Sunday, September 24, 2017

Shanhah Tovah!

I love learning about traditions and customs other than those that I grew up with in America. Recently, one of those has been Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish near year. To celebrate, Joseph and I went to a synagogue near Hebrew Union College and enjoyed the services there. The music was beautiful, and we appreciated the moving message of the service. We walked to the Western Wall where the rest of the family had already arrived. We saw people blow the shofar and that was fun. Here is a video from the Western Wall (not made by us); the first minute shows something similar to what we saw.

The scriptures do not say a lot about Rosh Hashanah. We read, "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets [that's where the shofar comes in], an holy convocation. Ye shall do no servile work therein: but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord" (Leviticus 23:23-25). Later traditions connect the ram's horn being caught in the thicket at the sacrifice of Isaac with the shofar. Some basics about Rosh Hashanah are here. 

If you're interested in a few pop culture music videos about Rosh Hashanah see this playlist. Three fun videos with positive messages are below.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Katrina Baptized in the River Jordan

We had a very special occasion today -- Katrina was baptized! After church, we had several family members over including Nanny, Maria, Hannah (John's cousin), Brad and Shanna Olsen + their kids (Lani's cousin) as well as our distant cousins the Howells -- their son Adam was being baptized with Katrina.

Annemarie stole the show with her Challah bread.

We drove down to Qasr el Yahud, which is a traditional site of the where John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ. We were amazed at the incredible support of our branch. Several families came, in addition to about 40 students who proactively figured out how to charter vans and get themselves there at a significant cost. We appreciated the efforts everybody made to come.

We had a beautiful program, and then went down to the river Jordan.

The water looks a little dirty, but when you’re in it, it looks like a pretty green color. It was about 90 degrees outside, so the cool water felt refreshing. Katrina was absolutely radiant.

Siblings were supportive!

We were blessed to have Nanny and Marie with us for the special occasion.

My favorite part was spending time with Katrina afterwards by the edge of the water talking about Matthew 3 and 2 Nephi 31 as we discussed the Savior’s baptism, and her choice to follow the Savior.

As a coda to the day we stopped by Wadi Qelt on the way home. This site is likely near where Christ faced temptations after his baptism, and also an overlook where you can see the road from Jericho to Jerusalem -- the setting for the parable of the Good Samaritan. More on that site on a future field trip.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Negev Field Trip

I’ll confess right now that biblical geography has never been a strong point for me. Maybe it’s because I got kicked out of seminary one day early in the Old Testament semester, or maybe it’s just general laziness. But one thing I have loved about being in the Holy Land is having some of the geography come alive.

A scripture as simple as Genesis 20:1, “Abraham journeyed toward the south” became exciting when I realized that we were traveling south, and that the Hebrew underlying Genesis 20:1 means “negev” the exact region we were going to on this field trip. This was the southern border of ancient Israel; you frequently find in the scriptures the phrase “From Dan to Beersheba,” which marked the territory of the Israelites (see Judges 20:1, 1 Sam 3:20).
The first place we visited was Beer Sheva (“Beer-sheba” in the Old Testament), a site with a rich biblical history. This is where Abraham lived for many years and built a well in Beer Sheva; he also left from this spot to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. This is likely the vicinity of the story of the mess of pottage and Jacob receiving Esau’s blessing. Jacob traveled from Beer-Sheva all the way into modern-day Turkey so that he could marry somebody who believed in the same God that he did. Samuel’s two sons (1050 BC) were corrupt judges who took bribes in Beer-sheba (1 Sam 8:1-3) and Elijah stopped here while on the run from Jezebel after the destruction of the priests of Baal. To discuss these scriptural events with students while in the vicinity that they happened was a choice experience. As we contemplated the experiences of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we together sang, “Faith of Our Fathers.”

One interesting feature of the site is a deep cistern that was built around the time period of Hezekiah. Students enjoyed walking through it.

Our second site turned out to be the favorite for many students. We visited the burial place for David Ben-Gurion and, after paying our respects to him, looked out over the wilderness of Zin. The children of Israel wandered here and many important stories (Numbers 13-20) took place in the general area we could see from the overlook. Specifically we talked about Moses striking the rock instead of speaking to it. Some clever students had arranged to act it out and were able to make some water come forth from the rock as part of the dramatic special effects. From there we hiked through a section of the wilderness of Zin. It was a great hike!

We drove from their to Avdat, which was part of the ancient spice route and home to the Nabateans (fun fact - Herod the Great’s mother was a Nabatean). We talked a little bit about how the wise men may have traveled along this route and Dr. Grey showed students the connection between Matthew 2 and Isaiah 60:6 “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord” (NRSV).

While on site we also saw an impressive winepress. Although this particular winepress post-dates Christ, it was a good spot to ponder his statement, “I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me” (Isaiah 63:3).

Our final stop of the day was Tel-Arad, a city that dates to the Canaanites. We read, “When king Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south [Negev], heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies; then he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners” (Numbers 21:1) and learned what happened after that. We also talked about the interesting ostraca that are day with writings in both Hebrew and Egyptian (see 1 Nephi 1:2). Perhaps the highlight of the site was the temple that mirrors the pattern of Solomon’s temple. It was interesting to reflect on the worship practices of ancient Israelites and ponder various possibilities (e.g., that acceptable worship practices changed over time, that the people of Arad were engaged in idolatrous practices, etc.).

By the time we arrived home we had been gone for about 12 hours -- a long field trip, but a great one!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Fun Friday in the Old City

This past Friday afternoon, Joseph, Maria and I left on a little adventure. Although it only takes 20 minutes to walk to the Old City, we decided to take the 275 bus that runs from just outside the JC to Damascus Gate. Because we live in East Jerusalem, everyone on the bus except us spoke in Arabic, but we were still able to strike up a couple of brief conversations.

In our travels to Xi’an, we loved getting meat sticks. Imagine our delight when we found these kebabs!

We explored some shops and Joseph and Maria got some good deals. One kind shopkeeper gave Joseph a coin from the 6th century for free! He was really excited.

Maria had never been to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, so we went there and showed her some of our favorite sites. One of these is the tombs that date to the 1st century. You can go inside the tomb and imagine what it might have been like at the time of Christ.
We walked over to the Western Wall where we had welcomed in the Sabbath the week before and saw it from a different viewpoint. After that we figured out where the bus stop to go back and discovered it was right below the Golgotha site that is part of the Garden Tomb!

Love that we can do all of these things within a mile radius of our house!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Jerusalem Overlook Field Trip

Yesterday, we took our first field trip with the students. Dr. Huff and I led a group of 42 students, along with Lani and Rebekah to five different sites.

Our first stop was the Augusta Victoria church, only a few blocks from the Jerusalem Center. This church, built on the Mount of Olives, celebrates the ascension of Christ, as found in Acts 1:9-12. We sung “Come O thou King of kings” to celebrate the future 2nd Coming of Christ. Half of the class went up with Dr. Huff to the lookout tower to learn about the geography in the distance and half of the class stayed with me in the chapel. In the chapel, we explored the artwork of the church, saw the ossuaries, and learned a little bit about how basilicas are laid out. Probably my favorite piece of art in the church shows the Lamb of God, carrying a cross, standing on a book with seven seals. This was placed on the empty altar, with the empty altar reminding us that an eternal sacrifice has already been made.

Stop #2 was the Seven Arches Overlook, a good spot from the Mount of Olives to point out different locations around Jerusaelm, including the City of David.

Our next visit was to what we call “Bethlehem Overlook,” a spot by the Mar Elias Monastery where one can see both Jerusalem and Bethlehem. From our location we could see manger square, where Christ traditionally was born. We sang “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” together and took some time to review key scripture accounts that took place there. I hadn’t made the connection that the book of Ruth largely takes place in Bethlehem and it was fun to make the ancestral connection between Ruth and Christ and see the area where these events took place. We all had some private scripture study time and read Ruth, Matthew 2, and/or Luke 2 and pondered scriptures related to Bethlehem.

Stop #4 was the Haas Promenade which, like our first two stops, gave us a view of the city, but from a different angle. Dr. Huff shared with students how this might have been the place where Abraham first viewed Mount Moriah while journeying from Beer-sheba to sacrifice Isaac (see Genesis 22). Some traditions hold that Isaac was in his 20s or 30s when he was sacrificed, which, if true, adds meaning to the account by showing his submissive nature, which is a type of Christ. While the students and I were enjoying listening to Dr. Huff, Rebekah found a man who was selling flutes and bought one!

Our final stop was the Tomb of Samuel. While the prophet Samuel (the one who chose both Saul and David) probably wasn’t actually buried there, it was a good place to both think about his ministry, and have another overlook. From the vantage point on top of the Crusader tower we could see land where roughly 40% of the Bible took place.

One of the locations we could see was the land of Gibeon. We reviewed some cool scripture stories from Gibeon, including the Gibeonites. We keyed in on the phrase, “the men...asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord” (Joshua 9:14) and discussed the importance of seeking the Lord’s guidance when making difficult decisions. We also talked about Solomon’s visit to Gibeon and Samuel’s counsel to the people to not have a king.

We were in the sun, but Rebekah was sitting in the shade. An Israeli soldier came over and introduced himself to Rebekah; they had a very nice conversation.

After visiting the mosque and synagogue on the site, we got back on the bus and returned home. A great first field trip!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

From the Dead to the Med

After arriving in Jerusalem we had some normal life things to take care of (school orientation, shopping, etc. -- more on those activities in another post), but as soon as those were done, we had two Seas that we were especially excited to visit -- the Dead and the Med.

On our first Friday in Jerusalem we drove down to the Dead Sea to see if we would really float. We did! It was really hot outside and the Dead Sea was also really warm, but it was fun to float around in the water. On the shore the salt was soft and felt like sand, but as you went out further it crystallized. Everyone had a good time floating around.

We have church on Saturdays (“the Sabbath”) here (more about our branch in another post), and so the following day we continued our adventures by going up to the Mediterranean Sea -- “Alma’s Beach” in Tel Aviv.

Honestly it might be my favorite beach of all time. Waves like San Diego, but water temperature like Miami. Perfect. We bought some boogie boards and had a great time playing in the sand and water. Just a beautiful, fun time.