This is my sixth day in Israel now. Today is Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, a good time to reflect on what I have seen and experienced so far. Three things in particular stand out in my mind.
My flight from Frankfurt landed me at Ben Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv in the early hours of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. At 10 a.m. that morning, a siren began to wail. All the cars on the busy street in front of my hotel stopped promptly, their drivers got out and stood motionless, heads bowed, for two minutes. Pedestrians on the sidewalks stopped as well. I knew that people throughout the length and breadth of Israel were performing the same rite at that very moment in time. I stood at the hotel window, hoping the people on the street below would regard me as a fellow participant, and not merely as a gawking tourist. How does one even begin to remember adequately the staggering loss of six million innocent victims at the hands of the Nazis?
Another particularly poignant moment for me was the visit in Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The gnarled olive trees I saw were the same ones under which Jesus prayed and agonized over his coming betrayal and death.
It is thought that the gnarled olive trees even predate Jesus’ time.
On my way from the Old City to the Mount of Olives, I had passed the only one of the seven gates into Jerusalem that is closed up: the Golden Gate.
In 1517 when Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem (the walls one sees today), he deliberately closed up the eastern gate to Jerusalem, the gate now known as the Golden Gate. He had heard rumours that the Jewish Messiah would enter Jerusalem through the eastern gate. He summoned the rabbis who confirmed this. To prevent this ever happening, Suleiman sealed up the gate and established a Moslem cemetery in front of the gate, believing no Jewish messiah would ever pass across Muslim graves. Too late, Christians would say! The Messiah has come.
There is so much to see and experience in Israel. The Jewish Sabbath provides welcome respite from the flurry of sightseeing, however enjoyable that might be.