Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ramadan and Shabbat

This last Friday, some friends of ours offered to watch the kids so we could take advantage of having a car and do some grocery shopping.  They told us to take our time so we decided to run down near the Old City to run an errand.  BAD idea.  What we failed to think about was that it is currently the Muslim holiday, Ramadan.  This is a huge holiday for them.  It's a chance to purify themselves through self-restraint.  They fast every day from dawn until sunset.  They're amazing!

Fridays are also their prayer day.  They gather at noon to pray and to hear a sermon.  Tom and I stupidly headed out to run our errands at 20 minutes to noon.  When you combine Ramadan and Friday at noon, you have one incredibly busy city.  The closer we got to the Old City, the more crowded it got.  We saw hundreds, if not thousands of Muslims walking towards the Old City for Friday prayers during Ramadan.  There were also road blocks everywhere because they weren't allowing any cars near the Old City.  So, what was supposed to be a 20 minute errand turned into more like 2 hours, and we never even got to where we wanted to go.

But we did run into this fun sight...
(Once you get over how adorable this Muslim man and his donkey are, notice the kid riding the camel in the background)


We had to drive all over some Arab neighborhoods that we had never been in just to get back to our neighborhood.  We had another donkey sighting....

Crowds of people heading up to Lions Gate, the gate closest to the Dome of the Rock...

After about 20 U-turns and a lot of driving, we finally made it back to our neighborhood grocery store.  Because it was Friday and close to the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, we got two free loaves of traditional Jewish bread, or Challah.  We gave one loaf to our friends who watched the kids, and kept the other one.....

And turned it into this marvelous creation of garlic bread....

Although we were initially quite frustrated at the inconvenience of the crowds and road blocks, we realized what a great experience it was for us to see such a sight. I hope this isn't my last Ramadan that I ever spend in Jerusalem.

I also love that because as Christian Americans we are somewhat neutral to some of the differences in beliefs here, we get to experience Ramadan one minute, then on to Jewish Sabbath bread the next.

Ramadan Kareem!

And Shabbot Shalom everybody!  Have a "peaceful Sabbath" back in the states!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nervous but excited

Joni is officially enrolled in kindergarten here.  I am extremely nervous, but also very excited.  Round-trip, it will be a 1 mile walk, twice a day.

Cons: it feels like very long hours for someone so young.  She will be there from 7:30 - 1:30.  It is also 6 DAYS A WEEK!  Who has school 6 days a week?  She'll be going Sunday through Friday (remember, our Sabbath here is on Saturday).  We finally met with the teacher briefly and she doesn't speak a lick of English.  We had previously assumed that she would because it seems like most people with a higher education speak English.  But no.  I think this will make the initial transition much more difficult for Joni.

Pros: she will pick up an entire second language.  From what we understand, she will almost immediately pick up basic vocabulary, and will be virtually fluent by December.  Even though she doesn't turn 5 until the end of October, she has seemed ready for school for a long time now.  She has a very strong desire to learn AND to socialize.  We have also been told that any learning she does here in Hebrew, will only enhance how well she learns when she gets back to school in the states.  Any skills she learns here will transfer over to English.  That's amazing to me.

We have a get-to-know-you meeting on Monday night, and then she starts school on Tuesday morning.  

It gives me butterflies just thinking about it.  I always assumed that starting my oldest child in school would be a weird transition, but I never expected to do it in a foreign country.

I'll post pictures and an update after her first day.  Tom is worried that Joni will have a meltdown when the reality of not understanding a single word sinks in, and the teacher won't be able to call and talk to me because we wouldn't understand each other.  I don't think it will be nearly that bad.  I think Joni will be frustrated but excited. 

I guess we'll see who is right.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Good blackmail

As the kids were playing in their room today, I heard sudden uncontrollable laughter.  First from Joni, then Jackson followed.

There are two things that usually mean trouble. One, silence.  Never good.  Two, uncontrollable laughter.

Luckily, today's activities were harmless.

I'm putting this one in cold storage to use as blackmail when Jackson is 16....

jackson dress final

P.S. A big thanks to Taylor for helping me figure out how to post large pictures.

P.S.S. To Tom, Dad, Abba, G-grandpa Sowards, and Popper - look at the bright side!  I had about ten other pictures I could have posted, but I'm only posting one! =)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Under construction

It's time for a change. If my blog looks weird for a while, it's because it's under construction.

It's time to simplify. I'm sick of looking at my cheesy background.

More Bethlehem

There are several churches right there at Manger Square in Bethlehem. One that I thought was cool was the Chapel of Saint Jerome. It is a church built over the cave that Saint Jerome supposedly lived in when he translated the Old Testament from Greek into Latin.

From the outside of the church

A beautiful mosaic down in the cave

Down in the cave, this is supposed to be the very place that Jerome was buried.

There were also some other old empty tombs down in the cave, but I don't know the explanation behind them.

This next picture is a little weird and I'm not quite sure what to think about it. There at Manger Square they also have the Chapel of the Innocents that is built in memory of all the male children that were killed under Herod's order. Underneath, there is a cave with empty tombs and several rooms full of bones. I don't think most people know about this place because you can only get into it through a locked gate. But my friend Sahar, who is from Bethlehem, knows the monks well enough there to ask for the key. So we went down there and sure enough, lots of bones. Some were very small, clearly belonging to children. Others were more adult sized. I guess the story is that the adult bones belong to the mothers who refused to hand over their babies, so they were also killed. How's that for a lovely story? If it makes you feel better, I really doubt that's what these bones are from. But it still definitely made me stop and think about what it would have been like for those families back then. I can't imagine someone coming into my house and killing Jackson just because of the cowardice and fear of a higher governmental authority. :(

This last picture is of one of "Solomon's Pools" just outside of Bethlehem. There are three of these huge pools, and they get their name from a scripture about Solomon building pools to provide water. But most scholars agree that they are more likely to date back to Herod the Great. He had these pools built to channel water into Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and one of his palaces. The water was utilized through a very sophisticated aqueduct system. They channeled the water clear up until sometime in the 40's, so it has been a major source of water supply for centuries. After that, they became a recreational spot where people would go swimming. But I am sad to say that they are all dried up. Fences have been built up all around them, and garbage is collecting. I took this picture through one of the holes in a chain link fence. From what I hear, this area used to be absolutely beautiful. Now it's a weird left-over existence of what once was. I searched the internet for a long time in an effort to find more information, but I couldn't find anything current. I would love to know the reasoning behind blocking it all off.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bethlehem - Church of the Nativity

My first trip to Bethlehem was as great as I could have imagined it. My friend Sahar, who lives in Bethlehem, was kind enough to show me and a couple friends around for the day. After having a wonderful lunch at her house prepared by her generous mother, we headed to the Church of the Nativity. It is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world, and it is built over the cave that Jesus was supposedly born in. The current structure was built around 565 AD.

From the outside....

When you first walk in to the main part of the church...

This is the alter in the church that is built above the birthplace (the cave is down underneath)...

Beautiful lamps hang from the ceiling...

In the Christian churches here there are always places where you can light candles...

Lots of beautiful artwork, both in the church above, and in the cave beneath. I LOVE the artwork...

There are stairs you take down to the cave beneath...

And finally, the spot that marks the place of His birth...

On your way in and out of the church you have to duck down through the low entryway, called the "door of humility"...

As with any Christian sight here, you are never 100% sure that the marked place is authentic. And there is almost always a big church built to mark the spot. The thing that makes the Church of the Nativity unique is that most, if not all, of the Christian churches that have a presence in Israel agree that it is indeed the spot where he was born.

Lovin' Jerusalem

I just have to say that I really love Jerusalem. This didn't happen suddenly - it has been growing on me more and more since the day I got here. As I went to sleep last night I kept thinking about how sad I will be when I don't get to live here anymore, because there's no other place like this in the world.

It's no secret that I struggle with the conflict that goes on over here. But there's so much more to Israel than the conflict. So many of the people here are good, family oriented, religious people - both Jews and Muslims. I will admit it will always be hard for me to see them "fight" because I think they are more alike than they care to admit.

Last week I went to the mall with some friends. At one point I stayed outside of one of the stores with all our bags while my friends finished their shopping. As I sat there on the ground and allowed my poor back a much needed rest, I people-watched. My mom would have loved to have been there with me. Jerusalem people-watching cannot be beat.

I saw young religious moms (you always know if a woman is religious here by what, if anything, is on their heads) pushing their strollers around. I kept thinking, "We could be friends" because they reminded me of the friends I do have. I also saw older couples walking around holding hands, probably shopping for their kids or grandkids. I kept thinking, "Those could be my parents" because I could just tell they were loving, hard-working members of their family. It was as if, for that moment, God was allowing me to see them the way He does.

It's a strange experience to be constantly surrounded by people who are very different than me in so many ways, yet when I look at their faces, when I look in their eyes, they're just like me. Whether they want to claim me or not, they are all my brothers and sisters.

I had another moment like that today. I was out on my own (a good friend lent us her car, and another friend was watching the kids). I needed to run to City Hall to register Joni for Kindergarten. As I drove around the city, alternating between a Jewish station and an Arabic station on the radio, I looked around at all the people. I looked at the windows with clothes hanging out of them to dry. I looked around at the other cars, many of which had families in them.

I had one those moments where I knew we are all God's children. We all want the same things - love, peace, comfort... freedom. Not everyone has all those things here. But I sure wish they did, because I love them. We are more alike than I ever thought possible.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


The last several weeks have been busy, if you didn't already guess that by my lack of posting. After making a couple of trips to the West Bank a few weeks ago (which I still haven't finished posting on), we started having visitors stay with us. First we had our good friend Natalie who I'm pretty sure Jackson had a huge crush on. He was in love and he told her she was cute. :)

While Natalie was here, we ended up also having a couple girls from Utah stay with us. They showed up at church one Saturday and pretty much expected the branch to take care of them. I'm still curious why they came to Israel with no plans, no money, and no place to stay. We felt bad for them and let them stay with us. They were fun but frustrating - I'll leave it at that.

Then when Natalie and the random Utah chicks left, we finally got to meet our new friends, the Gublers. We had been awaiting their arrival for a while, so it was exciting to finally meet them. They are a wonderful family who have been living in Michigan to attend grad school, and are here for a year to do Ph.D research. They have three children, and brought their sister, Sheralyn (who is a gem - I only WISH I was that mature at 19). They stayed with us for about 10 days or so. Are you wondering how we fit an additional family of six in our little apartment? Well, we're not entirely sure. But we did it.

This is what our kitchen looked like for the 10 days that the Gublers were here. It's a good thing we like them so much! :)

All the kids lined up on our awesome futon (don't be jealous of that bright blue - you know you want it).

Another thing that has added excitement to our lives lately is Jackson has become deathly afraid of fireworks. This becomes a problem when you live in a city (or is it just our part of the city?) that has fireworks going off somewhere almost every single night. I'm embarrassed to say that this fear in him developed because of a stupid mommy moment on my part. One night while the Gublers were here, our neighbors right outside our window started some fireworks (we're talking huge, loud, 4th of July type fireworks). A group of us were in the kitchen and we all went running to the bedroom windows to check out the festivities. Well, Jackson wasn't a huge fan of ear shattering noises and everyone running away from him as fast as they could. :( Poor kid. He's never been the same since.

Church has also been keeping me busy. When I left church last Saturday I realized I was responsible for many things this week - a sacrament meeting talk, Sharing Time, Singing Time, teaching Junior Primary, and nursery. Oy vey, right? Things just get crazy in our small little branch when the Jerusalem Center students leave. But I was able to delegate about half of it out to other people. I still spent most of what little free time I had this week preparing for church today, though. And I'm happy to say it all went off without a hitch. Thank you to those who helped out - you know who you are!

The Junior Primary out on the terrace with a few Jerusalem Center students from this last semester. You can't beat a class picture with the Dome of the Rock in the background! (Joni is in second from the left, in the pink skirt)

Some of the children in the branch gathered today for a movie after church while parents took care of other things.

We're thinking of putting Joni in a kindergarten here. She technically doesn't need to because she doesn't turn 5 until October, but we thought it would be an awesome chance for her to learn Hebrew. We'll be going to visit the school in the next couple of days to see what we think. It will all be in Hebrew so it will be a big adjustment for her. But I do think that in the long run she will really enjoy it.

Tom has been back in summer Hebrew classes since the beginning of the month (the same thing he was doing at this time last summer while the kids and I were still in Utah). So he has five hours of class every day, plus several hours of homework. It will last until the end of September. Then he will have a break until the beginning of November when fall semester starts. I am definitely looking forward to October! :)