The week started off with a bang, and never slowed down. We had a wonderful Sabbath. The meetings were great. I was able to teach the temple prep class, and it was about learning through symbols, which is such a wonderful lesson. I love teaching that class, and I love seeing the students get so excited about understanding things. That afternoon we went as a family to the Garden Tomb. We had some traffic problems getting there, but we made it. We also had a few behavior problems that marred it for a little while, but we then had some sweet moments. It was a great chance for Julianne and I to bear testimony of Jesus Christ, and of how he died for us and how he lives again. I think it was a good moment, and it is good to take the chance often to let your children know you know these things, but even better to do it in places like this. I think they will remember it. One funny thing that is good is that as I bore testimony of the Savior Sabrina said “we know, we know.” This is not an uncommon response as I tell them things, and I usually don’t like it all that much. But in this case I am pretty happy to hear her say that this is such a given, that they hear it so much, that they know. I’ll keep telling them, but I am sure they have heard it a bit by now. That is good.
The Garden Tomb
Jacob at the spot at the Garden Tomb where we talked as a family
The family at the Garden Tomb
The family at the Garden Tomb
The next day was a big field trip. BJ was the only one to come, the rest of the family wisely chose to stay home, having been on this one and knowing the toll it would take. BJ can pay the toll just fine, he is big and strong these days. I look at pictures of him when we first got here and it is a bit hard to recognize him as the boy who is with us today. He has had a year of real growth. I hope in a lot of ways.
Anyway, we started out the day going to Qumran, where the community that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls lived. You can see cave 4 from there, which is the cave in which the most scrolls were found. It was nice to teach them a little about that community, and what is on the scrolls, and so on. But what I enjoy even more is standing in the room where they wrote the scrolls and talking about the importance of scriptures and reading with them the verses from 2 Neph 29 about thanking the Jews for the pains they went through to preserve the Bible for us. That is a real gift, and I want these students, after having been here, to recognize that gift and be grateful for it. We finished about 9 am. It is 1050 ft. below sea level. N 31* 44.502 E 035* 27.554. That made it over 90 degrees by 9 am. We were in for a hot one.
Jumping and pointing towards Cave 4, the motherlode of Qumran
Our next stop was Masada. This is a whopper of a site. I would have been happy to sit it out. I think it is a cool structure and an amazing story. But since it is a story of a group among Jews which I think were not very good guys, and since the site is completely non-biblical, and since it is such a large and hot place, I would be just as happy to miss it this time. But I want the students to see it and get a lot out of it, and since no one else was going to take them, I was happy to go. It was the first site we have gone to this year that I just really wasn’t excited about. At the entry way it is 760 feet below sea level, N 31* 18.948 E 035* 21.430, at the top 148 ft. above sea level, N 31* 19.031 E 035* 21.260. By the time we were done it was 105 degrees. There is no shade, at all, up there. We went over the story of Herod using this as a retreat. We talked about the zealot revolutionaries using it as they killed Jews and fought Romans. We told the story of the Roman siege, and in the room where they found the lots we read about them drawing lots to see who would kill the others and who would commit suicide before the Romans got in. We went through Herod’s magnificent hanging palace, through his Roman Baths, into the synagogue, down the hillside to see how the water system works, we looked down on the siege ramp and read prophecies by the Savior about destruction coming on the Jews and read from Amos about God’s justice reaching Israel even if they dug down to hell or climbed up to heaven to hide from it, we went to another palace, and we went to the giant cistern. It takes about two hours, and there are some cool things to see. It is as much a monument to Roman stubbornness and perseverance as it is to anything. I can’t imagine working in that God forsaken place to build a huge ramp to conquer less than a thousand people, only a few hundred of which were actually in rebellion against you. Crazy story. I think the students had fun, and I enjoyed being with them. I was also happy to get below and buy BJ and me a McDonald’s soft serve ice cream cone.
In the hanging palace at Masada
From there we went to Ein Gedi. I taught about David cutting off part of Saul’s cloak. We spoke of how he not only had respect for the Lord’s anointed, and how it was a good idea for a future king to teach of how people should treat the king, but we also talked about David’s love for Saul and how he tried to help him. Then we hiked up to the first waterfall, and talked about Nephi and Lehi’s vision of a river of water running through valleys and into bodies of water. It is a good image for people to think of when they do this stuff. It was 110 degrees. So, we dipped our feet in some waterfall pools, saw did a bit of a beautiful hike, and then came back. I spent some good time with BJ at this place, and I really enjoyed that. There is real beauty there.
Tunnel to a waterfall at Ein Gedi
BJ and students enjoying a waterfall at Ein Gedi
Then we went to the Dead Sea. I was not feeling crazy enough to swim. It was about 112 degrees. So BJ and I bought some ice cream and watched everyone swim and get all sticky and stingy. Then they got mud on themselves, and did all those crazy things they do. Then I bought BJ and I a slushy to split. It was hot and I had already drunk 4 litres of water, and still felt thirsty. So, on the way home we just relaxed and played some music and had a nice time. While we still have a few field trips left, this was our last one with a lot of time on the bus. That made me sad. But still it was a great field trip.
Crazy students floating in the Dead Sea
Students getting some Dead Sea mud on them
When we got home it was time for Julianne and I to take Alexia out to dinner. When our children turn eight they get a special night out with Mom and Dad. She turned 8 when we had company, and then the students came, and we kind of all forgot. So, three months later we remembered, and off we went. We went where we took Tashara for turning 12, the Spegatim. We enjoyed the food. Then we walked down Ben Yahuda street, the pedestrian fun street. We found a little carnival going on, and Alexia wanted a cotton candy they were selling. Perfect, we wanted to buy a treat, she always likes these, and suddenly it was dropped in our lap. Then we took her to get a fish pedicure, which she thought was pretty cool. We enjoyed some music on the street, bought a souvenier, and had a great evening. It is good to have special time with each of the kids.
Alexia, Sabrina and Amanda Judd on our balcony as we have a nice little dinner
Jacob lost in thought on our balcony with the Tower of the Ascension behind him
On Monday we took the family, with our old friend/student Ashley Barney, to the Israel Museum. It was a long, hot day. But we had a great time. There are a lot of great things to see there, and while there were some parts the family didn’t care for, there were some parts they really enjoyed.
On Tuesday I taught about Gethsemane and the Savior’s trials before the Sanhedrin and Pilate. So we started class out by going out to the olive press, and talked about the symbolism there. Then we spent a long time talking about what he suffered for in Gethsemene. I never feel able to do that lesson justice, but I feel like it went very, very well. I felt the spirit and came to appreciate the atonement more. I also focused on how alone he was and how much he had to do so many ironic things alone, which I believe is all part of his suffering. It is so poignant. The next day was the last day of class. Not just for these guys, but my last day of class here in Jerusalem. I have so enjoyed my students here and so enjoyed the classroom. Things will be a letdown when we get home. I will miss this so much. In class we covered the crucifixion and resurrection of the Savior. If I am going to end class here, that is the right thing to end it on. It is a wonderful thing to be able to testify of the reality of Jesus Christ and of his death and of his resurrection. Here where it happened I got to testify of it. It is real.
That afternoon we took the family on a little walk. We just walked to the toy store to look around. They always wanted to go, and we told them we would, so now we did. But, best part is we went when we could tell them there was no point in buying anything, we would just leave it behind in a week. We bought a slushy on the way up, and ended up having a fun afternoon just as a family. Very nice.
Wednesday afternoon we had an unexpectedly cool afternoon. We had read about a Biblical Institute in Ein Kerem where they had a triclinium set up and a couple of other really cool Biblical lifestyle things. We love Ein Kerem, so we decided to go. Only Kaleb and Tashara wanted to come, so we thought that would make for a great outing. We enjoyed walking around that beautiful place. It took us a while to find the part we wanted, and it turned out that was because they were closed. The place didn’t exist anymore. So, there we were, wondering what to do. As we were walking around we saw the little store for “Sweet ‘n Kerem” a kinda famous chocolate maker. Kaleb suddenly remembered he had toured the factory with his school. He thought he could remember how to get there. The kid has an amazing spatial memory. We walked through alley and crooked pathway, over cobbled streets and around obscure corners, and suddenly we were there. A little house that had been converted into a very small chocolate factory. The lady who ran the place gave us a small tour, and a few nice samples. She had started it in her home, and it grew so much she had to get another place. We liked the placed, the people, and the chocolate. It was a pleasant little day. We went to their store and bought a few treats for special friends here. Then we just enjoyed ourselves walking around, and finally came home. We dropped Julianne and Tashara off in the Old City to buy a few last things. I think they had a great time. We had all really enjoyed our little time together.
Kaleb and Tashara at Ein Kerem with some "sweet 'n Kerem" chocolates
Alexia and Lisa Judd in their activity days reader's theater (headed by their leader, Julianne)
On Thursday morning we did something I have wanted to do all year. There are two churches around here I have always wanted to go to but have not been able to because they are only open on Thursdays and I work most Thursdays. But today the students had a test from Chadwick, so I got to take my family and the Judd family (without Frank) and go. We went first to the Russian Orthodox convent and tower of the ascension. These are beautiful grounds. It had a very nice little wooded area in which we could sit and read the scriptures together. There we read of Jesus Christ going up into heaven and of his apostles being told he would come back down in like manner. What a thrill to testify to my children of that reality. They understood, and I think being there helped them to think about it and focus on it. It was a wonderful moment.
The whole group as we read about the ascension
Jacob and BJ as we read about the ascension
Then we went up to the tower. It looks stunning, but the door was locked.
BJ and Jacob trying to get in the tower
The family at the tower
I walked around and around, trying to meet someone who could let us in. I tried and tried, but everyone told me they don’t let anyone in because it is not safe, and that only the Mother Superior could change that. They all told me where to find her, but I never found her there. Finally I found someone who told me that she was at a special fast at the Church of Mary Magdalene. Oh well, I guess we will try another time. But they did open the little chapel, which was very beautiful.
Inside the chapel at the Russian Orthodox convent and tower of the ascension
So then we went down to the Russian Orthodox church of Mary Magdalene. My kids call it the Aladin church because it looks a bit like the palace in that movie.
The spires of the church of Mary Magdalene, or the Aladin church as it is known to our family
View of the Old City on the way down to the Church of Mary Magdalene. You can see the Dome of the rock, the Holy Sepulchre, and the Tower of the Redeemer.
The Jewish cemetery we pass on the way down to the church
It took us a while to find the right door that would let us in. And then they wouldn’t let us in because they were having a special fast there that day. At this point it was just Kaleb and I (the others were waiting further up the hill while we explored the way to get in). Through the intercom I tried to talk our way in, but it did not work. Then some people came out the door, and while it was open Kaleb and I stepped in. We found the gatekeeper and plead with him to let us in since it was a Thursday we had been waiting for to be able to come. He told us if it was just the two of us we could come. I thanked him, and then told him there were a few more. He asked how many. I said my family. I told him that was just a few more. He reluctantly said okay. Then I told him there was another family, just a few more. He reluctantly said okay. So we waited for them to come (accidentally letting in someone else who we thought was the family, which was not good for this poor gatekeeper). When they got there we quietly (and I was so proud of everyone for walking so reverently, arms folded and everything) walked through the beautiful grounds and up to the very cool church.
Walking through the grounds of the Church of Mary Magdalene
Since it is on the Mt. of Olives this is a great commemoration marker set up in the grounds of the church
Just as we got there the services ended. Scores of nuns came out singing a haunting and gorgeous chant. They were followed by some priests, and eventually the patriarch of the area carrying some scrolls and having his train carried by a nun. They wound their way down the steps and to a series of pavilions that had been set up for a feast where in they broke their fast. It was a fascinating thing to watch, and very reverent and carried a deep feeling. These good folks really worship the Lord. I have a lot of respect for the Russian Orthodox. They have carried on the tradition of Christianity in the face of some pretty serious resistance for many years in Russia. Their devotion is admirable.
The procession from the church
Priests and nuns breaking their fast
While they ate we went inside the church. The façade is great, the inside is nice enough. There was a nice nun who was putting out the chandelier candles with a huge hook that had a bulb blower on the bottom which she squeezed to blow enough air out to put out the candles. There were nuns who started mopping, and as we tried to look at all the pictures we had to dance around their mopping areas. The artwork was great, so many ways of depicting Mary Magdalene. We really enjoyed this time, I am so glad we were there for it. And our children behaved so well. We went outside the church and around the side to enjoy the nice grounds and be out of the way of the fasting. It was nice, but after a while we were chased away by a nun, and so we left. But the day was a very good one. I am glad we got to do these things.
View of the church from the back side
Painting of Mary Magdalene inside the church
Nun blowing out the the candles in the chandelier
Sabrina coming in the church as a priest leaves
On Friday I gave my final. Too bad, I hate to have to do that. I don’t think the students love it either. But do it we must. When that was over Julianne dropped me off in the Old City so that I could visit with the father who runs St. Anne’s church, to make sure we had the necessary appointment there for our last day walk. Father Michelle Levoi is a good man. He wanted to show me around and visit for a while (meanwhile Julianne and Jacob waited in the car). He told me about how much he likes the Mormons. He told me a story about a time some students were being picked up by their parents, who sang in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They scheduled a time to come sing. Half an hour before some southern Baptists showed up. He told them to use the chapel then because the Mormons had it scheduled in a while. The leader there told him he should not let Mormons use it because they were not saved. Father Levoie remarked that he thought they should leave that up to God, that the two of them could not decide who was saved. The man tried to list many reasons as to why Mormons were not saved, but Father Levoie eventually reminded him that his time was ticking. So they sang and talked. He said that the man was in the middle of a song when the Mormons walked in. The man stopped singing and told everyone to get out since the Mormons were there and they didn’t want to be there at the same time. As he walked past Father Levoie he tugged on his cassock and told him that if he lost that he might have a chance of being saved too. Father Levoie said he was so angry that he would do that to him in his own church that he didn’t know what to do. But the leader of the Mormon group saw his frustration and put his arm around him and took him to the front and they started singing. He was grateful for the spirit the song brought, and after a while belatedly welcomed them to the chapel. He told them that day he had learned of one other thing Catholics and Mormons have in common. They both worship the same God, they both want to serve him, they both love people and take care of the poor, and now he knew they are both not saved. He said he felt much better when everyone laughed with him. He is fond of Mormons, and has a good heart, and welcomes our students there.
When that was over we came back and worked on packing, etc. Then we ate dinner, and joined the students in going down to the Western Wall one last time. It was a bit crazy. The kids got all scattered all about. I carried Jacob the whole way and ran most of it looking for Alexia, whom I finally found. I was worn out and dripping sweat when we arrived. But Kaleb helped me really enjoy it. He wanted to go in where they kept the prayer books. He found one that was in Hebrew and English. We went outside and he read some prayers to us. Then we went up to the wall (it was very crowded tonight, and we had a hard time getting up there). While touching the wall he read two more. He was really into it and really excited. I looked up the blessings on sons that is in the prayer book and read it to Kaleb and Jacob (BJ did not come). It was a very moment. Then we came home and took care of kids, graded finals, and fell into bed exhausted.
Only one week left, and a lot of packing is left to be done. But we have done those things here we really wanted to do. I am satisfied in very many