Israelis Respond to the Pope's Visit

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JERUSALEM - Last week Pope Benedict XVI visited the Holy Land, and all eyes in Israel, as well as most of the world, were focused on the leader of the world's largest Christian denomination.

He appeared on the headlines of all the Hebrew dailies in Israel for nearly a week and every comment, speech and homily was quoted, analyzed and debated on Hebrew radio and television channels. The Internet was flooded.

One can hardly recall a visit by any other world leader who attracted so much curiosity here. Given the painful history and rocky relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people, the attention given these papal visits is somewhat surprising.

Reaction From Israelis 

President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Knesset members, rabbis, educators, historians, journalists and reporters have all had much to say about the significance of this visit. CBN News Jerusalem Bureau thought you might like to hear what the people on the streets are saying.

In a back-alley warehouse in south Tel-Aviv, young artists gathered to write music that is having an impact on the city's youth. They love to talk about current events.

"I like the Pope," said Hadass, the studio owner. "I'm glad he came to Israel. It makes me feel like maybe somebody cares about us. I think it could help bring some healing to our people from the past," she said.

"We Don't Even Treat Our Best Friends Like This."

Natali, a 24-year-old video editor for a popular new Israeli television reality series, is not so sure.

"He was a member of the Nazi Youth Movement and I think he is anti-Semitic," she said. "He never showed us any honor. I see no reason why we should give him such respect just because he comes to Israel," she said.

"We don't even treat our best friends like this. If we had any self-respect we wouldn't just bow down to him like he is some kind of god or something," Natali said.

Alfrine grew up on a kibbutz in northern Israel. She is 20 years old and doing her national army service. She teaches Israeli soldiers to appreciate the land of Israel, taking them on walks through the national parks around the country.

"I think it was really great that the Pope came to Israel," she said. "I especially appreciated that he identified with both the Arab and Jewish peoples of this land. The Pope has a lot of influence in the world and could make a real difference in Israel and around the Middle East. At least he is trying," she said.

When asked if she understood the difference between the Catholic Church and other denominations, she said, "I just like the fact that there are different religious traditions. It's really important that we respect one another."

Holocaust Survivor's Reaction

Sitting in the shade of a tree-lined park in Rishon LeZion on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, on Shabbat (the Sabbath), Yosef, a Holocaust survivor, professor of physics and astronomy and a chess master talked about God, religion and history.

"When the Nazis came to get us in the [Warsaw] Ghetto no one cared," said Yosef, who founded an organization in Israel that is now providing practical support for more than 200 Holocaust survivors.

"Even the Church was silent. It's hard to forget," he said discussing the German background of Pope Benedict XVI.

"Now, Christians are coming to help my friends who survived the Holocaust. Churches in America and Europe help us get food coupons, provide rides to the doctor and buy medicines we need," he said.

"It is good that the church is asking forgiveness for its silence against anti-Semitism," Yosef said. "God is always against anti-Semitism." 

It was not important to Yosef that the Pope is German or was a member of the Nazi Youth Movement.

"It doesn't matter where you come from or even which religion you have," he said. "What matters is that you keep God's commandments and live with a clean conscience. People need to show more love no matter who they are or what they may have done in the past," he said. "Everyone deserves another chance."

"No One Can Bring Peace to the Middle East, Not Even The Pope" 

Joshua, a 24-year-old officer in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) commands the soldiers who guard the check points separating east Jerusalem's 250,000 Arabs from the Jewish parts of  town. It's a tough job and his soldiers don't often get another chance. He doesn't think that anyone can bring peace to the Middle East, not even the Pope. "The conflict is too deep between our peoples. No one from outside can help," he said.

"Anyway," Joshua continued, "world leaders are all too afraid to say what they really think. They are more concerned with what people will say than about the truth. They won't say what needs to be said if it jeopardizes their position," the young officer declared. "I don't see how this Pope or any other world leader is going to make any difference in the Middle East. We need something more."

They say that when two Jews get together to talk about any subject there are already three opinions. With Israel consistently on the world news radar and just about always on the verge of some major crisis it's no wonder that Jewish people have something to say about almost everything.

The question is, is anyone listening?

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David Lazarus

David Lazarus

CBN News Guest Writer

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