Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Upper Room and the Holocaust Museum

Today was a day filled with emotion. It was our last day of touring and we spent the morning celebrating holy communion with Lutherans literally from the 4 corners of the world at the ELCA Church of the Redeemer. In the afternoon we spent several hours at the Holocaust Museum seeing the evidence of the most horrific things human beings can do to one another.
We ended our day of touring in the tunnels under the western wall.

In the evening we had a wonderful dinner at the Olive Press Restaurant with our guide and the whole group. We had a traditional Israeli/Greek meal with lots of vegetables and fruits, lamb, talapia (St. Peter's fish) or chicken and a delicious chocolate souffle and tea.

The most moving part of the day for many of us was seeing the upper room where Jesus shared his last supper with his disciples and then sharing Sunday service and holy communion at the Church of the Redeemer. They just happened to have 20 members of the Oklahoma Men's Chorus that was touring in the area, sing the musical selections for the morning. It's a 200 member chorus and orchestra and they split up to cover several Sunday services before their concert later that afternoon. The acoustics in the stone church were absolutely incredible and when our voices were joined with theirs, it gave a beautiful sound to the music for the morning. The pastor there was originally from St. Paul and he said he really appreciated the Minnesota voices. They always do introductions at the end of their service before the blessing and along with our group visiting that day was a group from Canada, a woman from Gaza whose husband was from Kameroon, a woman from Kansas, a pastor from Bavaria, Germany, a group from Lake Tahoe, CA and Hollywood, CA.

Pastor Holman's sermon was on Jesus' words of "Peace be with you." It was so moving in this land of ongoing conflict and tension to hear him preach on the only peace that really matters. When we shared the peace with each other during the service, it's meaning was much more significant to all of us than before.

We actually heard some hopeful news at the end of the day during our supper together. It sounds like the Israelis are going to ease restrictions on Palestinians going back and forth across the border between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. It sounds like it may have come from some of the efforts of Christians in Bethlehem as well as our ELCA Bishops who were there in January. How wonderful that would be for them.

We shopped for awhile in the market place at the north end of the city wall and brought back lots of great gifts for family and friends. We may have trouble getting our suitcases packed when we leave tonight.

Going to the Holocaust Museum this afternoon was kind of overwhelming for many of us. Some had been there before or to the one in Washington D.C., but for those who hadn't it was hard to get through it all. Our guide, Doron, encouraged us to just do as much as we felt we could and then to try to process it later. We saw the Garden of the Righteous Gentiles to commemorate the people who had actually saved thousands of Jews during the war. What was so eye opening was the number of countries and churches who did nothing to stop what was happening - even to innocent children - or to even open their borders to Jewish immigrants after the war - that included the Pope at the time and our own country. We also saw the Hall of Remembrance with all the names of people who died in the death camps and the Children's Memorial where names of children who died were continuously read. Doron told us that his mother's family from Greece lost most of its members to the Holocaust. It's really amazing that there are some people who still deny that the Holocaust ever happened. It was so well documented. Most of the pictures of the ghettos and death camps and forced marches and trains were actually taken by the Germans who kept detailed records of what they did.

There were lots of soldiers there and at the Western Wall where we went next. They're all getting ready to celebrate their Independence Day with many commemorations and ceremonies. Before the western wall, we actually went to the Israel Museum where a model of the old city of Jerusalem is displayed along with some of the Dead Sea scrolls. The scroll of the book of Isaiah is displayed in one continuous scroll posted on a round wall in the center of the building under a water controlled dome. There were fascinating details and artifacts from the Essenes, the sect that discovered and kept the scrolls for many years.

Our last stop for the whole trip was back to the Western Wall. This time we got to take pictures and to touch the wall. Women and men still had to go to different sections of it. We then went underground to walk the tunnel that runs the length of the wall. It was built in the 1500s as a street along the area that is now the western wall of the temple mount. In the 1800s when archeologists discovered the tunnel that includes a cistern and a reservoir along it, there was concern that people were trying to excavate into the temple mount and the Muslim temple. When they dug an exit out of the tunnel in 1991, so there was better access to it, there were actually riots between several groups.

There's no more touring to do. All that's left is to pack and prepare for the long plane ride home. We'll leave the hotel at 2:30 am this morning to catch a 6:00 am flight out of Tel Aviv. It's been an amazing experience - this pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Our guide, Doron, told us at dinner tonight that coming on a pilgrimage to Israel doesn't make you become a better Christian, but good Christians certainly make a better pilgrimage. It's not often that you get a PhD in Political Science for a tour guide. Doron got his PhD from the Kennedy School of Political Science at Harvard. He's actually coming to the States to teach seminars at LSU for a month. We hope to see him again some time in May in Minnesota.

So for now it's Shalom to the wonderful countries of Israel and Jordan and all the fascinating people we've met. And it's "see you soon" to all our family and friends. We won't be posting again from the Holy Land.

God's blessings to all.


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