As Brigham Young University alums ourselves, we knew we had to visit the BYU Jerusalem center during our time in Israel. I wanted to attend church in this prime location on Mt. Scopus near the Mt. of Olives, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. In my title image above, it’s the building with all of the arches in the left side of the picture. Even with our morning walk to Gethsemane, we still had a few moments to walk around the grounds of the Jerusalem center before going inside for church.
The Jerusalem center was built in the 1980s amid opposition from orthodox Jews in Jerusalem. The Israeli government leased BYU the land (won during the Six Day’s War) because legally they could not sell the church the land. Strict non-proselyting agreements were also put into place. Basically, while in Israel, tourists and residents of the LDS faith are not allowed to talk to anyone- whether they are Israeli or not- about the church. If asked, we can say that Mormons are Christian. That’s it. It is similar, but even more strict than the rules governing the LDS church in China. The center can host up to 160 students, along with faculty and staff, but I think most groups are smaller. Study in the center focuses on the Old and New Testaments, history, and languages- Hebrew and Arabic. It is a one semester study abroad program for a select group of students from BYU, BYU-Idaho and BYU-Hawaii.
The garden was full of native plants- all with name placards- as well as some artifacts and recreations of interesting Biblical tools. This grinding stone was the first step in making olive oil. The whole olives were placed on the bottom stone, and the upper, circular stone was rolled over them to crush them up. This is an actual grinding stone that was used in Biblical times!
The view from the gardens out over Jerusalem and the surrounding valleys was insanely gorgeous. The grounds and building cascade down the hillside, so that each level of the Jerusalem center has a great view and a terrace looking out over the city. Although it in East Jerusalem, the center sits right next to Hebrew University in a safe part of town. Only during intense periods of conflict has the center had to be shut down. We felt very secure while there- a security guard unlocked the gate for each person entering the complex. Inside, there was a whole security room with tons of camera feeds!
The catch basins for the oil press were full of water, so Landon had a great time making potions in them until it was time for sacrament services to start. The chapel front is glass and looks out at the old city. Outside the chapel, helpful plaques map out the city during different time periods, so we could see how the city has changed, as well as identify the buildings that are there today.
Sacrament meeting took place in the main auditorium, which has a fantastic pipe organ. It was amazing to take the sacrament emblems while looking out over Jerusalem, where Christ actually walked, talked, suffered, died, and was resurrected. The kids actually cooperated and it was a great few minutes of reflection. Although the meeting is usually filled with students, they were on a field trip to northern Israel, so there were no students there. Primary (children’s Sunday School) was small, but it was great for Landon to meet with other kids that spoke English! We met a family that was just starting a world schooling year with their kids, with the goal to visit each continent. It was fun to swap stories and recommend Asian countries and sights!
For week-day visitors to the Jerusalem center, there are tours which include an organ demonstration. Times can be found on their website. Except for tour times and Sunday meetings, the campus is closed to the public.