Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Arc de Triumph

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Israel 2106, Day 4

This evening was one of great contrast between two significant events.. 

I met our group. Dr. Grisanti is a down-to-earth guy who knows his way around Israel and, in particular, the Old City. He split us up into care groups so he doesn't have to count heads every time we gather. I'm in "Joey's".

After a delicious buffet dinner of great tasting but largely indescribable-to-the-Western-eye-or-palate food thingies and sauces, we set out for the Western Wall, sometimes known as the Wailing Wall. This wall is part of what is left of of the Temple Mount after the Romans  destroyed the Temple in 70 AD. People of Jewish descent will not go up on the Mount so the Wall is as close as they can get to the original Temple. It is a highly revered and sacred place. 

On the way we got the see part of Jerusalem lit up. 

One of the first sights was a full sized menorah. It stands about 5 feet tall. The original was made with an iron core so that it could stand upright. It was than coated with pure gold. The replica alone was breathtaking. 

As we drew near to the security checkpoint to the Wall, it became evident that something special was going on, it was a remembrance service for fallen Israeli soldiers. This was the fist of the two significant events we were to witness. The crowd was huge and our wait for security was longer than expected. The city lit up at night was even more beautiful.

Temple eMount
Buildings bordering the square in front of the Western Wall Western Wall

Upon Entering the square, the scene was impressive. There were thousands of people gathered, late in the evening to pay tribute to fallen heroes. There were speeches and prayers from military and government leaders. A memorial torch was lit to commemorate those who gave their lives. Flags were raised, chants were chanted in a moving tribute to a long heritage of service and sacrifice among the Jewish people. 

Even more moving was the demeanor of the crowd. There was deep reverence and an unspoken sense of unity and identity. It was an amazing example of a people who, even though they have been scattered for eons, have a deep sense of identity with each other and are keenly aware of all they've been through in order to have this moment of remembrance. It was a poignant and powerful moment. 

Crowd at the Israeli Memorial Day

We found a startling contrast to the unity of this moment when we went to watch the locking of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. 

The large, ornate church is said by many, particularly those who occupy the church, to be the site of Jesus's crucifixion and tomb. Inside are the chapels of major Christian (in a broad sense) denominations; Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Egyptian Coptic, Syriac and a few other lesser denominations. They have a long notorious history of tension and squabbling between them, so much that they are unable to decide who can lock and unlock the church. So, for the last century or so, they have mutually agreed to give the keys to the church to a Muslim family in town. It seems they were able to agree that a Muslim would be neutral ground.  

Every morning, a Muslim man walks through the town, climbs the ladder placed there by representatives from each of the denominations, and unlocks the door. In the evening, the sequence is reversed, leaving representatives of each denomination inside to safeguard their respective areas. The ladder is then passed through a panel in the door so no one else can unlock the door.

Apparently the inner conflict between the denominations is legendary in Jerusalem with many similar anecdotes, some of them violent in nature. Our guide said, sadly, "When Jerusalem considers Christianity, this is what they think of, a church that is unable to lock its doors without arguing."

The Muslim man smiled, waved and said, "Good night!" to the crowd.

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