Jerusalem, Day 2
I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name (yad vashem)… (Isaiah 56:5)
We began the day at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. There is really no way to describe the experience of walking through gallery after gallery detailing the ominous buildup to the Final Solution in post-World War I Europe. Video images, photos, personal artifacts, and recordings paint a vivid portrait of an increasingly isolated Jewish population throughout Europe, culminating in the ghettoization, deportation, and mass execution of millions of Jews. Particularly moving are the Hall of Names, where names and any known information of all those who died are written in books that line the walls of the exhibit, and the Children’s Memorial, a darkened room filled with a multitude of dots of light, appearing like stars in the night sky, representing the 1.5 million children who died, as their names, ages and cities are recited. It is an immensely powerful and moving place, and adds a degree of sensitivity to the deeply held convictions of Israelis and their quest to protect their country and, by extension, themselves.
Next on our itinerary was the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book which houses part of the Dead Sea Scrolls and explains the extensive history of their creation and discovery. The Shrine is located at the Israel Museum containing archaeological artifacts as well as artifacts of Jewish life and an extensive art collection. Dean Attridge was able to provide a good overview of Qumran and the scrolls. We will be visiting Qumran on our journey so will have an opportunity to see firsthand the location of the caves inhabited by the Essene community that secured the scrolls.
Following lunch, we met with The Rev. Canon John L. Peterson, former Dean of St. George’s College and current Canon for Global Justice and Reconciliation at Washington National Cathedral. He gave us a lively tour of the exterior of the Old City, showing us how the outer wall had been expanded considerably 16 years after the crucifixion of Jesus by Herod Agrippa, helping to explain how the traditional hill of Calvary ended up inside the city walls rather than outside as scripture describes it. We then entered the Old City through the 16th-century Damascus Gate, just adjacent to Hadrian’s Gate dating from approximately 125 CE. Walking along part of the Via Dolorosa, we came to the site of Constantine’s ancient Byzantine Church of the Resurrection, overshadowed by the Crusader Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the 11th century. While hundreds of pilgrims queued up to see the “tomb” of Christ, John took us to a small chamber behind that to show us a real rolling stone tomb of the type used from 50BCE to 50CE, the same kind most likely owned by Joseph of Arimathea who provided the burial place for Jesus’ body. We were very fortunate to have someone so knowledgeable guiding us around this very convoluted and disorienting sacred space!
Our day culminated with a private audience with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III. We were quite privileged to have him speak with us about his work in Jerusalem, especially his participation in the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land. Peace negotiations over the past decades have largely ignored the faiths represented in Jerusalem, and it is to be hoped that this council will have some influence over how Jerusalem will be handled in a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine. “Jerusalem is a city whose heart breathes three faiths,” he said, and any negotiated settlement that fails to take that into account is doomed to failure. The Patriarch’s assistant served small glasses of cognac and wine and chocolates to this band of weary pilgrims, and we were each presented with small gifts upon our departure. Many remarked on how significant and humbling this meeting was as an end to our long day in Jerusalem.
Elaine Ellis Thomas