Thursday, April 3, 2014

Far Far Away on Judea's Plain

Alrighty... we've got Turkey down... let's do these last two weeks. It's gonna be long! Sorry.

The cute Ballerina's that we ate dinner with!
So, the day we got home from Turkey coincided with the last day of the Jewish holiday - Purim. Purim is the festival that celebrates Esther and the Jewish people's deliverance. But modern day celebration is very similar to American Halloween. Everyone is dressed up... and people got super into it. I was feeling stir crazy after being sick so I was desperate to get out into the city! A group decided to try and go to Dome of the Rock and since I'd only been once I joined. Sadly, after waiting in line for 30 mins we were turned away... but, since the Western Wall entrance and the Dome of the Rock entrance are right next to each other we decided to take a peak at all the crazy costumes at the Western Wall. And it was well worth our time. There were quite a few Bar Mitzvah's going on. The boys all went to watch and I stood on a chair next to the separation wall and watched what a I could. After we wandered around the Jewish quarter quite a bit, trying to find something to do. We said hi to a man dressed as a box of crayons, he walked a few steps and then turned around and asked us if we had a place to eat Purim dinner. We said no and he invited us to his mother-in-law's house... and of course we said "Yes!" We walked into a nice little apartment overlooking the Western Wall, it was overflowing with people dressed as crayons, ballerina's, and gypsies. We were given delicious cakes and became the center of attention as we asked a million questions about Purim and Jewish customs. I was fascinated as I learned about the care-taking involved in holidays and matchmaking traditions. We finally excused ourselves with promises to come back. But it was an awesome experience!

That week we also had some amazing forums: one of the world leaders and adviser to the US on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and then one of the leaders of the PLO came and spoke to us. I won't say a whole lot about it besides the fact that it was fascinating! We actually got to go to the separation wall and see the graffiti... I felt like I had been taken back in time and was staring at the Berlin Wall. I don't think I'll ever be able to passively hear about the conflict again.

Also, we went back to Dome of the Rock... and we got a good lead for getting a pass into the Dome! Keep your fingers crossed!

That week we also went to Bethlehem. Legit West Bank. It was amazing! We went to the Herodian first, where Herod had his biggest castle/fortress and tomb. It was an interesting tel... plus a cool tunnel which always is a plus!The really fun part though was Herod's "swimming pool". I don't know that it could truly be called a pool, it was more like a small pond, with an island in the middle. Seriously, when full it was probably about 10 feet deep (Brigham, the 6'7" guy on our trip put his arms up and they barely reached the top of the wall!) There was a regal colonnade all around it, and there were itty bitty remnants of the mosaic that must have covered the floor... what a cool sight it would have been back in the day when travelers aproached the (in)famous city and were welcomed with the most magnificent swimming pool they had ever seen!

Then we went to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. Honestly... it was so Orthodoxed, I didn't expect to really connect with it....and I didn't as we walked into the basilica, watched the priests perform a service, smelled the incense coming from the grotto. But the minute I was down in the Grotto which was the inside of a cave, I was amazed what a peaceful spirit was there. I loved thinking of Mary going through childbirth for the first time, caring for her son, and those special moments and feelings that inevitably follow a newborn. It was actually a very spiritual experience for me and one I will never forget.
This is the entrance to the Grotto and my class waiting eagerly to enter to see where Christ was (supposedly) born. I imagine the shepherds that night had a similar experience, although maybe not so crowded!
Our last stop in Bethlehem was the Shepherd's fields. Dr. Belnap let us scatter around the field and contemplate what had happened there. It was a fabulous experience for me, reading Luke 2 as the sun set, and I overlooked Bethlehem. It was just about the same time of year too as Christ's birth. I felt as if I was watching a movie from 2000 years ago, I half expected ancient shepherds to bed down just over the hill and after a while, when it was still, dark, and everyone was wrapped up in their contemplation's of the day, a bright light to appear, and then hundreds of souls joining him, unable to contain their joy at the miracle that has occurred a few miles away, filling that lonely hillside with songs and happiness. What a fearful and then thrilling experience those shepherds had! And what a peaceful and loving experience I had in those same fields.

The next big event we had was a field trip to the Jewish Quarter. I was a little perturbed that we were wasting a field trip going into the Jewish Quarter, a place that I know pretty well, but there were a few sites that were cool: the Burnt House (an excavation that shows the destruction that happened in 70 ad), the remains of the temple wall, the triple gate. But the real excitement came for me later that day when we were given a free day. A bit of background: about a week prior, Dr. Belnap had told me about a secret room in the COHS that he was trying to get into, but with no luck. I had gone with Nate Bridgwater and Joe a few days earlier to try and get in, but they were not up to pursuing it. (Honest, they kept complaining about being tired and wanting to go home).  So, with the entire afternoon in front of me, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to try again, but I needed a small group that would be up to spending the time. I found Jon and told him about it and of course he was in, we roped Richie into and set off on our journey. We found out that the room was in the area of the church controlled by the Armenians, so we walked through the Armenian quarter on our way to the church. As luck would have it, we talked to a security guard at the monastery who told us how to find the security guards who would know who to talk to. We sat and chatted with the security guard, Robert, for about an hour and half way through, he held up a finger and said, "Let me try and contact Father Samuel." He spoke rapid fire Armenian on the phone for a few minutes. When he hung up he said, "Father Samuel will meet you in the Armenian quarter office in the COHS at 2." We could hardly contain our excitement, we were getting into the famous room that our professors had never even accomplished! 

Of course we headed straight over after we finished talking with Robert. Before to long, an old man with a long white beard and a pointy black hooded robe came up, Father Samuel in person! He exchanged greetings with us and then beckoned a younger priest over, handed him a ginormous ring of keys, and told us to take us to the "boat room". We followed him through the church, down the stairs, and through a gate, and then he was unlocking a door! I was almost giddy, he flipped on some lights and we went down some stairs and we were standing in the cistern directly under the church. It was incredible to see one that wasn't completely renovated for tourists, but still in very very good condition. There were still old pots that sitting on shelves! After that we moved through to a chapel underneath the church. It wasn't super interesting, except for the crusader graffiti of a boat scratched on the wall saying "Lord, we have arrived". We gawked at it for a little while, then I noticed that there were grates in weird places on the floor. I tried to shine a light down but couldn't see anything. I asked the priest what it was and he pointed to some stairs in the shadows. We scrambled down and voila! We were seeing what the site would have looked like in Christ's day... nothing more than a stone quarry. This makes perfect sense because quarries were often turned into cisterns and tombs. Standing there, the church finally came together for me, and I could see Christ being crucified for me. To avoid a flood of us swarming the Armenians, us three agreed to only tell Brother Belnap of our success. That night Richie told Brother Belnap, he said his face dropped and he looked around for me. I was innocently eating dinner at a large table. He dragged a chair over, plopped down, and said (shaking his head), "You got in?!?!" I laughed and said yes. He asked me how and I told him my story. He was happy for me and throughout the rest of dinner kept peppering me with questions, and by the end of the night, a handful of people had heard of our success. 
I spy an ancient crusader boat graffiti
The next day we had our Christian Quarter field trip. I was excited for this 1. because we were going to a bunch of churches and museums that I had been waiting to see. 2. because Brother Belnap had told me that this was his favorite field trip... and I obviously had learned to put a lot of weight into the sites he found important! The trip was awesome! We saw so many different churches of different faiths and with experts around to help us understand what we were seeing... it was a wonderful experience. There was a Roman Catholic church that brought to life what Ancient Roman temples must have looked like inside, plus very interesting symbolism. An Ethiopian chapel that had a very interesting priest to explain his beliefs to us. A Russian Orthodox museum/church that had remains of the original COHS and Logan was around to explain Russian stuff to me. The room were the Last Supper was supposedly taken, and I actually can believe this one, and a spunky nun to testify to us of Christ's knowledge of her. In the Last Supper room, the nun asked us to sing for her and it was a moving experience. The crowning jewel of the day however, was the Church of the Holy Seplechure with Brother Belnap brimming with knowledge of what were looking at. He is so choc full of knowledge, I sometimes wish I could just follow him around and learn what he knows. When we were in the Armenian chapel, he passed me the mic and asked me to describe what I had seen the day before. The secret was out, and I enjoyed some minor celebrity status for the next few minutes. 

After we were done, a group of us decided to do Hezekiah's Tunnels again... but with only oil lamps. It was a supper hot day so... the tunnels were very crowded. But it was still a fun experience. Because it was spur of the moment for me, I was in a skirt and had to go barefoot, but I think that made it better for me. I could almost imagine that I was a Jew during the revolt trying to escape or something like that... anyways...

Ok, final adventure for this post: the monastery under the Field of Blood. Remember a few weeks ago when Richie, Eric, Jon and I went and tried to get into the monastery and instead ended up at a Palestinian block party? Well, we got the times right this time and made the trek back (and it is a trek... very steep hills). We had a few more people in the group this time, but we made it, knocked on the door... and no one answered. We kept knocking, and ringing the bell. Finally Jon called the number and a round little nun opened the door and we talked our way in. She pointed us to the chapel and we went in, looked around, had to use our flashlights the church was soooo dark. We went up on the roof and saw a bunch of tombs next to the church, but it was gated off. Jon was feeling lucky so he went down to chat with the nun and within a few minutes she was unlocking the door and we went to explore the tombs. These may have been my favorite tombs, even though we couldn't crawl around in them, these were 1st century tombs in a gardenish setting... aka they were very very much the way I imagined Christ's tomb. For the most part they were untouched so it was simple to imagine Mary Magdalene coming to a setting like this and finding the stone rolled back... I was caught up in recreating it my mind for quite a while. 

When we were done exploring, we walked back up and this quite, hesitant nun showed us some friendliness and offered us oranges. We started chatting with her and found out there were 12 nuns living there and her job was to pick the oranges that they grew in the orchard. Long story short - she didn't enjoy picking those oranges, and when we offered to do it for her she literally yelped with excitement! We spent the next hour and a half climbing the trees, picking bags and bags of oranges, and chatting with our new friend. When there were no more oranges left on the trees, we carried the bags to the store room and she offered us some yummy cookie bars. We had to leave pretty quick afterwards in order to make it home on time, but as we left, she stood at the window and waved until we were out of site. These sweet woman seemed so lonely, I'm going to see if we can't get the center involved with the monastery to send some students to go help her pick her oranges. 

And there are my latest Jerusalem adventures - next up: Galilee!

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