(Note: Bill and Lynda Boyle recently returned from a trip to the Holy Land. These are a few of their experiences.)
The BYU Jerusalem Center is spectacular. Hugging the side of a prominent hill at the northern end of the Mount of Olives, the eight-story building is a wonder to behold. While the building is wonderful to look at, the view from the building is even more amazing.
Directly west, across a little valley, lies a beautiful city, constructed entirely from limestone quarried from nearby deposits. The buildings have a beautiful golden hue and when the rising sun first hits the massive walls that surround the city, it is no surprise that it is known as the Golden City.
This is no ordinary hillside. It has been witness to the most dramatic, meaningful and historic events in the history of the world. And the city across the way is no ordinary city. It the most holy city in the world, sacred to Christians, Moslems and Jews.
The name of city, Jerusalem, means the City of Peace. How ironic, since this city has seen more war and bloodshed than any other city.
For many years after the establishment of Israel in 1948, Jerusalem was a divided city. Israeli and Arab tensions resulted in a heavily fortified war zone that split the city in two. However, in the Six Day War of 1967, the city was reunited. Soon afterward, a large swath of land surrounding the Old City and belonging to Jews, Christians, and Moslems, was expropriated and set aside for parks, museums and educational facilities.
There are 15 to 20 parks on this land, which includes the western slopes of the Mount of Olives. The largest of these parks is the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden. For 16 years, one of the most desirable spots sat vacant. It sits just below the prestigious Hebrew University and the Augustus Victoria Hospital.
In 1984, ground was broken on this land for the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. The spectacular facility is known as one of the most beautiful locations in the city, a place where people from all cultures can gather. The Jerusalem Center houses the BYU Study Abroad programs. The students have returned after an absence of several years. More than 80 students recently completed a semester of study at the center and a similar group will arrive this week for the next semester.
I worked for BYU in Jerusalem during the construction phase and through the first year of the building’s operation. In the subsequent 23 years, the landscaping has grown and the building has matured. Beautiful gardens, which feature many of the plants and tools mentioned in the Bible, adorn the grounds. In this land of tradition and custom, a new Jerusalem tradition is for local couples to have their wedding photos taken from the Jerusalem Center verandas.
The local congregations of the LDS Church use the Jerusalem Center as a meeting house on the Sabbath. We were in the Galilee for our Sabbath and did not attend church meetings in Jerusalem. However, we did attend one of the weekly musical concerts at the Jerusalem Center. The concerts are one of the highlights of the arts scene in Israel’s capital city. Performers and spectators alike covet a ticket to perform in or listen to the concert series, which features the finest talent in the Holy Land and beyond.
The concerts are presented from the beautiful auditorium in the Jerusalem Center, which features massive glass walls and a breathtaking view of the Old City of Jerusalem. The architects did their best to ensure that the auditorium matched the view. One of the finest organs in the Middle East was imported from Europe to fill the auditorium with music and the acoustics are wonderful.
After waiting in line for an hour to secure a standby seat, we listened to a wonderful performance by one of Israel’s most acclaimed classical guitarists. He was accompanied by a cellist and a violinist from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. They were joined in several numbers by a flutist and a percussionist.
The audience included a wide range of Jerusalem’s elite. We were some of the very few Americans among the enthusiastic group that crowded the auditorium. It was a wonderful evening. A highlight was hearing a beautiful version of Ava Maria, presented by Jewish musicians at Christmas time in the BYU Jerusalem Center.
Church in the Galilee
The little chapel in the Galilee is the only property owned by the LDS Church in Israel. The other buildings are rented or on leased land, including the BYU Jerusalem Center. The chapel was purchased in 2007 and, soon afterward, became the home of the small Galilee branch. The remodeled home sits high on a hill in the city of Tiberias and has a breathtaking view of the Sea of Galilee.
The Galilee branch is home for a handful of members of people, including a number of Spanish-speaking members of the Church from South America and the Philippines. BYU service couples from Tiberias and Haifa attend the meetings, in addition to a stream of tourists who visit the area.
The anchors of the Galilee branch are Margreta Spencer and the Hansen family. Spencer, as she prefers to be simply known, is a returned LDS missionary from western Canada who moved to Israel in the 1960s. Her brave actions in 1967, helping out in a remote hospital near the front lines of the Six Day War, helped her secure permanent residency and eventually, Israeli citizenship.
The Hansens are a multi-generation family who first moved to Israel in the 1970s. Marlin and Margaret Hansen have passed away, but their children and grandchildren continue to live in Israel. Their daughter-in-law, Ann Hansen, became familiar to a number of San Juan County residents during the 2006 Lebanese War, when she wrote a blog for MissionaryMoms.com about her sons in the Israeli Army.
The view from the pews in the Galilee chapel is unforgettable. Just behind the pulpit is a wall of windows and beyond sits the pastoral splendor of the Galilee region, a panorama that takes in the setting of the major portion of the ministry of Christ.
You can see the Mount of Beatitudes and the tiny villages of Capernaum, Bethsaida, Chorazin and Magdala (home of Mary). These place names are familiar to Christians around the world and what was taught there helps strengthen the faith of millions. What an intimidating task for a speaker, to try to say something meaningful when the simple view behind the speaker holds so much meaning.
We arrived early for church on the Sabbath and noticed immediately that a few things were different. No less than four small boards on the wall held the page numbers of the hymns that would be sung. The first showed the page numbers for the English hymns, the second for Spanish, the third for Hebrew and the fourth for Russian. Beautiful piano music filled the building.
The meeting began when Brother Hansen welcomed everyone, first in Hebrew and then in English. His wife, Ann Hansen, had moved from her place at the piano playing the prelude music and translated his words into Spanish for a small group on one side of the chapel.
Brother Hansen announced that Spencer would lead the music and Ann Hansen would play the piano. His wife translated the words and then moved back to the piano and started to play a beautiful Christmas hymn. It was a bit jarring when the singing began, but then we realized that the small congregation was singing the same hymn in four different languages.
Ann Hansen moved back and forth from the piano to the Spanish-speaking congregants several times through the early portion of the meeting, translating everything that was said or done. The only exception is that she didn’t translate the sacrament prayers. The first was offered in English and the second in Spanish.
Brother Hansen introduced the first speaker, who spoke in English. Ann Hansen dutifully translated the talk into Spanish. The next speaker was a member of the church from the Philippines. Ann Hansen followed her to the pulpit and proceeded to translate the 20-minute speech about repentance into English.
Afterwards, Ann walked to piano and played for the rest hymn. I think that it was a rest hymn for everyone but Ann. Then Brother Hansen stood and announced that the final speaker would be…. Ann Hansen. Ann then spoke eloquently for about 30 minutes, pausing every few sentences to translate her own words into Spanish. Just watching it was exhausting.
After she played the piano for the closing hymn, Ann met everyone and made sure all of the visitors felt welcome.
I hope that she went home after church and had a long nap.