This week has been really great! It's been great to be back in Jerusalem. I really missed eating normal food, drinking water out the tap, and not going to the bathroom in gross toilets whenever we go places like we did in Turkey. We had an Arab culture night on Wednesday where we had a call to prayer demonstration, a feast of yummy food, and where they taught us how to do some Arab folk-dancing. We also had our first mid-term on Friday for Old Testament. Everyone was talking about how they thought they bombed it, but I think I did pretty well. But I'm sure I'll just have to wait and see how I did. We also have more mid-terms coming up this week and next week for our hard classes. It's weird to think that I've been here long enough to have mid-terms in my classes. It seems like just yesterday that we were getting off of the plane in Tel Aviv when no one in our group knew each other, and we were all discombobulated about what day it was. But now I can see that I have learned and grown here so much in a very short amount of time.
My favorite academic classes here are Hebrew and Judaism. I love learning about the Jewish culture and the history of the religion of Judaism. I think learning about Islam is interesting too, but I feel like I can understand the Old Testament better and understand the history of the land of Israel by learning about the Jewish religion. This week in our Judaism class, we talked all about the different sects of Judaism. Before the French Revolution, there were two sects that were at odds with each other that have survived to modernity called the Hasidim and the Misnagdim. These are known as the ultra-orthodox Jews that wear the long and short black coats, wear the fuzzy hats, and grow the long curls on the sides of their head (for men anyway). Both groups dress a lot alike, and they are often lumped together because they rejected the modern movement of Judaism that made Judaism into a religion. (Rather than what it had been before when Judaism could be a nation, people, culture, and a religion). But these two groups don't like each other to this day, even though they are not violent towards each other as they used to be. Outside of that, there are orthodox Jews, conservative Jews, and reform Jews. There are a lot of differences between these groups, but the main differences between them are how much of the Mosaic Law they still follow.
I really enjoyed learning about all of these different groups because on Friday evening, a group of about twenty of us went to a liberal orthodox synagogue for a Shabbat (Sabbath) service with our Judaism teacher as part of our class. It was really cool. The whole service was in Hebrew, so I couldn't understand most of it. The only way I was able to get anything out of it was because they had prayer books that the service follows each week that had English translations of the prayers and songs for the service. The coolest part of the service was in the middle when everyone stood up and turned to the back of the room to welcome in the Sabbath as if it were a bride entering the room. Everyone bowed and sang songs of rejoicing after that. The Jews see the Sabbath as very special, and they feel that keeping the Sabbath is so important to them. I have been so impressed with how much they love the Sabbath. It was funny to me that even in a Jewish synagogue, you see a lot of the same things that you see in our church: rowdy kids that have to be taken out, people wearing sandals that shouldn't, and people socializing before and after the service. One thing that also impressed me was that they sang all of the songs a capella, and everyone just knew the tunes of how the songs went. The words are all in the prayer books that they have, but there wasn't any music to sing off of. So I thought that was neat.
This week we went on a neat field trip on Monday. We just went over to Jericho, which is about a twenty-minute drive from Jerusalem. It's funny that it was actually that close because after driving for about ten minutes, it all of a sudden looked liked we were in the middle of nowhere. It is in the West Bank, which means it is not part of the actual state of Israel. (The West Bank refers to the west bank of the River Jordan.) The West Bank is under Palestinian authority, but it is not part of any actual country. It is considered kind of dangerous to go there since it is such a disputed piece of land between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The only other time we go there will be when we go to Bethlehem. But we were very safe while we were there. It is a long downhill descent to Jericho, so now it makes sense why it says in the scriptures that people went "down" to Jericho. Jerusalem is about 3500 feet above sea level, and Jericho is about 1000 feet below. So there is a massive change in elevation between the two. When we got there, we went to the Wadi-Qilt and read the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10 while overlooking the St. George Monastery. (It's a Greek-Orthodox monastery.) The thought that came to me as we were sitting there is that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho is a lot like this life. It is really beautiful and pretty green in Jerusalem, and it is very fertile and green in Jericho just as the premortal existence and the Celestial Kingdom might be. But the road in between like this life is pretty dry and ugly. It would be hard to travel on by foot, just like life can be hard sometimes. But if we can remember where we came from and where we are going, it is much easier to keep going on the hard road and be kind and charitable, just as the Samaritan was on the road to Jericho.
After that, we went up on one of the hills in the wilderness we were in, and we read the story of Christ being tempted by Satan out of Matthew 4. It was neat to see what the landscape would have looked like that Christ would have seen when he was fasting for forty days and nights. I think it's amazing that he was able to do that because it is very hot and dry there. We were there at about nine in the morning, and it was already starting to get hot. But it would be a good place to get away from people because it's very quiet and desolate. It was extremely windy there, so that also made it very dry.
After that, we visited the ancient ruins of Jericho. There wasn't a lot there except dirt, but it was neat to see where the ancient city might have been. One of the interesting things that I learned was that there is no archaeological evidence for the walls of Jericho falling down around the time when Joshua would have come through and taken the city for the Israelites. There is evidence of the city being destroyed about two or three hundred years later, so the data doesn't match up with the Bible. That's okay though because I still believe that the Lord helped Joshua and his army to conquer the city, even if it didn't happen in the literal way that the Bible says it happened with the walls falling down. The coolest thing about Jericho is that it is considered to be the oldest city in the world because there is a tower there that was found that dates back to the stone age. So people have been living there since about 9000 BC. So I got to visit the oldest city on earth. :-) After the ruins of Jericho, we visited a spring that people speculate being the Elisha spring. Elisha is the prophet that followed Elijah. The story of him blessing the spring can be found in 2 Kings 2. We read that story while we were at the spring, and it was really neat to think about the miracle of a spring being healed because it is so comparable to how Christ is the living water that can heal us and take care of our sins. After the spring, we visited an overlook where you can see the ruins of Herod's winter palace from. It was neat to talk about what kind of legacy Herod left (a bad one). My teacher Brother Schade challenged us to leave a legacy that lasts unlike the ruins of Herod's palace that didn't last and a bad reputation.
Today I was able to visit the Garden of Gethsemane after church, and it was really neat. We took the shortcut through the Orson Hyde Memorial Park, which was dedicated to Orson Hyde because the Church has made such a good impression on the government here as a result of the members of the Church that have visited here and have kept the promise of not proselyting. (Both sites are about a ten minute walk form the Jerusalem Center.) Anyway, one of the things that I've learned here is that nothing ever looks the way I would expect it to when we visit a site. It is a very small walled-off garden in the courtyard of the Church of All Nations. The church was beautiful inside. Unfortunately, no one can go inside the garden because they want to keep it nice because so many people visit there. But there were olive trees in there, and lots of beautiful flowers. Today in church, we had a lesson in Sunday School about the Sabbath day, and we talked a lot about the sacrament. So it was neat to have the image of the sacrament fresh in my mind while I was there. While I was there, I thought a lot about the John Bytheway talk, "The Best Three Hours of the Week" because he talks so much about the sacrament in that talk. And I kept thinking about how he talked about a man whose life had been saved while rock climbing. And John Bytheway quotes the man whose life had been saved, who says something really profound: "How do you repay someone that just saved your life? You really can't. You just always remember them." And I thought about how often I sit in sacrament meeting, take the sacrament, and don't think much about it. It made me think of a primary song that I remember singing a lot as a kid:
"It shouldn't be hard to sit very still
And think about Jesus's cross on the hill.
After all that He suffered and did for me,
It shouldn't be hard to sit quietly.
It shouldn't be hard even though I am small (or big)
To think about Jesus.
Not hard at all."
After visiting the garden, I have a renewed appreciation for the atonement of Christ because it shouldn't be hard to remember what He has done for all of mankind. He suffered for our sins, pains, and afflictions so that we wouldn't have to. I know that He lives and that He loves us. I want to always remember what He has done for me so I can better keep my baptismal covenants. It is easy to remember Christ here in Jerusalem because there are reminders everywhere that this is the Holy City. But I want to remember no matter where I am or how old I get. Because it shouldn't be hard to sit still and remember someone who saved all of our lives. I hope I can always remember going there when I take the sacrament from now on.