What a great week. Last Sunday we went to Tel Aviv and did some Christmas shopping (just a reminder, we do Sabbath on Saturday, or Sabbath, here). Then we went to some really cool, really beautiful parks and ruins up near Tel Aviv, and then we took the older two kids to a District Youth Activity in Tel Aviv. I think they had fun. We did a bit more Christmas shopping, including finally finding a new wedding ring for Julianne, to replace the one she lost. I think we did it all right, I had to do the negotiations, fittings, etc. in Hebrew, and my Hebrew is pretty rusty, but we seemed to get along okay.
The next two days I mostly worked. I worked and worked and worked. I am so far behind in work. All the things we have done with the students have made it so I have gotten nothing else done. I have articles, proofs, etc. that I am so far behind on, and I have next semester to get ready for. I really need the vacation, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. We have, however, had some fun evenings, including having almost all the folks in the Center together to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. One great thing is that Jeff Chadwick’s family arrived. Jeff is one of the teachers here, but his wife has not been able to be with him much this last semester, only a few weeks. Now she has arrived, and even better, she came with their daughter Abbi, who will be a student here this next semester. The kids are so happy that they have a student here again. Poor Abbi can barely breath as our kids suffocate her. We also finally got up our Christmas decorations.
Youth at the Hidden Waterfall up Wadi Arugot
Wednesday was a cool day. We took the youth on a hike up Wadi Arugot, a very likely trail that Lehi and his family took. It is the same place Tashara fell off a cliff, but today she didn’t, which was good. Instead it was a beautiful, scenic hike, with some cool waterfalls. The boys with us hiked through the stream and falls on the way down, with Brother Lewis leading the way.
Thursday was supposed to be a day I spent only with the family, but some things for work came up and I spent several hours on that. It will all make the next semester better, but I really need a break and to spend time with my family. I am getting excited for next semester. I have been corresponding with a few families, and I am excited to meet these students. I have also been reading O Jerusalem, and have really been enjoying that.
Christmas Eve was incredible. I worked for a few hours from 5-7 am. Then we got all ready for a day in Bethlehem. It turned out to be a perfect day. Everyone got ready so quickly and well, it was one of those few times when you are ready ahead of schedule. Then we got a ride into Bethlehem on a large taxi with the Judds and their visiting family. We had no problems or even pauses going through the wall. We got dropped off near to manger square, and found ourselves there quite a while before the parade was going to arrive. So we did a little shopping in the stores around manger square. Then we walked to a different part of the streets to where we thought would be a good place to watch the parade. We ate our picnic lunch there, and met Sahar, our wonderful, amazing, incredible Palestinian, Bethlehem native Relief Society President, who had put all this together. She helped us figure out where to go. We walked up so that we were resting on the Church of the Nativity. We ended up being interviewed by Fox News about what it was like to be in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Grandpa Judd, Lisa Judd, and I all ended up being on national tv a whole bunch of times that day. It was pretty funny.
Our family in front of Manger Square on Christmas Eve
When the parade started, our kids were having a hard time seeing. We were standing next to a tv van which was filming the events, and I saw they had a few kids on top of the van watching. So I put our kids on the hood. They grabbed a few and helped them up on top to watch better. Pretty soon all of our kids, and half of the Judd kids were on top of the van, while we all watched and watched boy scout troop after boy scout troop file past with their drums and bagpipes.
Traditional Arab dress in the parade
After a while I started to visit with the cameraman. It turns out this was the Al-Jazeera van. Who would have guessed that a bunch of Mormon kids would sit on the Al-Jazeera van in Bethlehem in Manger Square watching a mostly Greek Orthodox Christmas parade? Pretty fun!
Kids on the Al-Jazeera van
Jacob on the Al-Jazeera van when he was the only one of our kids on the top
Then we went to meet Odeh at his shop. Odeh is one of the two Palestinian men who are members of our church in Bethlehem. We hold church services in his house. He is a very good man, and we enjoyed his olive wood shop, and bought some things there. It was great. Then we went to his house where everyone from the Jerusalem Center, a few other ex-pat members, and all the Bethlehem members had Christmas Eve dinner together. It was as nice as it could be. We visited, ate, enjoyed each other, and then Sahar gave all the kids some little Christmas gifts. It was so wonderful.
Mohammed and family at the Christmas Eve gathering at Odeh's house.
Just minutes before it got dark we walked out to the separation wall, sailed through with no problem, and got in our car we had left there waiting for us. We drove out to Shepherd’s Fields. It was just us there (another American Family was nearby). We sang Christmas songs and talked about the Savior being born right there across the valley in Bethlehem. We talked about picturing ourselves as the shepherds right here, and what if we saw the Angels? What would it be like for us to have been there that night, looking up at the stars and listening to the angels and hurrying across the way to see the Savior of the world as a little babe. I pictured myself as a shepherd there with my two oldest boys, and was sure we would stop by and get the rest of the family on the way home so that we could all go as a family. While I have always known that the Savior is real, while there has been nothing but certainty in my life regarding the fact that he really did condescend to come to earth, he really was born in such humble circumstances, he really did work miracles and then suffer and die for us, yet there, that night, picturing it all taking place in that very spot, or at least in that very city we were looking at, it became even more real. It was wonderful, the miracle and grace of those events was more overwhelming than ever before. It was the perfect Christmas Eve. The miraculous birth is real!!!
Being here for Christmas has helped us to focus on the real meaning of Christmas. There has been no commercialization, and we have not even thought about gifts, etc., until this last week. Gifts just never seemed like a real part of it all. But what has been so incredibly and indelibly impressed upon us is the real reason for Christmas. It has really all been about the amazing and divine being we call Christ and all the wonderful things he did right in the places we have been going to. This is a Christmas that has really been about Christ.
When we got back to the Center we dressed up in all sorts of costumes and with the Judds we re-enacted the Nativity Story, and had a great time doing it. How fun, what a setting for it. Finally, we did our Christmas pajama tradition, got the kids in bed, did our Santa stuff, and finally got to bed.
Jacob woke up in the middle of the night, quietly and alone. I heard him eventually, and went to find him in his room, with the light on, playing with some of the gifts that Santa had left for Sabrina and Alexia. Whoops! It took me a long time to get him back to bed and asleep. Ah well, Christmas Even was never a night for getting sleep. Incredibly, our kids slept in longer than normal for a regular day, much less Christmas. We got to sleep until almost 7 am. Huh? How did that happen? But when I came out, I found out that Kaleb, Sabrina and Alexia had snuck into the room where Santa had been. Very naughty! They were in big trouble.
Earliest risers on Christmas morning
But soon enough we went in and had a wonderful morning. It was less stuff than normal, and people for the most part did not get the big things they were asking for. Yet there was not one complaint about it, not one sour note. There was only gratitude and excitement and happiness. I could not believe the lack of any negative feelings or emotions, and the amazing abundance of good feelings and happiness. It was a Christmas morning for the postcards and story books. And I thought they would go through their presents and be ready to move on quickly. But they were content to just do little things for a very long time. I finally had to tell them that we needed to move on to breakfast. We did, and then got ready for Church.
Church was nice, other than the fact that I had to speak. But I did enjoy talking about the real meaning of Christmas, and it is always a joy to testify of the Savior. The singing was great, the people are wonderful, and it was a time of love and happiness. We invited Rebecca Call to our house for dinner later. She is a grad student here at Hebrew U who is away from family, etc. I did not realize she got here about when we did. She has so fully integrated herself into life here and the branch, I thought she had lots of friends, experience, etc. here. I was surprised she did not. So we came back from Church, had a great meal, and did presents to each other. I love how excited the kids get to give to each other. Again, it was a time of happiness and gratitude, no selfishness or problems, other than 3-year old Jacob wanting it to be his turn to get a present frequently. The others concentrated on what they were giving people, and that always causes them to have such genuine feelings and expressions of joy and gratitude when they get something. Again, it was picture perfect.
Then Rebbeca came over, and we had a wonderful dinner. Then we skyped with grandparents back home. It is wonderful to be with family on Christmas, even if it is separated by thousands of miles. The miracle of technology brought family together, just as it should be on this wonderful day.