Brian has been working in Israel a lot lately- in Tel Aviv, to be exact. So, he planned a birthday trip for me to join him for the week of Dec 7 after he finished a week at the office. I flew into Tel Aviv, he met me at the airport, and we got a taxi to our hotel in Jerusalem, the American Colony Hotel, right outside of the old city. We set our things down and then went out to see the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath at the Western Wall. As the sun sets on Friday evening, the Sabbath begins and most people on the streets can be heard saying "Shabbat Shalom" and rushing to the Western wall to beat the sunset. It was a fascinating sight to see the Jewish men dressed in their Sabbath best and the woman looking beautiful and modest in their best. I was truly in awe to witness their dedication and appreciation for their holy day in such a holy place. We watched the beginning of prayers and then climbed the walls to get a higher look over the gorgeous city as the sun set and the evening glow began. The higher we got, the more we heard the competing voices of the Muslim call to prayer with the prayers at the Western wall. I've never seen two such devoted religions in such close proximity with each another. I couldn't wait til tomorrow get a closer look in the daytime at the history of this great place, that truly feels different than anywhere I've yet been.
We grabbed the most delicious dinner at a little cafe, called Tala, right outside of the massive old city market. Hummus, falafel, pita, grilled chicken, french fries, and tabbouleh. Sooo good! We walked back home afterwards and got slightly lost, but eventually made it back to our hotel, where we crashed- me from a really long day of travel and Brian from a really long week of work.
We woke early the next morning in order to make our Sabbath meetings at the BYU Jerusalem Center (or "Mormon University", as the locals call it). They hold meetings on the traditional Jewish Sabbath, which is Saturday in Israel. It was a gorgeous day and we arrived on campus just as the meetings were beginning. This sacrament ended up being one of the highlights of our entire trip- the room was filled with such an incredible spirit as we sang Christmas songs...about events that literally happened right outside of this room, in towns not too far distant. It was amazing to be so close to what we were singing about. I was getting really misty-eyed because music just does that to me, and this was a really special moment that I hope I can always remember. We heard incredible talks- the current bishop was being released and a new one was called, so they and their wives spoke. All of this was done in a beautiful room with massive arched windows overlooking the old city on a exquisite day- it was just the best. Then, the current student choir (this was their last week in Jerusalem), sang a gorgeous song called "Gethsemane" about the most sacred event in our human history, and which literally happened right outside of the building. It was a touching moment that I can't describe with any sort of justice- so moving.
Gracie Berrett was in our trek group 3 1/2 years ago, when we lived in Texas. Brian and I were her "Ma and Pa" and she's since served a mission and lived a semester at BYU Jerusalem, where we ran into her at church. I remember being so impressed with her maturity and sweet spirit even back then- she's such a great woman and we loved seeing her again after so long.
After church, we walked down the backside of BYU Jerusalem to Orson Hyde Park, where Orson Hyde dedicated Jerusalem in 1841 for the return of the Jews. It has a beautiful well-maintained trail that leads to the Garden of Gethsemane (the traditional site). We walked through the garden for a few minutes. This entire area is so special- it really does feel like holy ground. We grabbed a taxi back to the old city to explore more there. As soon as we got in the car, the driver asked if we were Mormons and I asked how he knew...he said he could tell by our faces, which was pretty incredible. Not that it was us specifically, but the light that we carried- especially after being in a special sacrament meeting and then the Garden of Gethsemane.
We walked into the market and smelled the most heavenly things being prepared. We grabbed the yummiest lunch- it was at this little stand, pictured up above. They shove all of these delicious ingredients into a fresh pita- falafel, tomatoes, pickles, sauces, french fries- I don't even know, but it was amazing. We sat on the corner and ate while watching the sights and sounds of the bustling market and eager salesmen trying to unload their produce. Such an ideal experience.
We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Christian quarter. This is where its believed that Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. There are 6 Christian denominations that share control over the church, so the interior activity is fascinating with each religion jockeying for time and space.
We also picked up a TON of gummies at the market- two big bags. One was for us, and the other was supposed to be for the kids, but Brian and I polished off both bags during our weeklong trip- they were so good and too hard to resist. Sorry, kids!! :)
There had been a clash the night before at the Damascus Gate, so there were a few reporters out, either reporting or waiting for more action. The clash stemmed from Trump's announcement earlier in the week that recognized Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel. You could tell that it wasn't a popular move, on either side of the debate.
We then walked over to the alternate location for what is believed might be the sight of the Crucifixion, burial and resurrection. A much quieter location, for sure.
We ended here, at this pretty overlook, which is part of the West Bank- designated for Palestinians. We covered a lot of ground in and around the Old City today and saw a ton of really memorable things. (I also wore new shoes, which subsequently wore a hole in my heel). We left early the next morning for Jordan, so we just had one full day in Jerusalem and it left me with a huge hunger to learn more and get back as soon as I can.