I am helping to lead a 10-day Jewish-Christian study trip to Israel. We left the U.S. on April 15. My plan is to post entries about our trip here as I have the opportunity, but that may not be possible daily.
Even on days when I'm unable to post, however, I'll be giving you some links to learn about the places in Israel that are on our itinerary.
Today we are to visit Yad Vashem, the memorial to the Holocaust. Yad Vashem is the agency that designates non-Jews as "Righteous Among the Nations" for helping to save Jews from the Holocaust. You can read about it in a chapter of my last book, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust.
Next we continue to Mt. Herzl and the new Mt. Herzl Museum.
Then we'll stop at the Knesset, Israel's parliament building.
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JERUSALEM -- Here's the thing about the religious sites here to which pilgrims (along with not a few of the disinterested, though not uninterested) come:
In many cases, no one knows if what happened here really happened right here or somewhere else. And, beyond that, never mind the debates about whether what happened really happened at all.
Take, for instance, the two sites at which Jesus was crucified and the two sites of his burial. Several blocks separate them, along with considerable theological distance.
One location for Calvary and the tomb is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This puzzled-together old building is under the control of six different branches of Christianity (each of which keeps its own space and its own schedule and rituals), though, in fact, some Muslims hold the key to the place so there's no breaking into fisticuffs about who has the right to lock the place up at night.
It is in this church(es) that the Catholics and various Orthodox branches swear you can find the place where Jesus met his death and where, on that first Easter, he rose to life.
Then, by contrast, there's the Garden Tomb. It was discovered in the 1800s and many Protestants think it is Golgotha (or the hill that looks like a skull) and that it contains the actual tomb in which Jesus' door-knob dead body was lain. (You see the entrance to the Garden Tomb in the upper photo here today.)
We went to both sites and, especially at the Garden Tomb under the guidance of a volunteer who showed us around, were given the case for why this site or that was the correct one.
It may not shock you to hear from me that no one really knows the exact spot on which the cross of Christ was raised or where Christ himself was raised.
And, in the end, it doesn't matter. Well, it matters, but not nearly as much as people think it does. What matters is that there is in all three Abrahamic faiths something historical and that it is possible to be reasonably certain about some things.
Beyond that, what matters is that because all three faiths -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in chronological order -- believe in an invisible God, it is important for people to have something concrete to hold on to, whether that is the Tomb of Rachel, which we visited yesterday (is Rachel buried there? Who knows.), or the site of the crucifixion.
And, in my view, there is nothing wrong with people needing concrete things. After all, each of the Abrahamic faiths teaches that God created matter and called it good. So why should I be the one to argue about this point with God?
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JERUSALEM -- You may think of the Holy Land as desert territory. And you would not be completely wrong. Once you get south of Jerusalem a ways, you run into particularly arid land and, eventually, the Dead Sea, surrounded by what looks like, from a distance, dead land.
But the truth is that Israel is a wildly varied land, from Mt. Hermon in the north (on which we saw snow the other day) to the desert of the south, with much hilliness and verdant plains in between.
One of the things that has especially struck me on this trip: flowers. Whether carefully cultivated or wild, they seem to be everywhere this lovely time of year. So today I want to give you just a taste or two of what I've been seeing in bloom as our group of Christians and Jews have wandered the country.
Thus, the lower two pictures here today.