Good morning dear friends! It is Sunday here in the Holy Land. For us it is truly a Sabbath day, yet this is a workday in Israel. So today is all about rest, worship, and doing something not on the itinerary.
Today began with a late start. We actually got to sleep in today! Breakfast was served from 7:00am-9:00am and we just need to get our butts in the pews before the start of church. So even though I set my alarm for 8:00am, I still ended up waking up at 6:00am but fortunately I was able to go back to sleep.
Our first real event for the day was church in the cathedral where we worshiped with the cathedral community in both Arabic and English. Archbishop Suheil was our celebrant and the Dean of the Cathedral was our preacher. It was an amazing blend of Arabic and English, and like last week in Ramallah, it felt as if it were Pentecost! We sang hymns and said the prayers on our native tongues, so there was this wonderful blend of sound as we prayed the liturgy. Then we came together as one body abiding in God as we eat the bread and drank the cup. In that moment any separation or differences between us was bridged as communes with God and with each other. The hymns were familiar, but again they were a beautiful blend of Arabic and English.
Shortly after the service we had a small coffee hour with those who stuck around and then at 11:00am we had an audience with Archbishop Suheil. It is also the point in which Canon John Peterson, who was the Dean of Saint George’s College for 12 years, will join us for the remainder of the pilgrimage. Archbishop Suheil greeted us warmly and talked about the Anglican presence in the Holy Land. He talked about his congregations spanning five countries and the many schools and hospitals that they operate throughout the Province. He is encouraged by the collaborative work by the heads of the Christian churches in Jerusalem, as well as his work with his Muslim and Jewish counterparts. There is still work to be done and a long way to go, but he still has hope.
From the meeting with the Archbishop we walked to a small hotel, one of the first hotels in the area, for lunch. It was a delicious meal of the usual salads and fresh, hot pita bread, and then fresh lamb and rice for the entrée. It was so delicious! After our fill of food the rest of the afternoon was for ourselves to do with as we wish. So Fr. David and I led a group of pilgrims to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial.
I knew that visiting Yad Vashem would be a very deep and powerful experience, and indeed it was heartbreaking. We took the light rail from the Old City all the way south to the end of the line at Mount Hertzel. From the stop we crisscrossed a few streets and walked along a beautiful pine tree-lined path towards the campus of Yad Vashem. We entered the main exhibit hall and were immediately greeted with a large screen displaying a series of moving images, including children waving at us from the past. Who were these children? We may never know but they were most certainly victims of the brutality of the darkest parts of the human soul.
The path through the museum follows in chronological order beginning in pre-war Europe, through the rise of fascism and Nazism, to the systematic confinement and execution of the Jewish people of Europe. We zigzagged through the exhibit hall passing through the years and seeing countless physical pieces of history; books, notes, shoes, household goods, anything that remains to help tell the story of the Holocaust.
It took nearly an hour to walk through the main exhibit hall and that is without seeing everything the exhibits had to offer. When you are done you exit out of the building to a beautiful view over the pine forest of Jerusalem. From there you can go and visit a number of other exhibits and monuments. I saw a sign for the Children’s Memorial, and something within me was daring me to visit that memorial. The campus is large with winding paths leading to the different exhibits, so I followed the path and signs to the Children’s Memorial.
When I turned the corner I was confronted with the stone-walled path the led to the memorial. At the end of the path on the wall, before taking a left into the actual memorial, is a stone relief of the face of the son that the donating family lost in the Holocaust. I stopped in my tracks and tears came to my eyes. The face was young, really young, maybe just a few years old. The round cheeks, the eyes staring back at me, and the expression of a happy child. My breath was taken away, because that face could have been any one of the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust. That face could have been my child…that could have been my child. My heart broke.
I continued down the path and took the left turn into the memorial. It was dark, very dark, with the only light coming from a single candle that was reflected through a series of mirrors to give the effect of being surrounded by the flickering flames of those who died. As if that wasn’t powerful enough, the names and ages and nationalities of the known children who died are read aloud; one name after another, after another, after another.
I couldn’t take much more and fortunately our time was coming to an end, so I met up with the group and we made our way back to Saint George’s via the light rail again. We only scratched the surface of what Yad Vashem has to offer, and I will be back because there is so much more to see and experience. We have a lot to think about and reflect upon after our visit. I pray that by telling the stories we will not repeat history. Hope endures. Hopes endures.