2019 Traveling Seminar

February 2

Day Six

At this morning’s prayers we prepared for the day by reading Psalm 42 (“My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”) and talking about what people would likely experience at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. Then it was off for three hours at the Memorial.

It is always difficult to come face to face with humanity’s vast capacity to be inhuman to others. The Holocaust is as extreme as it gets, but it was not a spontaneous event. It was the result of centuries of Christian antipathy toward Jews. Although we may not feel directly complicit, there’s no doubt about the role of our Christian forbears in the faith: anti-Semitism has its roots in Christian theology that blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus.

The ideology and violence of the National Socialist Movement in Germany in the 1930s developed slowly over a number of years. It could have been stopped at any one point, but it gained popular support. The German Church endorsed the Nazi project, although as our Cuban friend Reinerio pointed out, there were some prophetic voices in the Church that spoke up and resisted – and often paid for it with their lives.

The group left Yad Vashem emotionally and physically exhausted. It was fairly quiet on the bus on our way to the Old City of Jesus, as people struggled to process all they had experienced.

Our lunch in a small restaurant inside the Old City’s walls was a fascinating cultural experience. We packed the place, wall-to-wall. We ordered either chicken shawarma or falafel. I chose the former, Meghan, the latter. Table talk covered lots of topics, as usual, but it kept coming back to our morning experience at Yad Vashem. We were all moved by the experience.

Following lunch we began our walking tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. We started with The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which was packed with Christian pilgrims, many of whom were venerating various parts of the building—kissing a stone, rubbing a fixture, lighting candles, and so forth. It was crowded. This is, after all, the place where many think Jesus may have been crucified.

We spent about an hour inside, then headed for the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering. It’s a winding route through the Old City that many say was the path Jesus took on his way to his death. The 14 Stations of the Cross are scattered along the route. We walked them backwards, since they end inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where our walking path began.

As we headed down the narrow street we were engulfed by Christian pilgrims doing the every-Friday walk along the 14 stations. There must have been several hundred of them, singing and reading texts and praying. Their devotion and practice of piety are so different from our own tradition!

We ended at St. Anne’s Church, next to the Pools of Bethsaida. We sang in the church sanctuary, known for its sustained echo (it was astonishing!), and then looked over the site of the Pools as Kathy read the gospel account of the healings the Jesus did there 2,000 years ago.

The group then split; some went back the hotel, while others took a walk to the Western Wall to experience Shabbat prayers there. It was amazing, several thousand Jews singing, dancing, reading texts, praying. And right on top of them was a mosque issuing the call to prayer at the same time. It raised the obvious question: with so many people practicing their differing faiths in the same small space why can’t they (we) learn to get along together?!

Dinner was back at the hotel, and afterwards many of us migrated up to the rooftop restaurant for live oud music and a nightcap. It was an intense, good day.

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