On Wednesday, January 4, 2012 I arrived at the Tel Aviv airport in Israel.
Flying over Israeli landscape was fascinating. I immediately understood that I had never seen any part of the world like this. The rocky hills interspersed with seemingly random clusters of small, beige sandstone villages caught my eye.
After disembarking, we made our way to customs. I was shocked to hear so many people speaking Russian. Waiting in line at the border, I was even more surprised to find that instructions were in three languages—English, Arabic, and Russian. It seems that I will have many opportunities to speak Russian here.
I had my first cultural experience with an Israeli woman. She was the guard checking my passport at customs. I made my usual approach, smiled, and gave her my passport. I asked her a few questions about her day and her work there, and I was interested to find that she, despite her authority, would not look me in the eyes. It was so strange to me. I'm used to being stared down by border guards as they check my passport, but she wouldn't look me straight in the eye. I entered Israel knowing that this was going to be a very different experience from anything I have previously experienced.
|Hillside of Olive Trees|
We got our bags, met our professors, jumped on a bus, and headed for the Jerusalem center. The 40 minute drive was amazing. The landscape here is incredible. It's such a beautiful country! Since it is still cooler weather, green grass dominates the rocky hillsides, and there is much to see. As we drove, I couldn't help but notice all of the olive trees lining the hillsides. Incredible. To think of the history of this place...
After a few minutes, we reached the West Bank, notorious in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today. We got to drive through part of the West Bank, a place forbidden to enter by the Church with the exception of certain field trips specific only to the Jerusalem Center. It was quite different from the first part of the drive. Barbed wire, high walls, towers, and soldiers with large machine guns lined the sides of the streets. I look forward to learning more of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but my first lesson was the "Wall of Separation," dividing certain communities in the West Bank from the rest of Israel.
|The Separation Wall|
As we crossed into the Israeli controlled roads once again, we soon came over a hill with a stunning view of Jerusalem, and right there on top stands the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. We have arrived.