So much has happened since my last update. It is hard to know where to begin, what to tell, and what not to tell.
First, this last week I switched from the beginner class to the intermediate. This was not a gradual switch; it was baptism by fire. So, this last week has been extremely difficult and mentally and emotionally draining. We are assigned about four chapters of Hebrew text each night that we have to learn and know – well enough to recognize orally and reduplicate – for the next day. The next day we often take whatever we read and then retell the story in Hebrew using the future tense, present tense (imperatives and participles), and then the simple past tense (most Hebrew texts use the sequential past). On top of this, they go through an unbelievable amount of new vocabulary everyday. The teachers are very good about bringing it back and continuing to drill it, but it is still incredibly difficult. Needless to say, I was looking forward to Sabbath on Friday night.
One of the great things about switching to the intermediate is the chance to travel more. Basically, we’ll take those chapters we learn and then go to wherever they occurred and re-read the story there. I think I will have to come back someday to learn more about the sites outside of their use in the Biblical story (I certainly wouldn’t mind coming back). We do get some background about the sites, but all of it is in Hebrew and I often miss things.
So places we have gone and the places we will go. The first field trip was with the beginner’s class down to Joffa (or Joppa); we went through the book of Jonah down there and I got thrown into the Mediterranean like Jonah… apparently the lots fell on me.
On the next trip, we followed the path of the ark of the covenant when it was stolen by the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4-6. So, first to Even Ezer (Ebenezer) and Aphek, then to Ashdod and Ekron, then to Beth Shemesh… then to the Elvis café, which has the largest Elvis statue and statue collection outside of Graceland (though I am not sure if the ark of the covenant ever went there?). One of the strangest things I found on this trip were “sea” shells on desert plants. Maybe everyone else knows about these, but they caught me off guard. They are everywhere (pictured the beginning of the post).
On the next trip, we went down to the Negev: Ziklag, Be’ersheva, and G’rar. This was a great trip. Ziklag was cool as there were a lot of wild horses, a few camels, and an Israeli army helicopter that circled us the entire time we were there. I think it was unusual to see a tour bus that far off the road. Be’ersheva was an amazing place, with the largest cistern I have ever been in... also the second cistern I have ever been in. G’rar was beautiful, though there wasn’t much there besides trees and fields of wheat and barley. The Negev is the desert… I drank 4 liters of water and was still dehydrated when we came back.
This week we will go up to the Galilee for three days, which will be exciting. On the weekend, we will go to Bethlehem. And then in our final week we are going to the Old City southern wall excavation, and to Hezekiah’s tunnel. There is also a day of surprise field trip sites… so I’ll let ya’ll know.
(On a related note, English needs to adopt “ya’ll” officially. I really don’t like being unable to differentiate between 2nd person singular and plural.)
Besides this, we are still working on memorizing Jonah and trying to get ready to teach when we come back. All of this is making the time go incredibly fast. Weeks go by like days. I literally just count the Sabbath’s and let the rest of the time just blend and blur into a constant, unbroken mass.
Sabbath here is such a mystical type of experience. I have tried to describe it, but I can’t find the words. It is not found in the strange arbitrary rules many Christians thrust onto it (like no swimming or TV or restaurants or the whole variety of rules designed to make us not enjoy the blessing). But, it is also not in the do whatever you want kind of thing (where people like me usually end up working and getting busy). Nor is it somewhere between these two extremes. It is different. It is wonderful and enigmatic. There is a mystical atmosphere in this place. It’s as though on Friday’s you can feel a blessing descending in the air. Everyone seems to love it: Christian or Jew, religious or non-religious. Everyone seems to relish it.
I know that probably sounded strange and new agey... maybe I can impose more analytic language on it later… maybe not.