Architecturally significant and surrounded by carefully landscaped memorials, this place provides a very moving experience. Quite frankly, I found it absolutely silencing. What is one to say or even think when absolute devastation is placed before you in a flood of images, stories, and descriptions?
Even now, twelve hours after leaving, I don’t know what to write.
And I trust that you know what I mean. You’ve been in history classes. You’ve read words by Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel or Corrie ten Boom. You’ve seen “Schindler’s List”. Everything to do with the Holocaust is nothing short of nauseating—a democratic government hijacked by a flesh-covered demon, an empire built on hate, and humanity lost six million times over in death and even more in twisted life. “Disturbing” is not a strong enough word.
And whatever are the proper ones, I lack them.
When I saw the itinerary for today, I knew it would be a heavy one. As I entered the museum and read the sign that children under ten were not to be admitted, my suspicions climbed. The rest of the day was simply the experience itself—crushing and deflating.
I know there are tales of hope sprinkled in there—victories won and stands taken. Good was present too. But the evil… oh the evil. It hardly gets more frightening than that to me.
And in moments like that, I go quiet.
But our day moved on. The rest of the area is known as Mount Herzl, named after a European Jewish journalist whose writings spawned the early beginnings of the modern Zionist movement in the late 1800’s. Though he died long before 1948 and modern Israel’s birth as a nation, his dying wish was to be brought and buried in the nation of Israel when it finally came about. And so he was. And that marked the beginning of this spot as a burial place for Israel’s great politicians and military heroes.
Showing us around this place was a man named Daniel Rossing, who spent many years working in the Israeli government and who continues to work at building bridges between Christians and Jews. Without exaggeration, he is an exceptional man. As we moved through the park area of Mount Herzl, Daniel lectured on the struggle that modern Jews have in establishing their identities as Jews. Truly, their history and culture and circumstances (past and current) make for a highly unusual setting in which to “find oneself” as a nation and as a people. There are numerous awkward (even dangerous) tensions at play. Daniel’s description of this was moving and passionate and well-informed and realistic and humble. Many of the voices we’ve heard on this trip, all of which have held value, could not be described with all of those adjectives. His presentation and presence with us were profound and powerful, adding to what had already been a hard-hitting day.
A brief break back at Tantur gave us time to rest before an evening supper in Bethlehem. Hosted by a Palestinian Christian names Joseph, we dined at the fantastic Tent Restaurant. It was a feast in a lovely spot. I was lucky enough to be sitting near Joseph, a middle-aged man, married, with five children. He’s a long-time friend of Charles & Gwen.
Besides answering our questions about life in Palestine, he shared (at Charles’ prompting) his faith journey with us. Raised in what one might call a “culturally Orthodox” family, Joseph would have called himself a Christian, even while knowing that he was not, in any true sense, a BELIEVER. In his adult life, his wife came to the Lord through experiences that included significant healing and a visit by an unknown and mysterious stranger. Sloughing some of this off as it happened, Joseph now looks back on these events as little short of miraculous. Working through his wife, God began to chip away at Joseph’s stubborn heart. Slowly, slowly, he stepped closer until he could no longer bear it. He KNEW that he must give himself to Jesus. He was compelled to.
Since then, he and his family have continued to feel God’s hand upon and around them. Dangerous times have come and passed in Bethlehem. Serious setbacks have arrived in various forms, but faith has sustained them and continues to move them onward. It was encouraging and inspiring—the final highlight on a highly impacting day.
And now bed calls! Breakfast is set for 6:45 AM, after which we’ll tackle the Mount of Olives with our final day in Jerusalem. It’s been a wonder-filled ride, but Galilee awaits us. And after that… home!