Saturday, November 6, 2010
THE MORMON CENTER IN JERUSALEM
Built by Israeli architect David Reznick and American architect Frank Ferguson on a slope at Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, adjacent to the Hebrew University, and completed in 1988, the Mormon Brigham Youth University of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, blends wonderfully into the surrounding landscape. Its erection has been a very controversial issue for years. To get the permission to construct the building, the church had to promise to stay away from any missionary activities, not to try to proselytize Israel's Jewish residents and not accept Jewish students. About 170 students are enrolled there at any given time for one semester abroad. The program focuses on the Old and New Testament, ancient and modern Near Eastern studies and includes the Hebrew and Arabic languages.
I am not going into the political and religious debates, but only wish to talk about the wonderful gorgeous and exquisite edifice with its arches and domes and its extraordinary style! Visiting there yesterday morning we have been stunned by the beauty and elegance of it!
The location chosen is perfect, with a panorama overlooking the Mount of Olives, the Kidron Valley, the Old City of Jerusalem with the ancient city wall and the temple area and the Arab quarters to the right.
Welcomed warmly we were given a tour of the place. The tour guide will not offer any religious explanations and neither answer religious questions of any kind.
The building is composed of eight levels, not stacked one on each other but terraced on the slant of the hill, with space for housing students and staff, classrooms, computer facilities, a library, lecture rooms, offices, a cafeteria, and a gym, as well as a big auditorium on the seventh level. On the eighth level, which is the entrance level is suited another auditorium with the spectacular organ. We were invited to sit down in front of the arched windows looking out right at the Dome of the Rock and the El Aksa Mosque to the left and given a recital of three very different musical pieces to fully appreciate the sound of this magnificent instrument, comprised of 3000 pipes!
This auditorium serves as a concert hall too and is designed with the purpose to let natural light in through the arched windows from all directions, filtered with the use of wooden checkered panels. On Sunday nights concerts of classical music and Jazz are given free of charge and the public is invited.
After passing an impressive beautiful 700 years old olive tree the entrance is through an iron gate which resembles a menorah when closed.
The main building materials of the whole center are Jerusalem stone, Italian marble, glass and wood, especially oak and imported teak. The interior decoration is very pleasing with local antique mosaic fragments on loan on the walls and comfortable sitting areas everywhere.
The play of light and shadow in the alleyways, corridors, terraces and internal courtyards is soothing and gives a calm and peaceful atmosphere. The various styles melt together and produce a very pleasing design. Four models of Jerusalem featuring different periods in time from its history are displayed at the large sun flooded arched terrace at the highest level.
As much attention is given to the building, the gardens are tended as well and are equally beautiful. Two fountains flank the entrance.
Latticed wooden canopies provide shade. Abundant with foliage fitting the nature of the land of Israel, the garden was planned beautifully by landscape designer Dan Tzur. While strolling on the paths we noticed olive trees, citrus trees, pomegranate trees, many plant specimens mentioned in the Bible, and smelled and enjoyed the fragrant herb gardens.
We had a wonderful time and we thank our guide Joseph for his friendly and tactful ways of showing us around and the organ player for his wonderful performance!
Photographs by Uri Eshkar.