Our first visit today was a sobering one – Yad Vashem – the Holocaust museum situated on the Mount of remembrance in Jerusalem. Its name is taken from Isaiah 56:5 – ‘I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name (yad vashem) better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off’.
There are several monuments on the site which try to depict what Israelis think about the holocaust. Our guide explained to us that they are aiming through the museum to portray – ironically – thanks (for the survivors but also thanks for the optimism that the verse above gives them) and at the same time the pessimism of looking back at what happened. Jews today want to make sure that this kind of thing will never happen again. And surely this should be the desire of all mankind – whether we think of the holocaust or more modern horrors like human trafficking.
Probably what struck me most at the museum was the Children’s Monument, dedicated to the memory of the one and a half million children who died in the holocaust. It simultaneously stresses two sides of the same coin: first, the vast number of children who died, by depicting each one as a candle in a darkened room. Your impression is of hundreds of stars above you, around you and down below you – you feel disorientated, upside down, losing your bearings – because that is how those children felt. Secondly, the monument encourages you to think of the children as individuals by a visual presentation of several photos of some of the children accompanied by an audio presentation which gives names of children and of concentration camps where individual children died.
You can’t take photos in the Children’s Monument but outside it there are several pillars roughly hewn out of rock, all cut down at different sizes; and on the way to the monument, the rock walls are etched out to look like a child’s growth chart. These children were cut down before they should have been and they never got to grow up to the full height of their growth charts.
There is also a tribute to the great Polish-Jewish educator Dr. Henrik Goldschmidt, known by his pseudonym Janusz Korczak, who ran an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. Despite his efforts to save the children, approximately 200 children from his orphanage were sent to the Treblinka death camp on August 5, 1942. Korczak went with them.
Our next stop was the Israel Museum – the largest cultural institution in the state of Israel. We hadn’t time to see everything but a couple of things are worthy of mention: the model of Jerusalem from the time of Herod the Great, which includes the temple, and also the Shrine of the Book which houses the original Dead Sea scrolls (which we were not allowed to photograph). Interestingly, the entire book of Isaiah was found in the caves at Qumran (see previous blog entry) along with remnants of all of the other Old Testament books, apart from Nehemiah and Esther.
Our final visit today was Caesarea. Originally built by Herod the Great, it was a stronghold of the Romans before being taken over by the Arabs and finally destroyed by the Crusaders. It has a chequered history of wealth, power and dominance, as well as being a centre for decadence, opulence and gladiator sports. For Christians, its significance is that it was the place referred to in Acts 10. Cornelius lived there and when Peter had his vision of the sheet of unclean animals, God told him to go to Caesarea. Peter’s vision convinced him, not only that all animals were clean, but that all people should hear the Good News of the gospel and so he shared the gospel with Cornelius, who became the first Gentile convert. We found no reference to any of that in Caesarea today but we did find a stone with the name of Pontius Pilate on it.
Leaving Caeserea, we drove about an hour to Tel Aviv, where we will be spending the weekend. We are privileged to be staying in a lovely hotel on the Mediterranean sea and are hoping to walk along the promenade to Jaffa (formerly Joppa) – where Peter was when he had his vision – tomorrow.
This evening we enjoyed a wonderful buffet meal in the hotel, where we are staying on the ninth floor, overlooking the sea.