Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday the 13th

Today I am departing from the usual post about Jerusalem in honor of Friday the 13th.

Fire in Jerusalem (it got put out pretty fast)

For various reasons, Friday the 13th has been associated with unfortunate events and happenings. Well, perhaps that's true, or perhaps it was just a coincidence that a fire began in Jerusalem during class today. I don't have the answer, but it did cause me to look up a little more info on wikipedia about this superstitious date.

It turns out there is somewhat religious symbolism behind Friday 13th. In many religions and cultures, the number "12" is considered complete and whole. Think of the Twelve Apostles, twelve calendar months, twelve hours on a clock, the twelve tribes of Israel, etc. Because of the stark contrast, the number "13" got a bad rap. Honestly, I don't suffer from friggatrishtkaidekaphobia, but I suppose that anything that brings disorder could gain a bad reputation.

Hope all is well! Tomorrow I will be visiting the Garden Tomb!

Love,

Mark

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dome of the Rock


The Dome of the Rock is a must see for all in Jerusalem. Actually, you can't miss it. The blue tiled walls and golden dome can be seen from anywhere overlooking the city.

The fountain directly in front of the Dome of the Rock
As you may already know, the Dome of the Rock has special symbolism to almost every major world religion. The gold dome literally covers a rock, the same rock that Muslims (who currently control the area) believe Muhammad saw the vision that made him into their last prophet. However, the terrace that surrounds the area, known to some as Mount Moriah, is the same place where both the first and second Temples were built by the children of Israel--the first was destroyed around 587 BCE, and the second was leveled by the Romans in 70 AD. The Temple held special significance to the Jews because it was built on the spot where Abraham traveled to sacrifice Isaac (See Genesis 22).

Because of the sacred nature of the sight, many Orthodox Jews won't enter the Temple mount area for fear that they may step on the very spot that contained the "Holy of Holies" when their Temple still stood. Muslims temporarily closed the Dome of the Rock to Christians, as well, but have recently reopened the terrace (only Muslims are allowed inside). 

As interesting as the sight was to see, and despite the realization of the sacredness of the spot, the most meaningful thing I saw was the fountain directly in front of the main entrance. Surrounding the fountain were faucets placed in front of stone seats where people sit to wash their feet before entering the Mosque. I immediately thought of all of the many references to washing one's feet in the scriptures, the most significant being the Savior washing each of the Apostles' feet before He entered the Garden of Gethsemane. I have new found respect for the way in which the Muslims honor their holy places by washing their feet before entering their sanctuaries.
Seats surrounding the fountain to wash one's feet
before entering the Dome of the Rock

If there is one thing I've learned from living in this city of diverse culture, opinion, and belief, it is the need to respect one another. We can learn from any culture, people, or faith if we have an open mind and a willingness to learn. I'm grateful for the continued understanding that I am gaining through learning more about other's way of life.

Love,

Mark

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Orson Hyde Memorial Garden

A view from the garden
The Orson Hyde Memorial Garden is a trail that winds down the side of the Mount of Olives, just down the street from the BYU Jerusalem Center. The park has special meaning to the Latter-day Saint community. We spent our Sabbath on the trail that leads through the memorial garden and to the Garden of Gethsemane.


Orson Hyde, one of the orignal members of the Twelve Apostles in this dispensation, trekked to the Holy Land in 1841. On 24 October, he walked up the side of the Mount of Olives and then dedicated and blessed the land.

Though the land is owned by the Israeli government, the Church was given permission by Jerusalem's mayor to fund the project of beautifying the land. In 1979 the park was dedicated (to read more about Orson Hyde and the memorial garden, click here). 

Walking the trails of the garden allows splendid views of the Old City and other parts of the surrounding area. We walked, talked, laughed, and couldn't help but think of Orson Hyde climbing the side of the hill to offer the dedicatory prayer over 150 years ago.

The brigade
Love,

Mark

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sunday's Adventure

The black dome in the background is part of the Dome of the Rock complex,
a mosque where many Muslims gather to worship

Since the Sabbath is on Saturday in the Holy Land, our free day is on Sunday. We have all day to go into the city, explore, and take trips to neighboring cities. We packed this Sunday full of things on our to-do list.

The morning started early, as usual, with a nice workout in the center's gym. It's slightly weird working out on Sundays, but I kind of liked it. After our 7 AM breakfast, we headed off into the city to see the Dome of the Rock (Click here to read more). The Dome of the Rock closes early to Christians (at 10:30 AM), so we were herded out onto the streets and set off to our next stop--the Israel Museum.

For our Ancient Near Eastern Studies course, we were asked to visit the Israel Museum, the largest museum in all of Israel. We didn't realize how far away it was, but an hour and a half later, after getting lost only twice, we arrived! On the way, I kept running into Russians asking for directions. We had a map, so I would do my best to explain where they needed to go. Some of our group thought that was worth documenting. There are so many Rooskies in the Holy Land! None of them have asked why I speak Russian, yet...I guess it's not just in Russia that many assume that everyone speaks Russian! We mapped our route at the end of the trip and found out we had walked 12 miles. It was quite the trek.
The highlights of the Israel Museum were examining the dead sea scrolls and seeing the large model of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. Honestly, seeing scrolls written in perfect Hebrew script that were hundreds of years old was cool enough, but then reading the description being about the "War Between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness" was a humbling experience. I was quite impressed by those displays.

Herod's Temple is the large structure directly behind me.
Notice the difference in the size of the walls of the city
and the Temple walls.
Seeing a giant model of Jerusalem was also enlightening. Herod's Temple would have been an even more impressive sight to those living during the Second Temple period. In fact, the Temple would have been a constant reminder of their duties. It reminded me of how the Salt Lake Temple became the heart of the Salt Lake Valley when the first Mormon pioneers began settling in Utah. Jerusalem during Christ's ministry surely would have been a sight to see!
After finishing our tour of the Israel Museum, we returned to East Jerusalem and met some vendors who have been selling olive wood nativities and other figures to BYU students for over 20 years. The LDS community has clearly made huge impact on these merchants, for they love us! I'm sure we've been almost single handedly the cause of their success in the past two decades. They have all of these special deals for us just because we're Mormon. For instance, one of the vendors gave me some free wooden trinkets, and another is giving me a free nativity. The girls get even more perks--free scarves and other souvenirs. One man gave us free juice. He said, "For my other best customers, I offer tea and coffee, but for the Mormons, I have juice!" I liked that.

However, the coolest part about meeting those shopkeepers was not the free stuff, it was the fact that they love the LDS people for who we are. Over 20 years of good examples have led them to trust and love us. They respect us for our faith. In fact, one of the merchants sent two of his sons to BYU even though they are not of our faith. He has met several general authorities of the Church and hangs their pictures on his wall. He recognizes the good influence the Church has here in Jerusalem, and elsewhere in the world. It's nice to be in an area where my faith is well respected, even though it is not well understood.

When we got home from our day out, we all crashed. It was quite the Sunday adventure!

Love,

Mark

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Garden of Gethsemane

The Garden
The Garden of Gethsemane is broken up into two different parts: a patch of olive trees, and a church built over the rock to which Christ was thought to have retreated as He prayed to the Father, beginning the process of Atonement (to read the scriptural accounts in the New Testament, click here). The Garden is less a tourist attraction than a place of worship.

Visiting the Garden of Gethsemane has easily been the most sacred experience I've had since arriving in Jerusalem. Located just on the other side of the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane has been preserved for anyone to come and ponder the great sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The only rule--silence. Patrons are expected to conduct themselves in a respectful manner to help create a spiritual environment for everyone present.

We arrived at the Garden just as it was opening on the Sabbath. Very few people were nearby, and we were privileged to be six of the dozen or so people there.

The rock on which Jesus prayed as he bled from every pore
As you may have guessed, my experience in the Garden and the church nearby had a profound impact on me. It is a sacred place. I felt the Spirit strongly testify to me of Christ's mission, of His love for each of us, and for His personal sacrifice for me. In the Chapel of the church I had the opportunity to sit on a bench and offer prayers of gratitude for Him and for the Father's willingness to allow His Son to suffer on (and in) our behalf. I felt what many Christians can only describe as "peace." I left the Garden of Gethsemane full of gratitude for Him who gave all He had so that we could become heirs to all our Father has. That's a memory that won't easily fade.

Visitors are encouraged to touch the rock on which Jesus prayed
Love,

Mark