This past week has been even more amazing than my first. I have done so many amazing things and seen so much more of this amazing city. Let’s start with last Sunday, May 2. Sundays for us are free days. We usually don’t have any formal plans so we can do whatever we want. I went to the Wailing Wall located in the Old City of Jerusalem. Jews come to this place to say special prayers to God because this is the most sacred site to them. The Jews believe that the Wall was a part of Herod’s original temple, although it was actually only a part of the retaining wall around the temple. They come to the wall, write prayers on paper, and put them in the wall. This is a major site of pilgrimage for Jews. I was able to go and put my own prayer in the wall. Even though I don’t necessarily regard this place as sacred, it was still a spiritual experience. It made me realize how grateful I am to know that I can pray to the Father whenever, wherever. I don’t need to write a prayer on a paper in order for Him to hear me. I am so grateful for this gospel!
Mondays are usually our field trip days. This past Monday, May 3 was our first formal field trip outside of the Old City. All of the places we visited gave us a different view of the Jerusalem and its relation to surrounding areas. One of the coolest stops was a hill called Deir Elyas! Our professor told us that Elder McConkie made a statement that the hill we were on was probably the place that the angels came to announce the birth of Christ to the shepherds. And what’s even cooler is that there was a real live shepherd with sheep on the hill! It was super duper cool.
And yes, my fanny pack is hot.
Tuesday May 4 was pretty much a class day. I wasn’t even able to go out into the city because I had classes all day! The academic rigor is pretty high, which I wasn’t expecting, but it’s definitely pushing me which is always good. I’m taking Ancient civilizations, Islam, Judaism, Old Testament, and Hebrew. I think that Hebrew is probably my favorite class thus far because it is the easiest and our teacher treats us like first graders because we are on a first grade level. I’ve already learned 9 Hebrew letters and how to use them to spell English words. It’s pretty much awesome.
Wednesday May 5 I went to the Dome of the Rock. For those who don’t know, this Dome sits on the temple mount where the Temple of Solomon and Herod’s temple rested, the place where Christ went to the temple. The Muslims took over this site when they conquered Jerusalem in the 600s AD, and instead they put a Muslim mosque there because they think that their prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven at that place. Tourists are only allowed in during one hour a day, and I was lucky enough to get in. This place is gorgeous and huge!
Even though I don’t believe in their religion, the Muslims sure can build great buildings. After we left the temple mount I bought my olive wood nativity! It’s so gorgeous, and I got a super duper good price on it (only $50 compared to $250 originally).
Thursday May 6 was a homework day. Not too exciting. But we did have a fiesta that night to commemorate Cinco de Mayo. We Israelis can certainly hold a good Mexican party.
Friday May 7 I was able to go to the Wailing Wall again. Tonight's celebration was different than any other night there because it was the beginning Shabbat or the Jewish Sabbath. The place was packed! It the welcoming of the Shabbat was different than any other Sabbath celebration that I've ever seen. I thought that it would be very subdued, quiet, and peaceful, but it was anything but. The men were especially crazy. Huge groups of them would get in a circle, dance around, sing a song, and just be loud! These of course were only the more "secular" Jews. The ultra orthodox ones, the Hasidic ones, definitely separated themselves and made sure that they weren't participating in those activities. They were on completely opposite sides of the compound which was very interesting. The women were also a little wild and crazy, but nothing like the men. I was able to participate in the big circle of women dancing which was very fun. One interesting tidbit to note is that many ultra orthodox women shave their heads. I was told that it is so that they aren't attractive to other men but only their husbands. But out in public they wear wigs. It's a weird phenomenon. I would think that they would want to be attractive to their husbands so they would wear a wig in the home and only a turban or covering out in public, but I guess I just don't understand. Once I saw a few of them with wigs, I couldn't stop looking for them! You could tell which ones were wearing wigs because their hair was just too perfect. But overall it was a great night. We had over an hour to be there and experience this celebration first hand. Definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Saturday May 8 was Shabbat again. We had a member of the First Quorum of the 70 with us, Elder Pieper. He definitely taught some great lessons.
Overall it’s been a great week! I’ll try not to be so lengthy next time, but I just want you all to experience this with me!