Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Wild(life) Week!

Wow, another incredible week! After just a few hours of sleep, Julianne, Kaleb and I went with the Allreds to the house of Ophir Yaarden. Ophir teaches the students the class on Judaism here. He is a great guy, and we really enjoy spending time with him. We went to his house and helped him cut down palm branches and wash them and put them on the roof of his sukka, so that they could have a nice sukka (booth) for Sukkot (or the feast of booths or feast of tabernacles). It was a lot of fun to help him make it.

Kaleb cutting down a palm frond for the sukka while Phil Allred holds the ladder

Julianne washing off the palm fronds for the sukka after we cut them out of the tree
Julianne and Jennifer Allred putting palm fronds on top of the booth, or sukka
The Yaraden family inside the sukka
some Orthodox Jews hurrying by with materials to make their sukkot

We had to skedaddle back to be part of sacrament meeting. We held a one hour meeting for the students since we were traveling on Sabbath. Somewhere along the lines we got permission for this. Seemed a bit strange, but it was okay. We spent the rest of the day having fun together as a family.

Jacob going to cub scouts

On Monday the whole family came with us on our field trip to Jericho. Poor Alexia was going up to get on the bus and stopped to go to the bathroom on the eighth floor, which I told her to do. She found that it was closed, and so ran back down to the sixth floor and then back up. She was about three seconds away from being left. We were just starting to pull away. I am glad she was able to come.

We first stopped by Wadi Qelt. David Whitchurch did a good job of teaching about the Good Samaritan there, since we were on the road to Jericho. I taught about Elijah at the brook, then we hiked along the way and talked about the temptation of Christ. I felt like it went well. I really enjoyed our time together with the students. They are great!

Tashara near the Mount of Temptation holding up a stone that looks a bit like pita bread

David Whitchurch teaching the students at Wadi Qelt

Alexia and the students walking along the road to Jericho
From there we went to Jericho. David taught them about the fall of Jericho, and Ehud and Eglon. I taught them a bit more, we sang a nice hymn, then “Joshua fought the Battle of Jericho”. We showed them around the tel, talking about the archaeology of the place. At the end I showed them where you can see the Middle Bronze Age wall that had fallen, a wall that would have been around five or six hundred years old when Joshua got there. We read the end of the story and I felt like it went very well.

David Whitchurch teaching the students at Jericho

From there we went to Elisha’s Spring, where I taught them about the story of Elisha healing the water. I feel like I was able to teach a good lesson there about the healing power of the atonement. Then we drove through modern Jericho and taught about New Testament stories from Jericho. And then we drove to Herod’s Winter Palace and had a nice time there. We got back right at 1 pm, when we were supposed to. 

Jacob at Elisha's spring

heading out to Herod's Winter Palace
The rest of the day we spent some nice time together as a family and also getting ready for a trip we were going to take the next day.

Tuesday was incredible. We went to a place just north of Tel Aviv that had a safari. It is 250 acres that is mostly safari, though it has a large zoo in the middle. We had plenty of time, so we drove a little, pulled over and let people pass us, and then drove just a little again. We sat and watched the animals for a long time, and had such an incredible time. There were gazelle, eland, emu, ostriches, zebras, rhinos, hippos, gnu, kiwi, flamingos, storks, buzzards, oryx, waterbucks, giraffes, and more. The animals were moving around and were absolutely fascinating to watch. My kids were in seventh heaven. 

A pelican catching a fish right next to our car. 

A large herd of hippos were in the pond we drove past

At first Sabrina was nervous of the zebras coming in the car

Eventually she and everyone petted the zebra's nose, though he was a bit skittish

They also petted this Eland's nose. He was more skittish

We loved the gnus!

Part way through you come up to the zoo parking lot. So we took a several hour break from the safari to go to the zoo, where the animals are in cages.
It is a very good zoo. They have all sorts of animals and they are well taken care of yet well presented. Our kids especially loved the bats and wolves and baboons, though I think that really they loved everything. It was a ton of fun. 

Alexia was startled by a meerkat on top of her when she was in the viewing dome at the zoo

Because it is a huge holiday here it was a bit crowded, and we were disturbed by how many people were throwing food to the animals, though there were signs everywhere asking them not to. At the baboons one lady was throwing in bags of chips that a baby monkey was picking up and putting the bag over his face, and a bunch of other things. It got so bad Julianne found a zoo worker and reported the lady and they made her stop. But mostly it was a great experience. 

It was also fun to see all the little sukkot (or booths) that were set up all over the zoo next to the places where you could buy food. Religious Jews would stop in these places to do their eating. One very nice fellow, clearly very orthodox, was stopping people and letting them use his bouquet of the four species (myrtle, palm, willow, and citrus) and teaching them to do a Sukkot prayer in Hebrew. He had Alexia do it, and in Hebrew she said (basically) Blessed art thou, O Lord, God, King of the Universe, who has chosen us and sanctified us by giving us commandments. He was ready to have each of our children do it, but we didn’t have time for that.

a sukka at the zoo
Alexia learning about the four species and the prayer that goes with them as part of the celebration of Sukkot
After several hours in the zoo we went back to the safari. So many people were there it was a bit crowded, but it wasn’t a problem for us. Many people were feeding the animals, which we refused to do. But still the animals thought that we may have food in our car, so zebras and eland stuck their head in our car and our kids were able to pet their noses, though they were a bit skittish. An ostrich tried, but they are volatile enough we wound up the windows and they just pecked our windows. We got to within 15 yards of rhinos and got pretty close to hippos to. It was such a thrill to drive through this area and be so close to all these animals. At the very end was a separate enclosure where you drove past a pride of lions. Sadly they were tired and didn’t move at all the whole time. Still it was cool to see them. This will be a day we will long remember!

Rhinos grazing at the safari

The Ostriches wanted in!

The lions didn't move much

The drive home took forever, but it was kind of worth it. At sundown, on a very crowded freeway, about a quarter of the cars pulled over and the people got out in groups and faced Jerusalem and started praying. It was a sight to see! It slowed us down, but I am glad to have seen it.

We got up early Wednesday morning and joined our friends the Allreds and also Tana Hunter, and went to the Holy Sepulchre. It is much better to see that early in the morning. We could move around and see everything and not have long lines. We were able to show our kids and our friends many different parts. We were able to pray, and we even sang “I Stand All Amazed” next to the stone of anointing. It was a very nice experience.

From there we went to the western wall, where they were doing the bi-annual priestly blessing. The place was crowded like crazy. I took turns putting each of the kids on my shoulders so they could see in. Then I went in to the middle, up almost to the wall itself. There was such a crowd and press of people it was a little crazy, and I had a hard time getting back out. But it was wonderful to see all the devotion and to hear the broadcast priestly blessing that everyone shared in saying. What a powerful experience.

the priestly blessing at the Western Wall

students at the priestly blessing

A sukka at the Western Wall

From there we did a little shopping to get ready for Arab night (more explanation later). I left the family shopping so that I could go meet my old friend Matt Adams, who is now the director of the Albright Institute. It was nice to visit with him. The Albright institute is the American institute for archaeological research here in the Holy Land. It is a very good, very respected institute. He extended to me the full use of all its facilities and encouraged me to apply for being an associate fellow of the institute, and invited me to its upcoming functions. I applied, and I think it will be a great thing to be part of.

When I got back there were folks here to spray our apartment for bugs. The kids have been having some bed bug problems. The rest of the family got back while I was working with the bug guy. So we quickly packed up and left for two hours. We made peanutbutter pita sandwiches and had a little picnic. Then I taught my class. It went really well, except that I got mixed up how long it was supposed to go and held them over for a bit too long. But it worked out okay. We played together for the rest of the day and had a very nice time.

Thursday was insanely busy. Julianne spent the whole day getting ready for Arab night. She and Kim Chadwick were in charge of it. This is the night where we teach the students about Arab culture. They have the folks from the Dome of the Rock who sing the call to prayer come and teach them about that. Then they eat a big dinner of traditional Arab food. Then they have some folks teach them some traditional Arab dances. It is a fun night with all sorts of food and decoration preparations. Julianne spent the whole day on it.

Meanwhile, I taught my class and immediately left with Phil, Jeff and David for our Shfeylah field trip prep. We saw new excavations at Bet Shemesh, where they have found what appears to be a temple. We saw new excavations at Azekah, which are really cool. They are uncovering all sorts of stuff there. We had a nice time at Mareshah and Guvrin. It was crazy crowded since it is a holiday. They were having a concert in one of the bell caves, and there were a ton of people. Then we went to Lachish where we saw more new excavations. Everything is changing all the time, but they keep finding new and exciting things. I love it. It was a very full day but very enjoyable.

What appears to be the siege ramp the Assyrians made as they conquered Azekah
Tel Lachish, one of the most famous of biblical archaeological sites. This was the last city to fall before both the Assyrian and Babylonian armies marched to Jerusalem. The battles here were truly epic.
The Lachish region is famous for its grapes
Tel Lachish above a vineyard
A vineyard at the foot of Lachish
Jeff Chadwick as he measures out his cubits on a large stone at Lachish
We noticed an Egyptian ankh sign on this stone from the Canaanite temple, so we outlined it in straw to better see it

 When we got back I showered as quickly as I could and Jeff and I went to a social at the Albright Institute. They were having a barbecue and social. Jeff introduced me to a lot of people. He knows everyone there and I met a lot of very good, influential people. I really, really enjoyed myself and it seems like this has a lot of potential for good for me. I look forward to doing more with them.

Me visiting with my friend Matt Adams (in the blue), director of the Albright Institute. Jeff Chadwick is in the blue golf shirt to the left.

We had to leave that early in order to get back to the Arab culture nigh festivities just a little late. We missed the explanation of the call to prayer (I have heard it many times before), and were late to dinner. But I got dressed up and made a bit of a splash arriving in my costume. I was able to eat a little and then enjoyed watching my kids try to do the dance. When some got tired I took them down and put them to bed. I was fairly exhausted myself and also went to bed. This last week I keep waking up at four and have not been able to go back to sleep, so I am getting very tired.

Chef Ahmed and his staff were rightly proud of their traditional Arab cuisine

dishing up traditional Arab food at the Arab culture night

students eating at Arab Culture Night

My family at Arab Culture night

Friday was Tashara’s birthday. I think we made her feel pretty special. We made her the breakfast she wanted. She came to my class where students gave her cards that said nice things about her. (by the way, class went very well. I feel like the last few classes have been really good). Then we had a fun time doing stuff with her, including watching a video she really wanted to watch. She had people calling her and dropping by all day. She loved her gifts, we had brownies for her cake (this is just what she wanted, and right as we were about to make them, Sister Whitchurch dropped by with some she had made). We skyped with BJ, had a family dance, and then she went up to a dance with all the students. I think she had a great time! It is hard to believe she is 17.

The Young Women's leadership coming by to wish Tashara Happy Birthday!
Sister Whitchurch coming by to wish Tashara happy birthday. Without knowing it she made Tashara's favorite treat. Tashara decided to forego a cake after this, she wanted these mint brownies instead.
Tashara blowing out the candles on her brownies
Julianne and I tried to watch a movie together. But she is working on stuff for her app, and was having problems, and every ten minutes she had to go make calls and spend forever on the phone. After well over three hours of trying to watch a one hour movie, I gave up and went to bed. Even with this I did not get to bed until after 1 am. This made me thoroughly exhausted.

Sabbath was wonderful, as always. I did sleep in until almost 7. Then we spent a little nice time together as a family, I went to meetings, church was nice, I spent forever trying to work out stuff with tithing, I prayed quite a bit, visited with some of the kids about things I was fasting and praying about, we had dinner, played games together as a family, skyped with my parents, and at 7 pm we watched the Saturday morning session of conference, which was very nice. It was a great session. 

Then I went to bed, as tired as I have ever been. Sadly, I woke up at four and couldn’t go back to bed. It didn’t help that we were planning on going with students to see a fun part of sukkot (beating of the willows) that happens at the western wall. We were leaving at 5:30, but when we went out to meet people we learned it was canceled. There is too much unrest in the city right now. Too bad.

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