Palm Sunday in Jerusalem

On Sunday we joined with thousands of Christian pilgrims in the Palm Sunday procession to Jerusalem.

The procession began at Bethphage, the church marking the spot where Christ mounted the donkey to begin his journey into Jerusalem. There were swarms of Palestinian boys selling palm branches; I bought one for three shekels and joined the rest of the worshipers at the top of the hill. The procession began.

There were people from every country and every walk of life imaginable. I detached myself from the BYU JC crowd to have a more authentic cultural experience. On Palm Sunday, it’s all about the journey.

Along the way, I talked to a woman from Holland who was here with her family. I met two girls my age who were studying conflict resolution at Hebrew University. I walked for a while with a retired couple from Missouri. I walked beside a Polish Catholic group, all dressing in matching uniforms displaying the Polish flag. There were Boy Scout groups from Jericho. There were a few young families there, the daddies carrying their toddlers on their shoulders. There were nuns who had donned baseball caps under their white habits so that their faces wouldn’t get sunburned.

I walked with the processional band, a marching band of sorts, except that it had guitars and hand drums and tambourines. The crowd walked in rhythm and we waved our palm branches in the air, doing our best not to hit anyone in the eye, since the crowd was so thick that we were all elbow to elbow. We sang “Ho-oh-sha-ah-na, ho-oh-sha-ah-na, hoshanna!” There were so many people that the procession reached from the top of the Mount of Olives all the way down into the Kidron Valley.

The singing and celebration continued all the way down into the city through Stephen’s Gate. The band led the crowd into the courtyard of St Anne’s Church; I didn’t know how it was possible to fit that many people into the court, but somehow we all made it.

The festivities didn’t stop at St Anne’s; the band continued to play and everyone danced, including the clergy! The nuns led a line dance, the monks joined in our dance circle, and we all rocked out. My favorite, though, was a Catholic tour group from Spain. Spanish people know how to dance, I tell you what!

After about an hour the merriment had died down, and then the bishop of St Anne’s stood and spoke. He must have translated his speech beforehand, because he read it in Spanish, then Russian, then Arabic, then Hebrew, and finally in English.

He said that we had all come to the Holy Land for different reasons, but we had all come on pilgrimage. He prayed that God would bless Jerusalem with peace. He said that even after we left Jerusalem, it would forever be a part of us. He said that the sacredness of the sites would enter into our souls. He said that it was our responsibility to carry the spirit of Jerusalem to the world. And when he spoke, I knew that his words were true.

So here is my message from Jerusalem, from Palm Sunday:

The Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants all weave together to form a testimony of Jesus Christ. That is because he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the god of the Old Testament. He did come to earth as our Savior.

He does not forget his promises to us. He is the Savior of the entire world: the Jews, the Americans, everyone. He overcame death and sin. He will gather his people again in the last days. Israel will be gathered, and Christ will be our king when he comes again. He will be king over all the earth.

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Yad Vashem, the Yeshiva Shooting, and the Conflict

It occurs to me that my blog, up to this point, has been mostly a collection of of happy-go-lucky posts about field trips and vacations, with lots of photos of me standing in front of significant places and smiling at the camera.

Actually, though, living here in Jerusalem has been much more than sightseeing. It has been a learning experience, and a sobering experience as we live among people for whom violence and danger is a daily reality.

About ten days ago, as you may have heard, there was a shooting at a yeshiva, or Hebrew school, across town in West Jerusalem. The killer, who was from a neighborhood near us in East Jerusalem, fired fifty or sixty shots; many people were injured, and eight teenage boys studying at the yeshiva were killed. The gunman was finally stopped when a man from a neighboring building came into the back entrance of the school and shot him down.

Our Hebrew teacher, Judy Goldman, was teary and somber when we saw her in class after the shooting. She told us, “I debated about whether or not I should come to teach class today. But then I remembered something that was said after Virginia Tech. One of the professors that was killed was himself a Holocaust survivor. This man was killed when he blocked a doorway with his life to protect his students. The son of this great man said after his father’s death, ‘In the face of a tragedy like this, you must go on. Otherwise, you let the terrorist win.’ That is why I came to teach class today.”

Mrs Goldman also told us that in Israel, when there is a crisis, people run toward the disaster so that they can help, rather than running away for safety. A few years ago when there was a car bomb, her husband, who is a rabbi, ran toward the explosion. He showed up at the scene and started pulling victims out of the rubble.

After the attacks, the Jerusalem Center was locked down completely; we weren’t allowed to go out for any reason for about four days. It was a really long four days, especially because before that we had been forbidden to go to the Old City or East Jerusalem because of the Gaza strikes (when there are Gaza strikes, we can only leave the JC if we get a taxi to take us directly to West Jeru; we can’t walk through East Jeru or past the Old City).

We took a trip to Yad Vashem, the Israel Holocaust Museum, a few weeks ago. Some things you might find interesting:

Two-thirds of the SS officers who carried out the mass murder of the Jewish people were college-educated. Most had degrees in law, philosophy, economics, and history. One-third of all the SS officers held doctorates in their fields of study.

“The world was divided between places where they could not live and places where they could not go.” Chaim Weizmann said this of Jewish refugees in Europe in the 1930s.

Posted on a wall in Yad Vashem is this poem:

First they came for the socialists,
And I did not speak up, because I was not a socialist.
They came for the trade unionists,
And I did not speak up, because I was not a trade unionist.
They came for the Jews,
And I did not speak up, because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me,
And there was no one left to speak for me.

As I was wasting time online, I came across this rather disturbing variation of that poem:

First they came for the fourth amendment,
And I did not speak out, because I didn’t deal drugs.
They came for the fifth amendment,
And I was silent because I owned no property involved in crimes.
They came for the sixth amendment,
And I did not protest, because I was innocent.
They came for the second amendment,
And I said nothing, because I didn’t own any guns.
And then they came for the first amendment,
And I could say nothing at all.
(Illinois State University College of Fine Arts)

Today we went to Bethlehem and spoke to some of the students at Bethlehem University. The West Bank is supposed to be the territory of the Palestinians, but it is not contiguous; it has been broken up by Israeli settlements. In order to get to their classes at Bethlehem U, the students told us, the 30-minute drive takes two hours because of all the checkpoints they have to go to. They are not allowed to move freely in their own home country; it is divided between places where they have to have permits and places where they have to pass through checkpoints.

These are just some of the things that have been on my mind lately; what do you guys think? Let me know!

Petra-fied!

The journey into Petra took us through narrow, winding, redrock slot canyons that looked exactly like the ones at home. Then my breath caught in my chest as the canyon opened up and I caught my first glimpse of Petra.

There are some places that you expect you’ll get to sometime in your life: California, maybe Canada, some of the eastern states, and hopefully Europe at some point. Then there are other places that you dream of but never expect to actually visit. Petra is one of those places. As a little girl I read the encyclopedia for fun, so I’ve read about Petra my whole life. But I never imagined that I’d go there!

So what is Petra, exactly? It’s a city carved out of the canyon by the Nabataeans, a desert people that lived during Roman times. Petra was along the King’s Highway, an important trade route, and so the Nabataeans were wealthy traders. The entire canyon of Petra is filled with the temples, dwellings, and hundreds of tombs carved out of the cliffs. In its heyday, Petra was home to thousands of people.

Look! Indiana Jones! Along the bottom of the canyon is an ancient Roman road, or cardo. This building is the first that you pass along the cardo; it’s called the “Treasury”

You can’t tell in this photo, but on the canyon wall behind us there are dozens of little tombs carved out of the rock.

“I’ll fetch water for your camels, too!” In Old Testament times, the well was definitely the place to meet.

We got to spend most of the day just exploring Petra on our own, so I hiked up to the “Monastery” a few miles up the canyon

There was only a little time left before I had to catch my horse ride out of the canyon, but I really wanted to go up to the High Place, an ancient Nabataean altar where they performed animal and human sacrifice. So I paid a Bedouin guy $5 to borrow his donkey, and Madison and Dave and I high-tailed it up to the High Place. In some places the trail was really steep! And there were long drop-offs on the side! Riding a donkey up to an ancient sacrificial altar in Petra is definitely in my Top Ten Life Moments.

Looks a little sketchy to me…

Sometimes I like sketching better than taking photos, because it makes me really stop and see. When my camera ran out of battery in Luxor and I was without it for two days, it was a blessing in disguise because I made a sketch of our boatride on the Nile. The image quality is not very good, but you get the idea:

An expedition to the Garden Tomb with Dave; the Garden Tomb is my favorite place to go on Shabbat

We have weekly forums when guest speakers come and lecture on various topics related to the conflict; here are my notes from last week’s forum, Dr Sabella, a Palestinian researcher.

Well, folks, I’m off on a weeklong excursion to Jordan. I’m pretty stoked, but I won’t have internet access for about five days…so I love you all and thanks to everyone for reading my blog and commenting and just being interested in my adventures here in the Near East. Love you lots!

If You’re Going Through Hell…


All of our imagery of hell (fire, brimstone, torture, etc.) comes from the Hinnom valley, just south of Jerusalem. In Old Testament times, wicked kings like Manasseh and Jehoram offered their children up as sacrifices to the Canaanite fire god Molech. Garbage and refuse was also burned there. The word “hell” is just an English transliteration of the Hebrew word “Sheol,” which is just another name for the Hinnom Valley (it is also referred to as Gehenna).


Inside an ancient burial cave–these are the niches for the bodies

We walked through the Kidron Valley on the way to Hell. Along the way, there were dozens of caves and ancient burial tombs–we weren’t supposed to explore them, but we did. (You only live in Jerusalem once, right? Anyway, the bodies were removed long ago, so it’s not like we were desecrating graves!)


Shimmying into a burial cave


The tomb of King David’s son Absalom, who rebelled against him and was killed by David’s vassal Joab


Sadly, there is no sign or marker that says “Welcome to Hell,” just a stroll through the Hinnom Valley. Kind of anticlimactic, actually. The scriptures say that the road that leads to hell is wide–who knew that it’s actually difficult to find Hell?


Me and my beautiful roommate Brie


A field of poppies in the Kidron Valley (look close–you can see the Dome in the background)