We are spending our last Sabbath together before the winter semester students return home this week. That includes Derek and Daniel, whom will miss the most. Daniel received his Duty to God Award today in Sacrament meeting. Daniel also spoke in sacrament meeting and was given as his topic, preparing for a Mission. We have been busy since returning from a delightful time in the Galilee. The experience continues to be so much different than 10 years ago, with new places and people bringing new insights and friendships.
We were able to “herd” sheep, make spices and pita bread, learn about the plants, trees, and herbs mentioned in the bible, and learn more about the making of ink for the Torah scrolls from a real biblical scribe at a park dedicated to teaching about the bible through hands-on experiences.
After a day of tramping through Jaffa and old Tel Aviv, in which we learned of the first Israeli efforts to establish their own nation and government, we returned to Jerusalem for an incredible dinner with some Palestinian friends. We had to pay more than $100 for quick transportation back to the Jerusalem Center because we were not informed that the Field Trip to Tel Aviv was going to go past dinner time. We joined with David and JoAnne Seely, and their two children, making eight with the four of us. We felt compelled to keep this dinner appointment. The invitation came from Delal, the wife of Belal, a man that we have purchased fruits and vegetables from at one of the main Arab wholesale distribution markets. We were joined by JoAnne Seely’s sister, her husband, and two young five-year old boys. We were graciously greeted and directed to the home by the head cook of the Jerusalem Center, Nasser, from when we were here ten years ago. He had to be let go, when there were no students to cook for during the seven years the Center was closed and because he lives in Bethany, which is on the other side of the huge separation wall. On any given day, at any given time, the Israeli’s close the passing from one side of the wall to the other. Anyway, Nasser, was delighted to see us again and served as our mediator to explain the Palestinian customs and culture of how they receive guests. He led us to the home and we were amazed to see all of the food that awaited us and the elaborate preparations. It filled a large banquet table with some of the most delicious food we have ever eaten. They open their homes and hearts to share all that they have with their friends. In addition, we soon learned that this Belal belongs to one of the most influential families in East Jerusalem. His mother and father also joined with us for the meal. His father is the President of the Federation of Palestinian Chambers of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture, a member of the Palestinian Parliament, and has traveled to represent the Palestinians in political affairs all over the world. Little did we know that the kind man who look out for us and who ran the wholesale market was from such a prominent family. We learned that Belal is one of 11 children. His youngest brother, Osman, also came with his fiancé for the dinner, as well as Delal mother. The older generation was more proper and observant of Muslim customs. For example, the Father, Ahmad Hashiem Alzughair, shook hands with all of the men, but would not touch the hands of the women because he had not been to prayers yet. Delal’s mother wore all black, including the Arabic headscarf. All were very gracious and eager to interact with us.
We learned about Palestinian customs regarding engagements and marriages from Osman and his fiancé. For example, he did not ask her to marry him in a romantic private setting, but had to have the males in his family meet with the males of his fiance’s family to discuss the proposition of marriage. Several members of their family have lived in San Francisco, including Osman, and Belal’s brother, whom is living there currently that we met ten years ago at the market and were treated equally well by him. The most surprising thing was the conversation with the Father about the United States, where he felt that no one know their neighbors like the Palestinians do. According to him, the exception is the Mormons, who also have love for family like the Palestinians. In fact, it surprised me that he knew as much as he did about us and felt a kinship to us. On the other hand, he felt that the United States has very poor leaders, who do not seem to have very high morals and are eager to have wars. That is one thing that has been surprising to us this time in Jerusalem is that President Bush is looked upon as a man that seeks to start wars and occupy other nations. America is looked upon as an empire builder similar to the Roman Empire or what the Germans sought to do in WW II. We have to admit that if we were the occupied nation, we would look at the soldiers among us much like the Jews did the Romans during the time of Christ. It is so different than the political media line that we are given at home in the US.
Sandy spent much of the night visiting with Delal as if they had known each other all their lives and were best friends of many years. She has returned several times since and feels that she has met a true gem. Even though we have two more months here, we already feel saddened by the prospect of leaving these good people behind.
Derek loosened up the entire atmosphere when he started to do magic tricks for, Dareen, the 11 year old daughter. The next thing we knew they were playing a Palestinian hand game that is a peas, porridge, hot kind of hand clapping thing, which increases in complication as it progresses. She warmed up to everyone and soon we were looking at videos of her dancing, etc. like we were aunts and uncles that had come to visit and she needed to share everything with us.
We thought of how much we wish we could share the gospel with them, but this is not the time. Who knows how long before the needed changes take place to allow such exchange. It really is wisdom that for now the message that we have is ourselves and living the principles of the gospel. I know that the Moslem world would need to inquire about our beliefs not have missionaries knocking on their doors to spread the word. Delal went on the hajj a few years ago. That is the Moslem pilgrimage to Mecca. Since then she has become more religious. For example, she wears a head scarf in public—although it is a colorful one. On one of Sandy’s visits, she gave her a gift of a prayer rug—she sent ice cream home for the boys and me.
As you can tell, we could go on and on in this one aspect of our last two and a half weeks. We also have been to Masada, Qumran and the Dead Sea. We found some of the famous black Dead Sea mud that is supposed to be so good for the skin. Sandy did not need as much as I did, so I covered myself from head to toe. We floated in the salty water of the lowest spot on earth and read newspapers in the water. You could even float standing upright, you did not even need to lay down in the water.
We have been to the Christian churches and monasteries throughout Jerusalem, learning more about the Franciscans at Terra Sancta, the Russian Orthodox at Alexander Nevsky’ Church, toured the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and had a private tour of just the four of us through three Greek Orthodox chapels in the Old City of Jerusalem, an invite to contact the Bishop of Jerusalem and even to possibly meet with the Patriarch of the entire Greek Orthodox Church. We walked through Mea Shearim as the Jewish ultra-orthodox prepared their homes from Passover, cleaning everything and ridding themselves of all leaven (yeast) and corruption. It smelled like detergent everywhere. We purchased a new beautiful talith along with the Haridim or Mea Shearim, mezuzahs (the scripture containers placed in doorways), kippahs (the round skull caps), Seder plates and cups, and were given candy bars as we walked down the street. The people were in such a festive mood buying gifts, etc. We think that they approach Passover week like we do Christmas. We had our own Passover meal that lasted for four hours and attended an evening Shabbat synagogue service that was not at all what we expected it to be. The men and the women were separated by a barrier of linen and most of the service was singing Shabbat Pslams in Hebrew without any musical instrument accompaniment. They were very welcoming to us and helpful as nearly everyone spoke impeccable English to us and as soon as the service was over all of the conversations were in English except for the oft repeated greeting, “Shabbat shalom!”
Love, Craig, Sandy, Derek and Daniel