Saturday, August 10, 2013

Church of St. Savior, Ramat Rachel, Qumran, Masada, the Dead Sea, Ein-Gedi, Last Week at the Jerusalem Center

This week has been really great!  We finished up all of our finals this week!  Yay!!  I think I did pretty well on them, but we’ll see.  I’m glad that the school part of this experience is over.  It’s been a long school year.  (From August to August).  Today is the first official day of real “summer vacation” because I won’t have any homework to do, assignments to complete, or tests to take for three weeks.  So that’s really nice.  Even though I’ve been in school, I’ve loved the things I’ve been able to learn and study.  I’ve gotten to see and do so many cool things.  This has definitely been the best summer of my life up to this point.
On Sunday, I went out with Steve Michelson and Rachel Singer, and we went to the Catholic Church of St. Savior in the Christian Quarter of the Old City.  We walked in on a mass in Arabic.  It was a very beautiful church, and it was cool to see it actually being used for a service.  The best part about walking in during a mass was that we got to hear their organ during one of their songs, and the organ in that church is one of the best in the Middle East, probably only behind the one at the Jerusalem Center.  We didn’t stay for the whole thing, but it was nice to be able to see part of what other people do to worship Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

After visiting the church, we walked to a bus stop so we could take a bus to see Ramat Rachel (pronounced Ramat Rahel with a throaty “h” sound).  It is the traditional burial spot for Rachel, Jacob’s wife.  Rachel Singer and I really wanted to see it because of our names.  It’s kind of far away from the rest of Jerusalem because we rode the bus from the middle of the city for fifteen minutes to get to it.  In the scriptures it says that Rachel died in Bethlehem, and since Bethlehem is only five miles south of Jerusalem, they put the tomb of Rachel just barely inside the wall that separates the West Bank from Israel proper so that the Israelis could have possession of it.  Ramat Rachel is actually a kibbutz that is barely inside the Jerusalem city boundaries, so it’s kind of its own little town really.  The memorial to Rachel there is very beautiful.  It’s on a small hill in between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.  From there, you can see both cities, and that is really neat.  On the hill is a large grove of olive trees that are all in perfect rows.  Then in the center of the grove, there is an open space with three huge columns with three olive trees on top of the columns that make up the memorial to Rachel.  While I was there I couldn’t help but think that it was neat to commemorate one of the mothers of Israel with olive trees in light of the allegory of the olive tree in Jacob 5.  Many people will be brought into the family of the House of Israel by lineage and through adoption just like the branches of the olive tree that are natural and the ones that are grafted in in the allegory.  I also think it’s neat that there are three columns there because three major religions hold that land in high esteem and recognize Rachel as an important individual.  It was a very beautiful setting, and we had a nice time being there and taking pictures.  And when I saw what was across the street from the memorial, I knew I was meant to be named Rachel because there was a cherry orchard!  And I love cherries!  It was a cool coincidence to see that in a place where my namesake is honored.  I also thought it was cool to see the place where one of the mothers of Israel, who gave physical life to so many descendents was buried in the place where the Savior, who would give spiritual life to so many was born.

After taking the bus back from Ramat Rachel, we got off the bus and heard primary songs playing in Jerusalem because we got off right next to the YMCA carillon tower where we knew other people in our group were playing the bells for all of Jerusalem to hear.  It was neat to hear that because I went and did that a couple of weeks ago, and I could appreciate what they were doing.  Plus the timing was just perfect so that we got off the bus when “Beautiful Savior” was being played.  After that, we walked around the city and tried to visit some other churches, but they were closed.  So we did some shopping and then headed back to the JC after a day of being out in the city.

Monday was awesome!  We took a field trip to the Dead Sea and some of the cool things around it.  It was kind of a different field trip because almost half of our entire JC group was grounded because of getting in trouble for skinny-dipping.  So we only took one bus instead of two, and it was fun to be in a different group than our normal classes that we are normally with on field trips.  (Too bad for the people that stayed home writing reports about the places instead of going to them because it was an awesome day!) First we visited Qumran where the Essenes (a Jewish sect that was waiting for the Messiah out in the desert) lived.  In caves around the site was where all of the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.  That was pretty neat.  Then we visited Masada, a palace built by Herod the Great on top of a huge mesa in the middle of the desert that overlooks the Dead Sea.  It was really cool because we took a cable car up to the top of the mesa, and then we explored the ruins and got to see where Herod’s palace would have been.  We also could see ruins leftover from the first Jewish revolt.  The Romans besieged Jewish soldiers there, and when the Romans were finally able to get through to the top of the mesa, they found that all of the soldiers had committed suicide rather than surrender to the Romans.  There were pottery shards found in one of the rooms at Masada with names on each shard.  They think these were to cast lots to see who was going to commit suicide next/kill the next guy.  It was really interesting, and it was cool to get a really good aerial view of the Dead Sea.

After Masada, we went to the Dead Sea, and it was really cool!  You really do float so much in it because the water has 33% salinity.  (The ocean only has 3% salinity).  We found some of the famous “Dead Sea mud” and put it all over ourselves to make our skin softer, and it really does work.  The water was really warm though, and it honestly didn’t feel very refreshing to swim in.  It’s actually hard to swim in it because you are so buoyant in the water that all you can really do is float.  The other thing is that the water looks and feels like oil almost.  It was weird but cool.  After going to the Dead Sea, we drove five minutes to get to Ein-Gedi.  It’s a spring where David went to hide from Saul when Saul was trying to kill him.  We talked about how David spared Saul’s life and only cut off the corner of his robe because David still respected the priesthood and the one that the Lord had called to be the king.  There were a bunch of waterfalls and pools there, so we played in those for a while and got nice and cool because it is really hot down by the Dead Sea.  So it was a really great day and a lot of fun.  J

This is my last week here at the Jerusalem Center.  We all leave here on Wednesday night.  All my classmates will get on an airplane to head back to the States Wednesday night, and I will meet my parents at the airport that night and spend the next week here with them.

I have really enjoyed my time here at the Jerusalem Center.  There have been some hard things about being in this program that I didn’t expect, and there have been some really great things about being in this program that I have really enjoyed.  I’m grateful for the friends that I’ve made here, and even though there have been hard moments here, I’m glad for the experiences I’ve been able to have this summer.  I wouldn’t trade them for anything.   Looking back on this semester, I think the thing I will be glad for the most are the things I’ve been able to learn.   I’m thankful that I got to learn more about the Israel-Palestine conflict and about the history of this area and about the people that live here now.  I’m glad that I learned how to read and write the Hebrew alphabet and learn some basic phrases.  I’m grateful I could learn more about other religions and see how they influence people’s lives here.  But I think I am most thankful for the chance to spend a lot of time in the scriptures each day and to really learn more about the Bible and how to read and understand it better in the place where all of the events in it took place.  My relationship with Jesus Christ has been strengthened so much through this experience.  I know that He knows me and that He loves me.  I know that Jesus was, is, and always will be my Savior.  He is the Christ and the Messiah.  He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the great I AM.  He truly is God’s son that came to earth to atone for the sins, afflictions, infirmities, sicknesses, and pains of humanity.  I’m thankful that I could come to know Him and our Heavenly Father better through the Holy Ghost.  I feel as if I have had an experience much like Peter’s in Matthew 16 where Peter declares, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-17).  I know that Christ is the Son of the living God because the Spirit has revealed it unto me.  I knew it before I came here, but I know it with more of a surety now than I ever have before.  In my New Testament class, my teacher showed us this quote that I think sums up my whole experience here in the Holy Land:

“Yes, I have walked where Jesus walked. I have bathed my feet on the shores of Galilee; I have tasted the waters of Jacob’s Well, where Jesus talked with the woman of Samaria; I have prayed in Gethsemane; and I have worshipped silently at the garden tomb. Each place stirred my soul and made me feel his holy presence. But I have not seen him in this life, nor have I spoken with him face-to-face. I know, however, that he lives and that he loves me. Through the power of the Holy Spirit I can testify that I know him as if I had seen him with my own eyes and heard his voice with my own ears. I hold in my heart the desire expressed by an earlier disciple: ‘I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure.’(Enos 1:27)”--Carlos Asay, “Three Questions” Ensign Jan. 1984

I have not seen the Lord, but I don't need to see Him in this life.  I have felt His presence, and I know that He lives and that He is my savior.  And I’m grateful that I know that.  Nothing else could matter more.

Thanks to everyone that has read my blog this summer!  I will do one more post about my experience with my parents here in the Holy Land, and then this chapter of my life will come to a close. 

 Inside the Church of St. Savior during mass.

 More of the Church of St. Savior.

 Steve and me at this cool sun dial we found in West Jerusalem on our way to Ramat Rachel.

 Me and Rachel Singer at the entrance to Ramat Rachel.  I don't know what the top or bottom line of this sign means, but the middle line says "Ramat Rachel" in Hebrew.  The three letters together on the middle left line are how you spell Rachel in Hebrew.

 Me and Rachel Singer by the road sign of Ramat Rachel.  We passed this on our way walking to the memorial.

 The cherry orchard at Ramat Rachel.  There were no cherries on the trees though.  I think they're out of season now because I haven't seen people selling them in the city for a couple of weeks now.

 Me and Rachel Singer at the memorial to Rachel.  Special shoutout to Steve: Thanks for taking all of the pictures of the Rachels!

 The olive trees around the memorial to Rachel at Ramat Rachel.  These surrounded the memorial on all sides.

 Me between two olive trees with Jerusalem in the background.

 We had to take pictures of everything that said Rachel on it, so we even took a picture of the hotel sign they have there at the kibbutz.

 The YMCA bell tower where we heard the primary songs coming from when we got off the bus in Jerusalem on our way back from Ramat Rachel.

 Me and Steve on the bus.

 Me at Qumran with some of the caves in the background where they found the Dead Sea scrolls.

 Mosaic in the bathhouse that was part of Herod's palace at Masada.

 Me in front of ruins of Herod's palace at Masada.

 On the edge of Masada.  You can see the Dead Sea in the background.  No really, I'm "dead sea-rious."  Haha!

 Walking by water cisterns at Masada that were stored in the palace.

 Me and Rose Kiernan in the dining hall at Masada.

 Kevin Peterson, Luiza Kulchetski, Rachel Singer, and me jumping in the dining hall.

 The view of the desert and the Dead Sea from Masada.

 Me covered in Dead Sea mud.  This stuff really works!  It makes your skin nice and soft.  And I finally achieved my life-long dream of being black for a day.  Haha!

 Me and Rachel Singer floating in the Dead Sea.

 Rachel Singer, me, and Nathan Eyring in the Dead Sea.

 Me, Rachel Singer, and Eric Dayhuff in the Dead Sea.

 The spring at Ein-Gedi.

 You can see some of the caves at Ein Gedi in this picture.

 Waterfall at Ein-Gedi.

 There were about six pools just like this at multiple levels that are fed by the spring at Ein-Gedi.  It definitely would have been a good place for David to hide out because there's all this water in the middle of the desert.

Sarah King, Kelby, Nathan Eyring, me, Kate Wiggington, Brandon, Julie Kelson, Courtney Newell, McKinley Pugh, and Sarah Bennett in one of the pools at Ein-Gedi.

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