Pray for the peace.

I took this photo at the Garden Tomb in 2008.

(I took this photo at the Garden Tomb in 2008.)

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Pray for the peace of her hills topped with mosques and churches. Pray for her the peace of her valleys, lined with ancient tombs.

Pray for the peace of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, its stones worn smooth by the tears and kisses and prayers of Christians of every country, creed, and color. Pray for the peace of the devout of East Jerusalem, called to prayer each morning long before sunrise by the cry that was surely sounded at creation’s dawn. Pray for the fathers, bearded and dressed in black, hurrying their little boys to yeshiva school in the early morning blue of the Jewish Quarter; pray for the toddling boys with side curls and kippahs on their tiny heads.

Pray for the old toothless women sitting in the limestone streets of the Muslim Quarter selling vine leaves. Pray for the plucky British hosts of the Garden Tomb. Pray for the Arab shopkeepers selling blue and white Armenian pottery, and the Armenian shopkeepers selling Temple Mount photos and souvenirs. Pray for the mothers lying in beds in the Palestine Red Crescent Maternity Hospital, and their new babies with dark eyelashes softer than butterflies’ wings.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Here lies the heartbeat of the world. When peace reigns here, its rosy fingers will spread out until they fill the whole world.

P.S. It’s been busy around here! We just started our most ambitious house remodel undertaking yet, and my secret project (which I’ll be unveiling soon) is on a tight deadline. So for a while I’ll be posting every other week, on Thursdays. Thank you for stopping by!

 

The Best-Kept Secret in Galilee

PinkChurch7

I’m a wide-open spaces kind of girl. I love living ten minutes from the heart of our big city and I love all that it has to offer, but sometimes I need the restorative peace that I feel in a quiet, outdoor place where few other people tread.

Our time in the Holy Land was no different. After our 31-hour travel ordeal and two days running around Jerusalem at breakneck speed trying to see everything, we were tired and needing a breath of fresh air. What to do? Why, run away to Galilee, of course!

We revisited all my favorite spots and hit the Galilee highlights: Capernaum and the white synangogue, Tabgha, the Mount of Beatitudes, Tiberias. And best of all, we discovered a new place that we love, recommended to us by our dear friends who gave us lodging on our trip. Now that I’ve experienced how enchanting this place is, I can’t believe that 1) this place only has a stub of a wikipedia page, 2) most visitors to Galilee never even go there, and 3) I lived four months in the Holy Land without ever finding out about this gem.

So the word’s not out yet, but shhh! I’m about to tell you, if you can keep a secret. It’s the Greek Orthodox Church of the Twelve Apostles in Kfar Nahum, or Capernaum, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

PinkChurch5

I can’t even tell you how enamored I am with this place. I fall hard for churches, but this one swept me off my feet before I even knew what hit me. (If you go, please leave a small donation of at least a few shekels, because one wing of the church is undergoing costly renovations right now.)

The grounds were unrivaled in terms of how well-kempt and beautiful they were. Orchards of citrus trees, rows of stately cypress trees, and walks covered in grape arbors surrounded the church. The hedges and the stone walls around the grounds hung thick with honeysuckle and fuchsia bougainvillea flowers. From the moment we crossed the threshold of the gate, we were bewitched. We were greeted by the most sumptuous citrus aroma I have ever smelled. And by several strutting peacocks.

PinkChurch4

PinkChurchArbor

I didn’t think it possible that the inside of the church could surpass the outside in loveliness, but it did. When we crossed the threshold of the church I audibly gasped because what I saw was so beautiful—resplendent ornamentation and chandeliers, and the most stunning iconography I have ever seen.

Don't you love this icon of the paralytic man being lowered into the house where Jesus will heal him? I do.

I’m so sorry that this shot is a little blurry! But don’t you love this icon of the paralytic man being lowered into the house where Jesus will heal him? I do.

The faithful being gathered into Abraham's bosom; note the name Abraham displayed in Greek.

The faithful being gathered into Abraham’s bosom; note the name Abraham displayed in Greek.

Remember after the Lord's crucifixion and resurrection when he gave Peter the injunction to feed his sheep? According to tradition, that occurred on the northwestern shore of the sea, not far from here, so this icon commemorates that event. Do you see the disciples pulling their catch into the boat? And see how Peter has jumped overboard and is swimming to the shore, where the Lord is waiting with the fire on which he will cook their breakfast?

Remember after the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection when he gave Peter the injunction to feed his sheep? According to tradition, that occurred on the northwestern shore of the sea, not far from here, so this icon commemorates that event. Do you see the disciples pulling their catch into the boat? And see how Peter has jumped overboard and is swimming to the shore, where the Lord is waiting with the fire on which he will cook their breakfast?

PinkChurch9

All around the church’s domed ceiling appeared icons of the twelve apostles and portraits of the faces of the seventy apostles, as they are called in Eastern Orthodox tradition.

PinkChurch10

The information posted in the church told us this about its history:

“On the shore of the Sea of Galilee there is a Greek Orthodox monastery with a beautiful church in honor of the 12 Apostles…It is here that our Lord Jesus Christ chose and called forth His Apostles, here He preached and performed miracles, such as the healing of the paralytic, the mother-in-law of the apostle Peter, the servant of the centurion and many others. Here in the times of Christ was the city of Capernaum.

“In the IV century AD many monasteries and churches were built in the places where our Lord lived, taught, and performed miracles. By the V century the Christian community of Capernaum had grown very big. However, in the first half of the VIII century the flourishing city of Capernaum was completely destroyed by an earthquake.

“Archaeological excavations on the city’s site show that there was a large orthodox monastery here on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. At the end of the XIX century the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem purchased a plot of land on the ruins of the ancient city of Capernaum and began to construct a monastery. In 1925…the Church of the Twelve Apostles was built. Services were held in the church until the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. According to the U.N. convention and the new borders, the monastery turned out to be on no man’s land. Therefore, there was no more access to the monastery for local Christians or pilgrims and the monastery fell into decay. In 1969, two years after the Six Day War, the Israeli army returned the monastery to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. With the grace of God, despite the fact that it is fairly isolated, the monastery began to return to life.”

After partaking of the iconography within the church, we spent some time picnicking on the grounds, and walking along the shore.

PinkChurch11

We picnicked in this lovely spot on the church grounds. See that gate? Behind it are steps that lead down into the water!

PinkChurch13

I delighted in the beauty of this site, and reveled in the profound peace and stillness I felt there. The Church of the Twelve Apostles is unlike anywhere else in the Holy Land, and for me it will always be a sacred place.

PinkChurch12PinkChurch14

 

Making Hajj to Haram-Al-Sharif

TempleMountA

TempleMountB

Haram Al-Sharif, or Haram Esh-Sharif, means “noble sanctuary” in Arabic. It couldn’t be more appropriately named; the disparity between the Temple Mount’s serene grandeur and the cacophonous crowded streets below couldn’t be more marked. When you ascend to the Temple Mount, you ascend to a world apart.

Home to the iconic Dome of the Rock, often referred to simply as “the Mosque,” this has always been one of my favorite places in the Holy City.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Muslim guide, a Jerusalem native, approached us and offered to show us around, and we took him up on his offer. His knowledge of the history of Haram-Al-Sharif, and Jerusalem in general, was impressive. He walked us around the entire Temple Mount, structure by structure, relating little-known facts about their significance and history, such as these:

  • The arches on the exterior of the Mosque total fifty-two, for fifty-two weeks in the year.
  • The exterior of the dome of the Mosque was previously lead, then bronze-aluminum alloy added in the 1960s; finally its current gleaming gold coating was furbished by King Hussein of Jordan in 1993.
  • During the second World War Mussolini sent the fine quality white carrara marble that was made into the columns  of the Al-Aqsa Mosque (the Dome of the Rock’s companion on the Temple Mount, only a stone’s throw away).

Many more things we learned from our guide in the half hour he walked with us—including the architecture lesson he gave us, pointing out different minarets on the Jerusalem skyline and teaching us how to distinguish the ones built by the Ottomans from those of Mamluk make.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But the most meaningful thing I learned from him had to do with the pillars of Islam, specifically that of Hajj, the mandate to make pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s life. “When you go to Mecca, millions of other people are there,” he explained. “You feel very small, helpless, and insignificant, just like you will feel before Allah on the day of judgment, when you stand before him naked with your sins. So you go to make Hajj, and you truly feel how you will feel on judgment day, and you come back knowing what kind of person you want to be, how you want to change your life.”

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know how much I cherish the idea of  pilgrimage–going to a holy place or making a sacred journey to come into contact with the divine. I love how beautifully our Temple Mount guide articulated why one should make pilgrimage, and what can be gained from it—how you can be transformed by going to a place as holy and ancient as Haram-Al-Sharif and feeling how tiny and young you are on this earth.

TempleMountE

Six years ago today, in Jordan

Six years ago I spent four months living in the Holy Land, in Jerusalem. To be more precise, in East Jerusalem, the part of the city that is backed by Palestine’s West Bank. During that time I got to travel all over Israel, Palestine, Egypt, and Jordan.

journalentry

Here is an excerpt from my journal entry six years ago, when I visited Jordan:

5 March 2008

“On our first day in Jordan we crossed the border and then went to Bethabara, also known as Bethany, where John the Baptist baptized the Savior. I touched the water and picked up a flower and put it in my scriptures in the Matthew account.

“(SIDE NOTE: It was interesting to see the Jordanian flag flying on this side of the Jordan River and the Israeli flag flying on the far side. The Jordan River forms the border between the two countries, just like the Jordan River formed the border of the nation of Israel in ancient times.)

“We went to the top of Mount Pisgah, the highest part of Mount Nebo. I’m so glad we got to go! Mount Nebo was something I’ve wanted to do my whole life…There was a huge rusty modern art sculpture of the brazen serpent on top. We read the scriptural account…Then we read—this is my favorite part—the account of how Moses ascended Mount Nebo before he died, and the Lord showed him all the land of the inheritance of his people—all of Canaan, all the way out to the sea—that Moses would never enter. When we were up there, I could understand why the Lord would bring him to the top of Mount Nebo. We were above everything, and we could see everything: the whole land of Canaan. Spread out at our feet, shining in colors of green farm fields and purple brown hills and gray water and blue horizon. I wonder how Moses felt as he looked down upon the land that had been promised to the children of Abraham and Israel for generations.”

So many faithful people, like Moses, never get to set foot in this Holy Land. How did I get so lucky to live there? To wake up to the call to prayer every morning and to spend my days walking that ancient sacred land…why was I thus blessed? I don’t know. But I will be thankful all the days of my life that I was.

Free Palestine.

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

– Helen Keller

In light of recent events in Gaza, and the incredible bias of American mainstream media when covering the conflict, and the disturbing ignorance of most Americans regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I couldn’t stand idly by.

Last week I taught six high school classes (!) about the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and about the current issues faced by Palestinians today. While I don’t have enough time to detail everything that I taught in my classes, here are some things that you should think about:

– In the recent Gaza conflict, 13 Israelis died. Ten of those killed were soldiers; three were civilians. By contrast, more than 1300 Palestinians were killed in Gaza. Almost all of those killed were civilians. One-third were children.

– This is not new. In the First Intifada, which began as a peaceful Palestinian uprising in 1987, only 12 Israeli soldiers were killed, but more than 706 Palestinians were killed. In the Second Intifada, which began in 2000, there were more than 5,500 Palestinians killed, while Israel suffered about a thousand casualties.

– This conflict, contrary to popular belief, is not about religion. While Jerusalem is a city that is holy to three faiths, the conflict actually stems from 20th century political events. The reason for the conflict isn’t because the Jews and Muslims in Palestine “just can’t get along,” contrary to what is said by your grandmother/relief society president/insert name of ignoramus of your choice here. Jews, Muslims, and Christians co-existed peacefully for centuries: in Spain, in Greece, in Egypt, in modern-day Iraq, in North Africa, and in the Medieval city of Akko. Even today, the conflict divisions are not drawn along religious lines. Many prominent Israeli leaders are secular, not religious, Jews. And many of the Palestinians trapped in the West Bank are Christian, not Muslim. (In fact, although the majority of Palestinians are Muslim, most of the Christians living in the Holy Land today are Palestinian.)

– Every year, the United States gives more money to Israel than to any other nation in the world. Much of that money is used to fund the Israel Defense Forces. Therefore, your taxpayer dollars are used to ghettoize Palestinians and seal them behind separation walls in Gaza and the West Bank. Your money is used to establish checkpoints along every road and at every settlement in the West Bank, making it extremely difficult for the residents there to get to school, to get to work, and to support their families. Your money was used, from 27 December 2008 to 19 January 2009, to kill 1300 Palestinians in Gaza.

– The substance of white phosphorous was declared illegal in the Geneva Conventions, because it burns away flesh to the bone. Because it is so harmful, at the Geneva Conventions it was declared illegal to use even against other militaries during times of war. But during the recent attacks on Gaza, Israel used white phosphorous against a civilian population, including the hundreds of children who were killed and maimed by these weapons.

So why does the United States support this kind of wholesale murder? Unfortunately, the answer comes down to nothing but politics. As the global watchdog and self-proclaimed promoter of democracy, the United States supports Israel because democracy in the Middle East is important to us (although, ironically, when the Palestinians of Gaza elected Hamas by fair democratic process, the U.S. refused to acknowledge or work with the democratically-elected Hamas leaders). There are other political reasons why the U.S. supports Israel. There are many wealthy Jewish American lobbyists, and American politicians have many Jewish constituents to answer to (there are more Jews living in New York than in all the state of Israel).

Another reason for our support of the state of Israel is the Holocaust. After WWII, there was a lot of grief and guilt felt by Americans for not doing enough to prevent this atrocity. So when the war was over, the smoke had cleared, and the new state of Israel was proclaimed, the U.S. began giving money to Israel to the tune of millions (and now billions) of dollars. Israel proceeded to drive Palestinians from their land to establish a “Jewish national home.” But let me ask you an important question: should the Palestinians pay the price for a crime they did not commit–namely, the Holocaust?

And what about security? Do the separation wall and the checkpoints in the West Bank really make Israel safer from “terrorists”? Or do they further radicalize a Palestinian population that is already tired of being deprived of basic human rights? Is security just the trajectory of rockets and the line of fire of bullets? Or does security also have something to do with the basic human dignities afforded to the people that you are governing?

As American voters, as makers of U.S. foreign policy, and as forgers of our own future, we have to accept the responsibility to act ethically in our affairs with other nations, to intervene justly or not at all. There is no room for ignorance or apathy.

And, on a more lighthearted note, Heather, Jana, Evan, Rachelle, Jamie, Adam, Matt, Drew, Eric, Kim, Dave, Kyle, and I took a sweet slot canyon trip to Blue John, where Aron Rolston cut off his arm in 2003. Cool canyoneering photos soon to come!

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.

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!