A Pilgrim's Notebook - Chapter 5

Pilgrim notes #5 - Yad Vashem & Return to the Old City
Friday: 03/10/2000

"I will give to them within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than the sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off." Isaiah 56:5

Yad Vashem: The holocaust museum in Jerusalem. I didn't want to go. That was an especially common sentiment among those who had been before. Historically accurate, graphic and horrific in detail, artistically, even poetically, presented. In 1973 when in Germany on Air Force business, a group of us went to Munich with Dachau prominent on our agendas. Dachau, in the suburbs of Munich, was a major concentration camp, minor death camp, at which some of the terrible medical experiments were also conducted. All during the trip I had been reading the Mitchner novels "Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance." At Dachau, the German government was honestly, if less artistically than at Yad Vashem, presenting to the world its sins. For me, it's a recurring nightmare, except that I'm awake. And now that they have been refreshed, like taking terrible medicine that is good for me, I wonder about the many other atrocities that are not well remembered, similar in kind but not scope. The American Indians and Indians throughout the Americas, the Armenians (today we commemorate the memory of the 40 martyrs of Sebaste, Roman soldiers who were Christians, marched naked out onto a frozen lake in Armenia to die of exposure because they would not worship the emperor) , the Cambodians, the Kosovars and I can't continue because the list is too long. In the Children's Memorial, the names of the child victims that are known of the 1.5 million that died in the atrocity are read one after the other continuously (till the end of time?). I took no photos. I couldn't bring myself to do so, though photos are allowed at various places, and I took a lot of photos at Dachau in 1973.

For the afternoon, seven of us departed from the appointed schedule to pursue our own agenda rather than visit the 2nd Temple Period model of Jerusalem. Following our nose, John, Jerri, Joe, Megan, Steve, Jan, and I caught bus #21 from the far reaches of West Jerusalem to near the Jaffa Gate of the old city.

Christ Church, on the frontier between the Christian and Armenian sectors of the old city, was the first Protestant church (COE) and the first major modern building in Jerusalem, founded in 1833 by the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews. "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." Romans 1:16 Christ Church is the home of several thriving congregations, including worshipers who speak Hebrew, Arabic, and a Philippine congregation. No Holy Water font at this church.

The Dormition Abbey: Depending on what you believe personally about Marianist tradition, this may appeal or offend. This is the place where many believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, fell asleep, and from where she was bodily assumed into heaven. It is a gorgeous church. The crypt under the nave of the main church contains the memorial to the Virgin Mary's falling asleep, and is surrounded by the most beautiful mosaics I've ever seen. Photos were not allowed but I bought some.

St. James Cathedral (Armenian) again: Steve, Joe, and I wanted to attend vespers with the Armenians so we split off from John, Jerri, Megan, and Jan who wanted to see more of the Christian sector. Who said women were more spiritual than men? The Armenian vespers liturgy was magnificent, largely sung except for an initial scripture reading (long). Some of the liturgical music was done antiphonally between two choirs of young men at opposite ends of the sanctuary. Caught up in the intensity of the worship, their prayers joined my prayers and all three of us felt like we were part of the service though I only recognized two words (Alleluia and Amen). Immediately after vespers, part of the group in the sanctuary moved to a chapel on the right of what would be a nave, where the body of a woman was waiting for her funeral. Shortly after we noticed this, we spotted David Kaplanian, who we met the previous Sunday (this is the lay deacon mentioned in a previous note, understanding that the Armenians have many more tiers in their clergy than we do). We caught up with David to ask him about the funeral. We learned that it was the 50 year old wife of one of the brothers that runs the Armenian tile shop some of us left some money at the previous week. The further bad news about that, is that is where we were supposed to meet the rest of our party at 4 p.m.. David offered to show us the cemetery, which, it turns out, lies in the shadow of the Dormitian Abbey. Here we were showed around to the tombs of the last 200 years of Patriarchs in Jerusalem. David casually mentioned as we walked out of that section that "This was Caiaphas' house." Well, probably not his actual house, but a memorial built into the building sitting on top of the ruins of Caiaphas' house. David explained that they were unable to do anything with the building because of the memorial and that archeologists were still yet to determine what needed to be done. Nearly in the middle of the large cemetery, that lies beyond locked gates and a wall over 10 feet tall, is a circular wall about 5 feet tall, the top of which is covered with broken glass embedded into concrete. It seems that the Moslems claimed that one of the women buried in the Armenian sector had converted to Islam before her death. To keep peace, the Armenians let the Moslems build the wall. Realizing that it was 4 p.m. and that the rest of the gang would be standing in front of a closed shop not knowing why it was closed or where we were, we asked David to tell us the quickest route to Station Six on the Via Dolorosa. This wonderful man took us 90% of the way there till we recognized where we were near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

We had an evening lecture from Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway, an introduction to Islam, in preparation for tomorrow's visit to El Haram Esh Sharif, the Dome of the Rock. Few of us knew enough about Islam. The lecture was an eye opener, interspersed with appropriate current events between his people and the Jews. My new perspective is that the excesses reported from Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Afghanistan, and so forth, are the result of the societal influence of the people, not Islam itself, as well as a certain amount of bad reporting, and even some misguided Moslems misinterpreting their tenets of their faith. For example, none of us knew that the Sudan has a Christian woman serving as governor of one of their states. Sudan also has 50 women judges. Palestine has none. I've learned a lot today. I've learned there is a lot that I don't know about things that I didn't know I was ignorant of before; again.

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