I need to apologize about the few and unimpressive quality of the photos in this post. I brought the wrong USB chord and am unable to plug my camera in to retrieve any of the pictures on it.
It is pretty amazing being here, and I already feel overwhelmed with how much I have seen and experienced. I don't really know where to begin because I haven't really sorted it all out yet, and I know that whatever I write will be tied into what I do the rest of my trip.
I flew in Monday afternoon around 3 pm but didn't get to Saint George's College until close to 9 pm It only takes about an hour to travel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but it took me over three hours to get out of the airport.
My trip started off in a very exciting way with me being detained by Israeli security. Now I expected that something like this would probably happen because I was born in Iran. For those who are reading this but don't know: Yes I am an American citizen and always have been. My parents are not Iranian, and we lived there before the big regime change that brought the Islamic government into power. We left before the trouble started.
These and other questions were what I had to answer several times, to several different people. Actually the first two people I talked to were rather nice. The first guy suggested that I should see Argo because it shows what people had to go through when leaving the country at that time. He also said that I would like it because Ben Affleck is in it. The second guy who talked to me asked a lot of the same questions, what is your Father's name, where was he born, why were you there, when did you leave, etc. He then said that I had to talk to yet another person, but that I shouldn't be nervous, it was just procedure. He then asked me if I knew what my name was (which I do, it means sweet) and sent me out to wait for yet another interrogator.
Anyway, I spent a lot of time waiting, then being asked more questions then waiting again. Finally just when I was starting to get really worried, this guy comes out and rather unceremoniously shoves my passport and entrance visa in my hand. All in all it only took three hours.
So that was an interesting and somewhat annoying ordeal. I was lucky that other students had waited for me, apparently there was a moment when everyone was going to wait, but the mass of people and bags was getting out of control, so 4 kind souls stayed behind to escort me to the school.
The school is lovely, especially the food. The food here is very yummy. And the people here are so kind and informative. There is so much more information than I can even begin to process.
Yesterday we went and took a look at the old city from a distance, just to get a sense of the geography. Today we traveled to Machpelah, the Tomb of the patriarchs. It was both beautiful and sad. You see because of a shooting spree that took place on that site in 1994, leaving 29 Muslims dead, and resulting in a riot that left over 30 more dead, the site has been divided in two.
|Sarah's 'cenotaph' Muslim side|
On one side is a mosque and the bodies of both Isaac and Rebecca are kept there. No Jews are allowed on that side of the Tomb. It was very quiet there, people were kneeling saying personal devotions, and it was so open and colorful. Also on that side I got to touch a foot print that supposedly belonged to Adam. Neat.
The other side is the Jewish side, and Joseph (disputed) Jacob and Leah are found there. No Muslims are allowed on that side. I was amazed at the difference between the Muslim and the Jewish sections. While the Muslim side was quiet and prayerful, the Jewish side was loud and crowded. There were men praying on this side, but in little booths set up that we had to squeeze past, and further in there were classes being taught and so many people milling around it was hard to move at points. Apparently we came on the day when the Brit Milah, or The Covenant of Circumcision was being celebrated and that is why it was especially crowded on the Jewish side.
|Class being taught on the Jewish side|
Dividing the two sections are the tombs of Abraham and Sarah, which are visible from both sides. When we were looking at Sarah's tomb on the Muslim side we heard what sounded like a woman wailing. At first we thought it was someone crying over the patriarchs, but when we found out about the circumcision celebration, we realized that it was probably an adolescent boy getting circumcised (apparently that is not terribly uncommon).
The whole experience was really amazing, the sad bit is that the tomb that was meant to bring together this family has been divided in two and the only people who can visit all of it are the Christians.
I think I will stop there, even though there was so much more going on. We saw the ruins of the Constantine church at Mamre, which houses an ancient well known as Abraham's well (one of them, anyway). It was just stuck there in the middle of a city block, surrounded by a broken down chain-link fence. Unfortunately we couldn't go into the ruins because of a dispute over who has oversight. I think this happens a lot out here. Okay, now I am going to stop, I swear.
|The ruins of Mamre and the Abraham's Well|
Tomorrow we leave for 4 days and go to Galilee. I will try to write again when we return.
|This is us milling about at Mamre|