Week 1 – Shalom from Jerusalem!
I made it! This was my very first week in Jerusalem! It’s felt like one of the longer weeks of my life but I’m so glad to be here. I won’t lie. I’m having a bit of culture shock. It’s cool and all but I have had a little bit of anxiety being in the Middle East. I think that’s probably just because it’s my first week. I’m excited to explore a little more and grow to love the people and the city.
We left for Jerusalem on Tuesday morning. There were two groups of students flying out and I was in the later group. We met at the airport at around 8 AM and we flew to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Paris, and then Tel Aviv, riding on buses for the last stretch to Jerusalem. It’s the longest I’ve ever flown and it was pretty rough but also kinda went by fast. Everyone in my group had plenty of time to talk and get to know each other. We also helped each other find the next gate so that was nice, especially in France.
We made it to Jerusalem by Wednesday evening in local time. When we got to the BYU Jerusalem Center, our professors and administrators had a schedule that kept us up late into the night to try to avoid jet lag and we were all dead tired. But it was also so exciting to be there and see the city at night. During our orientation meeting, Sister Clayton (the sister in charge of music at the Center) played a beautiful organ solo of “All Creatures of Our God and King” and the Spirit was so strong as we looked out at Jerusalem. I was just so grateful to finally be in the Holy Land. It’s been my dream for years now.
On Thursday morning, we went on a walking tour of Jerusalem. We got to quickly stop by lots of popular local spots to familiarize ourselves with the city. We didn’t take any cameras so the tour could go faster so I don’t have any pictures from that. But here’s another picture from my balcony, this time from Thursday morning.
I wish everyone could see the view we get to see of this beautiful city from the BYU Jerusalem Center patios. It is breathtaking every time. Pictures can’t do it justice. From my balcony, you can’t see the Dome of the Rock but it is visible on most of the other patios.
On Friday, we had our first two classes: Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern Studies. I’m excited for both of these classes. I really want to dig into the Old Testament and my professor, Dr. Hopkin, is awesome. I’m also excited for ANES because I realized that I don’t know very much at all about history on this side of the world. Plus, as we learn about the history, we get to go to the sites where this stuff actually happened. Pretty awesome!
For those of you wondering, the food here is excellent. Above and beyond what I was expecting. I wasn’t entirely sure what kind of food they serve in the Middle East, or at least in Jerusalem, but all the food they’ve served us in the Center so far has been sooo tasty. Plus, the pita bread is literally life. Drizzled in oil and spices, it’s essential at least once per day. I’m excited to start trying some food in the markets, though I will be careful about what I buy. Definitely don’t want food poisoning or anything like that.
One of my favorite things we’ve done so far is visit the Western Wall (AKA the Wailing Wall). We went on Friday evening to witness the welcoming of the Sabbath. It was incredible. I actually touched the wall so that was pretty neat. They split up the women and the men with a divider as you get closer to the wall. On the guys’ side, they sing and dance in a circle in the middle of a massive crowd. Men from our group were invited to join in. It was fun to watch. Some of the women in our group were a little jealous that the men were able to sing and dance when the women didn’t have that sort of celebration on our side but I really appreciated the women’s side. It was a more reverent experience. It reminded me a lot of going inside Latter-day Saint temples. My mind was clear and peaceful despite everything happening around me. I appreciated watching women around me praying and crying because of how sacred this place was to them. Such a special experience.
Today was the Sabbath here in Jerusalem so we went to church services. It’s so interesting to go to church here. Church meets in the auditorium of our building and members of the congregation are the same people we are going to classes with, including our professors. There are also a few other locals in the congregation who I really respect. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently has a non-proselyting agreement here, which means that in order to stay in the country, we’re not allowed to share our beliefs with anyone in the slightest degree. I respect those who live in this country, which is rich in religion, for so long and never share their beliefs. It can’t be easy but it is worth it to spend time here in the Holy Land.
After church, we walked to the Garden Tomb, which is the site for Golgotha (where Christ was crucified) and the tomb where Jesus was laid and then resurrected. Of course, no one knows for sure where the place of Christ’s death and resurrection were but this site has some evidence behind it so it’s possible.
After the Garden Tomb, some friends and I walked through the Old City. We stopped at a couple of churches along the way, exiting through Lions’ Gate.
That about wraps up my first week here in Jerusalem! Like I said, I’m excited to become more familiar with this land, its culture, and its people. I have so much to learn and just a few months to learn as much as I can about this new world. Luckily, I think I’m basically adjusted to local time now and it’s been easy to make friends with everyone since most of us didn’t know anyone at the start of the program. It’s going to be a great semester!