Yesterday, on our “sabbath day” during this pilgrimage, six of us went together and took a cab into the city of Tiberias. Located on the coast of the Sea of Galilee, Tiberias is an important city in Israel, having first been a center of Roman activity and then becoming a holy sight in Israel coinciding with the fall of Jerusalem. After the 1948 war, the Palestinian Arabas who occupied the city in the years since the fall of Jerusalem were forced out of the city and it is currently a hub of tourism for all of Israel. In fact, due to a post-passover holiday, the city was filled with Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish young men out to enjoy the water and party a bit.
Tiberias is thus a large city, busy like all large cities. Our goal in visiting was to see some sites, but to mainly walk around and try to catch a sense of the city.
About an hour after we arrived we were walking down one of the main shopping streets in the city. The road was lined with toy stores, candy chops, and advertisements for Nike and Adidas. Traffic was moving quickly in both directions, and the streets were full of early morning shoppers.
Suddenly, without warning, a wail rent through the skies. It was air raid sirens, wailing like the tornado warnings we receive in Nashville. We all looked at one another in panic, for only yesterday as we were along the Northern border with Lebanon, we heard about the Hezbollah rocket attacks two years earlier. Tiberias and the entire region of Galilee had been hit hard, and we wondered if these sirens signaled the beginning of another round of fighting.
But as we looked around, we were suprised to see no one moving. Everything in the city had stopped. People stood silently in the middle of the street. All of the traffic had stopped cold — even the delivery trucks which seemed to stop for no person. Business owners had come to their shop doors and windows, and everyone was standing silent in the fact of the sirens.
We had no clue what was happening. We wondered if this was how this people faced imminent danger. But after a couple of minutes the sirens stopped and began to go on about their business. Within 60 seconds all was back to normal.
We stopped a woman on the street. “Do you speak English,” we asked.
“A little, but not very well,” she replied.
“Can you explain what just happened?”
“It is Holocaust Remembrance Day” she said, quickly moving onto her other business.
We later learned that all through the country was a special remembrance of th Holocaust, and that sirens and silence had been a part of eveery major city. And then, after remembering that which we would rather forget, we honored the memory by embracing life.
This evening, as a bookend to the morning, I decided to attend the vespers service at the Church of the Multiplication here in Tabgha. I had attended the service led by the German Benedictines that run this place the day before, and found it very moving even though I didn’t understand a word of the German liturgy. If for no other reason, the light streaming into this church celebrating the feeding of the 5000 in the late afternoon is breathtaking.
Anyway, following the service, the brother who led the service took some time to speak with us and learn more about us (several of us had attended either morning prayer or vespers throughout the week, so there was a curiousity as to why we were there). It turned out that he was the Abbot of the Dormition Church in Jerusalem, but was serving for a year here in Tabgha.
“We are so glad you are here with us, but we need your prayers for this place,” he said. “We monks are always here and that is important, but this region needs the prayers of the entire church.”
He went on to share that his order, the German Association of the Benedictines, was working to facilitate peace in the region.
“We have a history with these people,” he said as the goosebumbs rose on his arms. “As you know, today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. We Germans have a special responsibility to the ministry of reconciliation in this place given that history.”
It was clear from the look on his face that these were not simply words, but a calling to something deeper. He truly believed that through the power of God and the power of prayer peace could indeed come to this land. And even though his forefathers had attempted to wipe out one of the players in the struggle, he was committed to righting the wrong and being and agent for reconciliation.
So pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for the German Benedictines in Galilee. Pray that God may one day make this a haven of peace and celebration.