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!

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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!

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)

Long Time, No Blog

Hey everyone! It has been a really busy week, full of exams and papers and pulling all-nighters. Consequently, I haven’t posted for a while, so here are the highlights of the last ten days:

BELIEVE IT OR NOT

We had a nice little blizzard here in Jerusalem. Since snow is so rare here, everything in the city shut down and our classes were canceled because none of our professors would come teach–people just don’t leave their houses when it snows here, and there aren’t any snowplows.

AND THEY CAME TWO BY TWO…OR THREE

We went to the Jerusalem Biblical zoo, which has the actual ark built by Noah. Seriously. : )

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH

The field where David slew Goliath doesn’t have any monuments or churches built there, so it’s easy to imagine the battle of the Philistines taking place there.

Some thoughts I had on David v. Goliath:

“And Saul armed David with his armor, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword upon his armor, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him. and he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.”
-1 Samuel 17:39-40

Because David tended his father’s sheep instead of going to war, he had never worn armor or wielded a sword. For that reason, when he put on the helmet, mail, armor, and sword, he wasn’t used to using it. Even though they were formidable weapons, he hadn’t practiced with them, so he removed the armor and put down the sword and took up his shepherd’s sling instead. He had already used his sling to kill a lion and a bear while tending his father’s sheep. In Ephesians 6:11, we are instructed to “put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” However, we cannot wield weapons or be protected by armor that we have never “proved” before. We can’t just put on the armor of God in times of temptation. Like David with his sling, we will be most effective with weapons that he have practiced and proved. Only if we seek to put on the armor of God every day will we be able to use it to defend ourselves in times of trial.

Any thoughts on this, or on David and Goliath? I’m interested in what you guys have to say.

RED CRESCENT SOCIETY HOSPITAL

Madison and I volunteered at the hospital nearby; we fed the babies there.

Gaza, Egypt, and Unrest

I have only been here three weeks, but it feels like months already. Or maybe a lifetime.

I was worried about living away from home for the first time, but fortunately I’ve been too buys to get terribly homesick. Between the heavy load of schoolwork I have here, the articles I write for work, and my sightseeing…um…obligations, I never have a spare moment. This semester seems pretty relaxing compared to last semester, however. Taking a full-time schedule of classes and working three jobs nearly killed me. : )

We weren’t allowed in the Old City yesterday. Since Tuesday there has been a lot of unrest because of the situation in Gaza. If you haven’t been following the situation there, here it is in a nutshell: Hamas launched airstrikes on Israeli settlements from Gaza, so the Israeli government shut off Gaza’s fuel and other resources. On Tuesday, Hamas operatives blew down the border wall between Gaza and Egypt, and now hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza are pouring into Egypt to buy fuel and food. More than seven miles of the wall has been torn down, and the refugees have been flooding the border ever since.

We are leaving for Egypt tomorrow morning for eight-day trip. We’ll be crossing the Israel-Egypt border sometime tomorrow afternoon. We’ll have an armed guard on each of our busses, and we’re all hoping that there won’t be any complications–keep your fingers crossed!

Jerusalem is a true melting pot of Muslims, Palestinian Christians, Russian Jews and Christians, and Jews from all nations. But once we cross the border into Egypt, we’ll be in a land that is almost entirely Muslim. It will be an eye-opening experience, I’m sure.

We wont’ have computer access in Egypt, so I won’t be posting for a while. I love you all! Until after Egypt!

Zedekiah’s Cave



Today we explored Zedekiah’s Cave, which is under the Old City of Jerusalem. It started out as a natural cave with the entrance on the north side of the city. In Solomon’s time, and then again in Herod’s time, the limestone from the cave was quarried out for the construction of both the temples. Now it is no longer a small cave–it is a huge cavern that extends all the way under the city of Jerusalem, and one finger of it reaches almost to Jericho!

This is Real

Currently, only Muslims can go inside the Dome of the Rock, and you have to get lucky to get up onto the Temple Mount at all. Fortunately, heaven smiled down on us and we were able to make the ascent.

The view from the Temple Mount is amazing. You can see almost all of Jerusalem.

A woman begging on the stairs to the Mosque. There are beggars everywhere in this city.

Corinthian columns built during Ottoman times (and BYU students).