On the day prior to the rededication this week of the Russian Compound in Jerusalem, journalists who were interested were taken on a tour of the pilgrims’ hotel by independent tour guide Slava Bazarsky, who is equally competent in Russian, Hebrew and English.
During the tour there were areas with closed doors, or places that were still dark. Visually, everyone was enchanted by what looked like two ancient guard towers. It transpired that within these structures were very modern public toilets.
That’s one way of combining yesteryear with tomorrow.
The church with walls and ceiling painted with large biblical icons was in darkness on the day of the tour, but on the evening of the dedication, it had three crystal chandeliers brightly lit to give a daylight effect to the interior.
During the tour, journalists were able to inspect the 24-room pilgrim hotel for the rich and not so rich.
In the former, they learned the meaning of Spartan luxury. During the tour, one of the journalists opened all the drawers in the bedrooms and was surprised that there were no Bibles or prayer books in a hotel designated for pilgrims. This may have been amended in the interim, but a staff member said that there would be a library that included prayer books and Bibles, aside from which it was anticipated that pilgrims would bring their own.
A Greek Orthodox delegation led by Secretary General of the Greek Patriarchate Archbishop Aristarchos, in the absence of Patriarch Theophilos III in the United States, was received with great warmth, reverence and hand kissing.
Although the Greeks and the Russians use the same Cyrillic alphabet, they don’t necessarily speak each other’s languages and thus Igor Ashurbeyli, director of Russia’s Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, and Aristarchos conversed in English.
There were more than a dozen video crews interviewing priests and diplomats in Russian, English, Hebrew, Arabic and French, and there were a lot of stills photographers mingling in the crowd, but the fruits of their labors were not much in evidence in the follow morning’s media, which is truly a shame.
Anyone who wants to see what Jerusalem looked like a century and more ago can get a very good impression from the newest museum in Israel’s capital, which is also in the renewed compound. Amazingly clear and detailed sepia and black and white photographs are on display in the relatively small museum.
The photographs contrast sharply with today’s Jerusalem, where even from the large roof terrace of the pilgrim’s hotel much of the view is obscured by surrounding high-rise buildings, though the Dome of the Rock is still visible.
In the photographs, there are vast open areas behind large concentrations of pilgrims, offering visitors a glimpse of the Jerusalem that once was and will never be again.
■ THE 70th anniversary commemoration of the arrival of the S.S. Exodus at Haifa Port was an emotionally moving affair that was built largely around Holocaust survivors, but was essentially held to unveil the monument initiated by Jerry Klinger, president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation. Klinger also wanted to pay tribute to the memory of American Christian Zionist Rev. John Stanley Grauel, a Hagana agent who was on board the ship in the guise of a journalist.
His report on how the Exodus had been rammed and seized by sailors from a British naval destroyer – and what the 4,515 passengers on the ship had experienced after surviving the Holocaust and then being returned to Germany by the British – was instrumental in the passing of the November 29, 1947 United Nations resolution on the partition of Palestine.
Klinger, who lives in Miami and visits Israel frequently, having come the first time as a lone soldier nearly 50 years ago, loves to go looking in cemeteries, back alleys, and any other place where he might come across some overlooked but very important aspect of Jewish or Zionist history. He has in fact written a book under the title Christian Zionist Heroes.
He had walked along Jerusalem’s Emek Refaim dozens of times and had seen the sign for the American Christian Missionary Alliance Cemetery, but the solid metal gates had always been locked. One day to his surprise, the gates were slightly ajar, so he pushed them open and went inside and began reading inscriptions on tombstones in Hebrew, English, Arabic, German and even Japanese.
In a center row there was an unusually large vertical white headstone with two large Stars of David, with an emblem of the Israel Defense Forces inside one, and a menorah in the middle of the other. At the bottom on either side was an anchor. In the middle, just above the name of the deceased, John Stanley Grauel, was a cross.
The combination of symbols stirred Klinger’s curiosity and he went to see the people at the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) to see if they knew anything about the deceased. They didn’t, but the meeting sparked a lasting relationship.
This is why the ICEJ co-sponsored the event at Haifa Port, where its director, Jurgen Buhler, told the assembled crowd that the story of the Exodus matters not only to the Jewish people, but is also very dear to Evangelicals all over the world.
Today, he said, there are millions of Christians who stand with the Jewish people and understand its need for a secure Jewish state. “You can count on their support for decades and centuries to come,” he said.
At the entrance to the port, where the monument created by sculptor Sam Philipe was unveiled, there were large Hebrew, English and Arabic billboards detailing the story of the Exodus. Something much more permanent, including archive photos, will be displayed in the near future, declared Haifa Port board chairman Eshel Armony.
Entertainment was provided by singers Noy Sassower and Shuli Natan. As always, Natan sang her signature song, “Jerusalem of Gold,” as well as “Captain My Captain” – both composed by Naomi Shemer. Neither singer sang the haunting Exodus theme song, the lyrics for which were written by Pat Boone and are so appropriate in today’s political climate in which UNESCO negates Jewish heritage.
■ AFTER THE official proceedings had concluded, the ICEJ, whose projects include caring for Holocaust survivors, brought a group of them together to share their experiences with some of the other people who had specially come to Haifa for the occasion. At events of this kind, the people who should be talking are rarely heard, and the speeches you hear are made by a number of officials, said ICEJ vice president David Parsons.
So the ICEJ stayed on for another hour and a half to listen to Holocaust survivors, the most riveting and articulate of whom was Dutchborn Bergen Belsen survivor Marty Dotan van Collum, an articulate woman who doesn’t look anywhere near her late eighties.
She was 16 when released from Bergen Belsen, where she had spent two years. Her father had not survived, but she and her mother returned to Holland. She didn’t want to go back to school, but wanted to go to what was then Palestine, so she studied Hebrew and went to a training farm.
In June, 1947, she and her boyfriend and two other friends applied for Dutch passports and took a train to Paris. Her mother had tried to dissuade her, but Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, had advised her mother to let her go. From Paris the group went to Marseilles, where they contacted the people organizing transportation to Haifa.
They remained in Marseilles for a month until they were told to embark on the Exodus. It was a very long line and they waited for nearly three hours before finally boarding. When the people in charge saw that they had Dutch passports, they suggested that they stay behind and take care of their homes.
They refused, saying that they knew they would probably end up being deported to Cyprus, and that they preferred to get there sooner rather than later. As they approached Haifa, all those who could swim were asked to go to the lower deck in case there was a need to jump overboard and swim to shore.
Dotan van Collum was a swimmer, but didn’t have the opportunity to prove it, because the British rammed the Exodus and came aboard. In the final analysis, the passengers didn’t wind up in Cyprus, but in Hamburg via France.
She was issued with a false passport, which she used on her second try and she was finally home.
■ FOLLOWING LAST Friday’s terrorist attack on the Temple Mount, many tourists who had planned to visit the Old City of Jerusalem decided that other places might be safer. Not so the American band members of Tyler Bryant and The Shakedown, who were the warmup act at the Guns’n Roses concert in Tel Aviv the previous night. The band toured Jerusalem with local tour guide Miriam Fox of Get Lost in Israel.
One of the band members revealed that he had a Jewish mother, which of course makes him halachicly Jewish – and so for the first time he wrapped phylacteries around his arm and his email@example.com