Wednesday, February 25, 2004

As we get ready to leave Israel, both of us have some closing thoughts.

Here are some comments Allen wrote a week ago about Jerusalem and Masada.

"Tomorrow we're off to Tiberias, ending two extraordinary weeks in Jerusalem. I feel like I've yet to assimilate our experiences here and yet I feel compelled to write a little about them.

Strangely enough my ideas about Jerusalem were somewhat crystallized by our visit to Masada, some 75 miles from here. There, a group of Jewish Zealots (that's the derivation of the word) held out for 3 years, from 70 to 73, after the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman. Men, women, and children, they lived in the fortress of Masada, a mesa thousands of feet above the surrounding desert and the Dead Sea. Finally, the Romans used slaves to build road all the way to the top. The day before the wall was breached the leaders decreed suicide rather than Roman slavery for all the inhabitants. Two women and five children hid out and survived. We have the story today thanks to the jewish Benedict Arnold, Roman historian Josephus. Jews all over the world and especially Israelis see this as a great victory. Me - I see a Jim Jones cult. I see fratricide, infanticide, and just plain murder. The remains of two beautiful palaces built by Herod are still there. There aree lovely mosaics, a spectacular bathhouse, dozens of store rooms the fortress walls, the world's first synagogue, cisterns, etc. but of course there are no bodies.

Somehow that is Jerusalem, a city built on mountains, a city built completely of rock and built to last. The light here is more extraordinary than any building. The city almost glows under it. The light is so pure and white. I've never seen light like that anywhere. In some way it must be the source of the spiritual birth of these religions

Here the past overwhelms the present. A thousand year old mosque sits upon the 3000 year old Jewish wailing wall. A couple blocks away is the Via Dolorosa. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is "shared" by a dozen different sects and they all hate each other and require the civil authorities to enforce the 300 year old sharing rules or they'd kill each other. And of course the Jews and the Moslems also hate each other. We saw a jewish soldier flip over an Arab's stand where he was selling bras. As I helped the man pick up his wares, I asked him why. He just shrugged his shoulders. The woman in the stand next to his said, They always do it." A Christian Arab I talked to said Arafat is just as bad as Sharon and only the poor and the powerless really want peace.

And then you leave the Old City with its rabbit warren streets and its separate quarters for each group. And there in the New city, you find Yad Vashem (literally memory and name) and cry your way through the Holocaust. You walk through halls of unspeakable history, past an eternal flame lighting the names of ten concentration camps and six death camps. You walk through a stone valley, literally a map of Europe, with the names of hundreds of Jewish communities, each in its correct geographic place, that no longer exist in Europe. I found Atachi Rumania where my father was born and 67 of our relatives died. We took pictures. There was nothing more to do. Enough."

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