Despite good intentions, I never wrote that third reflection on this summer. Fall ’17 was a trial by fire. I’ve scarcely had time to reflect on some big life events that happened this semester, let alone the fact that I was in Israel this summer. Now that I’m on the other side of the fire, I’ve been able to reminisce and look through photos from the summer. Here are some pictures from my three weekend excursions.
Weekend One: Jerusalem
After the week-long pre-dig tour and a short excursion to Caesarea’s beach on Thursday, all of the student volunteers were dropped off unceremoniously at a train station and left us to fend for ourselves. Five other OU students and I caught a train to Jerusalem.
(One of my greatest fears about studying abroad before this trip was being in a country where I didn’t speak the language and having to get from one place to another using public transportation. Well, now I’ve been there and done that. It is a bit scary. But we did it.)
On Friday, our adventure began. Being a cheapskate, I starkly refused to take cabs anywhere, and as a result, three of the six of us walked 15 miles that day and got acquainted with the city in a way that wouldn’t have been quite the same otherwise. Brennan, Aaron, and I circled from our hotel around the southern periphery of the Old City and to the Mount of Olives.
The Garden of Gethsemane, gently surrounded by the Church of All Nations and fully enclosed by a wall covered in pink blossoms, was a sanctuary. Morning light shone through leaves of the twisted olive trees, and despite the presence of other visitors, the air was quiet. Through the peace of this garden I felt a sense of melancholy. I imagined Jesus’ sorrow as he prayed, “Not my will, but Yours.” And I felt an enormous sense of gratitude for what he did next.
After some more exploring at the Mount of Olives, the three of us gradually wandered through colorful, modern Jerusalem until we found the Mahane Yehuda marketplace, a culinary highlight of the city. Since sundown and Shabbat we quickly approaching, everyone was making a last-minute run to the store or the market to prepare for the coming day of rest. So, the market was packed. The narrow walkway was full of wheeled shopping bags, tourists like us, and fresh challah bread.
After afternoon naps, we met up with the rest of the OU group for dinner. We signed up for a program that matched us to a family in the neighborhood who would host us for a Shabbat meal. This meal was one of my favorite parts of this trip.
Our host family prepared for us and the other families around the table (from Poland, France, and Michigan) a complete five-course meal. The cuisine was European and Middle Eastern, a blend of influences from immigrants from around the world. Though the food was excellent, the best part about the meal was learning about Shabbat traditions from our host family.
The world really closes down for a day – the next day, we experienced the quiet streets for ourselves. All food is purchased, all meals are made ahead of time so that no work has to be done on the Sabbath. Little technology is allowed – if you need a piece of information, you may consult a book or a friend, but not Google. Most families don’t walk far or drive at all, and all public transportation is closed.
A day of true rest really is a gift. Why, I wondered, does much of the world forgo this gift? Are we really too busy, too important to take a day off? Experiencing Shabbat makes me want to incorporate a day of rest into my own schedule, no matter how much preparation and catching up that entails for the other six days. It would be worth the effort.
Weekend Two: Jerusalem again
On the second weekend, I returned to Jerusalem with a group of friends from the dig. We walked a lot this weekend, too, and got lost quite a few times.
We stayed in a hostel with beds on the rooftops with panoramic views of steeples and stars. (I slept inside, but the idea is romantic, isn’t it?)
This weekend, a fesitval of lights was going on throughout the Old City and the surrounding area.
Last weekend, the other OU students and I had taken a tour of the Old City during Shabbat. I enjoyed seeing the city then, but I felt rushed and a bit shortchanged by this tour. (The first stop on the tour was a “licensed” shop selling olive wood at exorbitant prices – though, just for us, the shopkeeper was offering everything at the store for half price! I felt a bit of Jesus’ anger when he turned the money-changers’ tables. The expensive shops gave the centuries-old streets the feel of a “den of thieves.” But I digress…) On the second weekend, I was able to wander through the Old City at a much more savory pace.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was an experience. I am still blown away by the sheer number of countries represented by the visitors to this church. My friends and I had a chat with a couple from Indonesia while waiting in a line.
Weekend Three: Ein Gedi, Masada, the Dead Sea
A dozen new friends and I rented a bus to take us three hours south to the desert (with the permission and help of our supervisors, of course). We encountered a strange, alien landscape.
Our first stop was the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. We made a short hike to King David’s Waterfall.
Next stop: Masada. It was more spectacular than I imagined. Pictures do not do this place – or the view – justice.
I learned about the Siege of Masada during a class last spring and since then had been eager to visit. The story as told by Josephus is tragic. Here, the Romans, striving to regain control of Judea, besieged one of the last remaining groups of Zealots who took shelter in this fortress. When the Romans built a ramp up to the fortress and broke down the door, they found that the rebels had chosen death by suicide rather than surrender. After this, the Romans sold many of the Jews into slavery throughout the Mediterranean.
It was eerie walking through the places where these rebels had survived. It is miraculous that they were able to survive for so long in such conditions, in such a remote place.
We ended the day at the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is half its original size and only shrinking. I’m glad I got to see enjoy the bathlike, stinging, buoyant water this summer, because the Dead Sea might not exist for much longer.