Saturday, February 20, 2016

Roads less traveled by

What a great week! It started out in such a perfect way. On Sunday morning, Julianne’s birthday, we decorated the place and made her a big breakfast of all kinds of things. The kids helped in every way, and I think Julianne felt loved. Then we found that the students had decorated our hallway for her, and the Heiners had left us Valentine’s surprises. It was a wonderful way to start the day.

Then we left to do our walk or bike ride to Emmaus. On the way we stopped by the Pita Factory and got some fresh warm pita. We love, love, love doing that.

One of the old men who helps run the factory
One of the guys who runs the factory as he gave our kids pita

The dough at the pita factory

Making the pita

Pita after it is cooked, cooling down

We tried to rent some bikes, but the place we went didn’t have enough for us and didn’t have any for kids. So we decided to walk. We went to the playground we found last week and played and had a great little picnic (N 31˚ 48.006’ E 035˚ 11.822’). 

Birthday picnic at the playground

my kids playing with some local kids
local kids at the playground
Then we began our walk along the bike path. It was enjoyable although it wasn’t long before a few of the kids were complaining that they were tired and weren’t having fun. The weather was incredible, it was even a bit too hot even in short sleeved shirts. The birds were singing, the flowers were blooming, the trees were budding, and it was great.
Beginning our walk to Emmaus

Kaleb is sure this sign means "no bacon"
beauty on the walk to Emmaus
We took some time to talk about why Mom wanted to do this on her birthday and why it was so great for Valentine’s Day. It was on the road to Emmaus that some disciples came to recognize Christ and understand more about him. We want to go on that walk together. The thing Mom wants more than anything is for us, as a family, to together understand more about Christ, recognize him, and then be with him. That is why we do everything we do. That is why we came to Israel, to first come to Christ, and second come together as a family. That is why we did the walk, to help us with both of those things. I think the kids understood what we were talking about and were touched. There was less whining and more enjoyment after that discussion.

Poppies on the walk to Emmaus

The family on our walk to Emmaus
After three miles (I was using my GPS to keep track of how far we were going), we came to a really cool playground (N 31˚ 48.058’ E 035˚ 10.284’). It was really kind of just in the wild growth area of the trail. It had lots of play things carved into the stones. There was a life-sized game of chutes and ladders where you are the game piece and you climbed small stairs and went down very small slides. There was a little life-sized maze. There were a bunch of stone tables with games carved into them like battleship, backgammon, mancala, etc. (you used stones for markers). We had a little break there and played and had a wonderful time. Then we kept going.

Playing chutes and ladders

the stone (board) games at the sculpture playground

Playing mancala

 It wasn’t too long until we came to the end of the bike trail (though we didn’t go on many of the little side trails, and the few we went on we only went on for a couple dozen yards or so). But we weren’t quite to Motsa/Emmaus yet. So we went off trail. We crossed some roads, walked along some stone walls, went along some dirt paths, through a bit of a construction zone, through some trees and across a bit of a swampy brook, and got to where we could see the synagogue of Motsa. That meant we were on the outskirts of ancient Emmaus, and we were satisfied that we had walked the road to Emmaus. We had a great time, and we headed back.

the family walking along a wall to get to Emmaus

Off the road as we walk to Emmaus

The land flows with milk and honey as we pass beekeepers on our walk to Emmaus

On our way back from Motsa/Emmaus
We had fun singing and talking along the way, and everyone seemed to be walking with a light step. They were excited to get back to the stone playground and play some more. We got there and played again. We also found some paper kits that were all tangled up with each other that people had left behind. We untangled a few of them, and started doing kites on the way back. It worked okay for a while, and then the wind shifted. That made it so that in order for a kite to be off the ground you had to run the whole time. They did it and had a ton of fun! It also made the walk back go very quickly with no complaints about how far. Alexia and Jacob worked together as a team and Tashara and Sabrina and Kaleb worked together, and it was so very heartwarming to see them have so much fun together. We walked a bit over 8 miles, and it was perfect! 

Tashara and Sabrina getting a kite ready to fly on the walk back from Emmaus
Alexia and Jacob flying a kite on the walk back from Emmaus
Tashara gave Sabrina a piggy back ride back from Emmaus
Walking back from Emmaus
Alexia and Jacob flying a kite on the walk back from Emmaus
Kaleb flying a kite on the walk back from Emmaus
We played some more at the playground, and drove around a bit to explore some of the trails we hadn’t been on before. We have been tasked with finding some spots for a joint youth activity, and this seems like the perfect place! We drove all around figuring out how to make that work as well as possible, and are excited that we found a place people will enjoy so much.

We then went out to Julianne’s favorite Shwarma place, and capped it off with some brownies and ice cream. I feel like it was a perfect birthday and Valentine’s Day. I hope Julianne felt that way too, I think she did.

Jul blowing out a candle on her birthday brownie
The next day was very different. We got the kids off to school and then we took the students to Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem Holocaust Museum. We first went to Mount Herzl, where Ophir met us and took over the field trip. He does such a great job with this field trip. As great as he is with it, I have heard him do it many times, so I disappeared in the park for a while and got out my laptop and got a lot of stuff done. It was delightful to sit under a tree, listen to the birds, and do some writing. It was quite pleasant. Then I joined them and heard part of what he was teaching, and we all had a nice lunch there on the mount together. Then we went to the Holocaust Museum. Again I got them all set up, and then left them and got work done. It was a very productive day in a lot of ways, and I had a peaceful environment the whole time and really enjoyed myself. 

Julianne came because she felt like she should go to the Holocaust Museum at least once each time we come, and I felt like I couldn’t leave her the whole time, so I eventually went and spent an hour with her there. It is important to do, but I hate doing it. No matter how many times I have been in there, it weighs on me. It makes me question what humanity means. How could we do this? How could so many not help? What would I have done? I always like to think that I would have helped Jews. But I also ask myself what would I do if I were put in a position where helping them would potentially bring great harm to my children? That is a much more difficult question, one that wrenches at my soul.

I am always torn apart by the stories of children, it hurts so much. It makes me ache deeply. This time I tried to spend the majority of my time looking at the stories of heroes who helped, and that was rewarding, but continued to force me into moving soul searching. It was tough, it always is. I am glad I did it, but will be glad if I don’t do it again for a long time.

We got home and took care of our kids and had a nice evening together. I am glad to have such a wonderful family and to not live in a situation that puts us through such great heartache and that does not threaten to tear our family away from each other.

The next day I went to a workshop at the Albright. It was on 3D imaging as a way of documenting excavations. It was very helpful, and I enjoyed it very much. It gave me a lot to think about for my excavation as we begin working at Philadelphia.

The next day I enjoyed class. We are covering a ton of material right now. Today we covered the fall of Israel. Weighty stuff, so many great lessons. Some of what I squished in at the last minute ended up making a real difference for many students based on what they came up and told me afterwards. It is always a thrill to be a tool in the Lord’s hands. I love teaching this stuff. 

Thursday was an exciting day. I spent part of the morning on an electronic chat with Brett Nielson, who is trying to help me raise funds for my excavation. He had some exciting progress and we talked over some ways to move forward. I am very excited.

Class was great! We started covering Isaiah. I asked my students at the beginning of class how many of them, after all the study they have done, the history they have learned, and the time they have spent here, could understand Isaiah. If not every hand went up, it was almost every hand. Many of them went up enthusiastically, and some people put up both their hands. They were so excited that they were getting it. That makes my whole day. I felt like the lesson went very well, and it seemed to have a real effect on them.

Then Jul and I got together with Phil, Andy, Tarek and Mahmoud. We went to Nabi Musa, a mosque that was built over a site chosen to commemorate the death and burial of Moses. While we know it is not the place, it is worth thinking of Moses and all he did. The place is in the deserts of Judea, and is picturesque in a way.

In the courtyard of Nabi Musa (prophet Moses)

Jul at the entrance to the mosque of Nabi Musa

The cenotaph (commemorative tomb) of Moses

Mahmoud at the door to the synagogue

The Nabi Musa mosque as seen through a knothole in the door

The Judean Wilderness as seen from the Nabi Musa mosque

A camel and the Judean Wilderness as seen from Nabi Musa

Who knew they were expecting me?

The Judean wilderness as seen from Nabi Musa
From there we went off road to get to Hyrcania (N 31˚ 43.124’ E 035˚ 21.943’), a fortress built by the Macabees and then built even bigger by Herod. It has not been excavated and is still in crazy ruins, but it is beautiful and so is the surrounding area. We had a wonderful time hiking up there (it is quite a hike). There were cool mosaics at the top and arches and cisterns and other fun things. It was wonderful stuff and wonderful company.

Hiking up to Hyrcania

More hiking up to Hyrcania

The ruins on top of Hyrcania

Some mosaics on top of Hyrcania

Tarek taking pictures on top of Hyrcania

The Judean Wilderness and Dead Sea as seen from Hyrcania

A cistern or mikvah on top of Hyrcania

Mahmoud waited below with the van. So nice of him

Jul found a lot of cool pottery at Hyrcania (we left it all there!)

Wild camels at Hyrcania (or at least unattended camels)

This camel liked to pose for us
We got back early enough that I could start making some progress on my fundraising projects. I also spent a lot of time putting together some plans for getting scuba certified. I am close to making that happen, thanks to the wonderful efforts of my wife. Then I went with Phil and Andy to a lecture at the Albright on the synagogue of Gamla. It was a useful lecture, though there were a number of problems I saw with some of what he was talking about. On the whole it was a good lecture that will be somewhat useful for us as we take students there.
We got back from there just in time to be 45 minutes late for the Seder (Passover) meal we do for the students. Ophir does such a great job with it. But still, it takes quite a while and I have done is so many times that I felt a bit happy over missing that much of it. It was still half an hour or more before we started eating. But I had a great time there, and it is always worth thinking about the Exodus. What a wonderful night it was!

Jacob and his friends at a party
Friday was wonderful in a lot of ways. I especially had fun watching Jacob at a birthday party with his friends.

Sabbath was a delight. Alexia gave a talk, and it was so, so very well done! ! Sabrina helped play the organ after practicing for a while last night with Sister Holyoak, our organist.
 There were some new people who moved in, including a former student of mine. We had great lessons, great people, and all sorts of good stuff happening. Then we spent some nice time together as a family. It was a delightful, wonderful, perfect day!

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