A Few Highlights from our Journey to Jerusalem

From Brooke's Journal Entries August 2 and 3

"At JFK we rode the airbus to our new gate and waited patiently with a group of Hasidim we spotted in the airport. Hasidim is the plural term for a Hasidic Jew. There was quite a group and most of them, I would say, were younger. Max suspects they were New York Jews heading to Jerusalem and it appeared to me it was their first time. At the airport in Vienna the men put on their prayer shawls and prayed in the direction of Jerusalem as Max told me Orthodox Jews do whenever they “go up to Jerusalem”. I tried not to stare, but it was so fascinating. I’m going to have to figure out what I feel like is the most appropriate way to observe religious observers. They are all over the place so you can’t really avoid them, and I want to be able to learn as much from their observance as I can, but I also want to be respectful of their exchanges with God. It’s one of the areas of my photography that I don’t know how to deal with. Do you ask the man at the western wall if you can take his picture and hope he acts normal (or doesn’t give you a dirty look), or do you take his picture sneaked behind the corner, or do you just stand out in the open and take his picture like a big gawker? I don’t know yet.

Max and I listened to a BYU professor, Dan Peterson, give a lecture not too long ago about his Islamic Translation series and as he spoke of how to interact with other faiths he said to always leave room for “Holy Envy”. He spoke of Holy Envy as a way to observe the goodness in other faiths that you might want to adopt into your own worship. (The other tenant, he said, of respectfully and most fairly learning about other faiths was to go first to its believers – the third I can’t remember…) In the airport I was struck with their fierce observance of what they believed was asked of them by God. It’s a feeling I’ve had ever since getting here, that perhaps I could do more to perform what I believe and have it always in the forefront of my concerns. I don’t mean perform as in display my discipleship at every street corner (as some would argue many people in Jerusalem do) but to be diligent about studying the scriptures, more fervent in my prayers and more observant of my blessings. It’s a really good thing."

"I forgot to mention that after we got off the plane in New York, our first stop, my overstuffed carry on bag burst at the zipper. That’s right, just burst. I carried an open faced sandwhich of crap around with me the rest of the trip. We didn’t loose anything (that we know of) so all turned out well. We actually started to think things like that were funny at this point, which was good because the bag debacle only got worse. "

"I was pretty good about making “manifests” for all of the stuff in our luggage, and as it turned out, we almost needed them. We pulled off our small green bag right when we showed up at the baggage carrousel, but then we waited and waited and waited without any sign of our other three bags. THREE. Like I mentioned, at this point we were so glad to get there and not terribly worried about our stuff for whatever reason that we thought it was reasonably comical. Who looses 3 of their 4 bags? Why not all of them? Why not just one? Anyway, we made a claim for them and headed to the street where we boarded a “sherut” ( a shared taxi) that cost of 64 shekels to get to the central bus station of the old city. In hindsight the loosing of the bags was actually a boon for us – I don’t know how we would have carried our five carry one bags plus 4 giant suitcases on the taxi and then through the streets and then up the hills to our apartment. The airport found our bags the next day and delivered them to our house. If I could have requested that things be delivered that way I would have, so it was just another one of the tender mercies we’ve encountered in our brief time in Israel."

" We arrived at the Holy Land Hotel, just outside of Herod’s gate into the old city hungry and tired. But more hungry than tired. We both took showers, strapped on our walking sandals, and headed for the old city. For whatever reason there are only a few gates that tourists generally enter the old city through. It’s not that you can’t go in the other gates, they just aren’t always safe and people don’t usually do it. It’s interesting to me that the guidebooks don’t mention that…I think they should, but anyway. We skipped past Herod’s Gate, that is used primarily by the Arabs , and entered the Old City through Damascas Gate.

(I drew you a picture)

Max and I ate diner at Pizzeria Basti where I had a cheese pizza with onions and Max, my brave one, had the lamb kebabs (and to date, our stomachs have been just fine believe it or not. Maybe we’ve grown an immunity…) After a much needed snack we felt like we had enough energy to explore a little bit. After wandering through the Muslim quarter for a while we remembered that there is an elaborate ceremony when they close the door at night to The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is where many in Christendom think that Christ was crucified and buried. They have built a large elaborate church around the holy spots and many different sects have claimed different parts of the church. At one point the fighting in the church was so bad amongst the different Christian sects (Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopan, Syrian, etc) that in 1192 Salaadin (a conquering Arab ruler) gave the responsibility of closing the church at night to a Muslim family, without a dog in the fight as it were. A descendant of one of those families has closed the door ever since and we had heard mention of a giant key involved.

We found the church about 45 minutes before closing and we were able to briefly go inside the church. We had been there last year during the day and it was magnificent, but hot and crowded and sunny. At night it’s so much more subdued and less crowded. We were able to go in the holiest place in the church this time ( the line was too long last time) and we were able to see the place where they say Christ’s body was laid after he died. We waited outside on the steps for a while and at about 8:30 a young Muslim man came out to close one the two giant doors. At 8:45 he came back, rapped on the door with the heavy knocker, put out a ladder and closed the single open door halfway. At 9 pm he came back out and closed the door, climbed the ladder to a key hole type thing, moved a type of metal rod into a secure slot , climbed down the latter and handed it through a mini door at the bottom to a priest inside, and signaled that the show was over. It wasn’t quite as elaborate as I’d heard, and I didn’t exactly see a giant key, but it was still an impressive piece of ritual to behold.

We dragged ourselves home after that through the dark streets of Jerusalem. It is really different at night. And we can’t believe how safe we feel. Our time in Jordan really acclimated us to this region and when we didn’t have BYU rules of death insisting on our demise at every turn we actually really enjoyed ourselves. We are still being cautious, but we are having a bit more curiosity this time around."


  1. Brooke--your journal is fabulous and more than publishable--it is brilliant! Keep it up. I know what you mean by "Holy Envy"--I experienced that two years ago at Pechersk Lavra in Kyiv, one of the holiest sites in Orthodoxy, when the look of pure JOY on the face of this youngish, bearded priest swinging his censer and ringing those bells, evoked this emotion in me as he blessed the throng.

    I cannot wait to see some of what you describe, you angel lady.

  2. "I carried an open faced sandwhich of crap around with me the rest of the trip."

    I laughed right out loud at that!!!

    I'm so glad you guys are here. I feel bad we haven't had you over for a welcome-to-Jerusalem dinner yet. We're such bad neighbors. But now that things have slowed down a bit at the "Sowards Bed-n-breakfast" *wink*, maybe we can have you over sometime!

  3. Brookie, I love reading about your adventures! Can't wait to read more :) Hope you two are wonderful, we missed you today at the Gibbons gathering. Love you guys!