Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sheep herding...check!

Our latest field trip was to Neot Kedumim, a Biblical nature preserve. It’s about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. At the preserve you can see every plant that is mentioned in the Bible. They also have Biblical animals, and they show you what life was like in Biblical times (like a pioneer village type thing- I felt like I was in Nauvoo).

We saw what several plants from the Bible look like- fig trees, almond trees, hyssop... We learned some things about what different plants symbolize. For example, almond trees symbolize diligence because almond trees are the first trees to flower (so when almonds are mentioned, it’s a reference to diligence). We learned some cool Hebrew things too- the word for diligent in Hebrew is derived from the word almond.

Hyssop symbolizes humility because it’s not a special looking plant in any way and it grows low to the ground. After King David sins, he says “Cleanse me with hyssop.” So it means something like...'make me more humble.' I kind of already knew that the Bible was complicated, but things like this show you how many layers are in the Bible. There’s so much symbolism, and so many things that you can understand better by learning about the culture of the Holy Land.

A major part of the culture of the ancient Holy Land was sheep herding! That’s why shepherds are mentioned so often in the Bible. So obviously we had to try sheep herding ourselves in order to better understand the Bible. We had a herd of sheep that a group of us had to move to different locations.

Me and my herd:

It was kind of fun :)

For lunch time, we cooked a meal Biblical-style. There was pita bread made from scratch and soup; both cooked over a fire. Everyone had different jobs, and my group joked that I should be the one to start the fire. Ha. ha. Because we all know I have wilderness skills. I couldn’t even go to Girl’s Camp because it was too outdoorsy...

Here’s me and two of my friends Kaitlyn and Lauren! Hanging out in the woods while our food is cooking.

The day ended with learning about a Torah scribe. A Torah scroll is a handwritten copy of the first five books of the Bible. They told us that every synagogue has one and that it is a very expensive, prized possession. Here is Zahariah, a Torah scribe, with the 250 year old scroll he showed us.

It takes two years to make a Torah scroll. One year to write it, and one year to spell check. They are still written with ink. You can go to a special school to learn how write the calligraphy, but most scribes learn how to do it from their fathers. Zahariah said that his family have been Torah scribes for about 10 generations. Jews all over the world read from the Torah in Hebrew.

Zahariah demonstrated how the Torah is read. It’s kind of sung/chanted. What melody is used depends on where you’re from. He sang the same verse with three different melodies: Eastern European, Yemenite (that’s where his family’s from), and Sephardic (North African). It was interesting to hear the differences. The Yemenite and North African melodies sound very Middle Eastern and Arabic-ish. The Eastern European tune sounds more Fiddler on the Roof-ish. Don’t you love my accurate descriptions?

It was fun to have a field trip with a Jewish tour guide teaching us more about the Old Testament and life in Biblical times, in the same land where it all happened.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fun in the Red Sea

We took a trip down south yesterday! We drove four hours to go to Eilat, the southern tip of Israel. We drove through the Negev desert to get there. It looks like Mars, or southern Utah.

Find Eilat on the map and see how close we were to Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. You can actually see all of those countries from Eilat. I kind of wanted to swim over to Saudi Arabia and check that out. I don’t know if my swimsuit would be considered acceptable attire over there though.

I got to check two things off my bucket list in Eilat: 1.swimming in the Red Sea, and 2. going snorkeling!

The water was BEAUTIFUL! It was extremely clear and extremely blue. It was funny to see such blue pretty water after driving through the desert and being surrounded by desert. 

Eilat is famous for its coral reefs. Here’s some you can kind of see through the water.

We saw lots of tropical fish too. I've never seen fish like that in real life before! No pictures of them, though...I was in the water when I saw them :)

This day was great because there was NO itinerary. Usually our days are packed with tours and sites we have to see. Our professors always give us looooong lectures while we're on our field trips, too. But this trip actually had nothing to do with school! We just got to swim and lay on the beach all day. I spent some quality time with my kindle.

With my roommates Kelby and Ashleigh on the dock:

 On the way back when we stopped for dinner, I found a little piece of Wisconsin.

I miss you Wisconsin! But it was such a beautiful, relaxing day in Israel.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Introducing: Elias Feinzilberg

We had a cool experience this week to complement our visit to Yad Vashem (read about that here -it was so great!). A 96 year old Holocaust survivor, Elias Feinzilberg, came to talk to us about his experiences. He was the only Jew during the war to be sent to 9 different concentration camps and still survive. He has outlived the Nazi regime by 68 years.

Meet Elias:

He was born in Lodz, Poland in 1917. Lodz had a huge, vibrant Jewish community. He came from a religious family. When the Nazis took over Poland he was 22. He remembers his father came home one day soon after the war started with a very bloody face from SS soldiers forcibly shaving his beard (along with skin...). Beards were symbols of being religious Jews, so the SS wanted to humiliate him for it.

About a year later, all Jews were forced to move into a confined area, the Lodz ghetto. It was way too small for the amount of people that lived there, and conditions were terrible. Elias and his family of nine people lived in one small room together. Elias volunteered to go work in Germany to get out of the ghetto and to help his family. The Germans promised they would pay his family for his work (I'm guessing that didn't happen, but he has no way of knowing if if did or not).

He worked in Germany for 2 years building roads. Then he went back to Lodz, where he came home to an empty house. A neighbor told him that his dad had starved to death, and then his mom and 5 siblings had been murdered at the Chelmno death camp (no, the Nazis didn't inform the Jews that they were killing their family and neighbors...but as the war went on Jews knew exactly what was happening). 

Elias found out that his entire family was dead in the same instant. 

Here's a picture of Elias' family. You can see his parents Yaacov and Golda, his aunt Sarah on the left, his four sisters Reizl, Guena, Rivka, and Hanche, and his brother Avigdor. Elias is standing in the middle in the back.

How sad is it to see this entire family all together in 1934, just a few years before they were obliterated? This picture survived because it had been mailed to his uncle in Guatemala before the war started. Elias brought a big framed version of this picture to show us. I bet there were a lot of Holocaust survivors who had no pictures left of the families they lost, so it's nice that he at least still has this one memory of his family.

Something that stuck out to me was that for Elias' dad to die first meant he must have been sacrificing his (tiny portion of) food to give to his children. I'm guessing that otherwise, a young child would have died without food long before a grown man would have.

During the next three years of the war, Elias was shipped frequently to different concentration camps to work. Not all Jews were murdered immediately (like Elias' family). Some Jews were saved to be slave laborers for the Nazis, especially strong young men like Elias. For years he had to do incredibly hard work (like coal mining, for example) while surviving on only one watery bowl of soup a day.

One horrifying detail he told us was that the prisoners were given soap made out of human flesh to use. It was black (because of the incinerated bodies). Sorry to share that disgusting detail, but I think it's the details like that one that make this whole thing seem real. It's just so hard to imagine that things like this could actually happen.

Some of the camps he was at were Auschwitz, Dachau, Gross-Rosen, and Buchenwald. There were five more too, but I'm not sure if he mentioned any more by name. They kept transferring him to different ones for work, and also because the Jews were taken farther west and closer to Germany as the Russian army was advancing. 

Elias also survived a death march where they weren't given food or water for two weeks. Anyone that got caught eating or drinking was shot.

After the war, he met his wife at a refugee camp (she was a Jew from Warsaw) and they got married there. They then moved to Guatemala, where Elias had family, and lived there for around 20 years. In the 60's, he decided to move to Israel. His wife has passed away, but he has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

The coolest part about Elias' story is that he made it, and he's a very happy person! Even while talking about these awful experiences, he was making jokes and smiling. And at 96 years old, he takes public transportation every week to attend his yoga class. I love that.

Afterwards someone asked him how he can be happy after what he went through, and his answer was something like "How could I not be happy? I have such a beautiful family!". He also talked about how some Jews lost faith in God because of the Holocaust, but he knows that only God could have gotten him through it.

It was so inspiring to hear his story! I've heard from Holocaust survivors before, but not since middle school, when I didn't fully grasp what happened. Another great and unique experience in Israel :)

(Read about my next meeting with Elias here )

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

France update

In other news...remember how I'm moving to France for 7 months next year to teach English? This week I officially received my placement for where I'll be working! 

I knew I would be placed somewhere in the region of Alsace, but now I know exactly which cities I'll teach in.

I was placed in two towns 19 miles southwest of Strasbourg (which is the capital of Alsace and the biggest city in the region). I'll teach 9 hours per week at a high school in Barr and 3 hours per week at a middle school in Heiligenstein. Can you tell I'll be close to Germany? Heiligenstein is not the most French-sounding name :)

Barr has about 6,000 people and Heiligenstein has less than a 1,000! I'm not sure yet if I want to live close to my schools or commute from Strasbourg so I can live in a bigger city. It would be a 45 minute train ride. Thankfully Barr has a train station even though it's such a small place. I think the most stressful part of doing this program will be finding an apartment! I don't even know where to start.

It looks like a cute place (I mean obviously, it is in France...).

It's been 3 long years since I've set foot in France... I seriously can't wait to move there!

City of David

Today we had a quick half-day field trip to the City of David. There are some excavation sites right here in East Jerusalem that date from the time of King David.

This is what archeologists think are the remains of David’s palace.

We also saw some remains of a house that was burned down during the Babylonian invasion. That’s another reminder of how surrounded we are by history here.

The more exciting part of this field trip was walking through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. It was built in the 8th century BC by King Hezekiah so that they would be able to get water during a war with the Assyrians and Sennacharib. If he hadn’t built the tunnel, the Assyrians would have been able to cut off the Israelite’s water supply.

It took maybe half an hour to walk through. There’s water through the whole tunnel, but it was only ankle deep most of the way. We could stand up for a lot of the way, but sometimes you had to completely bend over. It’s not really my thing to trek/wade through caves, but I’m glad I can now say I’ve been through the ancient Hezekiah’s Tunnel.

Exit of the tunnel:

We also saw the Pool of Siloam here, which is where Jesus healed a blind man. The pool is right where you exit the tunnel.

Another fun fact about the City of David is that the excavations there are controversial. The excavations are taking place in East Jerusalem in poor Arab neighborhoods under and around where people live. That annoys Palestinians because A. it’s disruptive and B. it’s proof of an ancient Jewish connection to the Holy Land (okay, that last point is my speculation).

Right now Israel has plans to expand the archeological site (there’s still a lot of history they haven’t been able to excavate yet) and build a park, which would mean tearing down an Arab neighborhood. Of course that’s not going to go over well to destroy people's homes, even if they'll be compensated.

It's a good example of how everything in Jerusalem is political and controversial; even archeology.

Jerusalem in lights

To start off our free day this week, we went to Dormition Abbey. It’s very visible in the Jerusalem skyline. I took this picture from far away today during our field trip in a different part of the city.

Dormition Abbey commemorates Mary, and claims to be her final resting place. It’s a relatively new church, built in the 1900s.

Main hall of the church:

Lots of pretty mosaics.

In the basement of the church you can see the tomb of Mary.

For our next activity we took a trip back to the Western world! We went to Mamilla Mall, which is an outdoor mall in West Jerusalem.

It was like being back in America!

I was surprised to find American Eagle in Israel.

I bought jeans and Harry Potter in Hebrew. I’d say that was a successful outing. It made my day to be in a modern mall!

Usually we’re not allowed to be in the Old City after dark, but they made a special exception on this day so that we could go to the Jerusalem Festival of Lights. It was amazing! The Old City is already so cool during the day, so adding light shows and displays made it even more exciting. 

Old City walls by day...

And at the Festival of Lights!

A street in the Jewish Quarter we walked through earlier in the day...

And the same street at night.

It was like Christmas! Oh wait, that’s ironic.

I'm so glad we got to go! Thank-you BYU JC security for letting us out of prison for the night.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Yad Vashem

Today was a great day! We went as a group to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. This was probably the site I was most excited to see since we got our itineraries a few months ago. 

Yad Vashem means ‘place and a name.’ It comes from a verse in Isaiah that says “Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name...I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.” 

So naming the museum Yad Vashem means that it will be a place for every name, every person that died to be remembered. No one’s name will be forgotten, even if they died anonymously and didn’t get to be remembered at funerals.

Here’s me under the words ‘Yad Vashem’ in Hebrew.

 And the outside of the museum.

Before going into the museum, we listened outside to our Judaism professor talk about Israeli perceptions of the Holocaust. First of all, we learned that for about a decade after WWII Holocaust survivors didn’t talk about it at all. They felt guilty for being among the few that survived, and didn’t want to remember. It wasn’t until the Adolf Eichmann trial in 1961 that people started being more open about what they went through.

We also talked about how Israelis want to emphasize the Jews that fought back against the Nazis and resisted rather than the Jews who “went like sheep to the slaughter.” There are sculptures that depict different Jewish reactions to the Holocaust.

Here’s the first one, which shows Jews quietly walking to their deaths.

And the second one, which commemorates the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

In Warsaw, Poland (the city that had the largest Jewish population in the world), Jews had been forced to move into a small ghetto. The Nazis gradually deported the Warsaw Jews from the ghetto to death camps. By 1943, the last group of Jews remaining in Warsaw knew without a doubt that mass murder was taking place. Instead of going along with the deportations, they decided to resist. The Warsaw Jews obtained weapons, sometimes with the help of the Polish resistance, and fought the Nazis when they tried to transport them to concentration camps. Eventually the only way the Nazis could get them all out was by burning down the ghetto. About 13,000 Jews died in the battle.

To Jews, the importance of having a Jewish state is that Jews finally no longer have to just put up with persecution. Now Jews have the power to fight back (for the first time since the first century). So that’s why commemorating the Warsaw ghetto uprising is so important. In Israel, the official Holocaust remembrance day is called “Day of Remembrance for the Holocaust and Heroism.” It isn't just about remembering people that died in the Holocaust, but also the people that heroically fought back.

The first place we went in the museum was the children's memorial. It was pitch black inside, and it looks like there are a million stars on the walls and ceiling. It's actually light from a few candles in the middle of the room, reflected everywhere with mirrors. There's a voice reading names and ages of children that died. About 1.5 million children were killed in the Holocaust. Our professor told us this room alludes to Abraham having descendants "as numerous as the stars in the sky." This was definitely one of the most moving parts of the museum. 

Inside the main part of the museum, you walk through a timeline of the Holocaust. The rise of anti-Semitism, Nazis coming to power, ghettos, deportation, death camps, and life after the Holocaust. 

Obviously, there are lots of horrifying stories. I won't subject you to the gross ones. One of the saddest things I saw was a little letter written in French that girl wrote to her mom on the way to Auschwitz promising she would see her again soon. 

There are also lots of inspiring stories. I felt like in general the museum was trying to be uplifting. For example, I liked a small exhibit at the end that showed all of the wedding pictures of a group of women who survived a death march together.

There were also lots of stories about people who risked their lives to save Jews. Here's Schindler's List!

Those are the names of the 1,200 people he was able to save.

Something else inspiring were entire countries that worked together to save their Jews. Denmark saved every one of the country's 8,000 Jews by simply refusing to go along with Nazi policies, and by helping them to escape to Sweden. Italy, although a fascist country allied with Germany, also for the most part refused to take part in the Holocaust. 80% of the country's Jews were saved, mostly by people risking their lives hiding Jews in their homes. It was nice to see how many good people there were in the world too.

Other countries mostly in Eastern Europe...and France :( ,went along with Hitler's policies. The day after Germany came to power in Lithuania, Lithuanians massacred thousands of Jews without ANY German orders or coercing. It was kind of like "We're finally allowed to do this." That showed how widespread anti-Semitism was in Europe at the time. It wasn't just something Germany randomly came up with.

At the end of the museum is the Hall of Names.

It's a beautiful room with so many pictures of people who died. This is also the room where they store information about every Holocaust victim they have information about. 

As you exit the museum, you see this pretty view of Israel.

I took the view to symbolize what Israelis see as the happy ending to the Holocaust: the founding of the State of Israel.

This is an amazing museum! I highly recommend it; this was by far my favorite field trip.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Marissa, Israel

Because guess what: that's a place! I am an ancient Israelite city. My city is usually spelled Maresha, but Marissa/Marisa are also official spellings. Allow me to quote Wikipedia:

"Tel Maresha (Hebrewתל מראשה‎), also Marissa, is an antiquity site in Israel's southern lowlands." 

The "s" letter in Hebrew can be pronounced as s or sh, so it makes sense.

I first realized this when I was in a kid. I found the city of Marissa on the map at the back of my Bible and it was very exciting. 

On our Monday field trip, the ruins of Marissa was our first stop.

There's not much there. Can you tell we're in the middle of nowhere? 

Marissa was an ancient city. Basically the only part of it that has lasted through the centuries are underground caves (used for storage, making olive oil, etc.). 

I wasn't super interested in learning about how the ancient Israelites stored their stuff during the Iron Age... but I did appreciate this cave with holes in the ceiling that created spotlights. Enjoy my cave photo shoot!

And my favorite picture: the moment when my friend Kaitlyn tried to steal my spotlight and subsequently fell while trying to do ballet :)

Another site we saw on this field trip was where Samson went on his crazy rampages.

The Old Testament isn't disturbing at all. Let's review my favorite part of Samson's story- when he tied torches to the tails of 300 foxes and let them run around burning down the Philistine's fields. Oh, and then when he killed 1,000 Philistines using the jawbone of an ass as a weapon. So special.

Slightly less disturbing was the site of David and Goliath's battle. 

We also went to another biblical city, Lachish. It's fun to see how close together everything is from the Bible. We were southwest of Jerusalem. Israel is a tiny country, so we get to see so much of it. 

This was a LONG field trip day in 90 degree weather. We were gone from 7:30 in the morning until 6:00 at night. I was told that last semester this exact same field trip ended at 3:00. I guess our professors were having a little too much fun explaining things at the sites. As long as they were enjoying themselves, I guess. I was mostly just excited to be back in the air-conditioning at the end of the day :)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Dome of the Rock!

It was our free day today, and I finally got to go to the building I've been staring at in the distance for the last month: the Dome of the Rock. The golden dome is a Jerusalem landmark, and we can see it pretty well from here at the BYU Jerusalem Center. The Dome of the Rock is built in the area that Jews and Christians call the Temple Mount (it's called a mount because it's a platform that's higher than the rest of the city around it). Somewhere on this raised platform was where Solomon's Temple and the Temple of Herod stood. I would say that's a pretty historic location. 

It's been a Muslim site since the mid-600s. I've learned that originally they built these buildings on the Temple Mount to show Jews that Islam replaced Judaism and Christianity as the true religion (they see Islam as a restoration movement that is sort of a continuation and correction of Judaism and Christianity). Eventually, it became a tradition that this was the site of Muhammad's vision of God and it became an even holier place for Muslims. 

The two buildings on the platform are the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa. Dome of the Rock is a shrine. The rock inside is supposed to be where Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac (Ishmael if you're Muslim). The al-Aqsa mosque is the third-holiest in the Muslim world, after the ones in Mecca and Medina. All of my pictures in this post are of the Dome.

Non-Muslims aren't allowed to go inside either building because of the security situation right now. At other times (maybe even like 10 years ago?), anyone could go in. We had to content ourselves with taking awesome pictures outside of it.

The Ottomans added the pretty tiles. Love the colors!

So that's the beautiful Dome of the Rock. I've heard that usually you have to wait in a long line at security to get up on the Temple Mount, but we went early in the morning so there was no line and it wasn't crowded at all. They have modesty requirements to get up there. No one can wear shorts or tank tops. We saw them stop a girl who was wearing leggings. The BYU honor code office should hire these guys; they would love Utah culture!

Here's a view off the side of the Temple Mount.

Since we were so close to the Western Wall, we also stopped there again today.

 We didn't get to take pictures there the last time we went since it was the Sabbath, so here it is! Notice the people walking backwards away from it since they don't turn their backs on the Wall. And me looking like an awkward tourist. Oh well.