Greetings from a sunny and 70 degree-ish Jerusalem. Actually, it’s supposed to be sunny with highs in the mid-70’s this week, not to rub it in or anything…
I (Aaron) apologize that we’ve neglected our blog over the past several weeks, but we’ve been quite busy and/or sick, as I will explain.
Since we lasted blogged, we took a trip to the St. George Monastery in Wadi Qelt, traveled to Jericho and saw the Dead Sea, I spent a week with “mild bronchitis,” etc.
Perhaps I’ll begin with St. George’s Monastery.
We traveled to Wadi Qelt, which is a valley/canyon with a stream bed east of Jerusalem, with our friends (and pastors, bonus), Angela and Martin. They’d been once before, but they definitely felt it was worth a second trip.
Traveling there gave us an excellent excuse to get out of town, do something different, and do some sightseeing while still only traveling a few miles.
The canyon doesn’t look nearly as tiring as it actually is to walk down and up. When we arrived, we were overwhelmed by a group of Bedoins, eager to sell us jewelry, clothing, food, drinks, or a donkey ride down the trail. One of them actually tried to put some kind of shawl over my head, maybe assuming that “if you wear it, you buy it.” It was a bit annoying, but you can’t really blame the guys when there aren’t really any other means of employment for them.
We made our way down the valley. It’s pretty incredible how the landscape goes from dry, dusty, rocks and sand near the top to green, lush, and plant-covered near the bottom, where there is a small canal of water.
After many pauses to catch our breath and swat flies (who were attracted by the donkeys’ tracks), we made our way up to the monastery. It was surprisingly big, incredibly pretty and eccentric, and inhabited by some very friendly Greek Orthodox monks.
St. George’s Monastery was actually first established in the 4th century CE, “with a few monks who sought the desert experiences of the prophets, and settled around a cave where they believed Elijah was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:5-6).” The original buildings were mainly constructed in the 5th Century by a game named John of Thebes, but it was named after a monk who lived there named Gorgias of Coziba (perhaps this was the first person nick-named “Gorgeous George”).
In 614 CE, the monastery was attacked by Persians who swept through the valley and killed all 14 monks living there at the time, razing the monastery and etching a history of martyrdom that still plays a very prominent role in the imagery and identity of the monastery.
The chapel in the monastery actually preserved bones of slain monks, and there is an encased corpse of another monk who died there (I’m not sure when or how. I wasn’t really sure how to broach that topic). Apparently some Crusaders tried to rebuild the monastery in the 12th Century, but it wasn’t really rebuilt and inhabited again until the late 1800’s, when Greek monks began living there, which they still do today.
Overall, I feel like we got to see a really underrated gem of a site, and I would definitely recommend adding it to an itinerary in Israel. It’s a short distance away, it’s free, and it includes both beautiful outdoor scenery and rich history.
After our jaunt to the monastery, we drove to the Dead Sea. We weren’t really prepared for swimming/floating, but we were at least prepared for an opportune photo. Here is our evidence that we’ve “been to” the Dead Sea:
After those trips, I had mild bronchitis for a solid week. I experienced my first trip to an Israeli clinic, and I was extremely pleased at how quickly I was able to get an appointment (within two hours of my phone call), how quickly a doctor saw me (I was called in five minutes before my actual appointment time), and how easily and quickly I was able to pick up the prescriptions he wrote for me (the pharmacy was downstairs, and I got my meds in about two minutes). Also, it was all covered under my student health insurance. This is the frightening prospect of a country with socialized medicine.
Other Random Items
I finally made one of my first truly international friends here (i.e., not another American ex-pat, though those are fine). Libby and I have been taking Hebrew language classes two nights a week. The people in my class are from quite a variety of places and backgrounds: some middle-aged Russian ladies, four exchange students from China, a young journalist from Turkey, a med student from Mexico, and six or seven Arabic-speaking folks from Lebanon or the West Bank.
One of these classmates, Salech, has become a fast friend. One day I asked him how to say “good morning” in Arabic. I explained that every week, Libby and I walk through the old city on our way to church, and we always pass an incredibly nice old shop owner who says “good morning” in English to us. The first day we were there, he could automatically tell we were lost, and he told us how to get to the Jaffa Gate. As I explained this to Salech, he started smiling and interrupted, “Does this man have this color hair and this color eyes? Is his shop in this area? That’s my dad!”
After that, Salech invited me to hang out with him in the old city, meet his dad, see his family’s shop, and to show me around. We had a great time. He’s a very bright guy who currently works as a lab tech at a hospital, but he wants to go to grad school in the US or UK to study Emergency and Conflict Management. He wants to work to improve the situation in Israel and Palestine.
Salech has lived in East Jerusalem his whole life, but he doesn’t have citizenship. His sister moved to Jordan to be with her husband, and, after two years away, she can no longer return. I can’t imagine how that plays out during major holidays, but it’s a sad situation, and perhaps all too common. But that’s another topic for a different post (or a discussion in person).
This weekend, we’re going to get together again with Salech and visit his family’s home. I hope to have some picture afterward.
Since our last post, I’ve finally finished my research trips to Tel Aviv. Last week, Libby joined me for a day-in-the-life experience, capturing this photo of my last time in the Histadrut archives:
It’s a little hard to gauge how fruitful my first two archives have been, because 65-70% of the material is in Hebrew, and I haven’t yet taken the time to begin translating it. However, I can confidently state that I have literally thousands of photos. So there must be SOMETHING good in there. Just this week, I finally finished sifting through the docs I photographed in June, when I went to the Kheel Center Library in Ithaca, NY, so I will start slogging through these new Israeli documents very soon.
More than anything, a combination of archival research here, living in the actual area of my studies, following contemporary politics and reading about the historical events leading to today, as well as having time to read other historical literature–this has all really, really enriched my project and the way I’m thinking about and framing my dissertation. I think it’s going to look significantly different than if I’d only done research in the US and never set foot here. Actually, that’ a major understatement. My project would look totally different. I’m exciting to start writing.
Finally, we’ve celebrated both our birthdays over the last week or so. I’m now 30 years old, and Libby is still younger than me. We received two awesome care packages in the mail, fully equipping us with delicious coffee beans and the means to turn them into French Press deliciousness. Thanks, friends!
Tonight we’re continuing to celebrate our birthdays by having a few friends over for cake and card games.
We’ll no doubt be posting again soon, because on our horizon are trips to the Israel Museum, the city of Haifa, and Bethlehem.
I’m sure there are things I’m forgetting to mention, but we have to leave something to talk about on the phone or Skype.