Hey! Okay, I’m really gonna try updating this thing a lot more often just because when I don’t, there is so much to write about and catch up on that I keep putting it off because it’ll take me so long! So my new goal is to try to do it every day/every other day and we’ll see what happens. All of you are welcome to read or skip what you want and I'll probably never find out. But to be fair, we do some pretty awesome stuff here so you should tune in. Since going back to fill you in would take so long, I’m just going to start writing from now and try to catch you up as I go!
We had SUCH a cool field trip today! (We go on field trips about once a week around the city). I’ll try to be brief about it but most of you should know that I don’t really work that way. So today we went to Kotel Tunnel which was once an old Jewish part of the city, but now lies underground beneath what is today a Muslim part of the city. To give a little background, (I didn’t know most of this before), during King Herod’s reign (who is commonly known as an amazing architect), he built the temple mount, which was a HUGE platform for the Jewish temple to be built on. When the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., a lot of the mount was destroyed as well, but the western wall of the mount remained. Today, it is the most sacred site for the Jewish religion, because it is the closest they can get to where their temple once was. (Today, the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic structure, sits where the Jewish temple once was, so Jews aren’t really allowed anywhere near it).
So today, we explored the underground tunnels of this old Jewish city, walking on the very stones that have been there for over 2000 years. We touched pillars and stones that have the mark of Herod, meaning that he and his builders placed them there that long ago. We followed the western wall of the old temple mount all the way down and it was amazing to see the architecture of it. The incredible thing to me was how precise the stones were that made the wall. I’ve heard Herod was a master architect, but that is no joke! He didn’t even use cement or any kind of substance to bind the stones. They were cut so perfectly that they stacked right on top of each other and were sturdy enough to last over 2000 years. It’s crazy! I know it probably doesn’t sound that cool to tell you about, but it was so cool to see. I still don’t understand how they even got the stones up onto the wall. They were HUGE! One stone weighed over 500 tons! It was so big and they chiseled out the entire thing from the quarry and transported it in one solid piece to the wall. It’s just amazing the things that civilizations before now were able to accomplish without the tools we have today. Really, it was SO cool.
Today, the small portion of the western wall that is above ground is considered very sacred to Jews and is known as the “Wailing Wall.” They go there daily or weekly to read the Torah, touch the wall, and rock back and forth as they pray. Because it is such a holy place, they believe their prayers are better heard there. In fact, they consider the wall to be so sacred that they write their pleas to God on small slips of paper, fold them up, and then tuck them into some crack or crevice in the wall. If you walk up to it, you won’t see a single crevice in the wall that isn’t packed with tons and tons of tiny pieces of paper. The whole area is especially busy on Friday evenings, which is the start of their Shabbat or Sabbath. And last Friday, our teachers decided to take us there to see it.
This is where the story gets really funny. Our teachers told us that all the boys have to wear a kippa on their heads (a really small Jewish cap) and all the girls should wear a scarf, covering their heads. Well, of course, all the scarves we all have here are VERY bright-colored and flashy, but we were told they would work. So just before we got to the western wall, we all fixed our scarves, even going the extra mile by tucking all of our hair up inside the scarf, just in case that was custom. We didn’t want to stand out at all so we were trying EXTRA hard to fit in. Oh how funny that is now.
So we got to the western wall, and the girls separated from the boys (have to be on different ends of the wall). All of us girls tried to act casual in our jeans, hoodies, and bright-colored scarves wrapped tightly around our heads. As we go exploring, each of us begins to notice on our own that NOBODY else there is wearing a scarf, and NOBODY there is wearing bright colors at all. All the women are in dark, neutral-colored dresses and skirts. At one point, I was standing up on a higher surface and looked out over all the women, and every single scarf I saw was a Jerusalem Center student, trying to fit in but oh-so-obviously standing out. It really was a funny sight. So one-by-one, we all ended up taking our scarves off as we walked around. So then, one of my friends asks one of the Jewish girls there why no one else is wearing a scarf. The girl proceeds to tell her that only married women wear scarves. Not only that, but scarves worn the way we were wearing them meant you were Muslim.
We show up to the most sacred place in the Jewish faith, on the Jewish Shabbat, looking like married Muslim women. So much for fitting in! Luckily, I don’t think anyone got upset at us at all. It was probably just funny to see the Americans making fools of themselves. Haha, oh man, it was good stuff.
Anyways, on a more serious note, it really was fascinating to see what happens there. I think one of the greatest things I’ve come to respect about Judaism is their devotion. Their faith is manifest in everything they do. And as I walked through the crowds of women, seeing them waiting just to touch their fingers to the sacred surface, and then once they reached it, showing so much emotion as they poured their hearts out in prayer, I was filled with such a strong admiration for them. It really made me realize how truly dedicated they are, and how much more I can improve in my own devotion to the gospel that I believe in. It really is the center of their lives and it was such a humbling experience for me to be a witness of that.
6 years ago