Day Four – A Little Night Relief


Twilight over Jerusalem at Yad Vashem

The last couple of blogs have been particularly heavy in content and theology, and there is more to come. However to bring a little bit of relief it was decided that we should venture out into the big, bright city and do a little exploration of our own.


Kiryat Moshe Station

Over the last few days we have been leaving Yad Vashem as the sun is setting, the skies are still clear and the weather warm. The hotel is near to the Jerusalem Light Railway that stretches from Pisgat Ze’ev in the North to Mount Herzl in the West,. However, the first challenge is to cross the busy road. Yes, there are pedestrian crossing, but the traffic barely stops to pause and the language of the street is the honking of horns.

A ticket cost 5.90 NIS for a single trip (about £1.27) and the trains come along every ten minutes or so.


We decided to alight at the Jaffa Road stop and spend some time looking around the gift and ‘tat’ shops. For those of you unfamiliar with the latter expression it refers to those tacky souvenirs that are mass-produced usually with words like ‘I love ….’ or ‘I visited… and only got this lousy t-shirt’ for example. However, they are great fun to browse around and I managed to come away with at least one piece to add to our ‘tat’ cabinet at home.


There are some quirks in the shop signs that remind you that you are in a country that takes the Sabbath seriously, and as we were to find out later on in the week, it is indeed observed by the majority of Jews, whether orthodox, ultra-orthodox, liberal or secular

There is also some amazing street art

‘Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak’
Genesis 32:22-32


‘God wrestling with Jacob’ – Jerusalem Street Art

This image painted on a door shutter depicts Jacob wrestling with a ‘man’ who appears to be in the guise of an angel but who later turns out to be God. The man is certainly depicted as an incredibly strong, muscular being, but Jacob, though the smaller opponent, seems to be giving as good as he gets and is even resorting to a spot of eye-gouging. There is no clear winner in this contest, although Jacob comes out of it with his hip bone out of joint and a new name – Israel

IMG_7371Like many cities around the world, in Jerusalem there are a lot of ice-cream and frozen yoghurt cafes and it’s certainly nice to sit outside enjoying the local ‘Ben and Jerry’s’ selection of ices,  as well as taking the time to get to know the others. Alex, Angie, Anna,  Fran and I certainly enjoyed doing both.

The following evening we decided that we would perhaps venture a little further and travelled to the Old Walled City of Jerusalem. We knew that when we went later in the week it would be completely different, but it would be a chance to at least orientate ourselves. Back on the train but this time we got off at the Damascus Gate.


The Damascus Gate – one of the main entrances into the Old City of Jerusalem


The entrance to the souk by the Damascus gate

The souks or marketplaces were nearly all closed or closing, but it made the narrow paved streets seem like a series of tunnels, twisting and turning one way and then another; dropping down one minute and then climbing the next.

I can see the frankincense, but where’s the myrrh?


Even so there were some interesting shops still open, including a spice and incense shop selling, no doubt the obligatory, frankincense.


Spices both colourful and pungent





Eventually, we found ourselves outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, almost deserted, with the doors locked. The claim to this most holy of places is made by Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic denominations, and to a lesser degree the Coptic Orthodox, Syriacs Orthodox and Ethiopians Tewahedo.

However, none of these groups appear to be able to trust the other as the keys to the church are held by their Muslim neighbours at the Mosque of Omar


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre – closed and deserted

However, there were still plenty of devotees down by the Western Wall.  This remnant of the Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans around 70AD has become a sacred place where people can offer their prayers. Some people stand, gently rocking, with their faces or hands pressed against the wall, while others sit on chairs, with man and women separated. Whatever position you choose to take it is customary to walk backwards away from the wall, always facing it until you get to the exit – something that is trickier than you think


The men’s section of the Western Wall

A walk back through the Jewish section of the Old City reveals its Roman history as well


The Cardo in the Jewish quarter of the Old City

Finally, we caught the train back to the hotel. This time, however, we were packed liked sardines, and I found myself surrounded by young orthodox teenage boys returning from the synagogue, an Israeli solider including his gun, Muslim ladies in headscarves and Jewish families with babies in pushchairs and arms. It was to be remembered that Thursday night in Jerusalem is like our Friday night at home – everyone is out celebrating the weekend.


Day Three – Part 2 – The Holocaust & The Christian World


Street Art in the centre of Jerusalem

In Shoah and Genocide I wrote about Professor Yuhuda Bauer’s insights into why the Shoah or Holocaust was unprecedented. However, for any genocide to occur there has to be a history behind it. Dr Jesper Svartvik* suggests that however painful it might be we have to recognise the part that Christian anti-Semitism had to play in it. So what was the history of this anti-Semitism?

He suggests that this can be explained as a sevenfold process:

  1. SIBLINGS (Mark) In the beginning Judaism and Early Christianity had something in common. However, like most families where there are siblings, although they have a common origin that can be very different in character
  2. RIVALRY (Marcion) For more than 100 years, Christians had been using the Old Testament as Christian Scripture, and even the most sacred documents of Christians referred to and relied heavily on, the Old Testament. The solution for Marcion, a second century theologian, was to completely reject the Old Testament and establish a canon that de-emphasized Christianity’s Old Testament and Jewish roots as much as possible, to move from the LAW to GRACE. Although his solution was rejected it did cause the early Church Father to do some re-evaluation, after all they were reading it through Christian spectacles
  3. NECESSARY (Augustine) Despite speaking out against the Jews, he did not consider Judaism a problem, in fact he is quoted as saying that Jewish scripture was vital to the Christian faith, “If any adversary should say you have forged these prophecies, let the Jewish books be produced. They are our librarians.” But he did not consider the survival of Jews as necessary, after all they were the ones that had said ‘no’ to the Messiah and had therefore been relieved of God’s promises (replacement theology).
  4. OPPOSITE (Luther) Martin Luther believed that there is no valid way of being a Christian that will make you Jewish, it could be agreed that they had the right texts but they were doing the wrong thing with them. At first Luther wanted to convert the Jews to Christianity, it had been done before because Christ himself was a Jew, but when this failed he said ‘Away with them’. As he grew older this attitude became more and more polemic, using the rudest and vilest scatological language, perhaps the politest example being ‘throw sow dung at him . . . and chase him away’. The effect though of this is that defendants in the Nuremberg trials after the war were able to quote from his treatise, On the Jews and Their Lies, written in 1543, as justification
Martin Luther

Martin Luther

5. UNNECESSARY (Enlightenment). You would have thought that the Age of Enlightenment in the Eighteenth century, with its metaphorical image of light, would mean that these differences would disappear. However, when you become a minority, marked by your religious symbols and customs, these are seen as making you more religious, rather than part of the establishment . Therefore, religious attachment becomes a problem.
6. POISON (Nazi Germany) Christianity remained the dominant religion in Germany through the Nazi period. That Nazi ideology was able to come to the fore was due in part to the social and economic situation between 1918 and 1933. However, the Nazi’s didn’t even consider Jews as human and started talking about them as ‘rats’, a natural pest to be destroyed. Using a Christian perspective it was considered that there could be no salvation without the defeat of the Jews. The commandment to ‘love your neighbours’ was interpreted as ‘they live next door to us, but they are not my neighbours’.
7. SACRAMENTUM (Nostra Aetate) The Nosta Aetate is the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council and repudiated anti-Semitism and the charge that Jews were collectively guilty for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It said that we were all children of Abraham and that Christians and Jews were a blessing to the world. It also drew on Romans 11, the fact that ‘they are our brothers’.

This seems to bring the seven points in full circle – from Siblings to Sacramentum because Early Christianity and Judaism were so similar, but that Christianity had stepped out of the ashes of the 2nd Temple’s destruction. Christianity being the word that became flesh whilst Judaism was the flesh that became Word.

Jewish and Christian Thinking

Dr Jesper Svartvik
Dr Jesper Svartvik since 2009 is the holder of Krister Stendahl’s professor of religious theology at the Center for Theology and Religious Studies at Lund University and the Swedish Theological Institute in Jerusalem. Between 2005 and 2009, he was chairman of the Swedish Committee against Anti-Semitism


Day Three – Part 1 -From The Beginning


The Partisans Panorama includes a tree of people which pays tribute to the Jewish fighters who joined the partisans during the Holocaust. As the sun hits it it glows red.

Taking part in this series of seminars becomes a real privilege when you realise that you are listening to world experts in their field. You frantically scribble down your notes, trying to capture if not every word at least as many as you can (I am already up to 29 pages of foolscap notes). How then to share that without reducing it to unconnected bullet points? The beauty is that the lectures are presented in chronological order and so there is some logic in just taking what you consider to be interesting and informative it, because after all this is a blog and not an essay. So the next couple of days may appear to be more academic ponderings but hopefully they will be thought-provoking as well. So let’s start at the beginning:

Shoah and Genocide

genocide-iraqProfessor Yehuda Bauer* states that the main question we should be concerned with is how to prevent the mass murder of one group of humans by another because genocide ‘disfigures the world’. International law talks of genocide as the ‘crime of crimes’ against ethnic and national groups with the intent and action of annihilation.

Why then do human groups murder other groups? Perhaps we have to go to the very beginning. Human beings were and are inherently predator mammals; more specifically we are hunter predators, and although nowadays we don’t dash out to spear a passing hairy mammoth for supper we do, as a group, raise animals and farm fish specifically for our food. We are ‘programmed to be killers’ as well as collectors.

We are also members of a herd, a group, a nation, but ‘to kill inside the herd destroys the herd’, so to justify killing we have to turn to laws and principles in opposition to our predator instincts. But what about the fifth commandment I hear you say… what the commandments actually says if you accurately translate the Hebrew word is ‘You shall not murder’ not ‘you shall not kill’; therefore killing is permitted murder whilst murder is prohibited killing.

Acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part’
Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention
and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948)

The crux of the matter revolves around racism and religion, and yet there are no racial groups because we are one race – the human race. Nevertheless racism exists, although this wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t until Christians reconquered the Iberian peninsula and expelled the Jews and Moors (Arabs) in 1492 in Toledo that the first racial law was passed. Since then there have been many ‘racially’ motivated incidents that we can classify as genocide but there was something different about the Shoah or Holocaust

It has parallels with other genocides in that it was mass murder; it was committed by the best possible means at the disposal of the perpetrators (whether gas chambers or machetes) and it mirrors the suffering of victims which is unquantifiable. The difference, however, lies in the motivation. All other genocides were committed for pragmatic reasons, in that the perpetrators were seeking power, domination or revenge. Yet the Jews had no real political representation in any European countries, they had no army, they didn’t really control any large national companies and didn’t have control over the economy. They were therefore murdered for ideology.

It showed itself in anti-Semitism (which is a singular contradiction as you cannot have a positive, i.e. Semitism) which was happening even pre-Christian times as shown in the allegorical story of Esther (Chapter 5). By killing Jews you are attempting to eliminate cultures different to yourself, which explains the roots of anti-Semitism and it arises not at a biographical level but a cultural level


Anti-Semetic Cartoon

Illustration from a German textbook used by primary schools (c. 1934)


However, it then reaches a theological level beginning with St Augustine of Hippo’s tract of 429BC Adversus ludaeos, which eventually mutates into nationalism, so that by 1941 Nazi ideology has reached the stage that it is necessary to kill ALL the Jews in the world. This has a new global element in that by the twentieth century it was physically possible to reach all corners of the world. So despite being very clearly part of genocide it is also very different because it was so unprecedented.

Where then does this leave those of us who profess a Christian faith, because after all the Jewish culture is part of our inheritance, and a Jewish man is the Messiah

A Torah Scroll

The Torah and The Old Testament


*Yehuda Bauer was born 1926 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. In the 1930’s his father tried to raise money to get his family to the British Mandate of Palestine. On 15th March 1939, the day that Nazi Germany annexed Czechoslovakia the family managed to get past Nazi officials onto a train that took them over the border to Poland and from there they moved to Palestine via Romania. He continued his studies, including studying history at Cardiff University in Wales on a British scholarship. He returned to Israel, completing his doctorate in 1960 and began teaching at the Avraham Harman Institute for Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University. He served on the central committee of Mapam, then the junior partner party of Israel’s ruling Mapai (Israel Labour Party), and was a visiting professor at Brandeis University, Yale University, Richard Stockton College, and Clark University. He was the founding editor of the journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and served on the editorial board of the Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust, published by Yad Vashem in 1990. He continues as a professor of Holocaust Studies at the University as well as travelling around the world talking out genocide and discussing ways to prevent it.




Day Two – Introductions


Yad Vashem – Memorial of names –  ‘I will put my breath into you, and you shall live again, and I will set you upon on your own soil…’ (Ezekiel 37:14)

Morning brings with it new introductions, the first being the cityscape outside of our hotel window, which was in darkness when we arrived yesterday evening. An earlier decision to go for a morning swim in the pool was postponed (due to the towel situation) but breakfast was delicious and plentiful before we boarded the minibus to be taken to Yad Vashem where the seminars are to take place.


Daylight brings a clearer view

Firstly an introduction to each other, including our host Yiftach Meiri, who is the Lead at Yad Vashem for groups from Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, when we share a little bit about ourselves and why we have chosen to come on this series of seminars. An eclectic mixture of lay leaders, church ministers, priests, ordinands, church educators, cathedral deans and even a bishop, drawn from various church denominations as widespread as Edinburgh, Northern Ireland and deepest darkest Somerset.

Then the real learning begins with our first seminar – An Introduction to Judaism (On One Foot) given by Ophir Yarden. The origins of this unusual expression ‘on one foot’ actually  provides a very simple but effective answer. The story goes that a gentile wishing to convert to Judaism said he would do so only if a rabbi could teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective candidate, stood on one foot. Most rabbi’s thought this was a ridiculous request, but Hillel, one of the most famous rabbis who lived at the end of the 1st Century BC and who is associated with developing the Mishnah and Talmud, gave this response:

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah;
the rest is the explanation of this–go and study it!”

Remind you of another famous saying?



The view over one of the valleys at Yad Vashem toward an Ultra Orthodox Jew community where most of the men will spend up to 14 hours a day studying while the women go out to work

But of course there is more to Judaism, some of which is not so simple to explain and it has as many different hues and forms as most religious groups, from liberal Judaism to traditional Judaism; Zionist to Hasidic Judaism (colloquially known as the Men in Black). Still a useful exercise to get us started.

The afternoon brought us an introduction to teaching about the Holocaust and the first thing we learnt is that the preferred term is Shoah a word that appears in the bible several times, meaning ‘destruction’. This is not to deny the other victims of the genocide: the Roma people; homosexuals; the physically and mentally disabled; the Poles and other Slavic peoples, but it makes it more personal to the fate of the majority who were Jewish.

The Shoah as a story of mankind. It was done by humans and suffered by humans

Our lecturer Dr Noa Mkaton, spoke of the problems with telling history; the main concern being that as it was the Nazi’s intention to systematically destroy every single Jew the result would be that there would be no one to tell the story from any other angle other than the perpetrators. It became imperative therefore that ways were found to pass on the stories of not only the Jewish people but individual families histories as well. Hence Yad Vashem became a resource for the names and stories to be gathered together in one place. There were some six million stories to be gathered and work on this still continues today and for the foreseeable future.

But stories can be told not only in words but in pictures as well. Of the many photographs that we see of the holocaust or Shoah they are almost certainly of humiliated, browbeaten, tortured people; either political propaganda or physical evidence of murder and abuse. Yet, there are narratives to be told from photographs taken in happier times that can be more effective in telling what has happened and give us insights into Jewish identities both before, during and after.

Children of the Shoah

A Childhood Portrait

The ‘before’ picture is of a two children, dressed in their best clothes and probably taken by their proud parents to have their portraits done in a studio, creating a physical memento that could no doubt be looked at in later years to smile at the poses and the outfits, but nonetheless a pinpoint of what life was like at that moment. Would you be able to tell that the children were Jewish? Does it matter that you can’t tell?

Who knows if a picture of these children exists at the time of their incarceration in the ghetto or one of the concentration camps – most likely they were not even there long enough to ‘pose’ for a photograph, but perished almost immediately in one of the ‘gas showers’.

For one survivor of the holocaust a picture, such as this, was the only thing he had left, although he could never speak about  had happened, his story is ‘articulated so clearly by the words he wrote on the back of photograph in 1945 after he was ‘liberated’. He simply wrote ‘Paper Children’.


Yiftach explains the significance of the inscriptions in the Valley of the Communities

The day finished with a visit to ‘The Valley of the Communities’ This is a massive 2.5 acre monument literally dug out of natural bedrock. Over 5000 names of communities are engraved on the stone walls , each name recalling a Jewish community which existed for hundreds of years. Today, in most cases, nothing remains but the name.






Its symbolic connection to Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones is emphasised with no deliberate planting at ground level, but some growth at the top of the stones to represent new risen life; but its greatest impact is in the space in between – a deliberate void.


A full and interesting day, laying out the groundwork for our seminars over the coming days – but maybe this evening there should be an introduction to the nightlife of the city as well!
















Day One – One Place to Another


From one airport in darkness to another in darkness – at 6.30am the Luton skyline was barely visible and yet hundreds of people were making their way into the departure lounge eager to set off on their journeys around the world.

Flying to Israel on El Al involves quite a rigorous security procedure and we were told in advance that there would be searching questions and that we were to answer them as honestly as possible… “How long have you known the people you are travelling with?” “Well actually I’ve only just met some of them about half an hour ago”. “Have you been given anything as a gift?” “No, but I do have a gift for someone I haven’t yet met”. Still I seem to have answered to their satisfaction and they stamped my card and let me through (although I later found out they had opened my suitcase as certain items were rearranged!)

The baggage check-in clerk seemed particular interested in why I wasn’t wearing my collar as I was a Reverend. I told her I didn’t have to wear it 24/7 but I did have a nice pair of pyjamas with a collar insert… I think she got the humour.

When we got to the boarding gate however, I was reminded of a joke… you’ve heard the one of the Jewish homeopathic doctor, the Methodist minister and the Anglican priest no doubt? Not really a joke but three woman chatting together about world attitudes, children’s education and the effect of social media on family life – interfaith and ecumenical discussions all at once!


Cloud islands in the Mediterranean

The rain was beginning to smirr on the outside of the aircraft window as we took off, but a few hours later we were flying across fluffy cloud islands at the eastern end of the Mediterranean.

I also got the chance to taste a truly kosher airline inflight meal with its own certification – which included an unusual Swiss dough and cheese pancake, on which I wasn’t sure if I should use the proffered salt and pepper condiments

It’s always exciting to glimpse the first view of land as you get to end of your flight and as we approached the coastline of Israel the city of Tel Aviv lay below us… but let’s be honest one city from the air so often looks like every other one and it wasn’t until we could see the uninhabited land that lies in between that the landscape revealed we were not over the relatively lush green of southern England.


Approaching Tel Aviv

Another lengthy one and half hours to get through passport control before we emerged out into the darkness and then a forty minute minibus ride to our hotel outside of the old city of Jerusalem.


Jerusalem Gardens Hotel, Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Gardens hotel at first glance seemed a little tired, and we are room sharing, so the quirks of there being only one large towel in the bathroom and six hangers between us might be a challenge, but the evening meal was excellent and a glass of wine in the bar meant that we were ready for bed sooner than we thought.

Who knows what the view from our balcony will reveal in the morning, but to know that we are sleeping under the same moon and stars as our brothers and sisters around the world gave us pause to thank God for safe arrivals and new opportunities


The view from the 4th floor

Please note that the internet connection in the hotel, whilst free, is intermittent and not very broad, so my hope of publishing each post in the evenings may not be possible. However, I am sure there are ways to overcome this small blogging problem.





And So It Begins…

Yad Vashem Intro

The beginning of a journey

This evening I am sitting in a Holiday Inn near Luton airport in anticipation of the next few days being a mixture of education, enlightenment and another step on my journey of faith, as I prepare to take part in a ten day seminar at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem.

Yad Vashem exists as the ultimate source for Holocaust education, documentation and research, and as the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust, it safeguards its memory of the past and imparts its meaning for the future. As Christian Church leaders we are there to gain in-depth learning in the hope that we will take this learning home to our churches and communities.

Holocaust - Yad Vashem


‘And to them will I give
in my house and within my walls
a memorial and a name (Yad Vashem)
… that shall not be cut off.’
(Isaiah 56:5)


I, personally, have always been keen on studying the cause and effect that the Holocaust has had on history, particularly in relation to interfaith matters and I believe that ongoing dialogue between faiths is vital,  because without it there can surely be no understanding. Indeed, should not every Christian engage with the Holocaust in order to gain greater understanding of this complex period in history and the development of anti-Judaism in Christianity, and to consider how to stand up against prejudice in the world today?

So travel with me as I begin this journey, share in some of the sights and insights from the Holy Land as I encounter them, and no doubt weep with me as I face the past and the part that the Christian church and people played on that stage; and hopefully the part we can play in the future.


Christian Jewish Relationships

Coming together as Christians and Jews


I am very grateful that this trip is being made possible through the generosity of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), the Council on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the organisation of Rob Thompson, Programme Manager for CCJ

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