Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Yesterday I visited Bethlehem. The drive is really short, but is now doubled because everyone has to stop at the separation border between Israel and the West Bank, where Bethlehem is.

We spent the first part of the day visiting a Palestinian Think Tank and Bethlehem university. The center here is trying very hard to make sure that we are learning about not only the Israeli side of the complex conflict, but the Palestinian side as well. Today was a little bit of overload on Pro- Palestine. It is hard to digest it all. I find myself going though phases of "yeah! I love Palestine, they need out support!" to "Oh man, this is such propaganda..." to "the only way this is going to get solved is by the 2nd coming" and Back to "go Palestine!" all in the time of an hour lecture! The problem that I keep seeing is the concept of victimization here. The Israelis feel like victims from the holocaust and have no remorse for taking back their holy land. and the Palestinians feel victimized because their land was taken away, and is still being taken away to this day because of the separation wall that cuts deep into Palestinian land. and because of the lack of the freedom of mobility because of Israeli checkpoints all though the West Bank. Nothing is going to get accomplished if both sides are playing the eternal blame game.

I spent the day with my beautiful Polynesian friend, Erika, and we had a lot of fun together. While shopping in Manger square outside of the Church of the Nativity I told a man trying to sell us necklaces that we were trying to listing to our guide. I was kind of rude to him. But apparently he didn't think too much of it because half an hour later he told me that "my eyes killed him" and he handed me a long strand of beads for a gift. Erika was also given a bracelet and a necklace for gifts from a different vendor. These guys never give stuff away. We couldn't believe it. Although it was slightly embarrassing walking back to the bus with 80 of my friends and teachers while a salesman shouted our names down the street saying that he would miss us.

Then we finally got to go to the Church of the Nativity. I was looking forward to this trip, but I didn't know how great it would really be. I expected the church to be busy, full of shrines and incense, and not have much spirit there. Well I was right about the first two, but luckily not the last. Since the 80 students were all in the grotto at once we got to sing a few hymns while waiting in line to see the holy stones in the grotto. Before coming here I did not realize the true validity that this place. there was a church built in this spot before 100 A.D. So only two generations or so would have to remember where a lady on a donkey and her husband came into town begging for a room were put up for the night. Also, many prophets have said that this is indeed the place where the savior was born. I am so lucky to be able to see such a holy place. I was so touched that I put my hand over my heart. Our tour guide came over to make sure I was breathing ok and not having an asthma attack. This really was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Lots of Love from Yisrael.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Who's Bread?

Things have started to get a little crazy here at the center. Midterms
are over and we have a lot of pent up energy. A few nights ago we had
a birthday party for a girl here. It turned into black and white, 80s,
Bedouin theme. The guys have started growing out their "byu approved
facial hair" aka nasty mustaches. so tonight at dinner the girls drew
on mascara mustaches in revolt of the facial hair.

This week has been full of experiences that I wasn't quite expecting.
I came here wanting to learn a lot about the Palestinian Arab culture.
But this week I was plunged into Jewish cultural experience after
Jewish cultural experience. it is the holiday of Sukkot, where the
Jews build small "booths" or forts in the street. It is to remember
the 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Most people eat meals in
their Sukkot to fulfill the commandment. So, in from of every
restaurant there is a Sukkot for the religious. The streets are lined
with forts. My roommates and I made one out of mattresses and sheets.
It was definitely not Kosher, since they are supposed to be made of
two by fours and palm branches for the roof.

On Wednesday we had a field trip to the Yad Vashem, the Holocaust
Museum in Jerusalem. I strongly dislike learning about the Holocaust.
It's a painful subject, and the museum tour was no different. I
learned a lot while going tough the museum, but mostly things that I
didn't want to know. The most heartbreaking thing that I heard was the
welcome that the survivors received once they had been liberated from
concentration camps. A cold greeting from Europeans isn't surprising
to me, but even other Jews were cold to survivors. Our Judaism teacher
explained to us that people thought "If it's really as bad as you said
it was then why are you here? Who's crust of bread did you steal?" So
the survivors would wear long sleeves year round and hide the fact
that they had endured, instead of celebrating their life.

This week in the city I went to Mt. Zion where I saw the Tomb of Mary.
She has a beautiful cathedral to her name. In the crypt she has a
beautiful, empty sarcophagus. Over her there are elaborate mosaics of
women from the bible (Eve, Ruth, Ester, etc.) and in the center you
see her adult son. I loved this because one usually sees Mary in
relation to the baby Jesus, not the savior.

Love from Yisriel

May June July

From September 16, 2008

My experiences in the holy land so far have all been positive. I never
have anything to complain about, because I think I may be in the most
wonderful place on the planet.

Two days ago I was walking up a street in the Old City when a lime
rolled toward me and landed right in between my feet. (the only time
in my life I've ever been able to catch anything!) A moment later I
was swarmed by a crowd of young, screaming Arab boys who were playing
soccer with fruit. An hour later we saw Jewish boys pressed up against
a grated window at a school building. They yelled "Shalom" as loudly
as possible and then threw an apple core at us. The children here
are... interesting.

People in this city are always tightly holding their favorite set of
prayer beads. I have seen taxi cab drivers shouting out their windows
while counting prayers slowly in their hand.

This week I had another experience with the money changer. "oh! You
are going to Egypt? May got bless you! May you travel safety! May June
July!" Eh......

Being stuck in the center for even one day makes me realize how much I
really love the city. I don't understand the students here who stay in
and study. I feel like I have to go out every day unless I'm not
allowed. If I get a B I think it will be worth it. We are required
here to travel always in groups of three. this has become a little
frustrating ot me, because you have to find some people who want to
leave the center and go to the same place that you do, but if you ask
too many people you will soon end up with a group of 20 people.

Yesterday i went to the pools of Bethesda, where Christ healed a
paralytic. It was a beautiful place, accompanied by a beautiful
monastery. I have noticed that I have not seen a single no flash, or
no picture warning signs in the Holy Land. And most churches are
completely deserted. This gives us the chance to sing in the
cathedrals and take as many pictures as we want. This is a new idea to
me. And sometimes I even use my flash! I am definitely not in France.

Lots of Love from Yisrael!


From October 11, 2008

I haven't written for a couple weeks because not as much has happed
recently. At least for us, but for everyone else in Jerusalem it has
been an exciting time. We have been under Lockdown day after day. We
are not allowed out on any religious holiday no matter what
denomination it is. When we first came home it was the end of Ramadan,
followed by a couple days of feasts and parties. It was also the
Jewish New Year, and the two day celebration of the Day of Atonement.
It has added up to a lot of holidays.

School and real life has also started to set in. We had our first test
yesterday, and staying inside to study while I'm in Jerusalem is not
my favorite thing to do, but lowering my GPA doesn't sound too great
either. It's a hard balance.

We did get to spend a little time outside this week. We got to pick
olives from the many trees that are on the grounds of the center. It
was much more fun than I thought it would be. And it's pretty cool to
pick olives on the Mount of Olives, where the center is located. Next
week we will press the olives to make oil.

Last night we went to the Western Wall at sunset for beginning of the
Jewish Sabbath. It was a sight to behold. The Wailing Wall is
separated into portions for men and women. The men are allotted 3/4 of
the wall and the women only a small portion. After talking to some
Jewish girls I finally understood why. Jewish men are required to pray
three times a day, and they must go to the wall or a synagogue. But
the women only pray twice and are permitted to pray at home. These two
girls explained to us that the women are usually at home. They
expressed their love for Judaism and family. They said they can't wait
to have big Jewish families. We aren't allowed to talk about the
church here, but we told them that we perfectly understood their
desire. There is a lot of noise and commotion for a place of prayer.
And every once and a while you can hear loud dancing and celebrating
from the male portion of the wall. We peeked over the wall and saw a
large circle of Jewish soldiers dancing with their guns clanking
against each other.

I have been here for six weeks now, and only have nine left. The
passage of time is so interesting to me. My life here is full of new
experiences almost every single day. At first it felt like I had been
here for an eternity, and now I am begging for time to slow down. I
want to stay here forever.

Six weeks worth of love from Yisrael

Egypt:: Entrance and Exodus

From September 30, 2008

My view of Egypt comes through a thick lens of tour buses and 5 star
hotels. So to me it seemed like a beautiful place. I loved to drive
through Cairo in my air conditioned bus looking down on the people. I
know that when you are there with them it must be a lot dirtier, but I
was happy to observe. The architecture in Cairo is very interesting.
At first glance all of the buildings look completely unfinished. But,
in fact, the Egyptians purposely leave the roof of each square
building so that their sons can build on top of the parent's house.

I really loved Cairo but a lot of the fun on our trip took place in
Luxor. We took an hour long flight from one city to the next. I was
worried about taking my bottles of sunscreen on the plane, so I
meticulously squeezed the shampoo and soap out of the complimentary
bottles at out hotel in Cairo, and tried to get as much sunscreen in
the little bottles as I possibly could. I then stowed away my real
bottles at the hotel that we would come back to a couple days later.
My efforts were pointless. I beeped at the security gate, the Egyptian
man looked at me and said, "Bomb? Do you have a Bomb?" When I said no
he instructed me to pass without any other inspection! Upon realizing
that there was a second security I feared that my great story would
lose its climax. I beeped again, I took off my necklace, I still
beeped, I took off my bracelet, and I beeped a third time. The
Security officer got a little annoyed with the hold up and pushed me
on through. I think I could have gotten my sunscreen onto the plane.

Luxor is a beautiful place. It is home to the Valley of the Kings,
where many pharaohs were buried after they started realizing that
pyramids were a big target for grave robbers. Here I saw King Tut's
tomb, which was not very large; Maybe the size of an average living
room. In the Egyptian museum we say the treasures that were held in
his tomb, which was never found by thieves. The small chamber had been
filled from top to bottom with GOLD. He had clothes, toys, coffin
after coffin after coffin and golden head dresses. It was a sight to
behold. In the Valley of the Kings I saw three other tombs, or also
known as complimentary saunas. The paintings and hieroglyphs were
amazingly preserved.

In Luxor we also spent quite a bit of time shopping! I can't believe I
ever thought that the Bazaar in Jerusalem was scary and the vendors
were pushy. You can't walk down the street in Egypt without being
heckled or pushed into a store. "No hassle, there is no hassle here….
Come on and spend your money here there is no hassle" was often heard
as the merchants pulled on your arm and followed you down the street.
Or they would yell "How can I take your money?" At least they are
honest about that.

I think that the only female western icons that have reached Egypt are
the spice girls. I was told that I look just like baby spice at least
15 times every day. And the best part is I don't look at all like Baby
Spice. The other great "compliment" that I got came from a waiter that
worked at the hotel. He said, "If you wore a long dress and a veil you
would be the most beautiful woman here." I wasn't quite sure how to
take it.

A real highlight of the trip was taking a camel ride through a
residential village near Luxor. I think it may have been the most
exotic thing I've ever done. My camel driver's name was Achmed, who
know how to say two things in English. 1- my name is Achmed 2- so
little for tip? My camel's name was Casablanca, which was a better
name than five other camels named Bob Marley in the group. i liked
the ride because we had a chance to see women in their own
neighborhood. They looked happy and motherly. They held and laughed
with their children as a heard of 80 camels and Americans walked down
their streets. They were beautiful.

On our way home from Egypt we stopped at the very end of the Sinai
Peninsula to hike to the top of Mount Sinai for a sunrise. We woke up
at 1:00 am and left our mosquito filled rooms (35 bites and counting)
to start the trek to the top. The hike was a little difficult, but the
group I walked with was fine taking it slow. we made it to the top
just in time to see the sunrise. it was a magnificent place, and the
best view I've ever seen.

I am happy to be back home at the Jerusalem Center, where I can eat
fruit and brush my teeth with the tap water, but I was very grateful
to go to Egypt, which has been a dream of mine since I was 10 and my
Dad and I tried to learn Arabic out of a dictionary so I could be an
Egyptologist. Marhaba and Shukron, dad.

Lots of Love from Yisriel and Ygypt

The Mediterranean

From September 19, 2008

On Tuesday an Israeli ambassador of some kind came to speak to us. He
spoke about the incorrectness of the term "middle east" and how the
new dream is "the Mediterranean." French President, Nicolas Sarkozy is
at the forefront of this vision. he claims that the Mediterranean is
like one home on all shores. And can be unified. Personally, I don't
see what the problem with the term "middle east" is, but it is a nice
idea.So yesterday I took notice of the similar aspects in Tel Aviv and
in the other Mediterranean countries I have visited.

We, the students, organized a trip to the Israeli urban city that lies
an hour north of Jerusalem. We got dropped off on the most beautiful
beach I have ever seen in my life. the sand was soft, the sky blue and
the water was crystal clear. A group of 80 loud Americans on a quiet
beach is not hard to miss. But no one seemed to mind and we even
caught a couple people taking pictures of our group playing games in
the water.

After a few hours on the beach a group headed across town to the Tel
Aviv art museum. It turned out to be well worth the 45 minute walk
there. The collection was impressive. There was an entire room full of
Chagall. And a few Monet's, Renoir's and Van Gogh's.

We had to walk back to the beach to find a JC boy who didn't mind
hanging out with us. (We have to travel in groups of three, and with a
guy after dark.) Soon we spotted an open air marked full of spices,
drums, scarves and genie pants. The prices in Tel Aviv were
astoundingly cheaper than in Jerusalem. So we stocked up on some

The difference between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is striking. The first
is a sprawling metropolis of commerce while the ladder is first and
foremost sacred and historical.

Despite hours and hours in the sun I was the only one who didn't get
sunburned. It probably helped that I applied sunscreen five times
throughout the day. (Mom will be so proud.)

Things around the center are pretty great. Every day someone watches
either Indiana Jones III, Fiddler on the Roof, or Aladdin. The scene
where Jasmin walks around the market place always brings bursts of
laughter. "A pretty necklace for a pretty lady." It seems straight out
of my life.

Biblical jokes are commonplace now. During lunch i always hear "Is
there any room for me at the inn? .... I mean the table."

Love from Yisriel


From September 8, 2008

Life here is very exciting. I am learning some really great things in

my classes. In my old testament class we learned that a better
translation of the first three words of Genesis is "In A beginning"
instead of "In THE beginning." Think about that for a while. We also
watched this movie about Islam. I think it opened many peoples eyes.
The most poignant passage explained that Christians are judged by what
we preach. (Jesus said some pretty great stuff, right?) Throughout
history Christians have done some pretty terrible things, often in the
name of God. (Spanish inquisition, etc.) But we, generally, are not
judged by our actions. But Muslims are always judged by what some of
their people have done and very few people understand what Islam and
the Qua'ran actually teach.

Here in Israel we have our Sabbath on Saturdays. So yesterday, Sunday
I went with some new friends to explore the old city, where I had my
first hands-on experiences with the people here. The first was
changing money. There is a nice merchant here who happily changes
checks into shekels for any BYU student. His name is Aladdin.
(pronounced not like the cartoon character, but like Allah + ding
[minus G]). When I handed him my check he said, "Stephanie, you are
very beautiful, but you know you cannot date boys here when you are
with BYU, ....but you can date... your checks." and handed my
date-less check back to me. Later, when I asked him for something
smaller than the 50 shekel bill he had given me he ripped it in half,
handed it to me and started boisterously laughing, before handing me
five 10-shekel pieces and taking back the remains of the ripped bill.

Needless to say I was a little terrified of the city.

I was not deterred, of course, even after my first bartering
experience. Luckily I had read a couple tips on bargaining online
before coming here. Apparently this makes me the bartering guru in the
Jerusalem Center. While I was looking at a necklace a merchant swept
me into his store in front of a mirror. The necklace was really
pretty, but he said it was 300 shekles. (just under 100 dollars!) I
didn't think there was any way I could bargain it down to something I
would really pay. Instead of insulting him by saying I would only pay
30 shekels I said, "Yes, it is very beautiful, but I only have thirty
shekels to spend on jewelry. (Not applying the price to his particular
necklace.) Immediately prices started to drop. 190 to 140 to 80 to 50,
and we finally agreed on 45 shekels! (twelve dollars!) I guess I am
the guru.

The Israelites love their pop rocks. Everywhere I look I see different
brands of poprocks. You can even find poprocks embedded in bars of
chocolate. You heard me, pop-rock chocolate. Please don't think that I
would pause for a second before buying a bar if this, because I
certainly did not. It is delicious and I will have many bars of it in
the coming months.

Today in my first Arabic lesson our professor taught us a bit about
the culture. If a person has an important question that needs
answering (the example he gave was should I go on a trip or not) they
catch a pigeon and set it free, if it flies to the right the answer is
yes, Go on the trip, if the bird flies to the left, you should not go.
This was not only interesting, but also helped explain why small Arab
boys try to sell me pigeons in the market place.

Lots of love from Yisriel.