This last week has been crazy with eight-hour days of classes, preparing for finals, excessive amounts of reading, etc. I did have a break for a few hours in between classes on Wednesday though, so I headed down the Kidron Valley to visit a few quick sites.
Our first stop was Absalom's Pillar, and getting there was quite the adventure. I have never claimed to be good at finding things. Pretty sure my sense of direction is non-existent. Usually I am with people who know where they are going though so it doesn't really matter...sadly, this was not the case on this particular adventure haha. We found what we were sure was the entrance gate to the tombs-but it was locked. We figured this was just a mistake and so naturally we hopped the short fence blocking the path-no big deal. Unfortunately, it turned out that the gate being locked was not a simple mistake and that we were actually not even at the entrance of Absalom's Pillar. Two Arab men were kind enough to loudly inform us of this, along with the fact that we were trespassing on private property-whoops! Luckily, we scurried off quick and were able to avoid being thrown into a Palestinian Prison.
the clearly marked sign we somehow missed
our lovely "uh-oh" faces
We finally made it to Absalom's pillar, which was really cool and MASSIVE! The Old Testament talks about how Absalom built this pillar because he did not have any children and wanted some way to preserve his name, which I guess worked pretty well because this monument honoring him is still around today!
We were only able to see a few other tombs before heading back to class, but our quick, and adventurous, outing definitely made our day much more exciting!
For our free day last week, the trifecta (Stacey, Melissa, and I) went to the Sisters of Zion Convent. We did not really know too much about its significance going into it, but we had heard it was a "must-see" so went to check it out. It turned out to be more ruins than a convent, but it amazing!
The first thing we saw was the Stuthion, a large water cistern built by Herod. We have seen a lot of cisterns here in Jerusalem, but this one was especially cool and was built as part of the water system to supply water for the temple.
(side note-yes I am fully aware of how fabulous J-Ru fashion is)
Next we saw the Northern Gallery which is a medieval cellar inserted into the Roman pavement, which was once the bedrock of the Antonia Fortress Moat. Just some ruins from thousands of years ago...no big deal
The last thing we saw at the Sisters of Zion convent was definitely my favorite. One thing about the modern streets of Old City is that they are actually about 20 feet above the streets that Christ would have walked on, due to the fact that the city has been rebuilt so many times. The Sisters of Zion Convent is underground though and as part of the complex they have the cobblestones on a street dating back to the time of Christ. This is not just any street though. It has been proven to be the actual street where Christ was tried before the people and where he was later beaten by the Roman soldiers. It was amazing to be able to sit there for awhile and reflect on the sacrifices the Savior made and on all the things he endured for my sake.
etchings the Roman soldiers made to play games on
After the Sisters of Zion Convent we made a few necessary stops, such as....
Jacob's Pizza for lunch
it was even non-kosher :) Quite a find in the Old City
the giant golden menorah incased in glass whose significance we weren't quite sure of....
Some jewelry shops...as you can see between the three of us we may have gone a little crazy over the gold bangles...whoops
and a quick stop at the Dome of the Rock before heading home :)
Overall, a pretty perfect day in the Old City of Jerusalem!
Today my best friend is getting married. I could honestly not be more excited for her! She is going to be the most stunning bride and has found a dashing boy who absolutely adores her. They are so in love, completely perfect for each other, and so excited to start their lives together. There is only one thing wrong with this picture...... I am not there.
I know that may seem silly, but not being at my best friend's wedding feels so so wrong. The idea that I would miss her wedding actually almost kept me from coming to Jerusalem. I mean we have been talking about/planning our weddings since preschool. It breaks my heart not to be there to throw her a bachelorette party, cry when I see how gorgeous she looks in her dress, cry when I see her come out of the temple, cry at the wedding luncheon (haha basically the day would have involved a lot of tears, happy tears though), dance at her reception in my bridesmaid dress, and more than anything be there to support my best friend on the most important day of her life.
(I wish I had the pictures from our preschool days-they are classic!)
So even though I am not in person, I will definitely be there in spirit (and hopefully skype). I love you so much Claire and hope you have the most incredible day. Your friendship and example has meant more to me than you will ever know. You are one of the most amazing, kind, and beautiful people I have ever met. Your husband better know how lucky he is to have you as his wife and take good care of you-or he will have me to answer to!
Our field trip this week was to the Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem. I have been to holocaust museums in the past, but this one especially touching because it was in the land of the people who suffered so greatly and run by those whose families had largely been killed. It is so easy for us back at home to forget about this tragic event, but for the Jews here in Jerusalem it is an integral part of their past and their identity.
These pieces of art represent the two different types of victims, those who had gone like a lamb to the slaughter (right) and those who had defiantly fought back (left)
Pictures from the courtyard of Yad Vashem. One of my favorite parts of this was that each individual tree planted outside the museum honors a specific individual or family who risked their own lives to save a life of a Jew, known as the "Righteous among the Nations".
Going through the museum itself was such a sobering experience. It is absolutely horrifying that people were treated so cruelly and inhumanely, just because of their background. The museum really made an effort to give a voice to and honor each of the individual victims, which made the whole experience much more personal. As I wandered around the exhibits, looking at countless pairs of shoes which no longer had owners, pictures of the young children who had been killed, and appalling images from the concentration camps, I was literally sick to my stomach. The theme of Yad Vashem was "The Holocaust was not the killing of the six million jews. Rather, the Holocaust was the killing of one Jew, and it happened six million times." and I could not help but ask myself, "What if I had been one on those six million?" and "What if it had been my family torn apart?".
The Hall of Names
I cannot imagine how horrible it would have been to go through something like that, and the fact that many people survived with their hope, spirit, and optimism intact is truly inspiring. Going through Yad Vashem definitely was not an easy experience, but it was an important one and I know that it changed me for the better.
Warning: This post has a ton of pictures! It is hard to limit myself to just a few when I have almost 200 to choose from. Sorry!
Our field trip this week was to Bethlehem, which I absolutely loved! Our first stop was at Bethlehem University, which was really interesting. They had a Christian chapel there which was gorgeous! After the chapel we had a question and answer session with a few of the students who attended Bethlehem University to find out what life as a student was like in Bethlehem. They talked about how difficult it was to deal with crossing the wall every day to get to class. It takes hours for them to get through and they all make huge sacrifices for their education. Personally talking to the students afterwards was so much fun because we realized just how much we had in common with these students from completely different backgrounds and how similar we all really are.
Chapel of Bethlehem University
This is Ramzi, he is hilarious and acts as my personal body guard most of the time. Love him!
Overview of Bethlehem from the campus
After the University we stopped at a Bedouin tent restaurant for lunch. Not gonna lie, I was pretty nervous when they told us we would eating in a legit Bedouin tent, and thought it was going to be kinda sketch but I was totally wrong! The food was super good, the atmosphere was awesome, and a million pitas later we were all stuffed.
After lunch we headed up to the old city of Bethlehem. Because Bethlehem is in the West Bank it is supposedly more dangerous and they brought along our security guards from the center to watch over us. The feeling I got walking around Bethlehem was anything but dangerous though. It was so peaceful and I loved walking around the streets, picturing Mary and Joseph making their way through the city trying to find "room in the inn".
Finally we got to the Church of the Nativity. This is the oldest operating church in the entire world, built in 326 AD. It has an amazing history and was built to commemorate the spot where Christ was born. The church is divided up into many different chapels, each run by a different religion, and they are all beautiful. My favorite part though was going into a nearby cave area and singing all of the Christmas hymns (Mom-I thought of you during "Angels We Have Heard On Hight". The spirit was so strong, and even though we likely were not in the same exact spot where Mary gave birth to Jesus, it was amazing to be within a quarter of a mile of where the Savior was born and to feel the spirit there.
The silver star, traditionally marking the exact spot of Christ's birth
The grotto of the Nativity, the spot where the manger stood
The room where Saint Jerome translated the bible
Singing the Christmas hymns
It was an amazing day and an amazing experience to be in the place I have read about every single Christmas Eve. Luke 2 will never be the same!