parts to sing and tell us for our service). I smiled so much the whole time that my face hurt afterwards. They were so adorable. Then we went to the garden of Gethsemane, which is one of my favorite places in the world, as it is where Christ suffered for our sins. There were too many people there this time for it to be really spiritual, but I met some wonderful women from India who offered me a place to stay if I were to ever come, and a couple of very nice men from Uganda who promised to write me and tell me all about their country. On the way back we met a group of Palestinian children from the neighborhood. They were so wonderful and sweet, it was a real blessing to talk to them. But the best thing was that Elder Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, came and had dinner with us at the center, and then gave us a fireside afterwards. I have never met an Apostle before, so I was utterly brimming with excitement like everyone else. He gave the most beautiful sermon, standing as he was in front of our stunning view of Jerusalem. It was about how Christ is ultimately a merciful being and how, in Christ’s kingdom, mercy will always trump justice. He said those words exactly. If any of you are interested, I took copious notes of the meeting. I met him a couple times, and he was so kind and sweet, just like a Prophet of God should be. So basically, it October 24 is the best day ever.

Today we went to a really remarkable stalactite cave as well as a quaint city named Ein Karem where there is a church for the birth of John the Baptist there as well as the visitation of Mary and Elisabeth. It was a wonderful day, but it happened a little too recently for me to want to write it all down. We also saw the Chagall windows at the Hadassah church, if any of you have heard of him. That was remarkable as well. It was a wonderful day all in all, no doubt about that.
While the week certainly contained every possible feeling, I am extremely glad that I experienced it. The only thing I would change, really, is to have some of you with me here to experience it. This whole place is just so remarkable—it is jaw dropping.
Oh, and by the way, I’m going to Jordan. In just a bit too. Literally. I’ll be in Petra rather soon, looking at all the red rocks and so forth. Envious? You should be. :D

Monday, October 19, 2009

Land of the bible. Plants and animals included

What an interesting week this has been. For our weekly, all day field trip, we went to a place called Neot Kedumim where they have recreated the biblical landscape and environment. All the plants and most of the animals that are mentioned in the bible can be found there. I, obviously, being the nature freak I am, was in heaven. It is so cool to see the plants mentioned in the bible.

Case in point: even heard of Hyssop? Well, it is this herb that is used like four times in the scriptures as the comparison against the Cedars of Lebanon as the smallest plant in the world. It is sort of the thing you say, "from the hyssop to the Ceders of Lebanon" which means that it encompasses everything. It’s the equivalent of saying "from Dan to Beersheba" which I think I mentioned in an earlier posting. Anyway I think it is mentioned in a couple Psalms and it is mentioned in relation to the wisdom of Solomon. The plant is also what was used as the brush which painted the lamb's blood on the doorposts of the faithful during the Night of the Angel of Death. It is also what they used to dip the water in to give to Christ when he was held up on the cross. Anyone notice the connection? Anyway, it’s pretty much awesome. Its modern usage is huge. In Arabic, it’s called Za'atar and it's the herb they put on bread ALL THE TIME which really means that almost anything you get in the city that goes with bread will be za'atar. I had it my first day here and I love it. With olive oil and pita, it's delicious. So it was growing there right next to a very small cedar of Lebanon (the cedars take 60 years to mature). According to our guide, it is supposed to be a symbol of the people of Israel because it comes back year after year and it doesn't take much time for it to blossom. Also it is not unbending like the cedar. That's just an example of the things we learned about the plants in the bible. There were so many others.

A really short one I’ll share is when Abraham had two holy men come to him who told him his wife was going to have a son in his old age, he had them sit with them under a Tamarisk tree which is awesome because when you sit on the ground underneath a tamarisk tree is always 2 to 3 degrees centigrade cooler than places around it. Why? They think it is because it collects dew on it in the morning and it takes the dew a while longer to evaporate than usual, so it cools down the area under the tree. Therefore, Abraham was being as hospitable and respectful as he could be when he invited the men to go sit under the tree. Cool huh!

But moving away from plants….. You give me a moment, and I'll go off about them for pages. We also did something really amazing that we got to herd sheep and goats. That's right, I went with a group of completely inexperienced city slickers and had to organize 16 very oblivious, occasionally murderous, animals into a circle of rocks, keep them there, then make them circle around a tree and come back. We were surprisingly good at it, partly because (for some reason) the animals took a liking to one of the girls in our group and the whole lot of them would trudge after her wherever she walked. When she went around the tree, they followed. It was rather entertaining when she was walking back up the hill to where our group was sitting and they were still following her.

But anyway, the guide taught us a lot about shepherding and how a shepherd knows his flock and uses the natural leader among them to lead them where they need to go. You know the Psalm that starts, "The Lord is my Shepherd"? Well, David is comparing himself to being the lead sheep who is following the direction of the master. I was in the first group to go and take the sheep and goats around. The second group had a more difficult task, they had to separate the sheep and goats and then get them into different circles of stone. That was rather entertaining to watch because, let me tell you, those sheep and goats see absolutely no reason why they should ever be in anything other than a tight wad of smelly fur.

After all of that, including with the hyssop and such, we went on a tour of the history of the four species that the Jews use in their holiday Sukkot. It is a long and involved story, therefore, if you want to know more, look up "four species" and I assure you, it'll pop right up. If not, add Sukkot and you're golden. I really like the history though; it's worth taking a moment to figure out.

We also saw the seven species that are traditionally grown in Israel, and we learned how to thresh wheat. If you've grown up in any Christian faith, you'll know the parable of the wheat and the chaff. Even if you aren't Christian, you may have heard of it. It’s basically the idea that after you've done all sorts of stuff to get the wheat cut, to slice the long stems into manageable portions and so forth, you have to separate the beautiful, useful little grains that make the bread from all the straw that accompanies it. How you do this is pretty interesting. Basically, you take the whole lot of it and throw it up in the air and the light straw flies away, (hopefully not back into your neat little pile) and the grain is supposed to fall back down where it started. I always, and still do, wonder what you do if there is no wind. Or, if there is such a wind that you're grain goes right along with the chaff. But anywho, our tour guide entertainingly took a whole bunch on a shovel and threw it up in the air, with all the chaff flying right into the face of the teacher accompanying us.

Ooh, I utterly forgot, we saw the COOLEST thing. They have a Torah scribe who works there, and he demonstrated what is used to create a kosher Torah scroll, and even showed us a Torah scroll that was made over two hundred years ago. It is SUCH an involved process, let me tell you. Everything has to be correct, and if you make a mistake, you have to scrape it off, or, in the case of the name of God, you have to completely excise the piece, replace it with a patch, and then in a special ceremony, bury the name of God with other retired books and such that carry God's name. The technique he was using was hundreds of years old, and the art of being a Torah scribe had been in his family for almost as long. Did you know, for instance, that the Torah scroll is not written on paper but on parchment--or in other words, on the skin of an animal? That is why they don't disintegrate very quickly and also why it takes so long to create a complete tradition scroll. Now, thankfully, there are machines which make the skin into parchment for them. He then demonstrated reading the Torah in the three different traditions. I'll give you the names, though they probably don't mean much to many of you: Ashkenazi, Sephardic (this you may have heard of, I know I had a slight inkling of what it was before I learned fully) and Yemeni. It was all very beautiful, and fascinating. I took tons of pictures of all the things he uses in the ink and so forth. It was a lot like those displays at revolutionary war re-enactments. I loved it.

So, moving on, when we left it was already four in the afternoon and we had a half hour drive back to Jerusalem. BTW, as we were driving through hills covered with the olive groves I saw several ancient watch towers ... just like the ones in the parables.

That whole evening I spent studying as I did all of Tuesday and most of Wednesday. I did get to go into the city on Wednesday. We went back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It was a lot better this time because on Tuesday we had a lecture from the man who used to be in charge of Religious Relations for the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. He talked about relations between Christian faiths here and gave us some pretty entertaining stories about the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Nativity. He also taught us a lot about the general structure of the church. So when I went back on Wednesday, I took a map of the place along and we explored -- this time knowing where Golgotha supposedly is, as well as the places Christ was supposedly tried and where he was flogged.

There were two other things which really stood out to me about this trip.

First, the church is shaped, unsurprisingly, like a big cross. At least it was before a whole bunch of things were added, but you know. In the large rotunda where the apex of the cross is where they have the "aedicule," or in other words, the cave where Christ was supposed to have been buried. It looks nothing like it did back then; actually, it just looks like a tiny, highly decorated room in the middle of a church. The floors all around it are utterly filthy. Why? Because the aedicule area is run by all five of the churches which have dominion over the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. That basically means that none of them cleans it because, in ancient time in the Near East, cleaning is a sign of ownership. But that's beside the point.

Directly behind this aedicule, in line with the little clay figure they have that represents the middle of the universe (that's right, I've touched the center of the universe. Beat that!) was a tiny Syrian chapel which had been gutted by a fire years ago. I have no idea why it hasn't been repaired. There is a little hole in the wall there which is just large enough to go through if you duck. It leads to first century tombs. There is no light, no tour guides or anything in there; in fact, it is barely large enough for two crouching people to get into. But just inside it, right next to the head of two of the tombs, was a little candle that was still burning but was burnt almost to the end with several photographs laid right next to it. They showed some people who looked like a family. The walls were black with the soot of the fire, and the ceiling was for some reason sticky. While I know this part of the church is by no means unknown, probably everyone who stays in there long enough has seen it, it still seemed like a secret kept long away from the world. I would like to read more about it.

The other thing I want to relate is that on the exact opposite end of the church, there is a flight of steps that leads down to a chapel called the "Chapel of Saint Helen." When we first went down those steps, I failed to notice that on our map, there was a little line that pointed to the steps and read, "29 steps with cross graffiti." As we descended, I was thinking about how observant I am when I'm interested in things, and how I had managed to notice everything that should be noticed about the chapel we entered. Of course, I was proven wrong when I looked at the map and saw that little caption. As soon as we finished looking around the chapel, we raced back up to the 29 steps and looked for this famous cross graffiti. We had almost decided that it was gone before I realized that there was a tiny cross carved into the wall that leads up the steps. And next to it there was another one. I stepped back and realized that the entire wall was made up of little carved crosses, some smaller, some larger, some in clusters or by themselves. This was the case on both sides of the steps and the wall around the carved crosses was black with the fingers of thousands of people who had traced their contours or perhaps carved the crosses in themselves. I felt like I had made another amazing discovery, sort of like Indiana Jones.

While neither of these stories have any point, I chose to relate them because they sort of emphasis for me what the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is like. It is a fascinating place. I assure you, I could go back again and again and not tire of it.

Oh, oh, I must mention this. There is a little Muslim man that sits on a bench just inside of the church. He is there almost every day, as his father before him had been, and his father before him. His family has been in charge of holding the keys of this much disputed building for hundreds of years, since the time of the Ottomans. We met him as we walked in and he showed us pictures of him meeting the Pope, and told us how he met Barak Obama when he came to the church. He also gave us each a little card that reads:

Wajeeh Y. Nuseibeh

Custodian and Door - Keeper

of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Tel. Resid. 02/6285910 Jerusalem

Church 0522992524

He was adorable in his self importance and his kind welcoming of us. "You Mormons?" He asked when we first walked by. Everyone can tell in the city, even when we wear NOTHING with any BYU or Mormon-ish logos on it. We have several theories of how they can tell, but even on our way up to the church, wearing by chance nothing which would give our faith away, we had three different shopkeepers call us over by saying, "Mormons! We love Mormons!" or something similar. It is rather entertaining, though it is a good reminder that we'd better do the right thing because everyone knows who we are.

Thursday went by with five different classes -- a total of 7 hours spent in class in all, and Friday was almost the same. But there was a definite perk to Friday.

Just before sunset, we went to a synagogue in the City of David. It was actually in a scout building which is used as a synagogue on Fridays and Saturdays. We arrived in our Sunday clothes, received prayer books with English translations and transliterations so we could sing along, and after an introduction by our Judaism professor, we went in and sat down. The particular congregation we attended had many attendees from the U.S., so most of them spoke English almost perfectly. Not that we spoke during the service, it was mostly singing Psalms and reciting portions of the Talmud. The congregation is liberal-orthodox, or in other words, they're Jewish enough that they really observe the Sabbath well and wear the kipa, but most of the women don't wear head coverings. They are also of the "neo-Hasidic" persuasion, which basically means that for them Shabbat is a joyous time that should be full of boisterous song and some dance. We sang and danced right along with them, we women on one side of the synagogue separated from the men by a white cloth barrier. At one point, we even danced around the chairs in a circle holding hands, our hands going up and down in time to the song. They were very welcoming and I enjoyed the entire thing.

As we left, we spoke with some guys attending a local Yeshiva, literally meaning "place of learning," which traditionally is attended by observant Jewish young men who want to learn the Tanakh (The Talmud, Torah, and Mishnah put together) as well as the Halakha (or Jewish law). This Yeshiva, they said, is best termed a "pseudo-Yeshiva" because it doesn't require you to be observant and is co-ed, which is almost unheard of. Anyway, they were great fun because they were all from the Midwest or east coast, so they had great Chicago or New Yorker accents and a sharp sense of humor.

Our Jewish history teacher walked home (as it was now officially Shabbat) with his adorable three-year-old girl who came along, and we drove back to the Center in time for dinner.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What's been up since I've been back in Jerusalem

Alright, so since the last time I wrote, lots have things have happened.

We were just about to head out the door to go to the old city when we were turned back because of problems on the Temple Mount. East Jerusalem and the Old City were off limits to us. I've heard two different versions of the story: one, from the Jerusalem Post, says that riots started because a group of Jews tried to get up on the Temple Mount, or Haram As-Sharif, the Dome of the Rock, to pray. They took armed guards with them and the Muslims up there began throwing rocks in protest. The other version which I've heard from people here is that there were rumors that the government was going to let some people go on the Mount to pray (some Jews I mean) and that the Muslims were really wary of this. As a consequence, when a bus full of French tourists came up onto the Mount, the Muslims there started throwing rocks at them thinking they were the Jews. Even after it was discovered that they were not, the Muslims were still afraid of something that has been termed by a Hamas leader (who has been banned from the Old City as a consequence) as "The Jewish takeover" of the Holy Mount. Therefore a group, which I've heard was anywhere from one hundred to two hundred people, mostly young men, spent the night on the Mount to protest it being used as a prayer site for the Jews. This sort of problem has been getting worse, with people lighting trashcan fires and protesting at night in the Jezreel valley just below the Mount and across from us, between us and the city.

This problem was compounded because there are thousands of Jews from all over the country who came to have a priestly blessing at the Western Wall, the consequence being that the whole of southeastern Jerusalem is overcrowded with pilgrims. The government has not been allowing nearly anyone except Jews into the city; they've even closed the Holy Mount to all Muslim men under the age of 50.

This holiday, called Sukkot in Hebrew, or the Festival of the Tabernacles in English, is going to continue until Friday, so we can expect to be barred from the eastern or Old Part of the city until then.

Therefore, we went on a different field trip yesterday which turned out to be smashing. It was to the old part of the City -- the City of David.

This was the place where the city, once ruled by Melchizedek, stood and also where the Jesubite city David conquered and took for his capital had lain. It stretches along a long narrow hill, flanked by two valleys which meet in the middle and eventually slope down toward Jericho. There, all the history of the First Temple period took place, all the way up until its destruction in 587 BC and the capture and carrying of Judah into Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. We toured some of the few places they've been able to excavate back to the time of David. There were a few standing ramparts and a couple houses which had been attached to the walls before they were burned down or built over. Undoubtedly some of it was there when David walked those streets and some during the time of the prophet Jeremiah and Lehi as well.

Most interesting though was our excursion through Hezekiah’s tunnel which allowed water from the Gihon spring upon which the city relied, to be relayed through a half mile stone tunnel to the pool of Siloam at its end. It was through these very tunnels, some of which had been dug previous to Hezekail, that David's men infiltrated the walls and destroyed the city. It was also the extension and reformation of these tunnels that saved the city in the time of the failed siege of the City of David by the Assyrians (circa 700 BC). The walk was forty five minutes. Some of the time, the roof of the tunnels stretched far above my head and I could walk upright. Other times, it sloped downward until I nearly felt as though I was inside the Pyramid walking up to the Pharaoh's tomb again, although this time the air was filled with the moldy smell of algae instead of stale age.

Normally, the water flowing in the tunnel is waist high, but because of the persistent drought plaguing this part of the world, it measured on up to mid thigh. There is cause for hope, however, because today, for the first time in nearly a month, it rained! I could not help but wonder if the prayers of the faithful Jews calling for rain on this holiday were being answered with this brief shower.

On our slog through the tunnels, we sang and talked. I watched carefully for stalactites which had miraculously missed the head of another tall tourist and which could, painfully, hit mine. Thankfully, my diligence paid off. I only hit my head once.

At the end of the tunnel is the ancient pool of the Byzantines with four squat pillars poking out of the water. We wandered about for a bit, before heading off to try and find a way back to the center. First we passed the New Testament period pool, empty now of water as it has been for centuries, and only recently excavated. It was to this pool that the blind man who Jesus had anointed with mud made from dirt and spit on his eyes, had come to wash himself and receive his sight (John 9).

After our security personnel figured a way to pick us up, we walked up a prodigious slope out of the city of David and all the way to the garden of Gethsemane where our cars picked us up and drove us the rest of the way. We passed numerous checkpoints adorned with machine-gun toting soldiers eating lunch. Our driver seemed intent on returning us at record speed, or at least, testing how good the suspension really was on his van. Though I ought not complain, I have become accustomed to rocketing down hills and careening round corners. It seems just as normal here as honking incessantly and shouting out the window to anything which may be construed as a threat.

Once we were returned to the Jerusalem Center, I dithered away my day. We had no classes this week but Old Testament and Hebrew and only on Friday our Jewish history class. This is partly due to the holiday.

In preparation, the Israeli government shuts the borders to any Palestinians trying to come through the West Bank to Jerusalem. That cuts off our Palestinian history class. It is also due to the unfortunate death of our Ancient Near East Professor's father. Naturally he flew back to the States for the week. Our surprising lack of work would be wonderful were it not for our restrictions to the majority of the city. I suppose I'll take the opportunity to explore West Jerusalem more thoroughly.

I spent Sunday, when we couldn't go to the old city, visiting numerous sites and wandering around hopelessly lost for about a third of our travels between them. We visited the largest (I think) synagogue here, as well as an old book shop. It was just like something you would dream of -- books up the wazoo in a tiny hidey-hole type shop, all of them old and falling apart. There were a surprising number in English which I perused with pleasure.

But let’s not get into all that. I could describe the book shop and the bird-like little Israeli who ran it, for hours. Suffice it to say, I bought three fabulous looking books for 10 shekels. That's only 2 and one half dollars. Bother, I've lost my train of explanation. What have I left out? Today has been utterly unremarkable, other than the rain of course, and the fresh feeling to the air. I did notice that a pomegranate tree just outside of Hebrew class looked greener than ever against the china blue sky.

Anyway, the third day in Egypt may come soon. At this rate, I’ll have written about them all by the end of the semester... hopefully.


The next day was the day we'd all been waiting for.
I got up pretty late-- about seven, because I was so exhausted from the day before, got dressed and hurried off to breakfast. Our hotel was exactly like you'd want a hotel in Egypt to be. Instead of floors on top of each other, we each got a bungalow which was surrounded by palm trees and other tropical plants arranged in pretty, fountain-centered gardens. The day was already hot when I finished breakfast and ran to get a front seat in the bus. But that didn't matter-- it wouldn't be Egypt without the incessant, muggy heat. It was a quick drive through the city.

Though it can be easy to forget when you're live on the delta, Egypt really is a desert. Rain is so infrequent that the moment you're outside of the affects of the Nile’s water, plant life completely ceases. In some places, you can be standing on lush, ready farmland with one foot, and with the other stand on dusty, barren desert. The ancient Egyptians built their pyramids on the latter sort of terrain -- the Giza plateau is only a few feet from the Nile's influence, but you'd never know it standing next to it.

When we disembarked from the bus, we had to stand in a long line (we all squeezed together to prevent anyone cutting into the line) so, hopefully, we could be part of the 200 people who are permitted to go into the Great Pyramid and climb all the way to the ancient tomb of king Cheops each day. It seemed to take forever -- I felt bad for the short girls who were squeezed so as to get little air -- but finally, finally, we were ready to go. To our amusement, they had us hop back on the bus to drive us the 200 meters up the hill to a parking lot that was parallel to the side of the pyramid.

Impatient might be the wrong word to describe what we were all feeling as we stared at the pyramid which rose like a mountain in front of us as our bus carefully parked. We tumbled off, and the first people in our group started running towards the pyramid, eager to be the first people to go into the tomb that day. Believe me, had I not destroyed my knee before I came, I would have been right along with them.

It is difficult to try to scale the pyramids in your mind. Even the night before, while I was sitting and watching the light show, I couldn't really tell how large they are. This may help you to imagine it: when I stood at the base of the pyramid, the stone right in front of me was almost taller than I am. There are MILLIONS of these stones that make up the structure. To even see the top, I had to crane my neck back almost as far as it can go, just like looking at a skyscraper. It's extremely wide too -- we never even walked to the other side of the pyramid, but I can tell you it would take about three minutes at a normal pace to go from one end of one side to the other.

But returning to the tomb…I scrambled after the other people in my class, up the steps carved into the stone to the narrow opening (barely my height) that was left for access into the tomb. They punched my ticket, and I stepped into the rough hewn tunnel.
At first it was almost exactly like a cave--the walls seemed seamless (no pun intended) and the shape of the tunnel was irregular. This quickly changed when I climbed a half dozen recently installed metal stairs, to a very narrow shaft that ascends rapidly to the tomb at the center of the pyramid. 5,000 years ago people were short, I know, but no one is as short as they made that tunnel. Either they decided it was too much effort to make a human height shaft that gave entrance to the pyramid, or they enjoyed walking for almost an eighth of a mile bent double! That part of the pyramid was probably the worst just because it was so uncomfortable. The air quality was poor too -- it's not easy to get fresh air into a cave sealed so tightly that some claim aliens created it. It wasn't long until I was utterly drenched in sweat of a cool, slimy quality unfamiliar to me. There were brief openings in the low tunnel where you could stand for a moment and look up a few hundred feet to where it peaked like the inside of the pyramid. Why they didn't build it all like that is beyond me. Because of our eagerness to get into the tomb, we practically ran up the steep slope, so, in spite of the difficulty, it wasn't long at all until I stood up straight and entered a tall, black doorway to the darkness of the tomb.

The room was only maybe 60 by 30 feet, but the walls reached up two stories above me. They were made of a dark, almost black stone which seemed to suck in rather than reflect the light of the dim florescent tubes built into the sides of the tomb. It was almost completely empty, with walls, floors and ceiling as smooth as marble and so straightly cut I would have sworn it was hewn by a machine. The only object in the room (besides the 20 or 30 of us sweaty, echoing students) was on the far end from the entrance. A long, narrow black box made out of the same stone as the floor, the remains of the sarcophagus, was the instant focus of attention. I quickly walked over to it and stood on the side, my hands joining the thousands that had traced its edges into a polished, slick surface. The sarcophagus had no lid, and one corner was broken off in a V almost to the floor. The inside was just as smooth as the outside with the bottom covered in a thin layer of dirt. It was a while before the first person was brave enough to get in, and a while after that before someone lay down. I quickly realized that my opportunity to lie in the sarcophagus of Cheops, one of the greatest Pharaohs of the first dynasty, would be completely eclipsed if I didn't act before all the students gathered the courage to take their turn. As the fifth person in, I lay down with my head on one end and my toes pointed upward at the other. The coffin was my size, perhaps six inches too long. I crossed my arms over my chest just as everyone else had done, and, though I felt supremely immature, thought about how the people of the first dynasty had laid their God in this tomb after more than a month of mummification, and, leaving the tomb full of priceless treasures which were plundered only a few years later, slowly marched out. I only took a few moments in the sarcophagus, staring up at the black ceiling, sucking in the stale air, before I stood and exited.

While more people filled the tomb, someone started a song -- partly because we were in one of the greatest treasures in the world, and partly because the place echoed. It was "If You Could Hie to Kolob," one of my favorite hymns and one of the few which speaks directly of our theology about the afterlife and the preexistence. A few other songs were sung, and, as people became more comfortable, some of the boys started to hum as though they were mummies rising from the dead. I left about then, thankful that it was almost solely our group in the tomb because I was positive they would assume we were some strange cult. It didn't help that we'd naturally stood in little circles all throughout the tomb...

The descent was less strenuous but more difficult. Should I walk down forward doubled over completely in two, or should I descend more comfortably but with a greater chance of falling and walk backward? I opted for the first of the two, recognizing that my track record of injures due to clumsiness (or idiocy) isn't that great. When we were out, we wandered around on the rocks near the tomb’s exit for a bit, careful not to climb too high and get arrested. I took about a dozen pictures of me standing on the pyramid. For me, this is one of the most irritating things about traveling. I would rather do anything than pose for my thousandth picture! But I know that without photos, memories fade more rapidly. We left soon after, off to see the Sphinx.

We entered through the temple of Chephren, builder of the second pyramid, and the son of Cheops, builder of the great pyramid. His pyramid is, I believe, the one which the transformer in Transformers 2 tore through to get to something-or-other. That movie is really irksome. I don't know why Michael Bay has something against relics of the Near East. Anyway, the temple was spectacular of course, with many wide-based columns as all the Egyptian temples seem to have, and a well at the entrance where you're supposed to throw in money if you ever want to return to Egypt. I didn't throw in money, but my professor said he hadn't either when he was here the first time and, here he was again. So there superstition!

Exiting from the back, we came to stand on the left side of the Sphinx. People don't actually
know why it has no nose. There are multiple theories -- such as the Ottoman's blasting it off because it was sacrilegious, something-or-other about Napoleon or, as the movie Aladdin postulated, because two people flew by on a magic carpet and the distracted sculptor accidentally broke it off with his chisel.

The Sphinx is big, as big as you'd expect -- it still seemed large even though we were standing on a walkway 20 feet above ground level and 40 feet away from it. Apparently, when the Sphinx has been neglected for a while, it becomes covered in sand every few thousand years. In antiquity, because the desert had risen over it, some people believed the Sphinx was only a head planted on the sand. Most recently, when it was excavated, they found a little plaque between its legs. On it, in hieroglyphs I believe (though don't quote me on this) was a story from a Pharaoh on how, as a young boy, he had fallen asleep one day in front of the Sphinx. According to him, the Sphinx sent him a dream and told him that if he would remove the sand from around its body, he assured the boy that he would become king. This the boy did, and years later, as Pharaoh of all of Egypt, he came back to leave record about it.

President Brown, the District President of all the Middle East pretty much and the director of our center, who has been a consultant on such religious and diverse things as the Coptic encyclopedia, the movie Prince of Egypt and the movie Journey of Faith, gave us a brief, spontaneous discourse on how the ancient Egyptian temple system is similar to ours in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was fascinating. A friend of mine took a picture of me "kissing" the sphinx which is actually pretty convincing. Hopefully he'll put it on Facebook so I can have a copy. Realizing that I should purchase something as a record of these places, I got a really overpriced brass pyramid with hieroglyphs on the sides and a "wooden" Egyptian cat. Over the course of that week, I lost or broke both of them. So basically, I will have to go back, just so I can get a proper souvenir.

We left the Sphinx, to my sadness (I was feeling quite chummy with him) and rode around the Giza plateau to a place where we could get pictures of all three pyramids together. From there, we went to a small valley of tombs built into the rock and specifically into the tomb of Ti. If you've never heard of Ti, I wouldn't be too distraught. He was actually just a hairdresser. Really! But for some reason, he was wealthy enough to create an elaborately carved, hieroglyph-covered tomb. We spent a good deal of time standing in a room deep in the tomb whose walls were completely covered in hieroglyphics and drawings of daily life at the time of the Egyptians. The color was even preserved on some of the carvings which were even more impressive because they weren't carved into the stone; the stone around it was carved away so the pictures were raised up and even contoured so you could see the shape of the muscles in the arms of the workers of the field. Our tour guide, Ahmed, bless his heart, spent almost an hour explaining pretty much every aspect of the tomb despite the fact that we were all utterly exhausted and it was ridiculously hot. Through it all, the face of Ti stared at us from the other room. The chamber where we were was the “offerings chamber” where people were supposed to come and offer victuals to the family of Ti. In order so he could see it, they had carved and painted a statue of Ti then put a little hole in the wall where, if you stood directly in front of it, it seemed his dark eyes were staring right at you.

THIS IS A CHANGE FROM THE ORIGINAL (originally I said we went to Memphis this day, but that was actually in Luxor, and here we're still in Cairo...)

What actually happened was that we went to a papyrus factory where we spent quite some time. It was below a really fancy market place for overpriced souviners, and it was constantly being filled by busses of tourists. They had a man demonstrate exactly how papyrus was made anciently, then tell us how to buy some of our own made by the artists there who created them and painted them the ancient way. It was a really legitimate place, very nicely taken care of. Though the papyrus was, of course, over priced. I ended up only buying one as a gift-- a beautiful papyrus of a ship from ancient Egypt. I was too stingy to buy any more. When we left, we were off to eat and then to fly to Luxor.

Because it was still Ramadan (though that night was the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid Al-Fitr, or the little feast that lasts three days and is the Muslim equivalent of Christmas), when we went to lunch at a nice restaurant, there were no people there but us. We had an entire staff of 8 people serving us at the buffet and providing us with sodas -- which they didn't tell us cost money until the end. The food was good, and we over-looked the Nile wetlands and greenery filled with palm trees and houses that were falling apart. The manager had a really fabulous sense of humor, so he went up to a girl every once in a while and did this really incredible trick involving a cup full of tea or coffee and a spoon where he would pretend to spill it on someone but then catch it at just the last second. That was also my first experience with being told that I had beautiful eyes like the moon... it happened a lot in Luxor. I spoke with the waiter in Arabic for a bit, so I think he was impressed, and he told me a couple times how "yo have bautaful eyeis," (read out loud, it should sound like an Arabic accent). There was not one time anyone complimented me on the rest of the trip that it was not about my “eyeis.”

As we headed back to our bus they played really loud Backstreet Boys music -- not for us, but in preparation for a party later that night. It was really quite fun to hear though -- at least in Egypt the Backstreet Boys are still cool!

From the restaurant, we drove straight to the Cairo airport where I broke the cat I bought at the pyramids on the security machine. The plane we took to Luxor was sort of small, but the flight was really short and they provided us with seemingly endless drinks. The landing was the roughest I've ever experienced: we bounced at least three times and lurched to the right and left several times before straightening out. I felt ill for about an hour later.

After a short bus ride on our new Luxor busses, we got to the beautiful Sheraton Hotel where we were going to stay the next couple of days. It sits right on the Nile, but unfortunately I got a room on the side that looked over the parking lot! When I did see the Nile that evening, it was a shimmering strip of black, reflecting the lights of the boats gliding over it and the hotels that lined western edge. The moon was barely a crescent and it hung low and golden. It was stunning.

Oh, I mustn't forget to mention how amazing the rooms were. They were modernish, black wood and white beds, and they were equipped with huge televisions that played Arabic soap operas which are exceedingly entertaining to watch, let me tell you. I was exhausted and, still feeling slightly ill, I didn't go out on the town that evening. I went to bed pretty early, excited for the next day.

Coming next: Luxor's temples, and the flight to