Although the building has remained the same, the feel around the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center has evolved since the facility opened three decades ago.
“It started out with a high level of suspicion and hostility, and it is now firmly integrated in the community,” said Jim Kearl, the assistant to the university president for the BYU Jerusalem Center.
Kearl has been involved with the center since 1989, one month after it opened. This year is the center’s 30th anniversary, which was celebrated earlier this month with a reunion event in Provo.
It’s more than the neighborhood feel that has changed. The center currently sees 84 students at a time, which will expand to 88 starting this winter. The enrollment is at about half the center’s capacity. Kearl said it was reduced after the center reopened in 2007 following rising tensions in the area.
“Mostly it has to do with the changing security environment,” Kearl said.
Prior to the enrollment cut, the center would take students regardless of which university they attended. After reopening, it decided to only admit students who have attended a full year of college and are enrolled at BYU, BYU-Idaho or BYU-Hawaii.
About 70% of the students who apply for the program’s lottery get in. Kearl said students apply not only for the study abroad experience, but for the religious aspect, as well. Being in the Middle East, he said changes a student’s perspective by giving them context to scriptures.
“They want to go study where the scriptures were developed, where the prophets roamed the land and where Christ lived, and taught, and gave up his life,” Kearl said.
For Allie Beckett, attending has also become a family tradition. Beckett, a senior studying family life with an emphasis in human development, grew up hearing stories about her mother’s experiences in Jerusalem. Her mother attended the BYU Jerusalem Center in 1987 and was in the first group of students to move into the current building.
“Because of her, I made the same goal to work hard and save up my money so that I could come to Jerusalem and have those experiences, too,” Beckett, who is at the BYU Jerusalem Center, said in an interview over social media. “It is really neat to know that my mom can totally relate to all of the incredible experiences that I am currently having.”
The students live together in dorm-style rooms, share classes and eat together. Their instructors double as church leaders.
“Every day I look at the beautiful, elegant, white-stoned halls of the Jerusalem Center with its arched windows and stunning view of the Old City and I am filled with gratitude that I am here right now,” Beckett said.
The unique setting also means that students have to follow additional rules, such as requiring more conservative dress than BYU’s honor code requires.
“We have rules that we think protect students from potential problems and help them become better members of the community,” Kearl said.
The center is located within the Palestinian part of the city. Kearl said the students don’t dress like locals, and that the center wants its attendees to easily be recognized as students of the BYU Jerusalem Center.
“They are not primarily identified as Americans,” Kearl said. “Their primary identification is ‘young Mormons,’ or as ‘students of the Mormon university.’”
The students also aren’t allowed to proselytize as part of an agreement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to quell resistance to the center’s opening.
The center talks to students about being aware of what is going on around them, and has an internal messaging system that allows students to be alerted about issues. If there is uproar in the Old City, Kearl said the center will wait for another day to visit it.
“We try in every way to give them as much latitude and freedom in terms of exploring as possible,” Kearl said. “But we want them to be smart.”
Kearl said the center has actively worked to have a reputation of being neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He expects the center eventually expanding its enrollment back to pre-2007 levels, which would also mean accepting students from non-church-owned universities, but does not see that decision being made within the near future.
Between 300 and 400 South on 200 West in Springville, visitors will find the trick and treat of a haunted house this Halloween.
It’s behind a big white fence and large walnut tree. Approach the fence, and visitors will see the tip of a mercantile tent where Benjamin Roche sells magical tools year round.
A fire pit to roast marshmallows and wait while visiting Igor is just past the threshold of the fence. A gravedigger just beyond sits eagerly anticipating taking visitors on the house tour. Visitors will walk through a graveyard and enter a room to find a vampire drinking blood and playing the organ with candles hanging from the ceiling. In years past, there have been witches in the kitchen, along with live fish and other real animals nearby. Participants have to make it all the way to the basement to get candy.
“It’s meant to be creepy more than scary.” Roche said.
The old pioneer home in Springville is transformed annually into a boarding house for misfit monsters. Exactly who visitors will see depends on the other visitors and volunteers Roche finds for the three days he’s celebrating with the community.
He has several acquaintances fond of the magical and monstrous from his other venture, like a gathering of vendors reminiscent of Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter series during Art City Days and magic lessons he offers at the house year-round. If one catches Roche at a slow tour time — or any other time of the year — they can pick up a high-end wand or broom. They will not be given out like candy, but it’s an easy way to save a trip to the costume store.
The haunted house is a tribute to Roche’s childhood, when he would have a haunted house or a fantasy world at his grandparent’s house. He said the interaction between beings in the real world and a magical world--a concept in fantasy books like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the “Wrinkle in Time” novel, and Chris Colfer’s “Land of Stories” — inspired him to make a haunted house on Halloween and an imaginative environment for his tenants all year. He said he hopes adults will visit in costume, as well as kids.
Halloween is often talked about as a secular holiday with its roots in religious ones such as the paegan Celtic Samhain, when people would have bonfires and dress up to scare off ghosts or the Christian All Soul’s Day. Trick-or-treating in the late 1800s had its roots in the privileged giving out “soul cakes” to those willing to say prayers for patrons’ deceased family members, according to http://History.com.
Unlike the Day of the Dead--which still has close ties to indigenous and sacred traditions honoring the dead, Halloween has become a way of entertaining kids with new costumes and free candy. But it can be more, according to Roche. It can be an invitation for all ages to live in a world of imagination.
“I want to create a place for people of all ages to enjoy and participate,” he said.
SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah prepares to launch its medical marijuana program next year, residents who want to use the drug in the meantime are encountering skeptical doctors and the quandary of where to get the plant.
A law passed by the Utah Legislature in December 2018 allows residents to use medical marijuana before patient cards are officially doled out, which is expected to happen in March 2020 at the earliest, but they must obtain a signed letter of recommendation from a doctor, physician’s assistant or other medical provider.
Finding a doctor willing to do that has been difficult because of stigmas and fear surrounding medical marijuana, said Christine Stenquist, the director and founder of advocacy group Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE.
And, the doctor’s letter doesn’t specify how patients can legally obtain medical marijuana. Although growers are beginning to cultivate the plant throughout the state, residents still can’t legally purchase medical marijuana in Utah, forcing them to drive several hours to states where the drug is legal or turn to the black market.
Mitch Hill, 48, began using medical marijuana two months ago to treat the severe back pain he’s dealt with for 10 years. It took Hill six months and three doctors to obtain a signed recommendation letter.
“Our family doctor didn’t even want to talk about it, they wanted nothing to do with it,” said Hill, a construction superintendent from the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan.
Hill drives five hours to the nearest dispensary in Colorado a few times a month to purchase medical marijuana.
Juggling work, children and his throbbing back, the trip is “a massive pain in the butt,” he said.
He turned to marijuana because he said opioids and other painkillers turned him into a “walking zombie,” feeling groggy, fatigued and nauseous. Medical marijuana helps his pain dissipate and relax, Hill said. He’s able to be more productive in his job and take care of his children.
“The letter has been a great thing for our family,” Hill said.
State health officials aren’t tracking how many people have doctor’s letters allowing them to use medical marijuana, but it appears there are thousands at least based on information from major medical providers and advocates.
The letters are a “stop-gap measure” before the state’s official medical marijuana program is launched, Evan Vickers, the Senate Republican Majority Leader, said.
“We wanted to try and give patients access to the medication as soon as possible,” he added.
He said the formal program will make it much easier for people to get and use medical marijuana, eliminating trips to neighboring states and long searches for willing doctors.
Patients must meet a list of qualifying conditions—cancer, chronic pain and epilepsy are among the most common— and have the product in the correct dosage. Under the current law, this would likely be an oil or capsule. Next year, patients must still follow the dosage requirements but can appeal to a board of medical providers if they don’t meet one of the qualifying conditions.
Utah is one of at least nine states that allowed recommendation letters to protect unregistered patients, according to data from the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington-based group that advocates for legalization.
Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel with the Marijuana Policy Project, said the states dealt with similar legal challenges and called the letters a “double-edged sword.”
“It helps sick people get relief, but it can create a false sense of security,” he said. “Moving a controlled substance across state lines is still against federal law, and then it’s up to the patients to defend themselves in court.”
Marijuana is banned at the federal level, though a congressional amendment blocks the Justice Department from interfering with states’ medical marijuana programs.
Patients are putting themselves at potential risk of being arrested for drug-related crimes, advocates said, but it is unclear if law enforcement agencies are citing patients who have letters.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, the prosecutor in Utah’s most populated county, said he sees the letter as a critical legal tool in deciding whether to press charges in drug-related crimes.
“I have zero desire to prosecute a patient in need for possessing medical cannabis, and I’ve advised prosecutors the same,” Gill said.
Among Utah’s doctors, the letters have received strong, mixed reactions.
Intermountain Healthcare, the state’s largest health provider, began allowing its doctors to write letters in February. While some doctors applauded the move, others said they aren’t comfortable writing the letters, citing lack of research into medical cannabis and its federally illegal status, said Mark Briesacher, the hospital’s chief physician executive.
A growing national outbreak of lung damage linked to unregulated vaping products containing marijuana’s high-inducing ingredient THC have further compounded concerns, he said. In Utah, one person died from a vaping-related injury.
Stenquist expressed frustration with the challenges Utah’s medical cannabis program has faced but said she’s hopeful for a smooth rollout next year.
“Patients don’t want to break the law, they’re just trying to get access to medication,’ she said.
Brigham Young University and milk goes together like, well, milk and cookies.
Which is why the university made its connection with the favorite treats official with the opening of Milk & Cookies, a bar serving its namesakes.
“Nothing is more iconic than BYU milk,” said Dean Wright, the director of dining services at BYU.
The idea for the bar began last year after the university celebrated its 21st anniversary of being declared the top “Stone Cold Sober” school in the nation by The Princeton Review. It’s a legacy the university — which has an honor code that bans the consumption of alcohol — has embraced.
And students sure love their milk. The university’s library holds an annual “Milktoberfest” to hand out chocolate milk in October, and the BYU Creamery sold 308,786 bottles of chocolate milk in 2016 alone. Wright said milk is the second-most popular drink sold from vending machines on campus, trailing behind water.
Plans for Milk & Cookies began with the recent remodel of the Cougareat and BYU Store when the university wanted something truly BYU to take up the space between the two entities. After deciding on providing custom milk, Wright said it was only natural to add cookies, too.
Milk & Cookies had a soft opening early this week in the space decorated with comfortable seating, homey touches and brick walls painted blue.
It includes a seasonal menu currently comprised of french vanilla float, raspberry creme, root beer float and pumpkin caramel spice-flavored milk available in 10 oz of either BYU Creamery whole milk or oat milk. Single cookies, custom cookies and the Cosmookie, the university’s spin on a deep-dish cookie topped with ice cream, are also available. Hot specialty drinks are on the horizon, and Wright said the bar is considering adding gluten-free cookie options.
Whole milk drinks are priced at $1.59 and oat milk costs $1.99.
The drinks come in reusable glass milk bottles paired with straws made from recycled materials.
The bar had been so popular since its opening that staff had to bring in additional seating.
“It has been real busy,” said Barbara Lettich, the general manager of retail dining at BYU.
Lettich said one woman came in to buy cookies for her office, and then came back for more because they were eaten so quickly she didn’t get one.
“It is a lot of satisfaction from our clients,” Lettich said.
But opening the bar was more complicated than pouring a glass of milk. BYU had to import a milk stirrer after spotting one at an international trade show. Other methods, Wright said, left the milk too frothy.
He said milk bars are popular in New Zealand, but BYU’s is unique.
“To my knowledge, we are the very first to combine flavored milk with cookies,” Wright said.
He was inspired by the idea of an old soda shop where couples would snuggle up over two straws stuck into a milkshake.
“What we really want to become is a destination,” he said.
A few days in, Milk & Cookies’ most popular flavor is its pumpkin caramel spice milk, followed by the raspberry creme flavor. Other flavors, like cereal-inspired milk, are expected on future menus.
Wright knows that BYU’s culture and love of milk can come off as quirky, but that it’s embracing it and seeing it as a unique badge of honor.
“It’s just like, I can have fun, I can be a kid,” he said.
Sydney Winn, a freshman, sat at the bar with a warm pumpkin chocolate chip cookie Friday afternoon. She came to Milk & Cookies for the first time after being invited by a friend.
“I thought it was interesting,” Winn said. “At first I was like, ‘Oh yeah, only at BYU do you have a bar for milk.’”
Within a few bites she already had plans to return and do homework in the space.
“This is super good,” she said.
Milk & Cookies is located within the Wilkinson Student Center. It is open from 10:45 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays and from 10:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The bar is exploring opening for additional hours on Saturdays in the future.