Silent Night in Bethlehem
Dr. Bob Hatcher
On my third trip to Amman, Jordan, my friend Dr. Gary Stewart covered for me. He took over my teaching responsibilities for one day and off I went in a bus to Jerusalem. What a day lay ahead of me.
First stop on the way over was just before we crossed the river Jordan. The great river Jordan is no longer all that great. It has become a filthy muddy stream. The water crisis in the Middle East has changed this river, threatening its very existence. Huge withdrawals for irrigation, rapid population growth, and a paralyzing regional conflict have drained nearly all the water from this fabled river.
In 2008 large sections of the Jordan River were reduced to a trickle, the water level so low that grass fires spread freely across the Jordan Valley between Israel and Jordan.
Because of long delays at the checkpoint, it was early afternoon before I arrived in Jerusalem. I hired a driver immediately and we made two stops. First we went to the Holocaust museum. The Hall of Remembrance is stark with severe concrete walls and a low tent-like roof. It stands empty, save for the eternal flame. Engraved in the black floor are the names of 21 Nazi extermination camps, concentration camps and killing sites in central and eastern Europe
The approach to the Hall of Remembrance is lined with trees planted in honor of non-Jewish men and women – “Righteous among the Nations” – who, at the risk of their own lives, attempted to rescue Jews from the Holocaust.
Approximately 1.5 million Jewish children perished in the Holocaust. They are specially remembered in the nearby Children’s Memorial, an underground cavern.
The Memorial to the Deportees is a cattle-car which was used to transport thousands of Jews to the death camps. Perched on the edge of an abyss facing the Jerusalem forest, the cattle-car symbolizes both the impending horror, and the rebirth which followed the Holocaust.
Late that afternoon we went to nearby Bethlehem. Well below street level I saw the place the manger was where Jesus was born. I sat memorized by the sounds of 15 to 18 German teenagers singing Silent Night in German, sounding for all the world like my mother and her identical twin (of German lineage) singing Silent Night in German each Christmas. It was emotionally so powerful, thinking of Jesus’ birth and of my mom and her sister.
The next morning that same driver picked me up very early and drove me on the route Christ walked carrying the cross. The Via Dolorosa is the route tradition says Jesus followed from his condemnation by the Romans to the spot where he was buried after the crucifixion. I was able to enter the garden of Gethsemane. There was not another soul there. Several of the gnarled olive trees, it is said, were there when Christ was there. Who knows if they were. That doesn’t matter.
My visit was incredible, simply one of the most powerful experiences in my life.