This week was something entirely different from the rest of this trip, but in a very good way. Let's start at the beginning shall we?
Sunday was our fieldtrip day, giving us Monday as an exam prep day for what many people feared would be the hardest of our exams. Since we're just now starting the New Testament, we are starting to have our fieldtrip emphasis on the period around the year 0. Therefore, our tour this week was on Herodian Jerusalem--pretty much everything that was in Jerusalem which we still have from the time of Herod the Great. When we left, pretty early in the morning, our first destination was the kotel tunnel. This tunnel goes along the length of the actual western wall--they started digging down there a few years ago, so now you can walk from one end of the Western side of the temple mount (which is huge by the way) to the other, mostly underground. The tunnel is hugely controversial, mostly because there are houses on top of it and people are afraid that the foundations of their house will be weakened, but also because some of the Jews who were originally digging it started to head UNDER the temple mount itself, something which was hugely taboo for the Muslims. It was a pretty big deal for a while. The wall was beautifully made, and as we walked along it, we were encouraged to touch as much as possible. Remember, for the Jews, the spirit of God left the Temple upon its destruction, and came to inhabit the wall. According to tradition, the holy of holies of the original Temple was exactly where the stone of the dome of the rock is now. So when we reached the point which was directly closest to the holy of holies, there were perhaps twenty women praying at the wall just like they do at the traditional parts of the western wall. They were all very traditional, rocking back and forth, and praying with their beautiful little books. I would have liked to have stayed and watched. We exited the tunnel on the opposite side of the city, and from there, headed to one of the few discovered homes of people from the time of the destruction of the temple in 70 a.d. It is deep underground, unsurprisingly, as Jerusalem is a tel after all, and there are only a few stones on top of each other dividing the rooms of the house. They found a spear head and right next to it the arm of young girl, detached from her body. It is striking evidence of what happened there 2000 years ago. They showed a very badly acted movie based on the people who lived in this house during the Jewish revolt and the Roman destruction. It was such a ridiculously crazy time--there were Jews trying to incite their fellow Jews to fight, and as the Romans besieged the city, these Jews (Zealots) went around and burned the food storage of the people. Many people ignored the problem, others ran to Alexandria, everywhere there was fear and chaos. When the temple itself was destroyed, no one could believe it. It had been one of the 7 wonders of the world, it, like the titanic, was unsinkable. We went to other houses from this period, all of them priestly, aristocratic (Sadducee) homes. They were full of beautiful mosaics, mikvahs (or ritual baths) and stone pots because stone does not transmit impurities. Every one of them had been burnt to the ground in the deluge. From there, we went back to the temple mount, and we went through the archeological museum there. It is ridiculous how many peoples of different periods have built things there-- from the Mamluks (Mongolian looking Muslims) to the Byzantines, to the crusaders and templar knights, and all the way back to Solomon. The most interesting there was the pile of stones from the original temple. They had been a part of the temple wall but had been pushed over by the Romans. There is a large stone which had been the very pinnacle of the mountain and which smashed the pavement of the road below it when it was pushed over. In Hebrew, it says "the place of the sounding of the trumpet" and it is where the priests would stand to blow the trumpet to announce the beginning of holidays or the Sabbath. We had a fabulous little talk about Christ's experiences on the temple mount before we finished. When we left, I went to an extremely interesting, and controversial, place. Called the third temple institute, it is the organization dedicated to recreating everything which was in the original temple exactly as it had been so when they were able to (as in, when the Dome of the Rock was gone) they could immediately step in and rebuild the temple. The people there could be alternately called fanatics or dedicated, depending on your perspective. It was fascinating--they showed us the priestly clothing, the recreated alters and menorahs and other things used in the temple and even offered their explanation for how they hoped to solve impossible situations; most prominently, the lack of the ark of the Covenant. According to them, the ark was hidden under the temple mount during the destruction of the temple, and it is there still. They just have to get to it. It was amazing meeting people working so diligently on such a thing as this. I don't know if I've ever met anyone so dedicated to something so incredibly controversial. Our tour guide was a girl who, instead of going into the army, was doing national service by working in the institute. She said she had come into it slightly skeptical, but she now saw this as one of the most important things anyone could be doing.
Monday was essentially dreadful--in theory I studied all day, in reality, I wandered around studying everything else and occasionally studying the right subject. Tuesday was dominated by preparing for the final in the evening. It went remarkably well, and then I was free of finals for another month and half! Woot! As nothing of any consequence occurred on Wednesday, I'll skip right to the good stuff on Thursday morning. After classes, a few of us had agreed to go do service in the old city with an organization called the Good Samaritan center. It is right in the middle of the Christian quarter. I'd noticed it before, but I'd never thought to go in. When we arrived, we were shuttled up a flight of steps in a building which was obviously built over a period of years and different needs and styles, so the whole place, much like the old city, was an amalgamation of haphazard walls and misaligned rooms. We were led into a nicely Middle Eastern room where we waited for a while before having an hour long introduction to the program from its saintly director and founder, Raja. He told us of all the troubles which plague the Christian quarter of the old city where he had grown up and where he hoped to spend the rest of his days. There was a lot of drug abuse, alcoholism, broken families who, though they lived in the same house, would never speak to each other, poverty, children who had free reign of the internet from a young age and who were consequently filling their minds with the dirt of the world, mistreated mentally retarded people, and 450 elderly who were frequently without family or, if they had them, were frequently neglected by them. It is all of these people who Raja tries to help in whatever way he can. He started by bringing meals to the elderly who were unable to cook for themselves and had no one to do it for them. He provides services for taking people to the hospital in wheelchairs when they need it. With the help of many volunteers, he assures that the elderly have a blood sugar and pressure check every week, and that those who live alone are visited by someone every day. He knows each of their needs and he will work to find a way to solve them, for example, one woman we visited had no bathroom she could use, even though her family had one upstairs, and so she had to go outside. Raja has been working on repairing the neighbor's bathroom on the condition that this woman would be allowed to use it. He knows everyone in the Christian quarter personally. He watches over the children to assure that those who have drug addict parents are looked after, and those whose parents simply don't care about their whereabouts are being safe. He is just about to start a program where he'll have volunteers teach the parents how to use a computer so they can monitor their child's doings. The organization has even adopted seven girls who are completely neglected, and he assures they have somewhere the live, food, friends, and he even goes to the school to assure that things are going well there. To teach the children the bible which most of them don't know, he has put signs up all over the quarter which are scriptures in English and Arabic, and has the children memorize them for prizes. Every year, people get Christmas presents from the organization of things like some chocolate, new toothbrushes, soap and towels (this year, we provided all of that for them). He even started putting trashcans in the street so the people would stop throwing their trash all over the road. It worked perfectly, and the Christian quarter is much cleaner than the majority of the rest of the city. I am astounded by this man, and I hope to emulate him in some way. He has completely transformed this part of the city from what it was before.
Anyway, to continue. We visited three different homes. In the first was the oldest man in the old city--he is 105! I've never met a person over 100 before and he was 105! He could easily have been 80 with how mobile he was. His wife and he spoke excellent English, though they had difficulty hearing. They're house could have been taken straight out of the 1920s. It was adorable. The next house was much more saddening. We went upstairs to a tiny apartment where the bedroom was also the sitting room and the only other rooms were the kitchen and bathroom. The old woman living there had a deep, gravelly voice and she hobbled around on swollen feet. Her daughter, I think, had a deformed arm and a prominent limp; though she insisted on giving us the good seats and even getting up to give us the culturally demanded chocolate. The horrible thing was that next-door, a new family had moved in and for three years they had been doing renovations during the day. It sounded like someone was using a jackhammer in the middle of the room. The woman looked like she was on the point of tears with all the noise, and she complained of pain in her head and the back of her neck. I could barely hear myself think and I'd only been there 20 minutes. Raja had tried several times to convince the people living there to do renovations for less time each day or at a different time of day, but nothing had made a difference. We sang them a couple songs, and by the time we were ready to leave, the old woman was smiling and clapping along. It felt good to make some good of her day. We then went to probably the most pitiful house we had been to yet, and the sweetest woman. Her name was Aida and she had been the seamstress for Queen Noor of Jordan. She lived in a single room, smaller than my bedroom at home, where she had a narrow bed covered in some of the bed sheets she had sewn, and a tiny couch we squeezed onto. Next to her half sized fridge, she had the smallest camping stove I had ever seen, where she was making coffee which she offered us. I was amazed by her face. She still puts on makeup every day, though she is probably over 80. Her hair was nicely died brown, and her eyes, surrounded by kohl, seemed to jump out at you. They were the image of sweetness. She was so tiny, I don't think I've ever seen someone that hunched and skinny before. Wearing all black, it was like her head was a little bobble on top of a stand. But she smiled so sweetly, and she refused to sit while we were there, though we are all young. We sang to her too, and she smiled pleasantly the whole time. Then she slowly shuffled over to the fridge and tried to find us some chocolates, even though she had hardly any food in there. She was unsuccessful, but we assured her it didn't matter. She insisted on telling us some of the stories of some of the things she had made through Raja acting as our interpreter. I didn't want to leave her there all by herself--she is the woman who I spoke of earlier who has no toilet, though her family lives right upstairs. This sort of thing should never happen. No one should be shoved into a hole because they're too difficult to take care of. We had to go so Raja could get back to his work, and we were returned to the center. Later that day, I was able to get out and meet some of the families across the street from the center. Though I speak only a little Arabic, and only a couple of them spoke English, we had a really fun time being together. I love the girls here, they're generally really sweet. They smile easily and laugh with sparkly eyes. I also learned about Islam from the father, Samir, who promised to try to take us to the Dome of the Rock. He read some of the Qu'aran to us.