According to Ze’ev, our guide, in order to understand the Israeli psyche, one must visit two places. One, we have already visited in the Judean Desert, the Fortress of Masada. The second we would visited today. Our entire morning was spent at the Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum. Yad Vashem is Hebrew for “a place and a name,” a phrase taken from Isaiah 56:5 – ” Even unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a place and a name…” Yad Vashem is located on the slopes of Mt. Herzl, which is also the location of the national cemetery (the equivalent of our Arlington). Today was Israel’s memorial day in which they remember their fallen citizens and soldiers. It all made for one very emotional and moving morning. We first walked through the heart-rending Children’s Memorial. We made our way through a dark passage with myriad points of light representing the 1,500,000 Jewish children who perished in the holocaust. As we walked through, a voice read off the names, ages, and nationalities of each child who died. We then walked down the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations along which trees are planted to honor those non-Jews who risked their lives and families to assist and save Jews during the Holocaust. Next, we entered the Holocaust History Museum, a deeply troubling journey through the history of the horrific evil of 6,000,000 Jews murdered during the Holocaust. As we walked along, artifacts, testimonies, photographs, documentation, art, multimedia, and video art helped us to remember the atrocities perpetrated on the Jews. At 11:00, a two minute siren once again sounded throughout Israel, at which time we joined all Israelis across the land, pausing in our steps to silently remember. “Never Again” is the motto of the Jewish Defense League, and should be the motto of all people. (No pictures were allowed within the Museum.)
After having lunch at the museum, we attempted to visit the birthplace of John the Baptist. The traffic was horrendous due to the memorial day crowds in the area, but eventually we arrived in Ein Kerem, southwest of Jerusalem, and John the Baptist’s birthplace. Unfortunately, our timing was off. The site had just closed seconds before our arrival. Prior to our departure, I snapped a quick picture of the exterior of the Church of St. John the Baptist, a 19th century Roman Catholic Church built on the ruins of former Crusader and Byzantine churches.
Having been foiled at our last attempted site, we regrouped and decided to visit the site at Emmaus. Luke 24:13-35 records the post-resurrection story of two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were discussing the recent events in Jerusalem, when Jesus showed up and began to instruct them how that the Old Testament Scriptures testified of the recently crucified and resurrected Messiah. Only when he reached their house in Emmaus, and he had broken and blessed the bread, did they recognize that their guest teacher was the risen Lord. We visited the ruins of a 5th-century Byzantine Church on the site where this incident occurred. How thrilling to sit in the nave of the old church and read the story from Luke about the Emmaus encounter!
From Emmaus, we took a short bus ride to Beit Shemesh, an ancient city dating back to pre-biblical times. It is mentioned in 1 Samuel 6 as being the first city encountered by the Ark of the Covenant as it returned from Philistia after having been captured by the Philistines. Beit Shemesh sits on a hill at the border of what was formerly Philistine and Israel in the days of the Old Testament. We stood on the tel among the excavated ruins looking out over the valley to the west, which was Philistine territory. Father Reid read the story of the return of the Ark as we gazed out on the terrain over which the Ark passed to reach the city. This made the story came alive.
Our last stop of the day was in the Valley of Elah. I Samuel 17 tells one of the most familiar of all Bible stories, which happened to take place in this valley. The Philistines were encamped on nearby hill called Azekah, while the Israelites were encamped on a ridge on the opposite side of the valley. David was sent by his father to take food to his brothers in the Israelite camp. While there he heard the taunting of a Philistine giant by the name of Goliath, who had challenged and taunted the cowering Israelite army for 40 days. You know the story… of how David bravely agreed to fight Goliath; of how he chose 5 small stones from the river bed and defeated the giant warrior with a perfectly placed stone to the forehead; of how he responded to Goliath with these words: ““You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” Standing in this valley, we read the story. I could “see” the armies encamped on the opposite hills. I could “see” Goliath spew forth his challenge. And, I could “see” David pick up the five stones and slay Goliath, cutting off his head with his own sword. It was truly amazing!
This evening at sunset, Memorial Day ended, and Independence Day began. We were able to watch fireworks from our hotel room balcony. There is now two more days to go! Who knows what adventures await tomorrow?