Middle East Travel Seminar: A day of memory, history, hope… and sweets!

BY SUE LOWCOCK HARRIS

We began the day at Yad VaShem, “a place and a name,” the Holocaust memorial here in Jerusalem. The large complex includes an exhibition on the history and experience of the Jewish community in Europe and North Africa during the time of the Nazis, a hall of memory, remembrance gardens, and a children’s hall of remembrance. We explored the galleries and gardens at our own pace, which allowed each of us to pause and ponder, taking in the images, voices, artifacts and writings that bear witness to the work camps, mass executions, forced marches and gas chambers, inviting us to add our voices to the cry, “Never Again!”

Many shared that the most moving, indeed emotional moment came when walking through the Children’s Memorial (top photo): a path descends to a dark room lit by a light reflected in mirrors, creating a field of stars, above, behind, beneath, marking the grief that 25-percent of those who perished during the Holocaust were children. They are remembered forever.

We then moved on to the Israel Museum’s model of first century Jerusalem. In the lovely sunshine, we began piecing together paths we have walked with their first-century counterpart, identifying the places associated with the events of Holy Week and Easter. The model was definitely worth the visit, as it clarified the topography, geography, and history of the city.

We then entered the Shrine of the Book, a museum dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls. I’m not the only one who audibly gasped when I realized I was looking at one of the ceramic pots in which the scrolls were hidden. Fragments of scrolls told the rule of the Essene community. One person remarked on the connection between the Essene rule and later Christian monastic rules. Another was awestruck by the facsimile of the Great Isaiah Scroll laying before him. I marveled at the 10th century Aleppo Codex, the oldest compete bible in Hebrew, and thought of treasures lost that may yet be found.

A quick stroll around the quad of Hebrew University and a look inside the National Library on the campus brought the touring day to a close. Like any university library, the large reading room was filled with the hush of students and faculty pouring over books, taking notes, lost in wonder or struggling for meaning. The next generation of leadership in this fragile region learns together here: men and women, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and none of the above. So it was perfect that when we returned to the hotel, Union student Kelly Connelly offered us a start on processing our experiences here with a thoughtful presentation on contemporary Palestinian and Israeli cinema, music, drama, and poetry.

Back in the Old City, we walked the narrow alleyways. Vendors invited us to come and look at their jewelry, art, scarves, toys, trinkets. Many of us headed down Souk Khan El Zeit (Olive Alley) to Ja’Far Sweets, for the most exquisite Baklava and Kanafeh. Memory, history, and hope in a mouthful. Salaam/Shalom/Peace rest upon you.


The Rev. Sue Lowcock Harris an alumna of Union and co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Howard County, Maryland.