Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! Today's post is going to be a little bit of catching up since I haven't had the time to post in a while. Its been hard to mark the passage of time here. I don't feel like it should be Christmas already. I think part of the reason is because the holidays that usually help me mark the passage of time are not celebrated here. The other reason is because we haven't had much variation in the weather. In the first week of December we still had temperatures in the 80's.

On December 12th I experienced my first sandstorm! They didn't cancel school so I had to walk in the sandstorm. The winds that day reached forty miles per hour. I arrived at school with sand all over me. I feel like I had sand in my lungs for days afterwards. You probably can't tell but this picture was taken during the sandstorm. Walking to school that day was very different because visibility was reduced. If you look back to one of my first posts titled where I live from July 12th take a look at the picture with the Dome of the Rock on this day I couldn't see past the blue roofed buildings. I had trouble sleeping that night because the winds were really howling. The next day it rained pretty had and we had 20 mph winds. But at least the rain took the sand out of the air. The walk to school that next day was awful because it was cold and rainy. The wind was too strong to use an umbrella. Many people tried though and the walk to school became an umbrella graveyard.

Back to Christmas! Christmas in Israel is very different. This is the first Christmas I've spent in a country that doesn't celebrate Christmas. The only reason I have off is because Christmas eve and Christmas fell on the weekend this year. My semester doesn't end until the middle of January but if you recall we didn't start the semester until October. This is the first time in my life that I've still be in school for the holidays. I took the weekend off I haven't done any homework; I know I'll probably regret that decision this coming week.

According to an article I read in the Jerusalem Post only 2% of the population here in Israel is Christian, that works out to 153,000 Christians out of a population of 7.5 million. Most of the Christians here are Arab Christians. The number of Christians in Israel is shrinking, which I find rather sad since this is the land where Christianity began. So since there are so few Christians it makes sense why Christmas isn't on the school calender here. No Christmas decorations anywhere, no Christmas music playing its a very different experience from Christmas back in the United States.

Going to an international school I also have the opportunity to explain Christmas to those that have never heard of it. For example the students from China have never heard of Christmas, or don't know much about it. China is a communist country and religion is not allowed there. Try to explaining Christmas to someone who has never heard of it and you will discover how strange it sounds. We cut down perfectly good trees and bring them in the house, put lights and decorations on them for a month. At the end of the month we throw the trees away. Better yet try to explain the concept of artificial trees that just sounds stranger.

So this morning when I got up it was a beautiful 70 degrees outside with a clear blue sky. Really the weather today was absolutely perfect. It was rather jarring when I had Christmas music playing that was talking about snow and bad weather. I've watched several Christmas movies this weekend but it still doesn't feel like Christmas.

Claire and I tried our best to make it feel like Christmas. Claire made construction paper snowflakes for our place settings at the table. We had a Christmas meal with corn soup, toasted pita bread with garlic and onions, chicken (yes it had a neck) and veggies.

Everything turned out really well. Problem was we are used to eating small meals here. So we very quickly became full. I still can't get over the fact that they leave the necks on the chickens here. When Claire bought the chicken she asked for a large one, they gave her this one which is about 4lbs. Chickens are smaller in this country.

We also make gingerbread cookies. They do not sell gingerbread mix in Israel so we had to make the dough from scratch. We took turns stirring since the dough was really thick. These cookies have the only bottle of molasses in Israel in them. Okay well it was the only bottle for sale in the store so it might be the only molasses in Israel. ;) I had planned on making apple crumble but I couldn't. Because Israel is in a drought the cows aren't milking as well. There hasn't been any butter in the store, for a while they imported butter from Switzerland but it was really expensive. But for Christmas I guess the other international students beat me too it because there wasn't any substitutes on the shelf either.

And here we have another one of my cats. I've named her Lady because she has wonderful manners. She had lunch with me a couple of times this week. This picture was taken in the courtyard sitting area of our cafeteria. She just came up and sat beside me she never meowed she just waited for me to give her something. She is always sitting perfectly upright like this with her tail curled around her paws. I think she's very cute and she posed very nicely for my picture.

In archaeology class we went to the City of David last week. So you have that post to look forward too. I haven't had time to properly type up my notes from that tour yet so I'm not ready to make that post.

From the last post:
Amanda- I have to stay in Israel for the holidays since my semester isn't over yet. The winter weather has been pretty mild so far. Just that one sandstorm and a couple days of rain. It is usually chilly in the morning we get our high temperature for the day around 1 or 2 in the afternoon then it get chilly in the evening too. Not to bad really its just strange that Christmas day its 70 degrees.

Uncle Joe- I haven't heard of the soldiers referring to themselves as the prickly pear cactus but it might be true. I'll see if I can find someone to ask about it. I'm glad you like my style of writing. Some of the archaeology tours are hard to transfer to blog format there is just so much information.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah began this past Wednesday after sundown it is an eight day holiday. However I only have one day off from school. When I asked about this I was told it was because Hanukkah is not a religious holiday. After doing a little research I discovered that this means it is a holiday that is not mentioned in the Bible. I would like to mention the differences in spelling of the word Hanukkah you will also see it spelled Chanukah both are correct. The reason for the difference is the letter that begins the word in Hebrew is an h sound made at the back of the throat its hard to transfer this kind of sound to English. The picture above is of a Menorah. You can have a menorah with candles or the traditional ones that burn oil. There are eight candles in a row and one candle above the others. The candle above the others is called the shamash ("attendant") candle. You use the attendant candle to light the other candles. First you light the attendant candle then you say some prayers from the prayer book. The brochure we have is only in Hebrew so I'm not sure what they say. Then you light the first candle one additional candle is lit every night until the eighth day when they are all lit. The candles must burn for at least thirty minutes. On Friday evening they must be lit for one and a half hours. The candles are lit from the right side first then moving towards the left.

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the second Temple. The Temple had been desecrated by the Greeks. The Temple was recaptured by the Maccabees a rebel Jewish army. The Temple had a flame that was supposed to be lit eternally. But there was only enough purified olive oil to burn for one day. Miraculously the oil burned for eight days and nights, the time it takes to make more oil. The Maccabees founded the Hasmonean dynasty. The Hasmoneans ruled for 103 years before they yielded to Herod the Great. But Herod the Great felt the need to legitimized himself so he married Mariamne a Hasmonean princess.

During Hanukkah foods fried in oil are traditionally eaten to celebrate the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days. These dounguhts are called sufganiyot. They are dome shaped on top and flat on the bottom. Inside they have strawberry jelly. I don't really like the jelly though it tastes like they melted a strawberry lollipop. I love the doughnut part even though it tastes very different from the doughnuts made in America. These doughnuts are all over the place right now.

This is from my fourth archaeology field trip. The third trip we went to the Israel Museum and they do not allow pictures so I can't show you anything from that trip. We are at a site called the shoulder of Hinnom. Here we have several burial caves from the first temple period. This site was the topic of my professor Dr. Barkay's thesis project back in the 70's. My professor is pictured here. The area where my professor is standing used to be an enclosed cave but later generations quarried away the stone leaving it open now. The chamber to the right of the picture is a burial chamber. There are three benches where the dead would be laid out along with burial gifts. The circular depressions on the side are carved stone headrests. The bodies would be left for a year to decompose then the bones and burial gifts would be deposited in the repository. The repository is a hole underneath the right side bench. This chamber with the headrests is very important. Inside the repository they found two small silver scrolls that contained verses from the Bible Numbers 6:24-26 and some from Deuteronomy 7. These are the oldest examples of Bible verses ever found. They predate the Dead Sea Scrolls by many centuries. These graves are from the 7th century B.C. the time of King Josiah and the Prophet Jeremiah! Look in the direction of my professors elbow there is another chamber. The benches in this chamber have a groove in them that also has a place for a lid. Dr. Barkay believes this room was used for chemical treatments of the bodies. Since dead bodies are very dangerous they would need to chemically treat them. We have evidence for chemical treatment of bodies in 2 Chronicles 16:14.

Questions from the last post:
Uncle Joe-Yes those are led lights on the model. The model is in a small museum. Normally tourists come into the room and a show starts with a voice narrating the story of the city and the lights turn on to help people follow the narrator. In our case the professor was explaining it to us but they still turned on the lights in the model. The peanut shaped one is the City of David and the buildings in the upper right of that section are the Temple and Solomon's palace. The small section below that is called the neighborhood between the walls. Around this area is the gate between the walls that King Zedekiah used to escape the city. The large square area is called the Western Hill it has no name in the Bible