This week has been pretty great. On Sunday, we went down to Eilat, which is the only part of Israel that touches the Red Sea. It is a very small part of what touches the Red Sea. It was about a three and a half hour drive down there, so we left at about six in the morning, and we got back at about 10:30 that night. It was really neat to go there and snorkel. The beach there isn't really that nice. It's not much of a beach really because the sand is more like dirt. And then under the water, there is just a ton of rocks all over the bottom of the ocean as soon as you walk into it, so unless you jump off one of the docks there, you can't really just go in and swim. The water was extremely clear. It reminded me of swimming in Bear Lake because the water was kind of cold and that lovely light blue. So snorkeling was really weird at first because it seems so unnatural to stick your face in the water and breath. But once I got used to it, I really liked it. There is a pretty good-sized coral reef there next to Eilat in the Red Sea. So I saw a lot of different kinds of coral and a lot of really pretty fish in the water. It was truly an amazing experience because the landscape around the whole place is just a bunch of ugly desert. So it was neat to see more of God's creations that I had never even seen before. I never thought I would get to see a coral reef. It just always seemed like some far-off thing that I have only ever read about in books before. I wish that I had had an underwater camera with me so that I could have taken pictures under the water. It was a really fun day because we got to snorkel and just relax on the beach. A lot of people got pretty sunburned, but I didn't get sunburned at all. (The sunscreen you gave me worked really well Mom. Thanks!) We went to a restaurant for dinner at some local place there in Eilat. The food they served was pretty good, but they had the best ice cream! The ice cream here in Israel is more gummy than in the U.S., but it's still really good. I got strawberry cheesecake ice cream, and it totally hit the spot after a day at the beach. Then we got back on the buses and headed home. It was definitely a great day. :-)
We had a different kind of a field trip this week. On Wednesday, we went to this Bible nature preserve called Neot Kadumim. There they try to preserve all of the plants that are mentioned in the Bible. And I didn't realize it until we went there, but there are a lot that are mentioned. We had a tour guide that took us around the place, and we looked at tamarisk trees, caper bushes, almond trees, and fig trees there. We also saw an ancient well and talked about the story of Rebecca pouring water for Eliezer (the servant of Abraham) and his ten camels and how much work that would have taken. We also got the chance to herd some sheep and goats. That was really fun, even though it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. You have to stand behind the sheep and push them, rather than try to lead them in the front. And they are kind of hard to get going, but once you get them going, they will keep moving pretty well. At one point our guide had us separate the sheep and the goats, and that was kind of hard because they all just wanted to clump together in one big group. It was neat to do that because I feel like I will understand all of the sheep analogies that there are in the scriptures now much better.
After herding sheep, we got to go to a campsite looking place, and we split into groups and made our own lentil soup and pita bread. It was really fun to cook something after not cooking anything for two months almost. I chopped an onion for the soup, and I could tell that I was out of practice because I couldn't do it very quickly. Haha! That was a really yummy lunch, and we had a good time making it. Our group had some of the best food because most of the other groups burned theirs.
Also at Neot Kadumim, a Torah scribe talked to us. He read the Torah for us, and showed how you could read one passage in several different ways. He showed us how he makes ink and talked about how long it could take to write one scroll. The process is very intricate. They don't allow any mistakes, so if you mess up on writing a letter, then you have to start over on another piece of parchment for the section you are on.
On Thursday, we had a Passover dinner. They call it a Seder dinner in Hebrew because the word "seder" means order. There is a very specific order to what happens at the dinner. The whole thing lasted about three hours because you read a lot of the story of the exodus from Egypt. I read a narrating part at the dinner, so I got to sit at a table in the front of the room. I really enjoyed it. It was neat to read about the miracle of the exodus and have a ceremony about it. Our Judaism teacher lead the dinner, and at the beginning he made the joke that every Jewish holiday can be summed up with, "They almost killed us, but they didn't. So let's eat." Hahaha!! The grape juice we drank instead of wine was really good. The whole dinner was pretty neat, and the food was really good. Except for the unleavened bread we ate. It's called matza, and it pretty much tastes like cardboard. Bleh! But the whole thing was a good experience. I really liked it. Too bad we couldn't be here for the actual holiday of Passover. One thing that I noticed as we went through the dinner was that all the words were in past tense. "God brought us out of Egypt, God has done great miracles for us, etc." It made me realize how much God has done in the past for his children. But the great thing is that He still loves His children now, and we still see God's hand in our lives today. It's not only something that happened in the past. God still does miracles today. We just have to know to look for them because they may not be as grand as parting the Red Sea.
Yesterday, I went out into the city with some friends, and after shopping around a bit, we found this Jewish bakery right next to the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish quarter that was about to close for the day. Since it was the end of the day on a Friday and they were closing right before the Sabbath started, they were trying to get rid of their stuff, so everything was really cheap. So I got this bag full of pastries for 6 shekels. (Less than $2). I shared with my friends, and I ate some more of it today after church. (Every Sabbath here feels like fast Sabbath because we eat breakfast at eight, but we have dinner at four with no lunch in between, so I am always starving by dinnertime. So it was good to have something to eat right after church at 1.) So that bakery is definitely a gem that I plan on going back to because their stuff was so good, and it was so cheap.
Today at church, I did a musical number with my friends Morgan and Luiza. Morgan and I played a violin duet of "How Great Thou Art" while Luiza accompanied us. It was really fun to do that with them. I love church here because every sacrament meeting and every lesson in class is so good. Like today we had a really great lesson in Relief Society about Sister Burton's talk "First Observe, Then Serve" from the Relief Society broadcast this last September. Everyone always makes such good comments. Every week we have quite a few visitors because lots of people come here on vacation, so you just never know what cool people that make comments you get to hear from in classes or in testimony meetings.
This next week we have finals for four of our classes and a midterm for one of them. I'm excited because that means the hard part of the semester is almost over. After this, we will get to go on more trips and be able to spend more time out in the city. Unfortunately though, we don't get to go on a field trip this next week which is sad. But that's all right. Thank you to everyone who reads this blog! I really appreciate the chance to share this experience with others.
Imagine stuffing one of these in the buffer. What?!?)
We got to cook lentil soup and pita bread at Neot Kadumim, and it was really yummy! It was also really fun to cook something again after not cooking anything for like 2 months.