Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chocolate delight!!

After a perfectly incredible wonderful birthday day in Jerusalem, Hermana (my South African friend) and others surprised me with a huge heart-shaped chocolate cake!!  You that know me, know that I LOVE chocolate, and I got perfectly intoxicated on a large slab of that cake...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Yom Kippur at the Western Wall!!

This is Tuesday pm, Sept 25th, and it is Erev (evening of) Yom Kippur - the most holy day on the Jewish Calender, the Day of Atonement. In the days of the Temple, this was the only day of the year the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies. It is a day of fasting, prayer and repentence. Right before sundown, I went down to the wall, (the right hand side in this pic) where the women pray, and stayed there about 1 1/2 hours, sitting in a chair right up next to the wall, facing the wall, praying and reading scripture, touching the wall often, seeing hundreds of tiny little pieces of paper with prayers on them stuffed into the cracks of the ancient Herodian stones. While I was there I prayed this from Psalms 130:7-8:  "O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love, and with him is full redemption.  He himself will redeem Israel fom all their sins."
 When I was done, I turned around and the whole wall area was filled with women! Young, old, most holding prayer books, standing and praying facing the wall. The men's side (on the left) was full, too. I could hear alot of chanting, singing, praying, crying. Most of the Jewish people wear white on Yom Kippur.  You are NOT supposed to take pictures in the Jewish Quarter on Shabbat or holy days, so I took these from a distance, even still, a woman growled at me after I snapped this picture. I just had to share it with can see the Dome of the Rock in the upper right corner.
Since I got away with taking the first picture (sort of), I snapped one more after going up some steps. You can see the sea of white tallits and shirts in the mens' section. This day of fasting continues until sundown tomorrow. Everything stops in Israel during this holy schools, no businesses, no buses, no airplanes at the airport!  I feel truly blessed to be in Israel during this time.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Christian Communities Field Study, Continued!!

 We have driven in our bus to a very remote place. I promise you tourists would never come here. This is the site believed to be where John the Baptist went into the 'wilderness' to learn of God prior to beginning his ministry. Many believe the 'wilderness' means a desert place with only sand and rocks, but they believe here that it means a place with no cultivation or other inhabitants.
 At the entrance to this John the Baptist site, we have the verse "I will lift my eyes to the hills..."
 Here is a beautiful fountain at a spring. You always have to live near water to survive, and the Judean hills are full of natural springs.  This spring is right next to the cave believed to be where John the Baptist lived until he was 30 years old and began his ministry. The students are climbing the stairs to enter the cave.
 Inside the cave, we read scripture about John the Baptist, and had a time of prayer.
 This is an interesting painting inside the chapel. This is John the Baptist holding a scripture verse (from John 1:29-34) about him baptizing Jesus. The very interesting thing is you see the scripture written in Hebrew. Here is another community that loves their Jewish roots, and even learned to speak and read Hebrew.  Because of this, many Israeli Jews have come to this place as sort of a retreat, even though it speaks of Yeshua (Jesus), feeling welcomed because of the Hebraic depictions and lauguage being spoken. This is so fascinating because of the sad history of the animosity between Jews and Christians (much propogated by Constantine and later by Martin Luther).
In the same place, a room painted by Crusaders depicting many saints. The one on the end is Mary, with Jesus in the center. The whole room is surrounded with these paintings of various saints.
 We walked up another looonnngg hill, near the John the Baptist site, to visit this small convent, a place where the tomb of Elizabeth, John the Baptist's mother is said to be. Tradition has it that Eliz. went to live in the cave with John after Zechariah died, then he buried her here after she passed away. (Hmmm, that cave is pretty small, I wonder how they got along?)  Anyway, we were outside in the shade of some trees eating the lunch we had brought, and the sister told us about her small nunnery community. They have prayer together 3 times a day, and much individual prayer in between. She was very friendly and welcoming, apparently they don't get a lot of visitors. This is also a place where people can come for a quiet retreat.

Here's the chapel inside the Crusader-built church at the Elizabeth site. We had prayer and sang a song in Latin here with the sister.
 So have you heard about the 2 disciples on 'the road to Emmaus'?  (The two who were walking home from Jerusalem to Emmaus, sad about Jesus' death, a stranger joins them, teachs them, etc. when He later breaks bread with them in Emmaus, their eyes are opened and they realize who He is, etc.) Here is the site where many think Emmaus is. (Although there are several other sites that have been proposed).
 Of course there is a church there, and monastic community, described as 'pentecostal Catholic'. This sister was very gracious, and told us about their lives there. The same theme kept coming up - they love the Jewish roots of their faith! In fact, they celebrate Shabbat dinner every Friday night. They have Rabbis that come and teach them, etc. It is just amazing, I had no idea there were so many Christian communities that had this relationship with Israeli Jews. I am sure not all Israeli Jews would be happy about it....but it made me think of the scripture (from Ephesians 2:15) where Paul talks about the 'one new man'. Perhaps this just a small inkling of what is to come...
 These are the remains of a Crusader-built church in Emmaus. Jeremy looks ready to preach!
 Ok, are you ready for another monastery!  Here is Bet Gemal, a place where the nuns take vows of silence, they are 'contempletative', meaning they spend much time in silent prayer and adoration. This does not mean they never speak, because one of the nuns did speak with our group:)
Here's the entrance to the monastery.
 I took this picture from a photo on the wall. Here the nuns are praying in the sanctuary. The black ones are the 'novices'. They pray on their faces. Apparently their church services are very beautiful, very melodic with beautiful singing. Again, they love the Jews.  In fact we were told they are there to serve the Jews in the land! They house them in guest houses for retreats and care for them, they all speak Hebrew! I am sure they are to many Jews their first introduction to Jesus.
 Here's one of the young nuns answering the students' questions about their community.  When asked 'what is your favorite thing, the best thing about what you do?', she answered ' the presence of God'. She just glowed, she was sweet and beautiful.
 Here's a picture of their sanctuary which we could see from a balcony.
 A close-up of the 'booths' lining the sides of the sanctuary. She said these were so that, even though they worshipped together, they could still be set apart, and seek Him individually...each booth as a kneeling stool, and a place to lay their Bible.
 One last place!!  Here we are in Abu Gosh, a primarily muslim village just a few miles from Jerusalem.  In fact, you can see the muslim minaret on the lower left corner of the photo, right next door. Here again is an ancient church that was built/rebuilt many times. The church sanctuary is from the Crusader period (around 1100 AD). This monastery has both nuns and monks. They believe this could be the site of Emmaus as well.
 This sister, who is German, talked about their community and answered lots of questions. She said the best thing was the beauty of the place (the grounds are beautiful gardens), she loved being in Israel and loves the Jewish roots as well (she knows Hebrew, and is learning Arabic!!)
We attended the 6pm service in the Crusader Sanctuary with the nuns and monks. Afterward we met this lady, whom our professor described as a 'hermit'. Here, the word 'hermit' doesn't mean someone who escapes society to go live in a shack in a forest with a dog and a shotgun. It means someone who has taken vows and is devoted to prayer, solitude and silence. Again, not absolutes, because she came to the church service and spoke with us.
This is a woman who was a university professor, she supports herself by doing translations. She spends most of her time alone and many hours a day in prayer, says she is called to this, and its not so hard if God calls you to do this. When asked what is the best part of what you do, she said simply "God."  When asked what is the hardest part, she immediately said "Eating alone".
I hope you've enjoyed seeing some of the Christian communities and monasteries in was a simply fascinating day for me!! 
I'll be going up to the Sea of Galilee next weekend, so will send you lots of pics from there. Blessings to you all!!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Christian Communities Field Study

Here's our bus-load of eager students ready to start our field study at 8 a.m.  Today the "Christian Communites in the East" class is going to see different Christian sites in the land, all fairly close to Jerusalem. I am not taking this class, but decided to go on the field trip with them, as I was interested in the sites we were to see; all except one I had never been to before.  I am going to divide this field study into 2 blogs because I have a lot to show you:)
The Christians in Israel represent just 2% of the population of Israel (which is about 80% Jewish, about 18% Arab/Palestinian). Although they are a small minority, they are an important presence in the land, and do much preserve the ancient sites of Bibical events.
We spent out morning at En Kerem, which is a lovely artist's village that has many Christian churches. This is the traditional/historic site where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived, where Mary came when she was pregnant, where John the Baptist was born, and Jesus would have visited.   This is the site of "Mary's Spring", which is a well where it is supposed Mary came to drink from. The first thing I noticed was the muslim minaret you see here towering above it. The muslims often have mosques at many of the Christian sites.
Most of these sites we will visit today have ancient histories of really old churches, that were destroyed and rebuilt many times. The Byzantines rebuilt many churches, later destroyed by Muslims, later rebuilt by Crusaders, later destroyed by Muslims, etc etc. But through all this building and destroying, the original sites of churches have been pretty much preserved, and most still have small pieces of architecture or mosaics, etc that were from at least the Crusader era.
This is Mary's are looking at three faucets/water spouts that have running water from the spring.
Leaving the spring, walking up a looooonngg staircase that leads to the "Church of the Visitation". I have told you in the past that there is no level ground here in Israel. You are either walking up or down wherever you go:)
The "Church of the Visitation" was built to commemorate Mary coming to see Elizabeth. You are see the large mosaic of pregnant Mary on a donkey traveling to En Kerem where Elizabeth lives.
Inside the church, here's a depiction of Elizabeth receiving and welcoming Mary to her her village.
When you go to these 'holy' sites, you must dress modestly, no knees or shoulders visible, no loud noise, often they want you to be silent inside the church, etc.
Walking back down the stairs, this is the view of En Kerem, very pretty countryside in the Judean Hills.
Walking along the street in En Kerem, all this walking makes me hungry for some ice cream....
After climbing another hill (ugh), we have arrived at Our Lady of Zion, a Catholic congregation and convent.
 Here's one of the sisters (on the left) and our professor "Petra" on the right. The sister has been in Israel for 40 years. She talked alot of about the importance of Christians knowing the Jewish roots of the faith, and there is much study on this subject at this convent. She was very gracious, a beautiful woman, she gave us all home-made lemonade to drink.
 The grounds of the convent were beautiful, set up on a hill. Here is a view from the convent across the valley...please notice the huge Russian Orthodox church with the domes on it..we'll be going there next!
Here's the outside of the Russian Orthodox Church. We had to climb a very loooonngg staircase to get up here. We are still in En Kerem, and this is another church that commemorates the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth. This mosaic depicts the 2 women. Did you ever wonder what that 'halo' is that you see around people's heads in these religious icons?  It is supposed to represent the 'uncreated light of God' that dwells in the person.
 Outside the church, some vibrant orange flowers.
 The church was supposed to be unlocked for us to get in, but no, it wasn't. Our professor wasn't too happy. But we stood outside and stared up at the 3 gold domes that you saw from a distance in the picture above. The churches are built with the 'cupolas' or domes which makes the acoustics inside just awesome for beautiful singing.
Here's a view from next to the Russian Orthodox church. We are not too far from Jerusalem, it's just over the middle hill on you see on the right. Although if you were on foot or on a donkey, it's quite a long journey, I'm sure.  Well, we have spent our morning in En Kerem. We will be leaving now for another site where we will have lunch and begin our afternoon...Will put all that in my next blog. So stayed tuned...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Peaceful (yes, Peaceful!) Morning Walk in the New City of Jerusalem

Lest you think the entire mideast in one huge rock-throwing fire-starting mob (that's what Michael says it looks like on the news), or if you think everything here is thousands of years old, come with me on a walk to the "New City" that I took early this morning. I needed to go to the ATM which is in the modern Mamilla Mall, right next to the Old City. I needed shekels (Israeli money) because I am planning a taxi ride on Sunday to a Rosh Hashana service, so went to find the ATM. This picture was taken while walking along the road from my school, walking beside the Old City walls, the tower you see is called the Tower of David.
Here I am in the courtyard by Jaffa Gate, the opening you see leads into the Old City, but walking across the courtyard in the other direction you see this:
Looking down over the courtyard at the highway that goes underneath it.
And just the other side of the courtyard in front of Jaffa Gate are these stairs leading down into the Mamilla Mall which is just a couple years old.
This is an outdoor mall, ordinarily very busy, but it's only about 9 a.m., there's only a couple restaurants open so far.
This mall has literally dozens of sculptures and statues that have to do with music!  So here's some Israeli art for you...this one caught my eye because of the keyboard in it:)
Another piece of art - gotta love the harpist with her pink blouse.
The streets of the mall, perfectly clean and peaceful.
Dozens and dozens of stores, a lot of American name brands there as well.
Of course I liked the grand piano, too.
 Three clowns playing a tune....
Well, I've never seen anyone play a guitar quite like this, but maybe that's how they do it in Israel...
OK, so I did see one soldier standing outside the Pharmacy. But that's not unusual. He's the only one I saw in the entire huge mall area. I actually like seeing the soldiers around, makes you feel more secure.
 I have my shekels and am leaving the mall now, here's the familiar skyline of the Old City walls and the Tower of David as I come up the steps out of the mall.
 Looking the other direction to the buildings on the slopes across the Hinnom Valley.
 Walking past Jaffa Gate again.  Looks peaceful in there, too.
Walking back home, the large building in the center is the King David hotel, the most luxurious and well-known hotel in Israel, where many diplomats stay.
 Still walking, looking across the valley I see the Yemin Moshe neighborhood with the WINDMILL, do you see it?  One can easily identify Yemin-Moshe neighborhood, buillt in the late 1800's, by the large windmill at the top of the hill overlooking the Hinnom Valley on King David Street. The windmill, was originally built to serve the milling needs of the residents of Montefiore's new developments (built to encourage Jews to move out of the exceedingly crowded Old City), but it was never operational because of the lack of wind where it was situated. Hmm, that was poor planning:)  There's lots of wind on our campus!  Today there is a restaurant at the base of the windmill.
One more pic...This is very near our gate, looking down over the valley you see this huge outdoor theater, many hundreds of seats. They frequently have concerts there, usually late at night, and they have the loudest PA system ever. I often go to sleep with the sound of the base booming from there. This was not here last semester.  (I have often thought I'd love to go over there, turn on the PA system and worship the Lord with it on full blast:)  OK, now I'm back home, a perfectly peaceful and beautiful walk in the city of Jerusalem!!