When you think of Jerusalem’s landmarks, you think of the Dome of the Rock, the ancient city walls, the Holy Sepulcher, Hebrew University, and David’s Tower. Yet surprisingly, in a city full of universally recognized landmarks, the BYU Jerusalem Center has earned its spot on the Jerusalem Landmark Hall of Fame. Strangers around the city know where the center is and rave about its beauty. Here are some brief points that shed some light on the miraculous development of the JC:
*The first two Westerners to cross the Israeli border after the 67’ war were two BYU faculty members.
*After staking out available property for the site, church authorities showed Pres. Kimball the various spots. After showing him the last land spot, Pres. Kimball walked past it and onto a spot of land that was not available and said, “This is where we will build.”
*The church received a lot of opposition. In fact, there are over 20 binders filled with articles about the JC construction and the resulting controversy: People held protests outside during construction; currency circulated throughout the city was stamped with “Take your missionaries and go home, Mormons”; City members boycotted the JC building contractors by telling them that they will never again build in Jerusalem if they build the JC; the land was owned by a Palestinian family who agreed to BYU’s leasing as long as BYU committed to sending 10 Palestinian students to BYU each year on a full-ride scholarship; no proselytizing of any sort is allowed by Mormons in Israel, if they do then BYU has agreed to immediately leave—there are even some ultra-orthodox Jewish “spies” that have pretended to investigate the church in order to trick members into proselytizing; the first group of students to live here had to sneak in overnight and into an incomplete Center.
*Now that all is said and done, citizens flock to the JC every week for free concerts put on by renowned artists who wait several months in order to play in the JC’s beautiful auditorium. The JC is built to act like a living organism—the natural sunlight permeates the center, creating moving shadows and distinct shades of light. The JC was built right into the mountain, as if the mountain’s layers have been peeled aside. Windows engulf the walls, bringing the outside city into the Center. Even the corridors that lead to the student dorms resemble streets in the Old City, with uneven roofs, streams of sunlight, and stony parameters. The JC architect (who was threatened to be boycotted) went on to build the foreign ministry and Supreme Court, due to the reputation he gained for crafting the beautiful workmanship of the JC. He even changed his company’s name to MOR-company, the first three letters of Mormon.
*The mountain we are on is full of ancient burial tombs, and Israeli law requires contractors to stop digging/developing if they find a tomb. It’s quite the miracle that there were no tombs where JC contractors dug. Only surrounding the Center. Our director said that this is because God has preserved this land for centuries.
*There is nothing like the main auditorium. Sacrament meeting is spectacular in the auditorium. In fact, aesthetically speaking, last Sunday was the best sacrament meeting I have ever attended (and I am not one to exaggerate). Jerusalem is going through a drought and many prayers have been offered for rain. During sacrament we experienced a magnificent rain storm. Deep gray clouds bellowed above the old city, the rain bathed and darkened the dusty hills and house tops, and, best of all, the speakers spoke accompanied by both the Spirit and huge lightning bolts that sprawled across the sky in the background. We had a beautiful violinist play in between speakers, who was also accompanied with rolling thunder and electrifying cracks in the sky. Everything came together to put on a powerful show that I will never forget.
The Jerusalem Center truly is a landmark amongst landmarks.
So what have I done to fully take advantage of the miracle-laden center? Partied. While the days are filled with adventures in the city, the nights are filled with equally intensive partying. We have dance parties, dress up parties, FHE activities, movie nights, giant games of Signs, Basketball, Volleyball tournaments, ping pong, foosball, choir practices, talent shows, well-known forum speakers, massive study groups and firesides (we had Bishop Burton and his counselors speak to us a couple weeks ago—He’s a big guy with a big hand-shake and a big heart). To give you a more detailed example of the sort of fun we have here, let’s talk about Valentine’s Weekend:
Friday the 13th was kicked off with a dance where all the girls dressed up as Zombies and other creepy things (lots of dark makeup, crazy hairstyles, and mismatched clothes). Afterwards, my roommates (Matt and Josh) and I planned the perfect Friday the 13th prank. Imagine the following:
You’re sitting in one of the foyers at midnight with a couple other girls when you see Josh and Matt walking up the stairs. You ask them where they are going, to which they reply, “Oh just checking out a secret tunnel under the center. Wanna come?” Within a few minutes you are outside the center, stepping through some bushes into a deep stairwell that leads to darkness. The stairs are uneven and ridden with dry leaves and rotting boards. Your hands grace the damp walls as you descend the stairs. Using the dole glow from Josh’s cell phone, you barely make out two abandoned cement rooms. You and the other girls inch along, clinging to each other in the pitch black cavern. Matt coaxes you in, “Let’s go in that room and explore.” You carefully walk in and pull out your digital camera, deciding that the flash from your camera will reveal the dimensions of the room. FLASH. You look at the screen of the camera—that’s when you notice that there’s a man, dressed in black, lying motionless against the wall with a pillow case covering his head. You let out a deafening scream and claw for the doorway.
I was the guy in the pillow case. There’s only one thing more satisfying then discovering that a cute girl likes me—and that’s scaring a girl. Which is the easier of the two.
This is the actual photo that Chelsea took, responsible for the scream...
The next day, Valentine’s Day, we delivered a rose to all seventy girls living in the center. The day before, Steve, Stephen and I went to the Mahane Yehuda Souq, a huge Jewish market that is full of fresh fruits, vegetables, breads, meats, and treats. The market fills up with people on Fridays as everyone does their last minute shopping before Sabbath begins in the evening. We bought the roses (all the guys tipped in) and snuck them into the center.
Throughout Valentine’s Day, Ryan, Josh, JJ, and I were hired by the “In-center Student Committee” to go around to 8 different people and sing songs to them. Students and faculty purchased singing-telegrams that included a treat, a message, a song, and sometimes a dance. The four of us guys invented raps and lyrics that went along with songs like “For the Longest Time” and “So Happy Together.” We performed at dinner, ward prayer, in the lounge, and even under the balcony outside.
Whether it’s scaring girls half-to-death, or spouts of chivalrous romance, Valentine’s weekend is a good example of the diversity of fun that we have in the Center.