Wednesday, May 16, 2018

An Interesting Morning at the Dome of the Rock

On Sunday May 13, Lani and I went to the Dome of the Rock with the other faculty members and service couples of the Jerusalem Center. We were excited to go inside of the Dome of the Rock with a special tour guide (usually it is closed to non-Muslims).

While we were on the grounds we noticed a group of Orthodox Jews walking around, accompanied by armed police. This was frustrating to our Palestinian guide who wondered why they felt a need to disrupt the worship of Muslims, who hold the area surrounding the Dome of the Rock to be sacred. All of this more complicated by the fact that May 13 was "Jerusalem Day" a controversial holiday that celebrates Jerusalem coming into Israeli control (one can see that while it's a holiday for Israel, it's a huge loss for Palestine).

We got to tour the inside of the Dome of the Rock and it was beautiful. The main feature inside the dome is a large rock, traditionally thought to be where Abraham sacrificed Isaac, and the spot where Solomon's temple stood. This would also have been the spot of the temple in the time of Christ, and is the traditional location of Muhammad's night journey. A lot of history took place here!

We got to go under the rock as well and enjoyed seeing the rock from that vantage point.

As we were going around taking pictures, our guide started to tell us to hurry. We could hear some kind of commotion outside and as we exited the building we could hear chanting outside. While it was not immediately clear what was happening, it seemed like there was some type of altercation between the Jews we had seen previously and Muslim worshipers.

We were told to leave the complex immediately, thus eliminating our tour of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was our second stop for the morning. I was sorely tempted to walk 20 yards over to where I could get a much better view of the shouting, but did not. Before we got home I found this headline on the Jerusalem Post:

If you watch the video, you'll hear exactly what we were hearing...we were within a rock's throw of it all...As explained in the article, some of the Jews who were there broke the law by worshiping in that area and were called out for it (one was arrested). I was disappointed that such an unnecessary provocation took place.

From the headline and the picture it might seem like the world was about to end. But I want to point out another observation from the morning.

Although we hurried out of the Dome of the Rock complex area, we noticed about 10 minutes later our guide was back at the entrance starting another tour with a new group of tourists. In other words, there was no permanent disruption and anybody who arrived 10 minutes later would have never been aware of the altercation. This taught me something about how news is sometimes packaged and reported. The headline is obviously meant to grab and hold attention -- a person in America reading this news story may have walked away thinking, "Wow, there is a lot of violence there," when actually it was a very safe place to be that Sunday morning.

In any event, we really appreciated the opportunity to tour this sacred spot. That afternoon we drove up with our family to another favorite destination -- the beach! It felt like we were in a completely different world from where we had been that morning...

Friday, May 11, 2018

To the Red Sea

Our trip to the Red Sea (Eliat) got off to an unusual start! As we were driving down the road, I was talking to my children about how this was possibly the route that Nephi and his family would have taken on their way to the wilderness and how cool it was that basically all of 1 Nephi 1-16 potentially takes place along the route that we were going to be on and/or our destination points (e.g., Jerusalem and the Red Sea). About 1 hour into our journey we got to a check point and found out that because of a flash flood they had closed the road to Eliat! There was an alternate road, but we would have to go all the way back to Jerusalem!!!

I was really cranky! Seriously? We have to drive an hour back? We wasted our time and money going this way? Why didn’t we figure this out before we left!? We could all feel a lot of sympathy for Laman and Lemuel! Their situation was a lot more dire than ours was!

So we drove back to Jerusalem and took a new route to Eliat. We traveled about 3 hours only to find out that this second road was also closed. Ahhhh! It just so happened that this was by a really famous crater so we visited the crater and took some time there. Great views.

There was one other road that could be taken to Eliat, it required another hour of backtracking. Altogether, the trip that should have been 3.75 hours was 7.25 – but the kids were for the most part really happy and kind on the drive, so it was pleasant.

The next morning we went to the Coral Beach National Park and went snorkeling. We were there all day and it went well. Everybody went out snorkeling several times except for Rebekah. The fish were really cool, it was a nice beach and a great, relaxing day. The area is naturally beautiful and it was fun to be there. 

That evening we went back to our apartment and the youngest 4 kids swam in the pool.  Lani, Levi and I went and saw the new Avengers movie, while the older 5 children watched “Pete’s Dragon.” I was starting to get a little nervous about scuba diving…

The next morning, Lani and the younger three kids went to an aquarium, while the three older kids and I went to a scuba diving lesson. We had the indoor lesson then drove out to the Red Sea for our confined water swim and open water swim. For the confined water swim we basically practiced techniques like breathing underwater, clearing our mask, etc. but it was really cool, because there were several fish right where we were. Compared to the confined dive that would usually take place at a swimming pool, this was awesome.

Then we went out and swam by the coral. I didn’t have anything to be nervous about. Everything was fine – including my ears, which sometimes hurt underwater. We saw incredible fish. Large, beautiful colorful ones, tiny jelly fish, schools of bright orange fish. It was fun to be completely underwater and have a new experience. Sadly, no pics of the scuba diving...but it was better than the snorkeling!

Altogether it was a 4 hour experience, start to finish. Lani picked us up and we started the drive home. We stopped by a national park that is a drive through safari, which was pretty fun. Some ostriches came right up to our window. The roads were all open and we had a much quicker drive back to Jerusalem than our trip to Eliat had been.

All in all it was a great trip to the Red Sea. Now our family has been to the Med, the Dead, and the Red!