Monday, 15 December 2008

jerusalem (12) - remembering

The Kidron Valley with Jewish cemetery and Tomb of Zecheriah

Sunday 14th December. As I mentioned in my post last night, today was to be more relaxed but didn’t quite turn out that way. In the morning I decided to head through the old city to the lower southern side and visit the City of David excavations outside the walls. Unfortunately, I had chosen a time when several parties of school children were visiting the site with teachers and so I gave up as I didn’t have the time to queue. I was surprised to see that with every party of children was at least one armed teacher/parent/guardian; armed not with a side arm but an automatic rifle. I wonder what impact this has on the children, however, given that each will be required to serve in the army I guess guns are part of everyday life.

School children with armed guard (4th from left)

My change of plan was to walk along the Kidron valley to get a closer look at the tombs and a different perspective on the Mount of Olives. One feature of the valley is the extraordinary cemeteries to the right of the Mount of Olives, covered in thousands of tombs. This is the favoured spot of burial for Jews because it is close to the Golden Gate in the wall of Temple Mount. This gate is blocked up but will be opened when the Messiah comes and the dead shall rise to greet him. People want to be as near as possible and consequently the tombs are very costly. Robert Maxwell is buried here; no doubt his tomb was purchased with money scammed from Mirror Group pensioners. Having visited the churches of the Mt of Olives on Friday, looking up at them again from the valley brought back thoughts of the last few hours of Jesus’ life and the powerful impression each church had left on me.

From left: Church of All Nations, Church of Mary Magdalene & Dominus Flevit

In the afternoon a group of us visited Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. It is difficult to express one’s reaction to this place and the story it tells; hard to process the unfolding horror; shaming to be confronted with the anti-Semitism fostered by Christianity down through the centuries; humiliating to reflect on the failure of so many to do anything before it was too late. I mentioned to Brother Robert, near the beginning of the course, that I found it difficult to see the Western Wall as a place of prayer and he suggested it as a place to pray for forgiveness for what we have done to the Jews. I walked through the halls, looked at the photographs, films and artefacts, and some of the material was familiar but the display of a pile of shoes from one of the concentration camps was shocking in its simplicity. Hearing the testimonies of survivors and reading about the unimaginable suffering of the ghettos and the camps, it is not difficult to understand Israel’s determination that this will never happen again. At the same time I noticed the groups of young Israeli conscripts being guided round the museum as part of their induction and couldn’t but speculate as to the impact this was intended to have on them. Is it to remember or is it also to harden their determination to defend their state and their people at all costs? I found myself thinking about the establishment of the ghettos and the image of the separation barrier/wall also came to mind.

Entrance to the Yad Vashem Museum

The most moving place for me was the Children’s Memorial in the gardens. You enter an underground space and a darkened room with a central pyramid structure and walkways around it. The structure and walkways are made of glass and filled with small white lights. The lights reflect off the surfaces and create a galaxy of points of light. As you walk around the structure a voice reads out the name and age of some of the 1.5 million children murdered. No photography is allowed inside the museum but no picture would do justice to the impact of this memorial. Outside is a sculpture which I was able to photograph. I didn’t look too closely at it when I took the picture but when preparing the photo for the blog I found I had to stop as tears filled my eyes; it isn’t only the sculpture but what it represents. I’ve seen some truly stunning pieces of art over the last couple of weeks and I have to say that none has had the impact on me that this did.

Sculpture outside the Children's Memorial

The last visit of the day was to The Shrine of the Book, a relatively small museum dedicated to an extraordinary treasure. The first display one encounters is an impressive model of Second Temple Jerusalem. However, the focal point of the museum is the Dead Sea Scrolls which I mentioned in my post about Qumran. The main hall describes the scrolls and their significance and the centre piece is a facsimile of the Scroll of Isaiah, the only complete scroll recovered. In an air conditioned side room an original section of another scroll, the Scroll of the Temple, is displayed.

Model of Second Temple Jerusalem

Display of the Scroll of Isaiah

Back at the college we enjoyed another excellent dinner prepared by the chef Joseph, with the added surprise of a birthday cake for Stephen, Dean of St. George’s and our course director. This was followed by a time to share reflections on the course and our experiences. I will post more about my personal reflections at another time. At this point I’ll finish with a prayer from this evening's Compline.

God of all mercy,
we confess that we have sinned against you,
opposing your will in our lives,
we have denied your goodness in each other,
in ourselves, and in the world you have created.
We repent of the evil that enslaves us,
the evil we have done,
and the evil done on our behalf.
Forgive, restore, and strengthen us
through our Saviour Jesus Christ,
that we may abide in your love
and serve only your will. Amen.


View from Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.

Sign on the ticket office window at The Shrine of the Book.

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