Yad VaShem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, was our sobering first outing. Knowing the outline of the holocaust, and having read other people's accounts of the museum before, I wasn't surprised by anything there. But it is undoubtedly an excellent museum, movingly and thoughtfully designed, and a powerful experience. It made clear the deliberate campaigns to stir up the population against the Jews (and gypsies and the disabled), the removal of their jobs and rights, dispossession of land, destruction of housing, and the eventual murder of an astonishingly high proportion of all Jews.
In the recent year I've read many accounts of how the Israeli state has been behaving towards Palestinians. And that too is sobering, cataloguing removal of rights, dispossession of land, destruction of housing, and some violence, not just aimed at Hamas. So I wonder whether the victim of the Holocaust has realised that it's adopted some of those same tactics of oppression?
(Well, that's an early impression. Within a few days we'll have seen the separation wall, talked to an Israeli activist and visited one of the refugee camps. Let's see how my thoughts modify and become more nuanced ,,,)
The Israel Museum was worth much more of a visit than we had time for. Starting with the large model of Jerusalem in the second temple era, we got much better acquainted with the layout and topology of Jerusalem at about the time of Jesus. Next, the Shrine of the Scroll celebrated the 1948 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, which was so important in verifying the accuracy of much of the Jewish (Old Testament) Scriptures. And finally we almost ran around some of the Archaeology exhibitions, looking at several centuries of finds BC and AD. I have taken pictures of a few choice items -- such as inscriptions mentioning both Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate who both feature heavily in Jesus' last months and days -- in the expectation that they come in handy in future talks and sermons. And it was a good reminder that the Christian faith is a faith rooted in history at a particular time and place, not just a load of fairy tales. (Though I don't know who could or would invent the Gospels: read them at all closely, and this theory that you sometimes hear just doesn't make sense.)
In the evening we spent time in the whole group saying what brings each of us to theological college, and to Jerusalem at this point, and what we wanted to get out of the trip. As ever with groups of Christians, there's a wide range of backgrounds and faith journey present, and there are clearly lots of interesting stories to hear in the days ahead. And indeed the conversation continued later over wine at the charming and well-stocked bar at the American Colony Hotel just around the corner.