Holy Land Pilgrimage -Day 3
First stop today Vad Yasheem, the Holocaust memorial. Nothing could prepare one for the shock of the Children's Memorial. We enter a dark, dark place and are first stopped in our tracks by a 3 metre high glass mural of beautiful children's faces. We know on the instance that all this beauty and promise was cruelly cut down long before they reached the threshold of their potential.
We then move into a black void, for our eyes are still not accustomed to the dark in which mirrors reflect one and a half million candle images - one for every child that died. Yes, one and a half million. As we edge our way forward, as if we were stumbling incomprehensibly through a star field, voices slowly read out the names of murdered children and their country of origin. All of us emerge at least red-eyed, some weeping and all I think numbed. Later among the memorial trees, whilst The shock of the numbers remains, comes also a horrific realisation of just how far the evil of Nazi-ism spread its tentacles across Europe.
Other parts of the garden were also moving (we did not go into the museum), among these the transportation-train wagon balanced on a single, stark metallic bridge-arch was for me particularly poignant as trains had been objects of fascination for me in a boyhood not
far removed in time from the period that children, women and men were being shunted into death camps by train.
From there to Bethlehem, now, as it was described, an open prison, surrounded by the Israeli security wall and being deliberately squeezed in all manner of ways. We were made aware of this as the Christian Co-operative manager told us we were the only coach they were expecting today: the Israeli tour-guides apparently maintaining this was too dangerous a place. So the shepherds fields are not attracting the number of visitors they have in the past which is obviously bad news for all the businesses which surround the site.
We sung 'O Come Al Ye Faithful' in a shepherd's cave and then in the Church of the shepherds fields, after the Peruvian Gloria had been sung, Maureen, our tour leader kindly allowed me to sing my carol, 'At Bethlehem in borrowed cattle stall' (which can be found in the A - Z index in the right hand column of this page) which I would never dared to have thought it might be sung in such an apposite place - but remarkably we had the church to ourselves throughout.
Lunch is at the Tent restaurant and with a bit of imagination we could describe our experience as lunch in a Bedouin tent: the structure of the restaurant certainly corresponds closely to the Bedouin tents we have seen elsewhere. It is also a good vantage point for seeing how new Israeli settlements dominate hilltops and tower over Palestinian villages. Also roads constructed solely for settlement dwellers can be seen.
Manger Square is our next destination for the Church and grotto of the Nativity. The availability of modern transportation places burdens on such places never experienced before cheap air flights. So we have to queue four and five abreast then funnel down to a single entry doorway to enter the holy place where it is believed Christ was born. With a touch of sad irony, our very experienced tour guide had advised us to keep tightly packed together to deter those who might attempt to queue jump! Sure enough, a woman in purple skirted round about a dozen groups of those queued five abreast. Many of us were delighted to see her sent to the rear of the queue - yet astonishingly she appeared at the grotto entrance at the same time as us. It is difficult to conceive what formative or subsequent factors shape an individual to be so aggressively pushy - and in such a place. Even common courtesy has been lost along that life's path. We discussed the incident later over supper with Bishop Stephen as it happened and recognised just how much anger that woman had aroused. I was for publishing the picture I have of her on Facebook - but I was swiftly and rightly admonished by Pam. So I will pray for her - but fear even that such a prayer will be lacking in grace!
What is also sad is how that incident near-dominated the manger site sense of reverence, which, in any event, for me was marred by what I regarded as excessively ornate surroundings to the grotto. For others this is clearly an aid to worship but for me, sadly, a barrier. Happily after the visit to the grotto we were guided to a corner just beyond the grotto and sung 'OCome All Ye Faithful' which had obvious appropriateness and it was good to hear voices in other tongues singing with us which spoke the message of Christ's reaching out to all people.
A quiet corner in the grotto until we start to sing!
Within the same site is the cave of Saint Jerome and the cave of The Innocents. At this end of a long day, the latter became a victim of our weariness though there was time to view the rather wonderful bronze Jesse Tree at the exit.
Finally we were taken to the Blind school in Nazareth wher Doreen, the Principal for twelve years showed us how they help with the education of blind children. This is a foundation supported by McCabes, our tour operator and all we saw spoke of a loving and effective environment. Only two children were present, it being a holiday (Sabbat) but they seemed very responsive to us and entertained us with a poem (Wordsworth's 'Daffodils) and a song. I spoke personally with Doreen and in response to my suggestion it must have sometimes been harrowing, she said there had been many, many tears.
Toys to feel