Greetings from Jerusalem! A plan that started some 2 years ago is now a reality. Although, it still feels a bit surreal.
My trip here was long, but uneventful. Granted, it was made it bit more comfortable with my business class upgrade from Charlotte to Paris (Executive Platinum on American Airlines has a few advantages). I arrived at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport late Thursday afternoon and (per JUC’s recommendation) took a Sherut (shared taxi shuttle) to my hotel in the Old City.
This was my first experience in a Sherut. Basically, it’s a reasonably priced ($20) fixed rate shuttle van that collects passengers at the airport until full and then heads off to their various destinations. The closest comparison that I have to it would be “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” Many Jerusalem streets are very narrow and crowded. It’s also REALLY hilly (More on that later). As it was, all of the twisting, winding roads coupled with acceleration/deceleration genetic to taxi drivers worldwide left me feeling pretty queasy. Of course, I was also the last stop. I was thankful that I had chosen a seat at the front of the van. Had I been at the back, I am confident one of us would have been cleaning up a mess before it was all said and done.
A note to my future self: cars (and taxis) are not allowed in most of the Old City. This meant that I had to lug my 2 rolling suitcases, large rolling duffle bag and backpack from the New Gate to my hotel on cobblestone roads—a distance of about 200 yards. Needless to say, I was ready for a real bed and a decent night’s sleep.
On Friday morning, I was able to check in at JUC. The campus is located a few hundred yards south of the Jaffa Gate on Mt. Zion. The distance from my hotel to the campus is about ¾ miles. I asked the hotel desk if it were possible to have a car take me there, to which they replied that cars are not allowed in the Old City and that JUC is “very close.” So, this meant lugging the same bags over the cobblestones a much longer distance (also down and up a hill). I decided 2 trips would be the wiser move.
Upon arrival I was greeted by JUC’s Director of Student Services, Diane Wright. She welcomed me to JUC and showed me to my room. My first impression of JUC was “that’s a lot of flippin’ steps!” My room is on the top floor of the main building. There are 60 steps (stairs) from the main entrance to my room. The closest bathrooms are 33 stair steps down. Nothing on the campus seems to be on the same level, so getting anywhere involves multiple sets of steps. As a side note, my iPhone recorded that today I climbed 44 floors, walked 5.5 miles and had almost 14,000 steps!
As Diane helped me Sherpa my bags to the summit of the campus, she told me that she had put me in the “bigfoot Jesus room”. I soon learned why. A student from 1997 painted a mural on part of my domed ceiling. The scripture reference is Luke 24:50-51 and depicts Jesus’ ascension to Heaven. What makes the mural unique is the interesting body proportions. Jesus appears to have some size 14 EEE feet. What’s really nice about the rooms is that with the door opened there is a very nice cross breeze that blows from an outdoor terrace, down the hall and through my room. Since there is no air conditioning, it makes the evenings more pleasant.
Friday was a pretty lowkey day spent unpacking and exploring the campus. The only organized activities were a Shabbat dinner—a standard Friday evening event, and a student get-to-know-you event. I am happy to report that I am not the oldest student here.
Saturday was orientation and registration day. JUC’s President, Dr. Paul Wright, gave us an overview of the courses and faculty. What makes this university unique is that they pull from recognized experts from other universities around Israel. They are all tops in their fields of expertise. I am even more impressed with the caliber of the faculty than I was before I came. I am signed up for four classes (14 credit hours)—which is a pretty solid graduate level load. My courses are:
- Archeology of Jerusalem I
- Physical Settings of the Bible
- Biblical Hebrew I
- Text Studies in Midrash, Mishna and Gemara: The Shared Heritage of Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity
I am sure I will have more to share on these classes and my professors as I get into it.
During the orientation, Dr. Wright shared with us some insights on Psalm 122. This is one of the 15 Psalms of Ascent. The first 2 verses read:
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”
Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
He told us that we know from geography, archeology and other sources that the old walls of Jerusalem passed through the JUC campus. As I write this, my feet are standing within Jerusalem’s walls. I am very glad (and humbled) to be here.