Saturday, May 11, 2013


Thoughts on the Holy City:
-There is a wide spectrum of religion and spirituality in Jerusalem. I mostly worked with Israelis, spending little time with Arabs and my exposure was to Jews. Most of the people I worked with were secular, not religious at all, although in other labs there were a fair amount of Orthodox Jews as well. But I would say that the academic field is largely dominated by secular Jews. Next you get Orthodox, the Jews that wear the kippa, eat kosher, go to synagogue, and observe Shabbat, holidays, and other Jewish law. I had friends like Moshe and Shimon and the Kovalskis who were Orthodox. Women always wore modest clothes and skirts, and married Orthodox women wore head scarves.
Finally, there were the ultra-Orthodox Jews, the Haredi who dressed up in black suits and hats and had ringlets and beards. These Jews often spoke Yiddish and didn't associate with others, living off the welfare system in order to study Torah all day and incurring the wrath of most other Israelis. They had a lot of children and were poor.  I don't think I ever talked to the Haredi except once when I was lost in Mea Shearim late at night and asked directions to the Central Bus Station.
Some of the Orthodox women were dressed so beautifully, especially with the head scarves.  In a lot of ways they looked similar to LDS women, especially the American Orthodox Jews, with their knee-length skirts and modest tops. But they had figured out how to do it right and they made a whole style out of it.
The few things I remember about my interaction with Muslims is that they all fasted for the whole month of Ramadan and that Friday afternoons are really busy in the Old City as everyone goes to the mosque. The prayer calls 5 times a day! I remember my Muslim friend Abed telling me how Jerusalem was a holy, spiritual city and there was just something special about living here (he was from northern Israel).
-Culturally, being in Israel was sometimes tough because people were often abrupt and very straightforward with how they felt. Customer service was non existent!  Driving was I remember going to my bank to deposit a check and it took almost an hour! No one knew what line I should go in, who I was supposed to talk to, and when I finally did find someone that would help me, she stood there with the check typing in her computer for probably 15 minutes! Ha!  I thought depositing a check is one of the simplest functions a bank could do! But that is completely characteristic of trying to get anything "simple" done in Israel.
-I felt very safe in West Jerusalem, where I lived and worked. I could walk home late at night (and often did, especially with the excruciating experience of missing the last bus to home from the Central Bus Station at midnight). The Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem around the Mt Scopus campus and BYU Jerusalem Center were another story, not even I would take the risk of walking in those areas at night. At one point when I was there, Israel had a mini-war with Hamas and the Gaza Strip fired hundreds of rockets into Israel and towards Jerusalem. Only a few got close enough to set off alarms, when I then ran to the bomb shelter across the way from my room, but they didn't reach Jerusalem and no one was hurt.
-Food! Expensive and hard to come by. Falafel and shwarma and pizza were virtually the only fast food available, and the markets were much smaller than American groceries, typically two or three stunted aisles.  Hummus was found in abundance. I always had trouble deciphering between yogurt and sour cream.  I loved eating fruits and vegetables only in season; I would gorge for a few weeks on what was available and as soon as I couldn't stand any more, it would disappear from the markets, replaced by some new fruit or vegetable. Homemade cheeseburgers were our favorite non-kosher thrill.
-There was tension between Arabs and Jews but I found more tolerance among the more educated. Shikma in the lab talked to me about how Abed was Arab but treated no differently from any other. But my photo shop Israeli friend told me how he hated all Arabs because they are trying to kill him, and trying to talk reason to his all-encompassing ethnic prejudice made no difference. There was very little intermingling and friendship between the two cultures. I found that often the Arabs were much friendlier and more open than the Israelis.
-I can't not say something about all the holy sites in Jerusalem! I visited them many times, holy sites of all three religions. Particularly the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with its masses of people moving through, kissing the shrines and shedding tears, the Western Wall with the tiny prayer notes stuffed into crevices and prayerful, rocking Jews, the Dome of the Rock with its tight security and intricately decorated tiles. My favorite was always the Garden Tomb, tucked around the corner and the refuge from the bustle of the city.  With a group, we would sing hymns, with a friend, we would sit in the shade on one of the many benches and listen to other groups sing, read scriptures, speak in tongues, or otherwise worship. Some of the weeks we would attend Shabbat servies at the Shirah Hadashah feminist synagogue, where they sang some of the most beautiful and inspiring songs I have ever heard.
-Other random things about Jerusalem: all buildings made of limestone, the terrain was so hilly, there always seemed to be some kind of haze over the city, taxi cabs were a necessity especially on Friday nights.
-Of course Jerusalem is rich with history and diversity and religion, but one of the most amazing things to me probably was that it became my own. Between the various houses across the city where I dogsat, the people I knew, places I worked, or sites visited, I walked or bussed most neighborhoods and streets of Jerusalem. I knew that city. It was not only rich with world history, but rich with my history as well. Months would pass and my friends and life would have completely changed, but the streets I walked remained the same and held the memories and people that my current companions would know nothing of.
The first few weeks I would be hit with moments of giddiness, I was living in the Holy City!  Late at night, waiting at bus stops, I would be overwhelmed with how lucky I was.  But it soon settled into routine, when walking through the Old City was mostly to find a cheap falafel and climbing the Old City walls at night was our "It's a weekend, what should we do for fun?" activity. I arrived having no clue of the layout of the city. I remember being dropped off by the sherut at 3am my first night and not having any idea where I was. Then a month later, passing by the same street and knowing exactly where I was in the city, it was a total transformation. It became my home, my town.


Summary of my time in Jerusalem and lessons learned
Jerusalem can be divided up into several segments.

1. May-June, spending time with Rebekah Call, Joseph Call, Gregory Marsh, Breanne White, and the LDS families. I loved Jerusalem, wanted to be out seeing things all the time. I worked in Yifat Prut's primate lab with Matlab.  It was my happiest time in Jerusalem, I loved life!
2. July, Hebrew Ulpan every day. All the LDS Hebrew U students left and I spent time with my new close friend from Ulpan, Taylor Traficanti. I also spent time with James and Kindra Heilpern, the LDS power couple, and other people from my Ulpan class.
3. August-September, Aaron Edwards and Patrick Monson arrived in Jerusalem. We all dogsat Turk together for a month and once again a very happy time because I had my little "family" where we would cook together and read scriptures together.  I finished working for Yifat.
4. September-January, survival mode. I was feeling the tension of Jerusalem and was more ready to go home. I spent more time in my apartment at Givat Ram, watching movies and resting rather than going out in the city. I escaped with Aaron to Ein Kerem on the outskirts of the city to visit Miriam Griell, our LDS Austrian friend volunteering with severely handicapped children. I worked in Adi Mizrahi's lab with mice studying olfaction and neurogenesis and although it was sometimes very stressful, I worked hard.

I learned much in the 8 months I was there. The first few months were characterized by a boost in confidence. I saw a vision of what I could be and felt the hope and capability of accomplishing it. It was a much needed encouragement and I felt what I believe was the grace of God working powerfully in my life to uplift and inspire. I could be confident and full of love! It was possible!
Being with the families was important for me too, as I spent a lot of time with several wonderful families and watched how they each brought the Spirit into their home.
During one of the transition periods, I felt so strongly that it was time for me to buckle down and study. Read the news, read good books, learn how to assimilate knowledge. Then I received the gift of Aaron in my life, who taught me exactly how to do this and infused the passion for it in my life.
Later on I learned about patience and finding joy each day, when it became a little harder to live in Jerusalem.  My time was set, and all I could do was relax and not look forward to January but rather live in present. I learned about the beauty and glory of knowledge!  How important it was to learn about all things and how it was all eternal. I discovered documentaries and audiobooks and good movies in my little room in Givat Ram.  Although in each period I had some of the most incredible experiences and feelings and growth, my last few months I am pretty convinced were some of the most life-changing, even though it felt at the time like a comparatively flat period. How to assimilate and appreciate knowledge in all of its many many forms is a life-long skill I acquired, and although I am sure my ability and desire to do so will fluctuate, the foundation is now there to build from.

Final Reflections and Pictures

Jerusalem was one of the most influential periods of my life.  I remember when I initially was trying decide whether or not to go. I first mentioned it to my parents and my mom said "I absolutely forbid it" and my dad just shook his head and laughed, knowing that it was one of my crazy ideas that they didn't like but there wasn't anything they could do to stop me. Even when I made the final decision to go, I still felt uneasy myself. Not at all about the danger of living in the Middle East, but more about the uncertainty of whether or not it would be useful, enjoyable, and worth the delay in education.  I always knew it was more for the adventure and that the neuroscience in this case was to pay the bill.  Despite the uncertainty, it turned out to be all that I could have hoped for: exhilarating, enlightening, and cultural.
FHE at the Joseph, Becky, and Greg's place

Greg's birthday

One of the most amazing nights was playing sardines at midnight just outside the Old City walls. It was the most amazing location and we ran around for hours in this big park, which I later found out was the valley of Gehinnom, or the valley of hell.

My Ein Kerem Israeli friend, Or Faigenbaum. I met him on the bus my first week and we hung out a few times. I took him through the Old City and it was the first time that this Israeli had ever seen the Western Wall!

Sneaking onto the Old City walls at night to watch concerts. We jumped over the gate that closes the ramparts walk for the night and were nervous about being shot, but it was the most amazing view and feeling to be up on the walls with no other people at night

Meteor showers in the middle of the desert with Moshe and Patrick

Pita! I ate so many pitas!

Heretical tours with Avi Bell, the ridiculously smart lawyer and Arabs throwing rocks from the Old City walls

 Jerusalem Center branch parties

Mary's Well, where we climbed through the tunnel. I could barely fit and it was so scary the first time! But then we got headlamps and did it again with all the Jerusalem Center family kids.

Ein Kerem was were we went to escape from the stress of the city and to visit Miriam and her handicapped children and eat gelato

path to Miriam's

Turk, the dog that I dogsat for a month. He was an autistic dog, didn't really like the 4 walks a day he got to do and never wanted to be pet! 

 View from the JC balconies

I love figs so much and ate so many during fig season!

Relief Society dinner

Miriam, Aaron, and Moses!

After Hezekiah's tunnel, which we did in the DARK with no headlamp!

Aaron and I used these pictures to memorize the names of all the JC students so Aaron could call them by name the first time he taught Sunday School

"Harry Potter" who lives under the stairs in Ethiopia

Miriam and Moshe getting cozy

Aaron eating a pomegranate 

Lab Work

What about the lab work?

From May to August I worked in Yifat Prut's lab, sitting at a computer all day and analyzing recordings taken from the monkeys Hugo and Chalva years ago. They were cortical recordings from the primary, supplementary, and premotor cortexes with stimulation I think in the peduncle, thus looking at the cerebellothalamocortical motor pathway.  From this data, I sorted out "single unit" responses from the multi unit activity using various programs created in Matlab. After sorting, I analyzed the single unit spikes and grouped them according to the response pattern of excitation/inhibition after stimulation.

Examples of what my analysis process looked like:

This lab was good for me because I learned some basics of Matlab and programming and by the end I created my own simple program that calculated correlation and p-values, and produced graphs! That was an amazing accomplishment for me, who seems to have no intuitive inclination towards programming.

September-January: Adi Mizrahi's lab working specifically with Yoav Livneh. This lab was much better for me because I was able to plan and conduct my own experiments with little supervision other than being trained. I studied neurogenesis in olfaction, particularly adult-born granule cells and their spine density and synaptophysin (marker of presynaptic activity, thus how well these new granule cells are making connections with other cells) in enriched areas.
So, I took my little MOL2.3 mice with several GFP-labeled glomeruli in the olfactory bulb, and I injected a lentivirus with GFP-synaptophysin into the rostral migratory stream to label those adult-born neurons. This surgery was nuts!  I actually performed brain surgery, opening up their head and drilling holes into their little mouse skulls and injecting a virus, and almost all my mice lived from it!  Then for weeks or months I gave these mice a specific odor in their cages so that the labeled glomeruli would be "enriched".  When the enrichment period was up, I perfused (opened up the chest cavity and injected paraformaldahyde into their hearts, thus killed them) the mice, sliced up the brains, and performed immunohistochemistry to enhance my GFP signals.  I mounted the slices on microscope slides and then took pictures of the neurons with Naomi at the confocal microscope. Finally, I analyzed the data, tracing dendritic segments and counting spine heads to figure out the density. Phew!  It was a lot of work and the results were mildly satisfactory, but I learned good techniques and good patience working with all those abrupt Israelis!  No one seemed to ever have the time or the desire to help me but I forged through and "completed" my project that Adi and Yoav told me was impossible to finish in my short time. It was a good feeling.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Jesus Trail

There is a trail I found out about a few months ago and determined to do before I left Israel.  The trail is a 4 day hike from Nazareth to Capernaum and is called the "Jesus Trail".  The trail was created a few years ago and is supposed to recreate the experience Jesus had when leaving his home town of Nazareth and walking to the Sea of Galilee (and specifically Capernaum) to preach.

I decided to do as much as I could in two days, walking from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee (I figured Tiberias was enough, as long as I made it to the sea).  And so with my backpack, peanut butter, granola, apples, water, firestarter, flashlight, ipod, and guidebook, I took two buses early Friday morning to get from Jerusalem to Nazareth (about 2.5 hours north).

Starting off the adventure, on the bus ride to Nazareth, I met Rami. Rami is an Arab Christian from Nazareth and it was fascinating talking to him. He works during the week in the Old City in Jerusalem as a "detective" for the Israeli police.  He did his 3 year army service like all the Israelis, even though he is Arab.  Nazareth is an Arab city, 1/3 Christian and 2/3 Muslim, and I asked him about the tension between Arab Christians and Arab Muslims.  He said there was tension and the Muslims resented the Christians for things like Rami's Israeli army service.  He told me how they lived in separate neighborhoods in Nazareth and pointing to one side of the street we were walking on, he said, "this is a Muslim neighborhood" and pointing to the other side of the street, "this is a Christian neighborhood". Rami did not have any Muslim friends.
I officially started the trail at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the church that commemorates when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary.

This is the inside of the Church
 The Basilica of the Annunciation is special because all inside and outside the Church are hundreds of mosaics depicting the Annunciation.  Each mosaic is from a different country, each showing their cultural representation of the event.  I took a picture of the Vatican, as I particularly love that the Pope is the dominating figure in the mosaic, haha.

All the mosaics

From the Church, the trail leads through the city of Nazareth, climbing up hundreds of steps to reach the outskirts.  Even in this first part, I already was lost!  All I knew was that I needed to go up, and I hoped that as long as I climbed up, I would eventually find the trail marker.  Phew, it worked!

This is the first trail marker to lead me out of Nazareth! White and Orange stripes

As I was leaving, the Muslim prayer call (5X a day) began, echoed through the hills, and followed me out the city.

And so it begins! I leave Nazareth and am immediately in beautiful agricultural countryside.

Sheep and their Shepherd in the Galilee

I quickly had my first of many encounters with cows, passing right through several of them.  As I did, they all turned and stared and I become a little unsettled.  I assumed cows were friendly but I had very little experience with them.  As I walked by, images from the Temple Grandin movie flashed through my mind. Temple could lay down right in the middle of a herd of cattle and she was just fine!  I would be too... right?
Luckily I made it through.
After walking for a while through these fields, and having not seen a trail marker for an hour or so, I suddenly walked into a major road!  
I wasn't sure what the expect on the trail, but I knew that I wasn't supposed to be by any big roads at this point.  Second time being lost, just a few hours into it, but this time I was quite a bit out of the way.  With my maps and critical thinking skills, I guessed which road I was by, and decided to follow it for a little bit to the next city that was on my designated trail.  
(see town on hill off in the distance?)

When I arrived to the next town, I approached a father and his 5 year old son working on the car in their driveway.  I asked the father, "Where is Cana?" because Cana was the next big town I was to pass through on the trail.  He spoke no english but offered me a chair and called out his wife, who brought me a glass of water.  He then proceeded to draw me a map and explain to me how to get to Cana. The whole time the little boy stood staring at me, and whenever I would look at him, he smiled and turned away shyly. So cute!  They were a very kind, helpful Arab family.
I followed his directions as best I could until I came to a mosque that I recognized from my book!  And underneath were those blessed white and orange stripes leading my way. 
the mosque I recognized

the house of the Arab family who helped me

a beautiful Muslim cemetery in the town

Finally in Cana.  Cana is another Arab city, this is also the same Cana where Jesus performed his first recorded miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding.  I walked through "Street of the Churches", lined with several different Christian churches commemorating the miracle.  Also in Cana, I was greeted at every corner by children following me and calling out "Shalom, Shalom!".  A couple of boys even asked me to take their picture, so I did :)

Leaving Cana was exhausting, with a continuous climb upwards. I had finished only about half the hiking for the day, but I was done.  My feet hurt, my legs ached, I was tired and hungry for something other than peanut butter and apples (this craving would only worsen).  But I knew my destination for that night and I took a break and then continued on.
laying in the grass, on a break

pretty flower

The next stretch was in the countryside again, this time passing through seemingly endless olive tree groves.

A critter hiding in the rocks. In this picture it looks like a bear, but it was much smaller than that!

All this time I was alternating between navigation, trying to stay on or find my way back to the trail, scrutinizing the surrounding rocks and trees for trail markers, and listening to the New Testament Gospels on my iPod.  I wondered if Jesus felt this tired and sore on the walk.  I mean, I know they did a lot more walking thousands of years ago, but he was just a carpenter, right? So did he stick to the little town of Nazareth most of the time, and then when it came time to travel, it was just was painful for him as it was for me?  I could suddenly understand how he could sleep in the middle of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. He was probably exhausted!   
Also, I was doing this hike in January, with sunshine and 70 degrees. I couldn't ask for better weather.  What if he were doing the walk in the summer, with blistering heat, up and down and up and down the Galilee hills?  Yikes!  I felt sympathy for him, because after all he did, he was also a man subject to the same bodily sufferings as the rest of us.  And as children called out and swarmed me, I wondered if it was at all similar to Jesus passing through towns later on in his ministry, with people following him and calling out to be healed.   I was starting to get a better sense for how he might have felt.
The sun was sinking behind the hills and I still had a few kilometers to go.  I had gotten lost once again (how did I keep missing those trail markers?) and spent a fair amount of time cutting straight through plowed fields and olive tree groves. But I knew where I was and made it to my sleeping spot just after dark: the Yarok Az Goat Farm.

They put me in their "dorms" which was a little shack outside with several beds, along with another Jesus trail hiker, Miriam from Germany.  I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to go immediately to sleep, but I stayed up just long enough (until 8.30pm) to take a hot shower (absolutely wonderful) and have pasta with Miriam and a farm volunteer, Gil.  Gil was the nicest Israeli I think I have ever met.  He gave me a hug and said that people should hug more often (so completely un-Israeli), and told Miriam and me about his beliefs in good people and a heaven where we all came from and would return to after this life.  He said that people needed to remember that more, and he felt like it was his job to remind them.  
I went to bed to the farm sounds of dogs barking, sheep baaing, and chickens crowing.  The next morning I was able to see just how beautiful this little family farm was.

my favorite goat. he likes to be pet


my dorm shack
my bed

 Before I left, I added my name to their Jesus trail wall, forever leaving my mark on the Yarok Az goat farm.
adding a string from my name to Utah

Jesus Trail wall: where the hikers come from.  Tons from Germany

me pointing to my pin in Utah (even though it looks like I am pointing to Israel)

As sore and tired and unwilling as I felt, I left the peace of the goat farm to begin my second day of hiking. The second day turned out to be my favorite.
I passed a beautiful forest...

a Holocaust memorial...

and walked for miles through cattle pasture, away from all roads and towns in what was my favorite part of the hike.  I remember I kept hearing a noise above me, thinking it must be an airplane or a car nearby, and I look up to see that it is the swoosh of a flock of birds above me instead. I loved the quiet and the green and of course, the cows.

those hills in the distance: Horns of Hattin

I loved how when I passed, they all stopped to stare at me!

From the cattle pastures, I hiked up the "Horns of Hattin", two peaks that offered a tremendous view of the valleys below and my first glimpse of the Sea of Galilee!
The Horns of Hattin are famous because it is where the final decisive Crusader battle took place.  Saladin and his army defeated the Crusaders here and drove them out of the Holy Land. 
It was also the first time I saw other hikers on the trail and it was clearly a hotspot for Israeli families to come on the weekend.  I could see why. It was spectacularly green with an amazing viewpoint.

view from one side

top of the horn

hard to see through the haze but there is the Sea of Galilee!

top of the horns

after hiking down, showing the steep trail

the hike down was a little steep!

After the Horns, I walked along a country road for a long time, cut through more olive tree groves, and ate delicious oranges off of a tree (much better than peanut butter).  I reached the Sea and cut down through the city of Tiberias to the Central Bus Station to catch a bus home to Jerusalem.

I hiked about 25 miles in 2 days and felt that I had at least a glimpse of the same scenery and feelings that Jesus might have had 2000 years ago.  I felt a huge sense of relief when I could finally see the Sea of Galilee and imagined that it was probably the same for him.  After all, Jerusalem was where Jesus went went required, but the Galilee was where he made his home. The Galilee was the country that he loved.