Sunday, March 31, 2013

Weeks 7-9: Walking All Over God's Green (or Brown) Israel!

(Chag Pesach Sameach, Happy Passover Holiday) חג פסח שמח
Happy Holy Week and Easter, y'all!

So it has been about 2 weeks since my last post. I am now on Spring (or Passover, or Pesach, or פסח) Break. I have 2 weeks off of class, and am really enjoying the break. Having to get up for Hebrew at 8:30 three days a week is not so fun.

Since I last updated this blog, I have had quite a few educational adventures. Last Thursday, March 14, I went with my Christianity and Judaism in Late Antiquity class on a field trip to the Old City. We first went to the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is located above the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We took a side staircase up to the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and walked past the Coptic monastery, through two chapels, and into a gathering room. As we walked into the room, one of my friends and classmates whispered to me, "Look at the idols." He comes from a non-denominational church, and I from a Protestant (Presbyterian) background. It's true. The room was full of ornate decorations, from the chairs, to the prayer stations in front of each chair, to the throne and canopy that sat at the head of the room. The most obvious of "idols" were the many pictures around the room of anyone from Jesus, to Mary, to the Archbishop himself. In fact, in one of the enclaves of pictures, the Archbishop's picture was in the center with a picture of Christ to our left (his right in the picture). He talked to us about the beginning of the Coptic Church and its separation from the Western Church in the 4th century CE, which was basically what we had learned from our readings in class. It was very interesting to hear it from the mouth of a practicing believer today, though. All of us in the class come from the West, whether we are Jewish or Christian. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but the West doesn't talk about Eastern Christianity. Anything besides Protestants and Roman Catholic (with maybe a tad bit of Greek Orthodox) is off-limits. So even though most of us know at least a little something about Christian history, it is amazing to see how the religion developed in the East into something that is so different yet still similar to Western Christianity.

The Coptic Archbishop in the center with Jesus Christ on his righthand side

After the Coptic Church, we headed to the Syrian Church, which is also located in the Old City. We met with a priest of the church in another gathering room. This room also had many different embellished chairs. We later learned that the throne in the middle was for the Archbishop to sit in only during the ceremony establishing him as the Archbishop. For the remainder of the time, the throne remains empty to symbolize the presence of Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, or maybe even Elijah in meetings of the patriarchate. Only when the Archbishop dies is the chair used again in a practical manner. The Archbishop is buried in or with his chair. Then, a new chair is made specially for the new Archbishop. The priest told us about the origins of the Syrian Church and how it also developed from the split between the Eastern and Western churches in the 4th century CE. Both of these churches shed some light onto Christian traditions that I had never learned about or experienced before this time.

Our field trip ended at noon, but I wasn't in the mood to return to the Kfar quite yet. As I walked toward the gate, I ran into the pastor at the Church of the Redeemer whom I had met the Sunday before on my first visit to the church. Once we had finished chatting, my class was nowhere to be seen. I knew I was on my own and that I had some errands I needed to run in town before I went home so being alone was okay with me. I walked to Ben Yehuda, which is one of the main commercial streets in Jerusalem. I needed more Kleenex because my runny nose had depleted my supply and showed no signs of stopping any time soon (It still hasn't figured out how to turn itself off, unfortunately.).

About a month ago, Luis, who was one of the guides on my trip to Nicaragua last April messaged me on Facebook. He is Jewish and asked me to say a prayer for him at the Kotel and to send a Star of David necklace to him. I figured this would be the perfect opportunity for me to do this. I walked back to the Old City and bought the necklace. I had no schedule constraints so I decided to wander through the Old City as I made my way to the Kotel. I ended up getting lost (which is not difficult) and found myself in the Muslim Quarter. Whenever I had visited the Old City before, I had mainly been with Jews who were uncomfortable venturing into the Muslim Quarter. I had never been fully in the Muslim Quarter, nor did I know where Damascus Gate was (which is the entrance to the Old City that leads directly to the Muslim Quarter).

I wandered around in circles about three times in the Quarter where everything was in Arabic. I know absolutely no Arabic so it's almost like being in another foreign country. For the first time, I actually felt like a traveler, as opposed to a tourist. I was experiencing this place all on my own without having anyone else bias my perception of this place and the people. It was exhilarating. I was just exploring this new place with nowhere to be and nothing to do. I did a few random acts of kindness to people I saw who needed assistance. I joked with the salesmen who wanted me to stop in their stores. I chatted with some Arab children who wanted to practice their English.

However, it was not all fun and games. I'm not sure if I was actually in the Muslim Quarter when I saw a man dressed in a traditional Muslim robe. Literally every person he walked past heckled him in some way. I saw young shop owners spit in his face. I saw men walking by him touch his chest. I saw children chase after him just to bother him. At one point, he walked into a side shop and talked to the owner and some children who were there. I couldn't tell if he was joking with them or angrily complaining to them. The children started to follow him, and he quickly turned around as if to chase them so that they would leave him alone. Unfortunately, I believe I witnessed explicit racism and unjust treatment of an Arab Muslim by Jews in the Old City. Absolutely no one deserves to be treated this way. The only reason this man received this kind of attention was because of his dress that identified him as a Muslim. It is sickening to me how someone's attire can dictate the attention they receive.

Eventually, I found my way back to the Kotel, where I prayed for Luis and wrote my own prayers for my family and friends. My plan after that was to go back to Damascus Gate and take the light rail back to the Kfar. After getting turned around another three times, I finally found Damascus Gate again. I tried to find the light rail station that I knew was right near the gate. I turned right out of the gate and followed the light rail track. After walking for quite some time, I thought that maybe the track went into the nearby neighborhood like the stop at Jaffa Gate turned onto a different street (even though I should have remembered that Damascus Gate light rail stop is directly in front of the walls of the Old City). I turned into the neighborhood and kept walking. I managed to get myself very lost at this point. Again, I was surrounded by nothing but Arabic. I realized I was a woman completely alone in a brand new place that I didn't know, and no one knew where I was. I feel comfortable in the Old City, no matter where I am. I think that simply knowing that the Old City is confined within walls and that many major holy sites exist within the walls leads to this sense of security. In this open Arab neighborhood, I felt a sense of unease and slight anxiety about my situation. My thought was that if I just keep walking, eventually I will find either a light rail station or a neighborhood I am more familiar with.

It took a very long while for this to work out for me. In the meantime, I took various turns and found myself on smaller, residential roads. I noticed as I walked the differences in the conditions of the streets and utilities in more Jewish neighborhoods and this Arab neighborhood. The main streets had crosswalks but didn't have the lighted signs that told you when to cross in correspondence with the traffic lights. When I would have expected about two or three light rail stops in the distance that I walked, I found none. The bus stops were only for Arab buses, not the Israeli Egged bus line. All over the streets of Jerusalem is trash, particularly broken glass. In this neighborhood, though, I saw corners and lots that were simply dumping grounds. As I walked past a Muslim school, I watched a boy climb out of a rusty dumpster that had holes in the lid from where it had been set on fire before. It became obvious to me the difference in allocation of resources between the Arab and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

As I kept walking, I passed the French Institute, the East Jerusalem Baptist Church, the Seventh Day Adventist Community Center, and the Jerusalem District Court. I was about done with this adventure (by this time I had been walking 6 hours since I had left for the field trip at 8:30 am) when I spotted St. George's Cathedral. I recognized this name as one that Douglas Dicks sent me in the list of churches I should check out in Jerusalem. Being the carefree adventurer that I am, I decided to wander into the church. It was a guest house, a school, and an Episcopal Church all on one campus. The property was incredibly open and easily accessible. I wandered to the sanctuary and all the way through the beautiful garden on campus without ever being questioned. Once I had finished exploring the beautiful scenery, I decided to stop by the office. What's better than doing some real life social networking in the Holy Land when you're living as a minority? Nothing. I wandered into the office looking for the pastor. Apparently 2:30 pm on a Thursday is "late in the day" because the secretary informed me that he had gone home for the weekend. I could come back on Monday or call/email him (she gave me his contact info).

Even though I wasn't able to connect with any clergy, that visit was still a success. As I left the church, I saw the Leonardo Hotel that I recognized from my travels on the light rail. I knew that if I walked toward the hotel, I would find a light rail station. Once I got to the light rail, I realized that I had meandered to one stop closer to home. I got back to the Kfar only to realize that I had lost my keys to my apartment, room, and mail box at some point during this excursion. Luckily, I was able to replace them that afternoon for a nominal fee.

On Friday, March 15, I went with Julia and Brittany to Herzliya to celebrate my roommate Shira's birthday. It was a perfectly relaxing day on the beach in Herzliya. I'm becoming a huge fan of naps on the beach and chill day trips to the beach. Even though the sky was gray, it was still warm enough to validate the trip.

Saturday, March 16, I had the opportunity to view a screening of Five Broken Cameras at the French Institute in the same Arab neighborhood that I had wandered into on Thursday. (Click here to watch Five Broken Cameras online for free.) Every room was packed. By the time we got there, it was standing (or sitting on the floor) room only. Five Broken Cameras is a documentary by a Palestinian man, Emad Burnat, who lives in the West Bank village of Bil'in. All of the footage comes from the five different cameras that Emad has used since 2005. He documents every non-violent demonstration that the village participates in at the separation barrier after the Friday prayers. The story follows the childhood of Emad's youngest son, Gibreel, as he grows up in the occupied West Bank. Although, I know that the movie presents a very specific perspective to the conflict, there are certain pieces of footage that cannot be faked. For example, Emad films his brother getting arrested by the IDF at a demonstration. His brother is in handcuffs and blindfolded near an IDF armored truck. A soldier takes his gun and shoots Emad's brother in both knees. No matter what Emad's brother may or may not have done to warrant his arrest, this was a completely unprovoked action.

After the screening, we had the opportunity to have a Skype call with the Palestinian director, Emad Burnat, himself. Even though the call quality was not good and his accent was difficult to understand in a crowded room, it was interesting to hear him talk about this movie and his life. He told us a story about how he was supposed to go to an awards ceremony in the States, but he and all of his family received extra questioning and searching upon their arrival to the airport in the US.

Once the Q&A session was over, a group of 16 students from Rothberg went to a coffee shop in the area. We pushed four tables together and had a great processing discussion about what we had just seen. We had many different perspectives and opinions represented around the table. We established a very mature set of guidelines to facilitate the discussion. It's like we were adults having a mature discussion about an issue that is important to all of us, and we could respect each others' viewpoints without getting offended or defensive. Huh, that's weird. I didn't think that could happen. But actually, it was really nice to be accountable to each other and to make sure that we didn't interrupt each other, as can happen so easily in everyday conversation, as well as important discussions (read: peace negotiations).

Even though everyone took something different from the film, it was really interesting to hear the different perspectives and reactions each person had. One of my friends saw it as a ploy similar to the Kony 2012 campaign that became really popular for about a month last year. If you humanize children and show the film to an American and European audience, they are more likely to sympathize with your cause and donate money...for the children. All of us struggled with the direct exposure of the children to the conflict as was depicted in the documentary. The conversation then moved to questions of agency within the IDF. How much do the soldiers get to decide their own actions and how much is simply following orders? Most members of the IDF have come through the Israeli education system (which is anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian) and join the IDF before they have had any college education. The soldiers are my age. For me, it is nearly impossible for me to imagine having that kind of power (or lack thereof) at that age. I have learned so much in the past three years of college, but none of that has come from direct exposure to a military conflict and my participation in it. Just think about it. On both sides of the conflict, young kids who haven't even reached their full development are the ones on the ground dealing with the conflict.

As a poverty minor, I have learned a lot about poverty in the US (causes, interventions, systematic exacerbation, etc.). I have also observed poverty in Nicaragua when I spent a month traveling around the country and taking a class. One of the key buzzwords when talking about poverty is upward mobility, or the ability one has to improve one's socioeconomic status or standard of living. From watching Five Broken Cameras, I didn't see much opportunity for upward mobility. Emad's children have been born into the conflict. That permeates their lives as an ever-present white elephant that they just live with. I could not see any real hope or opportunity they have in the West Bank (although, I am fully aware that in no way, shape, or form did the documentary show all aspects of life in the West Bank). Emad's family lives by working the land and harvesting the olive trees each year. Some of the olive trees must be removed in order for the construction of the separation barrier. Some olive trees are burned by settler violence. If this is what Emad's family knows and loves doing, then more power to them. However, the destruction of the land takes away their way of life. If they don't have that, then what are they left with? What legacy can Emad leave for his children? I am amazed by the hope that the Palestinian people show amidst a seemingly hopeless situation. No matter how dismal their situation appears to be, the people of Bil'in maintain their commitment to non-violent resistance each week.

Last week, there was a music festival called Music in the Old City. On Tuesday (3/19), I went with Mollie, Brittany, Julia, and Melissa, Julia's sister who was visiting. Basically there were different stages with two or three different groups that rotated 6-11 pm Tuesday-Thursday night all around the Old City. Everywhere you walked, you could hear all kinds of music. The first stage we came to was a Jewish gospel choir from Africa. We heard the last three songs of their set which were a Hebrew spiritual, Akon's "Right Now (Na Na Na)," and Santana's "Why Don't You and I." It was an amazing eclectic set of music, to say the least. As we walked through the city, we found Arab, klezmer, Turkish, traditional Israeli reggae, and a combination of all sorts of Middle Eastern flavors of music. We enjoyed it so much that we came back again on Wednesday night to celebrate the beginning of Pesach Break. In the Christian Quarter, we found a soul band and Carmi Shimron who sang "Georgia" during her set. I was convinced I was back home when I heard her start to sing it. As we were leaving the festival, I was struck by how similar this festival was to Come-See-Me in Rock Hill. It's crazy to think that one of the holiest cities in the world has families and community events just like my hometown.

Thursday (3/21), I got up bright and early for our 4-day Yam le Yam (Sea to Sea) trip across the country from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee (Or Kineret). Typically, you would hike the entire way on different trails from the Mediterranean to the Kineret. Because this was a school trip with about 80 people doing the hike, we would do a hike for part of the day and then drive to our hostel for the night. We drove to Achziv Beach in the North to truly start at the Mediterranean. Then we drove to the Nahal Kziv hike. It was beautiful. We saw an old Crusader castle at the beginning of the hike in Montfort, hiked down to the river bed, and crossed the river many times as the trail wound through the valley. The end of the hike was basically scaling the mountain as it felt like we were going straight up the whole time. This was my first time going to the North, and I didn't know that Israel had such lush vegetation in its landscape. I have only really seen the desert in the South and from a distance in Jerusalem. The mountains in the North remind me of a place I like to call home: Appalachia. Growing up going to Montreat, going to school in southwest Virginia, and volunteering in eastern Kentucky means that I have spent a significant amount of life in the Appalachian mountains. They are beautiful and close to my heart. As we hiked through the mountains, I felt transported 7,000 miles away to where my heart lives.

The Crusader castle at Montfort

When we had all finished the hike, we drove to Akko, where we would stay in a hostel for the night. Thursday night, we took a tour of the town of Akko, which is primarily Arab. We saw the main mosque in the town and walked to the marina. Across the Mediterranean, we could see Haifa.

The next morning, we went to Mount Maron, the second highest peak in Israel. We started about halfway up the mountain so the ascent wasn't too bad. This hike was beautiful and full of vegetation but felt more like a shepherd's pasture than the first day's hike. At the various lookouts, we could see the many villages below the mountain. At some places, we could even see the mountains of Lebanon! I'm still amazed by how small this country is compared to the US and its high visibility on the peaks of mountains.

We then drove to the village of Peki'in, which is a bit off of the trail of Yam le Yam, to celebrate Shabbat. Saturday morning, we went on a walking tour of Peki'in. This village is fairly unique in Israel. 80% of the inhabitants are Druze, which is a secretive religion that branched off of Islam around the 11th-12th centuries CE. Its esoteric nature is probably the reason you've never heard of it before. Even secular Druze don't know anything about the religion. If you're religious, you must lead a religious lifestyle, and you get to know all of the secrets. If you aren't, well then you're not in the cool kids club. 18% of Peki'in's residents are Arab/Muslim, and the remaining 2% are Christian. Now you may be asking yourselves, "Isn't Israel a Jewish State? Where are the Jews in this village?" Jews have lived in this village as early as the Second Temple Period (just pre-Jesus time). Over time the families have left, and now there is only one elderly Jewish woman living in all of Peki'in. She is paid by the government to stay and operate the town's synagogue, but she would stay even if she weren't paid. A few years ago a group of Jewish settlers came into the town and displayed a banner proclaiming "Peki'in Forever." This really disturbed the delicate coexistence that has thrived in the village for many years. Although the settlers left and the situation has returned to its peaceful state, that instance has scarred the village. It is uncertain what will happen to the Synagogue after this woman dies. Will the government find someone else to carry on the Jewish tradition? So much of Jewish culture revolves around the family and the community. I couldn't even begin to fathom how lonely it would be to spend every Shabbat dinner alone in your home. Either way, once this woman dies, it will be a very delicate process to decide who will live in Peki'in to take over the synagogue.

After visiting the synagogue, we walked further up the mountain to Cave of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, which is supposedly where the Zohar, a book central to Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), was written. You can read the story in the picture below.

The description of the cave where the Zohar was supposedly written
The Cave of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai

After seeing the cave, we continued up to a lookout of the city and the entire surrounding valley. At the top was a map of the town that highlighted 7 tourist sites to visit from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druse faiths. Interestingly enough, we only visited the two Jewish sites on the map. I understand that the two Greek Orthodox churches in Peki'in aren't really super significant to the Christian tradition or built on historic sites. However, Hebrew University's Office of Student Activities (OSA) has a history of demonstrating bias toward the Jewish faith at the expense of others. I fully understand that the vast majority of people in my program are Jewish, and that's fine. It's just that when you claim to want to attract more students to your program, you should provide opportunities for them to experience their culture in the Holy Land. For example, there are countless ways to get set up with an Israeli family for Shabbat dinners. That's fine. There are plenty of extracurricular activities involving the various colors of Jewish studying, but only the one Christian group that I found earlier in the semester. Additionally, I believe they should offer more extracurricular religious opportunities for the many Muslims on campus (just in case people thought I was whining because I'm in the minority).

People who come here to learn about the conflict can learn about it in the classroom, but it's more difficult to experience both sides in their respective contexts. We have been warned not to cross the green line into the West Bank (even though it is a 15 minute drive away from campus), and our health insurance through the school does not cover anything that may occur in occupied territories. (Don't worry. I'm covered by literally 4 other types of insurance.) On OSA trips (such as Yam le Yam) we have to drive all the way around the West Bank because the school won't allow us to be there. I could understand this if the Israeli bus line Egged didn't travel through the West Bank to get to destinations.

I have read many a not-so-pro-Israel articles that claim that Israelis only acknowledge sites and events that are important to Jewish history, while ignoring the centuries of culture and history that occurred on this land between the first centuries CE and the establishment of the Israel in 1948. I don't believe that it is right for anyone to say that any one culture is better or more important than another, especially when it comes to preserving the history and retelling future generations of a culture.

However, I realize that this is probably just a really liberal, post-modern, hippie-esque, pluralistic view that I have. After struggling with this issue for about a week, I came to realize the opposition to my argument. Throughout the history of this land, I bet the ruling parties didn't care about what had come before. The Byzantines didn't care about the Israelite Period. The same goes for the Muslim Period and the Ottoman Empire. History repeats itself, and the victors are the ones who own history. It just so happens that we are in the times of Israel as a Jewish State. All of the streets in every major city have the same names of important founders in Zionism (Yafo, Ben Yehuda, Allenby, Rothschild, Ben Gurion, etc.). However, my point remains that we should respect the history and cultures of this land's past. Humanity has advanced ideologically, technologically, and economically. We are changing. So why not change?

Back to Yam le Yam after that slight intellectual detour. After the walking tour of Peki'in, we returned to the hostel for a restful day of Shabbat. After Shabbat ended, we drove out to a campground where we would cook our dinner (yes, all 80 of us). Different groups made different dishes, such as salat (salad, which is not just tossed or chef. Israelis actually don't really use lettuce in their salads, but they love putting just about any other vegetable with the staple diced tomatoes and cucumbers.), side dishes, homemade pita, and, my personal favorite, poyke pot. I was on the poyke pot crew. We cut up vegetables of all kinds, potatoes, and beef. Then we threw it all into a pot with seasonings of all kinds. It was basically an Israeli dutch oven style of cooking. The pot sat in the fire for 1-1 1/2 hours with various seasonings added periodically to make a scrumptious stew. Once everything was cooked, we all dug in to all of the delicious dishes each group prepared. In my humble opinion, ours was the best, hands down. After the satisfying meal, we returned to the hostel for our last night.

The best poyke pot

On day four of Yam le Yam, we drove to this field off the highway. It looked and felt like an actual shepherd's field. We actually had to strategically maneuver around gates and fences that were supposed to keep cattle, sheep, or goats in the pasture. The trail eventually led to a wadi (dried-out river bed) called Nahal Amud. During the rainy season, the river bed fills with water. The pastures gave way to steep cliffs with many caves on both sides. It's fascinating how the Israeli geography and landscapes change so quickly. At the end of our hike, we came to the namesake of the stream, the amud.

The amud (pillar) of Nahal Amud
After we finished hiking, we took the bus to Bora Bora Beach on the Sea of Galilee. We were all able to hang out by the beach and enjoy the sun (and extremely cold water) after our four-day kinda sorta hike (more like walk). It was a great way to spend Palm Sunday even if I couldn't go to a Palm Sunday service.

The Sea of Galilee from Bora Bora Beach

So I know I haven't updated to right now. It has taken me a week to finish all of this, and I just want to publish it! Also, this would be about twice as long if I included this past week in this post. Basically, my point is, look out for the Holy Week post sometime soon!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Weeks 4-6: Blogging Marathon

Shalom, y'all! Sorry it has been a while since I have updated you on my adventures in the Holy Land. I blame lethargy, busyness, some sickness, and a little bit of laziness. Because I have to make up so much time, I'll try to put things on a clear timeline.

This was my last day of Ulpan, my month long intensive course in Hebrew. I finished with a grade much higher than I was anticipating, which was quite a pleasant surprise. In only 4 weeks, I learned 2 entirely new alphabets (both block and script Hebrew letters) and enough Hebrew to make me dangerous (כן, ken, yes; לא, lo, no (my favorite word); אני לא יודעת (ani lo yodat, I don't know)).

This was perhaps one of the most perfect days I have had in Israel to date. A group of my girl friends and I took a bus down to En Gedi on the Dead Sea. It is quite possibly the most beautiful place I have ever seen. As you walk down the road, you see the Dead Sea and the mountains of Jordan on one side. On the other are these huge majestic desert mountains. It is stunning. We entered the nature reserve and hiked one of the trails past a waterfall up to a spring, a true desert oasis. We stopped and ate lunch by this spring. I relaxed and dipped my feet in the water. On the way down the mountain, we passed various sites of ruins, including an old synagogue. After we got to the bottom, we went back to the waterfall that we had passed and enjoyed some swimming. It was a beautiful day of fun and relaxation with some great people I have met in the program.

I went on a trip to the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank with J Street U. For those of you who don't know, J Street is the more left-leaning Jewish lobbying PAC in Washington. They work in college campuses in the States and in Israel to educate people about the issues surrounding Israel and the conflict.

This particular trip was with Breaking the Silence, an NGO started by IDF soldiers who wanted an outlet to discuss the various things they did during their service. Avner, an IDF veteran was our guide for this tour. He told us about the different "areas" of the West Bank. Area A is completely under Palestinian control. Area B is under Palestinian control politically, but Israel and the IDF still provide security and have a military presence in these areas. Area C is considered to be under Israel's military and political control. Palestinians living in Area C face many obstacles in their everyday life. They are not allowed on certain roads that are in Area C. Legal Jewish settlements or illegal Jewish outposts are typically located in close proximity to Palestinian villages that have existed there for many generations. Some of these villages consist of Bedouins, Arabs who have lived off of the land and moved around the desert as a way of life for years and years. Other villages have stopped practicing the nomadic lifestyle generations ago. They have lived on family land for many generations now.

The way that Avner put it, Israel keeps trying to push the boundaries of the West Bank so that it is as small as possible. The Green Line is the politically agreed upon boundary line that separates Israel from the West Bank. In many places, the separation wall has been built past the Green Line so that Israel occupies more of the West Bank than was previously agreed upon. The separation wall is not complete, and Israel's political actions have made it clear that it wants to build the separation wall as close to the Palestinian cities and as far away from the Green Line as possible. By authorizing new Jewish settlements (and ignoring the presence of illegal outposts), Israel is further imposing on Palestine, making it difficult to work toward peace. With Jewish settlements come the IDF to ensure the security of the Jews. The IDF does not work as security for illegal outposts, neither do they punish the outposts for being in Palestinian territory.

We visited the Palestinian village of Susya (Sosia/Susia/however you want to transliterate it). The village has been demolished by the IDF 5 times. There is currently a demolition order on the village for a sixth time. We were supposed to meet with one of the patriarchs of the village whose family has lived on the land since before many of the demolitions. Unfortunately, he was in Hebron at a demonstration protesting the treatment of Palestinian prisoners who have been on hunger strikes for over 200 days now. Walking through the village reminded me of what I say in Nicaragua last spring. I felt like I was in a third world country. The village had put tents around the rubble of the foundations and shells of previously standing houses. This village was full of shepherds. They had goats and pigeons and offered us honey to buy. As we walked through the village, we saw one of the only water cisterns (a well-like structure, more like a hole in the ground where water is) that the village can use. You see, a settlement called Susya (but Jewish) has been established about half a mile away from the Palestinian village. As a part of "security," the IDF has forbade Palestinians from going within a certain distance of the settlement. The current "security area" around the village includes about 70% of the water cisterns that the Palestinian Susya has used for years. They can no longer go to the cisterns to get water for fear that the IDF will attack them. Apparently this is happening to rural Palestinian villages all over the West Bank. According to Avner, the hope is that the IDF will make life so miserable for the Palestinians that they will want to move to the larger cities. This frees up more of the rural land for Jewish settlements and further encloses the Palestinians into a concentrated West Bank.

Avner also told us about a fairly common practice of the IDF called "straw widow." Essentially, the IDF can take a Palestinian house at any time, for any reason, and occupy it as long as there are orders to occupy the house. This type of practice is reminiscent of the British quartering during the American Revolution but worse. He said they will simply enter a house in the middle of the night so that they don't cause a scene. They move all of the family into one room. Throughout the occupation, the family can only do something if the soldiers allow it. They cannot go to school or work. They can't even go about their routine in their house. They only go to the bathroom if the soldiers let them out of the prison that their house has become. The IDF "justifies" this act by saying that it is a security risk for the family to be around as they discuss military information. Obviously the West Bank and the Palestinians do not have the right to self-determination.

I left this experience struggling with these ideas. I knew that I was seeing a very biased perspective and portrayal of the conflict, and I was curious about the justification of these acts. It has led to many interesting conversations with my roommates and other people in our program. Throughout these various conversations, I am continuously reminded of the influence that upbringing, background, and culture have on forming who each of us is and our values and beliefs. I am not going to claim that I have figured out the whole conflict and have worked out a game plan for peace. No one has. Being here has shown me that the conflict is multi-faceted and that around every corner is another nuance in the cultures that you hadn't seen before. It is definitely not a black-and-white issue, and peace will not come from a black-and-white approach. We must not ignore the shades of gray, for it is through them that the light of peace will come.

This weekend was the Jewish holiday of Purim. It is basically a Jewish Halloween. Everyone dresses up in crazy costumes and goes anywhere to party, literally anywhere. On Saturday, we all went to Tel Aviv on an organized bus trip that took us to an Orthodox Synagogue. Two of my roommates and I dressed as internet browsers. Shira was Safari, Julia was Google Chrome, and I was Mozilla Firefox, naturally.

Shira-Safari, Julia-Google Chrome, Me-Mozilla Firefox

A lot of my friends and I were staying in the same hostel. When I returned to the hostel at the end of the night, I realized that my phone and wallet were missing. My friend, Scott, also had his phone, wallet, and watch stolen. We didn't really know what to do at this point. When I woke up Sunday morning, I thought about the ingenious app Find My iPhone. I used my friend's iPhone to try to locate mine, even though I thought that my belongings had just been a casualty of Purim. However, I was able to locate my phone to a specific location. Scott's phone had died by this point, so we could not see it. Scott and I went to the Tel Aviv Police Station to try to get someone to take us to where my phone was so that we could hopefully get everything back.

After filing a report and much waiting, two plainclothes cops (or detectives) showed up to take us to my phone. We did not see whoever took the stuff, but people around said that it was a black man. When we told this to the police officers, I realized that racism is anything but dead in this country. We drove to the block where my phone was located. The officers looked at everyone on the sidewalk. When they saw the first black man, they immediately pulled the car over, got out, and began harassing this man. My phone had not moved in the two hours since I had first located it. I did not think that this man who was simply walking down the street was the one who had my phone. The officers yelled at him, forcibly frisked him, and pushed him to the point of tears. I could not believe that my desire to get my stuff back led to this innocent man being humiliated by these supposed law enforcers. It broke my heart to watch them accuse him of stealing my phone. I could not believe that I was witnessing racial profiling. After about 10 minutes, they realized that he did not have it.

They drove us to an alleyway and parked the car. They told Scott and me to wait there as they took my friend's phone to try to find my phone. Scott and I spent the next minutes contemplating the situation. What did it mean to have our wallets gone with all of our money, credit cards, identification cards, and health insurance cards? I think I was handling it a bit better than Scott because I realized that all those things were replaceable. It may be a hassle, but the world was not over. Scott asked me multiple times, "Where is Jesus right now?" I told him that Jesus was still here even though the situation seemed dismal. In my head, no matter what the outcome would be, I knew that I would learn a lesson from this experience. Everything happens for a reason even if I didn't know yet the reason for this situation.

After about 45 minutes, we watched the detectives returning to the car...holding my phone in a piece of cardboard. They asked me to identify my phone, but wouldn't let me touch it (I assume they wanted to check for fingerprints). I was absolutely ecstatic. They didn't really elaborate on how they found it, where it was, or who had it. Scott and I agreed that maybe we didn't want to know what had to happen for them to find it and bring it back to me. We asked about the rest of our stuff. They said to wait again while they tried to find the rest of our stuff. It was another long while for Scott and I to sit alone in the unmarked car. I joked that Jesus was with me, but not with him because he is Jewish. (Note: This is not what I actually believe at all. Jesus loves everyone. End of story.) We could not believe that I had actually been able to get my phone back.

After about another hour, one of the detectives returned and asked me if I had received an email from a man who said he found my wallet. I checked my email on my friend's phone and saw the following email:


I found your wallet in my building

King george 23

Call me
(his number here)

I was in shock. How did the detective know that this guy had emailed me saying he had found my wallet? The detective left again. About 10 minutes later, he returned and said we were going back to the station. Unfortunately, they were not able to find any of Scott's items. When we got to the station, they gave me my wallet and phone back. I looked through the wallet to make sure nothing was missing. Absolutely nothing was. I had all of my identification cards, credit cards, insurance cards, and money, down to the last shequel. After four hours with the Israeli police, I had been reunited with all of my missing belongings.

A man was sitting in the corner of the room. He looked at me, smiled, and said, "I'm sorry." I didn't know who he was until the detectives said I should thank him for getting my wallet back. I asked him how he found my wallet and then how he found my email address because it is not on anything in my wallet. He said it was on the stoop to his building. He didn't want to go through all of my stuff, but he did want to return it to me. He went through my 8 forms of identification and found my Washington and Lee student id. He realized it was a university. With a friend's help, he googled Washington and Lee and looked me up in the directory because they had my username and id number. From there, they found my W&L email address and emailed me. Now if that's not a miracle, I don't know what is. This whole happy ending never would have happened for me if it weren't for technology. If I hadn't had Find My iPhone. If my phone had died. If this nice Israeli hadn't had Google. Through this whole experience, I can say that I know exactly where Jesus was. Unfortunately for Scott, he never got his phone, wallet, or watch back. Luckily for Scott, he left his passport and health insurance card at the hostel. Also, Scott came prepared with backup phones in case his old iPhone couldn't hold out for the duration of our trip.

Scott and I met up with the rest of our friends on the beach and then took a bus back to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was celebrating Purim on Sunday night. My friends and I had bought tickets to the student party in downtown Jerusalem. When we got to the party, we realized it was in a parking garage under City Hall. It was a rave of about 3,000 people dressed in any costume imaginable in a parking garage. However sketchy this may sound, I promise it wasn't. Brittany, Julia, and I stayed together for the night and had a great time. When we left to go home at around 2 am, we were amazed to see so many people, not just young college students, still walking around the streets. Purim in the Holy Land is definitely a different experience.


After a lovely break from Hebrew and an exciting Purim, it was time to start the real classes of the semester. It has definitely taken me a while to get used to taking classes and doing real work again. Even though I am purposefully taking it easy this semester, I still find that my time disappears way too quickly. I only had class for three days during this first week. The classes were the typical first classes when you get the syllabus and an overview of the class.

Being at Rothberg International School has opened my eyes to a whole host of epiphanies about other countries, cultures, and languages. Students at Rothberg come from North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and Australia (I know of at least one who has been to Antarctica, so let's just say we're the definition of international). I am amazed that the Europeans, for whom English may not be their first language, who are in my Christianity and Judaism in Late Antiquity class can actively participate in class discussions of theological terminology that most Americans probably wouldn't even understand. I wouldn't say that I am fluent in Spanish on any level, but it is the language that I know best after English. I couldn't fathom being in an academic setting discussing anything more advanced than the environment (only because I had to do that for my final exam in high school). I am in awe of the rest of the world and their knowledge of other languages. Again, Americans come from an arrogant culture that simply expects the rest of the world to be able to communicate with America in English. However, I know many people from other countries who are bi- or trilingual. I am still astounded by people from Nigeria, Botswana, Malawi, Korea, Taiwan, and China who are in my Hebrew class. They are learning another language through a language that is not their first. Imagining trying to learn Hebrew in a class where everyone else primarily speaks Spanish, including the teacher, is almost impossible for me to fathom. However, I find that these students are the ones who work the hardest and are learning the language best. Through these experiences, I am finding a love of languages and yearning to be able to communicate with more people in the world.


After the first three days of real class, my friends and I decided to go to Tel Aviv again for the weekend. Most of my friends had a place to stay Friday night, but I didn't. I decided just to go for the day to spend time with my friends and go back to Jerusalem that night. We went to Tel Aviv and sat on the beach. It was beautiful and perfectly relaxing. I could do that all day everyday until I got too burned to function. We went to dinner and met up with some friends who had already been in Tel Aviv. After our dessert of גלידה (glida, ice cream), my friends put me in a cab going toward the Central Bus Station. When I got to the Central Bus Station, I was looking for a sheirut to take me back to Jerusalem. It's kind of like a bus/taxi that takes about 10 people to a city for a set price. It was Shabbat by this point so the buses and light rail had stopped running. A sheirut and taxi is the only option to go anywhere on Shabbat. The sheirut dropped me off near the Old City, so they said. This was my first time traveling alone. I was a girl, alone, in the dark, on Shabbat (so no one was around), and I don't really know Hebrew. When I got off the sheirut, I had no idea where I was. I decided to walk up to a main road and realized I was actually near one of the main roads that I knew. I contemplated walking back to the Kfar so I wouldn't have to pay for a taxi, but it was cold. I was still alone and still didn't know Hebrew. I walked to a group of parked taxis near City Hall and got one to take me to the Kfar. It cost me 18 shequels to get to Tel Aviv that morning. My lovely return adventure cost me 105 after the sheirut and 2 taxis. I was not too happy about that, but I survived my first inter-city travel alone and got home safely.


Saturday, I went with a different group of friends to the Israel Museum for the second time. This was my one and only experience in which I have been the token non-Jew but known more about a place than anyone else in the group. We started at the new exhibit on Herod the Great. For those of you who remember Herod from the Bible, this is the Herod that wanted to kill Jesus as a baby. You know, in the Wise Men story. The Herod from the Passion story is a descendent of this Herod. There are about four different Herod's from about this time in history. I looked it up while I was in line for the exhibit. Apparently this Herod really liked his architecture, but he was super paranoid. It was cool seeing all of the artifacts from his palaces, tombs, and other various structures. Part of the exhibit mentioned Masada, which I visited about a month ago. I don't think I could have picked a better place to study what I am studying. Everything connects so nicely from museums, to the classroom, to places I visit wandering through the city. My education is so much a part of my life here.


On Sunday, I went to the Old City with my roommate, Shira, and our friend, Daniel Mapa, to do the Rampart Walk. It is a walking tour that is along the walls of the Old City. The walk has some great lookouts into the German Colony, lots of old churches, and various villages that are around the Old City. The history connected to these ramparts is amazing, too. Thinking of the people who stood there in the past defending Jerusalem from whoever the attacker was at the time makes me appreciate the city and this opportunity even more. Even though the walk isn't very handicap accessible, it isn't really restrictive, either. Mapa, Shira, and I frequently took advantage of the photo opportunities that the higher levels of the rampart provided. Anyone who was worried for my safety at Natural Bridge in Kentucky this summer probably would have had another heart attack watching us. Like this summer, we all returned unscathed.

Mapa, Angela, and Shira on the Rampart Walk

Through this adventure, I realized I absolutely love going to the Old City on Sunday. Because Sunday is the start of the work week here, the Old City is not busy. It is so peaceful and is the perfect atmosphere for a leisurely Sunday stroll. Also, everything is open, which makes it even better.


Unfortunately, I seem to have caught a cold of some sort. Last week was kind of boring because I was trying to prevent, and then recover from, this illness. It didn't really work. One night, I was walking back from school after studying after class. It was cold. I didn't feel well. All I wanted was to get home and have someone offer to make me some soup. I got home to find that my roommate, Julia, had actually made soup for dinner and was offering it to people earlier. No one took her up on her offer, but she literally made my night.


Thursday, I went to class and went straight back to bed. I only got up to go to the Vagina Monologues that was at the Jerusalem Rape Crisis Center. I had never seen the show, and I thoroughly enjoyed my first performance. It is a part of V Day: A Global Movement to End Violence Against Women and Girls Worldwide If you want to more about the Vagina Monologues and V Day, please click here.


I tried to do more recovering during the day Friday. Then I realized that most of my friends had plans for Shabbat dinner. I didn't want to sit around doing nothing or cooking for one on Shabbat. The concept of Shabbat dinner (or a communal meal of any sort) is definitely an important part of this experience that I am going to take away after I leave. My friend, Scott, invited me to Shabbat dinner with his parents, who had just arrived to Israel. I went with Mollie and Brittany to meet Scott and his family for dinner. His parents are hilarious and just a lot of fun to be around. Spending time with them and seeing Scott interact with his parents made me miss my family and our own quirky interactions.


Saturday night, I got a text from Pavel that read, "Ice skating in two hours?" I said, "Sure." Little did I know what that meant. Apparently there is an ice skating rink in the German Colony. It is called עיר קרים (air carim), literally "cold city." The skates were made of plastic, and the rink hadn't seen a zambouni in far too long. I also haven't been ice skating since about sophomore year of high school. Pavel is from Canada, so he can skate. Brittany skated for 12 years, so she's basically a pro. Mollie has been roller skating with kids in Philadelphia. So that left Gemma, from Australia, and me. I'm from the south. I don't care that there's an ice rink in Charlotte. I don't ice skate. It was rough. Brittany tried to pull me. At one point, I lost my balance, and my legs flew out in front of me. I landed hard on the ice like they do in cartoons. I started crying because I was laughing so hard.


This Sunday, I wanted to go to church. I emailed Douglas Dicks, the Presbyterian liaison for the Middle East, who is located in Amman, Jordan. He sent me a list of churches in/near Jerusalem. Last Sunday, I intended to go to one near Bethlehem. At 7:30, my bed felt too good, and I wasn't sure how to get there. This Sunday, I decided to try the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City. I knew about where it was and how to get there. I went to the light rail, and accidentally got off a stop too late. Jaffa-Center is not the stop that takes you to Jaffa Gate. I walked to the Old City and found the church. I walked into the main door and realized I was in the main chapel where they held the service in Arabic. I stayed for about five minutes. I thought I could have this different religious experience. Then I realized that I came here to experience the English service and the community I was told I would find.

I left the sanctuary and went to the chapel where the English service was. I was only 20 minutes late. I walked in to find a beautiful chapel. The architecture was elegant, yet simple. It had high ceilings with beautiful capitals on the columns. At the front of the chapel were a few small stained glass windows. It was a Protestant church just the way I liked it. The sanctuary was actually full because they were installing a co-pastor couple during the service. I arrived just as the bishop began his sermon.
The scripture was the story of the prodigal son. Now this is a story that I have known my entire life. Even though I have always heard and always taught children at camp that you can always get something different out of the Bible, I thought that I had exhausted the interpretations of this story. I have covered it in Sunday School, at youth conferences, at retreats, at camp, at church, at small group, at large group, and any other context imaginable. I have pictured myself as the younger brother, the older brother, and the father. I thought I knew everything about this parable. False. The bishop began his sermon and talked about how important it was that the prodigal son found himself among the pigs. He elaborated on how this was vehemently against his kosher upbringing. It brought a whole new interpretation to the rock bottom that the younger brother hit. Only here, in Israel, would I have found this interpretation. For me growing up in the southern Bible Belt where Jews are virtually non-existent, this was never even considered in all of my studies of this parable. Again, where you come from is so important in forming your worldview and approach to any situation.

During the sermon, the Arabic congregation joined us to celebrate welcoming the new pastors to this church. During the installation portion of the service, I contemplated my own vocational discernment. Could I do what this couple is doing? Could I leave the states to minister in the Middle East? Maybe I could? Maybe I'm called to do that? Maybe not. Only time and God will tell.

After the installation was Communion. I hadn't had Communion since before I left the States. As I was waiting to receive Communion, it hit me. Even though I was thousands of miles away from my family and my church family, this is the one thing that connects us all. No matter what our doctrinal differences may be, the Christian Church celebrates Communion (or the Eucharist or whatever you want to call it). That is the tie that binds us together. I thought about what World Communion Sunday actually means. In this moment I felt so connected to my Christian brothers and sisters. I hadn't realized until now how much I was on a spiritual island and how that was affecting my faith. I needed this connection to others. I needed this like-minded community. Even though I wished that my dad was serving me Communion rather than this Lutheran bishop, I still felt and saw the love in his eyes as he gave me the piece of pita and said, "This is the body of Christ. Take and eat." I found myself emotionally overwhelmed. I went back to my pew and cried. I tried to hold it together, but I couldn't. I was just so happy that I had found this like-minded Christian community that I have been yearning for for the past six weeks. It was the most meaningful and emotional Communion experience I have ever had. My friend, Evan, who is going to Harvard Divinity School next year told later told me that I had had a mystical experience.

After Communion, they asked anyone who was visiting from abroad to stand and introduce themselves. There was a group from a church in the States and a group of audiologists volunteering in Jerusalem. I stood, introduced myself, and thanked them for being the first real Christian community I had found here. In the typical church fashion, the pastor thanked me and told me not to leave without giving them my contact information. After the service, Jenna introduced herself to me. She has been here since August as a member of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps (like the PCUSA Young Adult Volunteer program). She offered to take me around to the Arab neighborhoods that some of my Jewish friends may feel uncomfortable in. I also talked with a pastor from a church in Michigan. We chatted about Christianity in the Middle East and the conflict. It was like I was at Oakland or Lex Pres on any given Sunday. I also met a grad student at Hebrew U who actually lives exactly four floors below me. After seeing so many examples of the Jewish network, it was comforting to experience the Christian network again. I am definitely going to continue attending this church. Next Sunday is a congregational hike/potluck in the West Bank that I am excited to attend.

It has definitely become spring/summer in Israel! The weather is beautiful, and the sun is out! Monday afternoon, I sat outside and did my Hebrew homework as I had lunch with Julia. We were only outside for about an hour. My back, neck, shoulders have never ever been so burnt after one hour. Apparently, the sun is a little bit more intense here than in the States.


Tuesday, I went on my first field trip with my archaeology class. We went to the City of David, which is outside of the Old City near the Temple Mount, which is where the Dome of the Rock currently sits. It was another crazy experience of history and class coming together. We were able to see the walls, tunnels, and even houses of people who lived there in the First Temple Period (~1000-750 BCE). Parts of our information comes from the Bible, while other information comes to us from historical documents found in Israel and Egypt. It is crazy to learn about some place in history in the classroom and then to actually see it the next week. The history and ancient-ness of this city and this country never ceases to amaze me. I don't know if it is the climate, the architectural style, or the materials used that have preserved so many buildings and sites for thousands and thousands of years. Whatever it is, they don't make things like they used to. I think about how young the US is. I can guarantee that in 2,000 years, only a fraction of our civilization will remain, compared to how much still stands and functions in Israel today.
One of the many archaeological sites in the City of David


I don't really have anything fun to mention about today. I have just been in my room trying to finish this blog that I started Saturday. I guess this is where I will put the general thoughts and musings that have been going through my head since I last posted.

I have realized how the 21st century works. We like to compartmentalize. We compartmentalize everything. We to put everything in its own little box with its nice little label so that way we don't actually have to think about things below the surface. Once we know the label, we know a whole host of other details about whatever it is that is labeled. Unfortunately, the real world, people, and situations don't work like that. In reality, everything exists on a spectrum that is full of various nuances. This really became apparent to me as I tried to understand the political spectrum that exists in the Jewish community in America. 

Allow me to do exactly what I just said was bad. For the most part, I would say American Jews are pretty left-leaning. Now, political views regarding Israel and the conflict is on its whole different spectrum. It is difficult for me to understand what it means to be left-wing or right-wing on the conflict because the Arab-Israeli conflict spectrum is a completely separate entity from the typical American political spectrum. I have come to realize, thanks to the help of my friends and roommates, that right-wing is more pro-Israel, while left-wing is more pro-Palestine. However, like I previously said, there are so many variations and nuances on this spectrum that it is difficult to put people at a particular place on this spectrum. 

I also have learned that there is a big difference between American Jews and Israelis on this spectrum. When I asked a friend about about another friend's politics that are very pro-Israel and called them right-wing, this friend claimed that the politics were right of center, at most. I didn't get it. In trying to listen to many voices on this issue, I realized that I have been limited by the language barrier. I have focused mainly on the Rothberg bubble and haven't been able to hear the perspectives of actual Palestinians or Israelis.  From what I understand, Israelis tend to be more right-wing in general and in respect to American Jews. I was struggling to understand how so many American Jews could be so vehemently pro-Israel even when they knew about the human rights violations and oppression that is currently occurring in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. I realized that many of the more pro-Palestine people in our program are those who are not Jewish. I thought that perhaps it was easier for non-Jews to think critically of Israel and about Israel's actions. 

My roommate, Julia, and I had a great conversation about how Jews are educated, especially with respect to Israel. Shira, another roommate, also joined in the conversation as we discussed who chooses what American Jews learn in Hebrew schools, Jewish Day Schools, and any other avenue of Jewish education. The generations with the funds and influence over this curriculum come from a time when the Jews were the victims (i.e., post-WWII, post-Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the 6-Day War in 1967, and the Yom Kippur War in 1973). Since then, with the help of the US, Israel has become more powerful. However the rest of the Middle East may hate Israel, the tables have turned in the past 70 years. Unfortunately, it seems that the American Jews with the power have not really grasped this fact, yet. I'm not trying to say that everyone I have met who has a Jewish education wants to get rid of Palestine and the Arabs. In fact, that is quite far from the truth. For the most part, everyone understands what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza. It just depends on the extent to which they believe the IDF's actions are justified. Julia sent me this link to a great article that helps to explain what I wasn't quite understanding. Basically, it is about the changes in the Jewish population and the fact that the more right-wing Ultra-Orthodox branch of Judaism is most supportive of the IDF's actions against Palestine and is growing more rapidly through reproduction. Perhaps the best way to describe the spectrum of Jewish positions on the spectrum is through the culture of diaspora. Different groups react to the culture of diaspora differently. Some react in the form of Zionism. Others, as Peter Beinart puts it, are more willing to shed their Zionism values before they shed their liberal values. Even with all of this progress made in trying to understand the situation, it is still simply a work in progress.

As I have mentioned a few times before in this post, where you come from determines so much of who you are. I didn't understand until quite recently how much growing up in small towns in the south impacted my personality. Even before I went to W&L and embraced the Honor System, I was always an open, honest, and trusting person. I've never locked my door at school. I've always trusted the people I'm around. My other roommates who are from New York and New Jersey lock their rooms whenever they leave the apartment, even if the apartment door is locked. I just don't. I trust my roommates, my friends, and anyone who would be in my apartment not to go through or steal my stuff. Only living in small communities where I know just about everyone has given me this sense of trust in humanity. I don't fault my roommates at all. They are from the City and haven't had the luxury of trusting everyone around them. It's not a deficit, simply a difference. I have a renewed appreciation for small towns and good communities everywhere.

If you have made it to the end, I applaud you. As the title indicates, this has been one of the longest blog posts I ever want to write. Maybe I've learned my lesson not to wait 3 1/2 weeks before blogging. I just received a card from my Grandma. She says that I know how to express myself with words. If I ever become a pastor of a congregation, they should prepare for some pretty lengthy services. To that, I say, I got it honest from my beloved grandpa. Hope this has been an interesting read despite its length!

Until next time, Shalom.