Thursday, January 5, 2012

First Days in Jerusalem

     So, it has finally happened.  After applying in July, a month and a half on the wait list, and 3 months of eager anticipation, I am finally here in Jerusalem!  I am going to be here for the next three and a half months, til April 19, studying in the Holy Land.  I am staying in the beautiful BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies on Mt. Scopus on the east side of Jerusalem.  My group (of about 80 students) got here yesterday after over 24 hours of exhausting travelling and already we have done a lot.
     Yesterday we had our first official orientation and tour of the amazing 8 level Jerusalem Center and its gardens.  I am staying on the fourth floor, with most of the other girls, in an apartment with 2 other girls (instead of 4 people like most other rooms have). 
     After orientation we had meetings with two of our teachers and classes for this semester.  While in Jerusalem we take 15 credit hours of classes.  I am taking Hebrew 100, Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Old Testament, New Testament, Modern Near East Studies from a Palestinian point of view, and Modern Near East Studies from an Israeli point of view.  So, I am going to be super busy just handling all of my classes, and still going on amazing field trips and getting a chance to explore the city and surrounding areas.
   Today, we were all incredibly jetlagged and had to wake up super early to get a start on all we had to do.  First I was woken up at 4 by the Muslim call to prayer which happens five times a day and is played on speakers across all of East Jerusalem so all the Muslims can hear it.  But we didn't have to actually wake up for the day until about 6am when breakfast started.  And by 8:30 we were out the doors and on our first field trip being guided on our tour of Jerusalem. 
   We entered the city at Damascus Gate and were immediately surrounded by loud noises and masses of tourists, shop owners, vendors, and tons of other people.  We walked along the main El Wad Road for a while stopping off at a few places including the Austrian Hospice, overlooking a section of the Arab Quarter, and a few other small churches. 
     Then we turned onto the Via Dolorosa which is the road many Christians believe that Jesus took when walking down from Gethsemane into Jerusalem before his Crucifixion.  There were so many different groups of Christian tourists on the road that led to the Chruch of the Holy Sepulchre.  They had 9 or 10 small sites on the way that they believe were significant in Christ's walk down the road.  At the end of the road we ended up on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before walking down the stairs inside the building.  The Church is really interesting because so many different sects of Christianity all claim it as an important site to their church and want to worship there.  So all these different groups have built their own little chapels or other small areas of worship for the members of their church to visit and pray.  So it's pretty interesting to see all the different styles of decoration and ways of worshipping.  When you reach the lower level of the church you come into the room where they believe Christ was actually crucified.  And there is a hole in the ground where they believe Christ's cross could have been placed.  So people wait in long lines to put their hand in the hole and light a candle at the end.  Exactly beneath that hole is where they believe that the bones of Adam were buried, making the site even more important to Christianity.
     After leaving the church we walked along the Christian Quarter, past the David's Tower Museum, and out of Jaffa Gate into Western Jerusalem/the new city.  It was so interesting leaving the Palestine area and entering the Israeli's land.  In Old Jerusalem it was very loud and very crowded.  It was I though Jerusalem would be like- old white rock buildings with small shops lining the streets and open markets and stalls everywhere.  And of course, many of the women are dressed in the Burkas and many men are wearing the kafiyahs (head scarfs).  But as soon as we got into Western Jerusalem it got a lot more quiet, and about fifty years more modern.  All the buildings look newer, the streets were clean, not as many tourists were around.  And it was just a more modern area.  We walked around ther for a bit before heading to the buses to come back to the Center for lunch. 
     When we got back we all had about a hundred pages of different readings for Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern Studies classes that start tomorrow so we started on that.  And of course, that caused me to fall asleep for a good two hours (the jetlag, naturally, didn't help either).  After dinner we played the traditional get-to-know-you games of Two Truths and a Lie, Never Have I ever, and missionary tag.
     I feel like I have already gotten to know a few people fairly well and everybody is so friendly that it is pretty easy to make friends.  I am so excited about what the next few months will bring and all the various trips we will go on as well as all the different topics we will study.  Unfortunately, we are not allowed to post pictures on our blogs because apparently the internet here doesn't have that kind of capacity.  So, there won't be any up here for a while.  But for anyone that wants to get a general idea of everything we are seeing and doing, my Old Testament teacher and his wife keep a blog of all that we do.  Feel free to check it out at  Most of it is about their past experiences, but they said they will update it as we go out and do things.
     But for now, we are just going to hang around the center and start our intense studies of the religion, history, and culture of this wonderful area we can call home for the next semester.

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