Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's Christmas time in the city

Yesterday I went to Bethlehem with Claire and two other friends from school. It was a wonderful trip to get into the Christmas spirit. Because there is Christmas in Bethlehem because of the Arab Christians and the tourist industry.

Claire made small talk with our cab driver that was taking us to the center of the city. She asked him if he knew a good place to buy olive wood souvenirs that were of a reasonable price. Of course he said yes he had some friends with a shop. So instead he drove us to his friends shop.

He took us to see the factory where the olive wood pieces are carved. The man was only actually carving one piece and the machine mimicked his movements on the other pieces. Our taxi driver is the man in the orangish red shirt. After seeing the factory he took us to the shop up above. The hospitality of the shop was wonderful we were each given Turkish coffee to drink while we shopped. We also got a discount since their friend brought us to the shop.

One of the things I knew I wanted was an olive wood nativity scene. The more detailed the piece the more expensive it was. I managed to find a small one that was in my price range.

I also found a nice angel as well as a small cross.

Next we visited the square where it really felt like Christmas. Well sort of...note the mosque in the background with the picture of Yasser Arafat.

They were setting up a stage for live performances that will take place today. Notice how December is spelled on the banner. :)

On the other side of the square from the mosque is the Basilica of the Nativity. This is the oldest continuously used church in the world. It was originally built by Queen Helena, Emperor Constantine's mother in the 300's. It's been destroyed and rebuilt many times since then.

This is the Door of Humility you have to duck down in order to get through the door.

It opens up into a large area with vaulted ceilings.

Notice the open spot in the floor in the picture above. This is left open to show you pieces of the original floor from the church Saint Helena built.

This is the Orthodox part of the church. Like the Holy Sepulchre the Basilica of the Nativity is divided up between several denominations.

Wall decorations that are from an earlier version of the church. 

This is standing in line to visit the Grotto of the Nativity. It was rather claustrophobic standing in the line. There were several tour groups in line and their guides were explaining the history of the church. The group behind us was an English group so I listened in for free. There was also a Russian tour group in line.

A rare picture of Mary smiling. 

The narrow opening down into the Grotto.

The priests were hurrying people through since the line was so long. This is the best picture I could get of the place where Jesus was born.

This is a Nativity scene in a courtyard area. Those are stuffed sheep.

We then walked about two hundred meters to another church that I had never heard of before. The Milk Grotto church. The legend has it that this church is built over a cave that the Holy family hid while fleeing from Herod into Egypt. While Mary was breast feeding Jesus Mary's milk fell and whitewashed the rocks which is why the rocks inside the church are white.

It was lunch time so we went to get coffee. It looks vaguely familiar. ;) We then went back to the square and had falafel at Afteem a famous falafel place in Bethlehem.

After lunch we went shopping again. I bought myself a scarf.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Strike! Strike?

I have to admit I didn't know anything about the potential strike until yesterday. I received a few emails from different departments at the university saying that there was a potential strike to be held today. At the time I was more worried about finishing my Akkadian homework.

From what I understand this strike is about government contract workers. We discussed the strike this morning in Modern Hebrew class which means some of this information may not be entirely correct as I received it in Hebrew. From my understanding the contract workers do not receive benefits and receive less pay. In their situation there is no chance for advancement to better pay and benefits.

The strike was supposed to shut down airports, seaports, mass transportation, government offices and universities. The emails I received said that even if there was a general strike classes would still be held at Rothberg I guess because we are separate from the main university.

There was a strike this morning but it was only from 6am to 10am. Why? Because a judge limited the strike. I am so confused about this. I don't understand what is the point of a strike if a judge can tell you to limit the hours? Currently the Finance Ministry is in talks with Histadrut and they have to report back to the judge on Thursday. So if the talks fall through there is a potential of a strike on Thursday. Histadrut is one of the big labor unions in Israel. This was an interesting lesson to have this morning in Hebrew.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)

Today is Yom Kippur (day of atonement) it began yesterday at sunset. I wrote a pretty lengthy post about this holiday last year. My Yom Kippur post from last year is the most popular post on this blog in terms of page views.

In the Bible the holiday is discussed in Leviticus 16, Leviticus 23, and Numbers 29. These links will also show you the verses in Hebrew. I think the book of Jonah is traditionally read on this holiday. In the book of Jonah the people of Nineveh are given the chance to repent of their sins. Yom Kippur is about forgiveness and new beginnings.

I wanted to discuss what this holiday looked like in the times of the Temple and why this is the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar. Temples in the ancient world were different from synagogues and churches of today. In the ancient world temples were seen as the dwelling place of the god on earth. Since the building was holy only priests were allowed to enter. The sacrifices actually took place on an altar outside the Temple. Only the priests were allowed inside the Temple building itself. The Temple itself has three sections the Ulam (porch), the hechal(place of the altars of incense and tables of show bread), and the Dvir (Holy of Holies). The Holy of Holies was the place the ark of the covenant was kept. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies and only on one day of the year...Yom Kippur. There was a fairly complex ritual involved for the high priest that is discussed in this article scroll down a bit to find it. This was the day that the name of the Lord was pronounced three times by the high priest. I believe this was the only time of year that the name of the Lord was pronounced and only by the High priest. Today no one is sure how to pronounce the name of the Lord since only the High priest knew. I think the knowledge was lost when Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem and forbid the Jews from entering there was no Temple and no High priest and the knowledge was lost.

You can read about the building of the first Temple by Solomon in 1 Kings 6. And here is a picture of a model of the Second Temple built by King Herod that is on display at the Israel museum.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Negev

I took this tour back on September 27th. The Negev is the name given to the desert region in the Southern part of Israel. We left the student village around six in the morning and drove for a couple of hours to get there. We hiked in the desert for about five hours I think. It was exhausting. For those who know me you know I'm not much of an outdoors girl. However I wanted to see the desert and I knew I could get some good pictures for the blog. I took a lot of pictures and its hard to narrow it down so be prepared for another really long post.

This was our first challenge. Notice the pathway to the right of the picture? We climbed that. This climb was as bad if not worse that the Masada climb of last Summer.

We did make it to the top. That is the rest of the group in front of me. You see I suffer from seasonal asthma I only have it in the Spring and the Summer. Most of the time it doesn't really affect me. However on this day it was really bad and I did not have my inhaler with me because again it's usually not a problem. There was a lot of sand in the air that day and I spent most of the hike gasping for air towards the back of the group. 

This is the view from the plateau towards the left of the previous picture. Notice the different colors of the rock. This desert has a lot of sedimentary rock because in ancient times this was the seabed. There are lots of shells laying around.

This is the view from the right side of the plateau above. Notice the line of shrubs it marks the area of a dry river bed. There is only water in it during the winter rains. I believe this is called the Zin Valley.

This is the area straight ahead. There is a kibbutz over there called Sde Boker famous because it is where David Ben Gurion retired. I'll speak more about him later.

Our guide pointed out these ibex on a nearby cliff. I thought this was a close as I would get to the ibex but I was wrong.

A desert plant in bloom. Notice that only the middle is currently blooming. There aren't many animals in the desert and the plant wants to maximize pollination so it blooms in stages over several weeks. The bottom blooms first then the middle. I forget what the name of this plant. In Biblical times it was used to mark the boundaries of a person's land because it always came up in the same spot every year.

After walking about an hour we came across a refreshment stand. I was so surprised. It is run by a group of Bedouins. They were selling an assortment of drinks. You could also pay to take a nap on one of the bedrolls.

Still at the back of the group. This is a perspective picture to show you how small I felt walking in this desert.

Walking at the back of the group you could get a sense of what it must have been like to cross the desert in ancient times. It seems to stretch on forever.

Just before we stopped for lunch we came across this guy. I felt like a National Geographic photographer getting this picture.

We stopped for lunch at an oasis. There were a few locals already there swimming in the water. I wouldn't want to swim in it it's full of algae. This water has been sitting here since the rainy season last winter.

I didn't take many pictures after lunch everything was beginning to look the same. After lunch we hiked back to the bus. Then we went to Midreshet Ben-Gurion. This is the location where David Ben Gurion is buried there is also Institute there dedicated to studying his works. Ben Gurion was the first Prime Minister of Israel he is a very important figure in the history of Israel. He believed that the Negev is the future of Israel. He believed that when the major cities got too crowded people would move down into the Negev.

I didn't expect there to be so many ibex in this area. This is a female notice her horns are smaller. She was standing so still that at first I thought she was a statue until she blinked. Then I thought maybe she was used to having her picture taken and was posing for me.

Awww Baby!

I'm not an expert but I'm going to say this is a juvenile male based on the thickness of  the horns.

We were picking the seed pods off the trees and throwing them trying to get them to stay for pictures. I managed to catch her with a seed pod hanging out of her mouth like a cigar.

Here I took a series of pictures and pasted them together using Photoshop. This is looking out on the area where we hiked earlier in the day. I believe we started the hiked around 8:30am and we got back to the bus around 4:30pm. I was exhausted by the end of the day and I had a migraine from the strength of the sun. My asthma was so bad it felt like I was trying to suck air through a coffee stir. I slept like a rock that night. I think I still have half the sand of the desert in my lungs. It was worth it for the pictures, aren't they pretty?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Tour of Ein Kerem

Before I get into the tour I took back on September 22nd I wanted to talk about the holiday Rosh Hashanah or the Jewish new year. The holiday began Wednesday at sun set and yesterday was new year's day. You can read my post from last year here. I mention the pomegranate is traditionally eaten on this holiday along with apple slices dipped in honey. This year I discovered why the pomegranate is eaten.The abundance of seeds represents fruitfulness and the myth is that each fruit has 613 seeds which represent 613 mitzvot. Mitzvot are like commandments you can read about them here. Everything shuts down for this holiday and most of the students go home to spend the holiday with their families. It is very quiet here in the student village. I wanted to share a new year song they taught us in class it's very catchy and will get stuck in your head. This rendition is very sad sounding I've never heard this arrangement before. The second one is more upbeat and closer to the version they taught us at school.

Now on to the tour. Ein Kerem means spring of the vineyard according to my translation. This is the traditional site where John the Baptist was born. In ancient times it was far from Jerusalem. Today it is part of Jerusalem. It is mentioned in the Bible as Beth Hakerem in Jeremiah 6:1 and Nehemiah 3:14. I took 117 pictures on this tour be prepared for a long post. I narrowed down the pictures to show you but there are still quite a few.

This is the Church of the birth place of Saint John the Baptist.  There is a nice staircase leading up to the door but I couldn't back up far enough to get the entire building in one picture. This church is owned by the order of Franciscan monks.

This picture is to the right of the previous picture. You are looking at an archaeological site. In Israel holy sites tended to get reused by different religions. This is the remains of a temple to the goddess Venus/Aphrodite. A statue of the goddess was found at this site but it is currently in a museum. I forget which one.

This picture is just before you enter to church it's a cut out in the floor to an earlier Byzantine church. The message is in Greek (I think) and it says All hail the innocent martyrs. The martyrs it refers to are the babies that King Herod ordered killed in order to prevent the Messiah from coming.

We were touring the church around prayer time so as we walked through the church we listened to the nuns singing and praying.

This is the cave area that is where John the Baptist was born.

A peek into someones garden as we were walking through the village. The houses and gardens are beautiful in this area.

Next we visited Notre Dome of the Sisters of Sion. I never would have found this place on my own. It has high walls around it. Ring the bell and tell them you want to visit the garden, it requires a two shequel donation but its totally worth it. It's very peaceful inside. They do have a guest house that you can stay in. We visited for the beautiful views and the cemetery. This is the grave of the monk who founded the place. I can't remember his name. He was originally Jewish but he had a powerful vision of Mary in the position depicted in the statue with glowing hands and he converted to Christianity. Notice the stones placed on the grave. This is a Jewish tradition when you visit a grave you leave a stone behind instead of flowers. There are several different stories as to why you leave a stone. One is that the stone represents earth, the idea of ashes to ashes dust to dust we will all return to the earth one day. The other story I've heard is that the stone represents a part of you that you leave at the grave to honor the deceased.

This is an ossuary from 2,000 years ago. The current cemetery is on the location of a cemetery from 2,000 years ago.

Here is one of the beautiful views. The church with the golden onion domes is the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene. The church just below it is the Church of the visitation where we went next.

This is on the opposite hill looking back at Notre Dame of the Sisters of Sion. Notice the terraces on the hill. The terraces were used for agriculture and it is impossible to date them because they were constantly in use and  being repaired.

On our way up to the church of the Visitation we passed by this. It's a marriage proposal. Isn't it sweet?

Here is the Church of the Visitation again I couldn't back up far enough to get the entire church in one picture.

Here is a better picture of the painting.

This church has two chapels and upper and a lower chapel. For some reason I didn't take a picture of the entire lower chapel I just took pictures of different elements of the chapel. This well connects to a cistern where Elizabeth and Zechariah got their water.

This painting depicts an angel telling Elizabeth to hide to protect John from Herod's soldiers. Supposedly the rock opened up before her and she went into the cave pictured above  to protect John. Notice that Elizabeth is usually painted in a red garment while Mary is traditionally painted in a blue garment.

This picture didn't turn out as good. This is the rock that saved John the Baptist. It is much smaller today because Christian pilgrims would take a piece of it home with them so this is all the is left of the rock.

This is on the back wall of the upper chapel. Since the woman is dressed in red I believe it is Elizabeth holding John.

This is one of the paintings on the wall. This one is of Mary being crowned the Queen of Heaven. Notice the man in a suit on the left side looking right at you. He's the man that paid for the paintings in the chapel.

At the base of the hill is Mary's spring.

This is the spring itself. This is the place where Mary and Elizabeth met. Today it's not very impressive the water is now just a trickle. And there is a sign telling you it's not safe to drink.

Questions from the last post:
Mom-A load of delicates takes about 34 minutes, colors 37 minutes. The time varies a little based on the weight of your clothes.

Uncle Joe- I did buy the Tide Absolute locally. There is Hebrew and Arabic on the sides of the box with directions. There are no irons in the laundry room and I don't own an iron. I take my clothes out of the dryer as soon as it's done to avoid wrinkles.