On Day Three of epicenter tour President Obama visited Jewish, Christian landmarks

President Barack Obama pauses after adjusting a wreath placed in the Hall of Remembrance during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. Standing behind the President, from left, are: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; Israeli President Shimon Peres; Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu; and Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Barack Obama pauses after adjusting a wreath placed in the Hall of Remembrance during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. Standing behind the President, from left, are: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; Israeli President Shimon Peres; Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu; and Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

“President Obama began the third day of his historic visit to the Middle East with a visit to Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery, where he honored the significant contributions of two Jewish heroes, Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin,” reported the White House blog. “The President laid a stone from the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington on Mr. Rabin’s grave, highlighting the slain leader’s work to bring peace to the region.”

“Next up was a tour of Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Complex, where President Obama honored the memory of Holocaust victims by laying a wreath and rekindling the eternal flame in the Hall of Remembrance. He also joined Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu on a tour that included the Hall of Names, a circular chamber that houses the original testimony documenting every Holocaust victim ever identified, and the art museum where the President heard the story of Charlotte Salomon, a Holocaust victim who was murdered in 1944 in Auschwitz, but whose memory is preserved in the autobiographical artwork she painted while in hiding from the Nazis.  The President ended the poignant visit with a walk through the Children’s Memorial, which memorializes the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished during the Holocaust with candles reflected in a series of mirrors.

Speaking in the Hall of Children, President Obama remarked that while surrounded by evidence of man’s capacity for evil, ‘we also are reminded of man’s capacity for good.’

For here we learn that we are never powerless. In our lives we always have choices. To succumb to our worst instincts or to summon the better angels of our nature. To be indifferent to suffering to wherever it may be, whoever it may be visited upon, or to display the empathy that is at the core of our humanity. We have the choice to acquiesce to evil or make real our solemn vow — “never again.” We have the choice to ignore what happens to others, or to act on behalf of others and to continually examine in ourselves whatever dark places there may be that might lead to such actions or inactions. This is our obligation — not simply to bear witness, but to act.

For us, in our time, this means confronting bigotry and hatred in all of its forms, racism, especially anti-Semitism. None of that has a place in the civilized world — not in the classrooms of children; not in the corridors of power. And let us never forget the link between the two. For our sons and daughters are not born to hate, they are taught to hate. So let us fill their young hearts with the same understanding and compassion that we hope others have for them.

“President Obama then joined Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which is built on the spot where Jesus is said to have been born. The President also stopped by the Roman Catholic Church o St. Catherine, which adjoins the Church of the Nativity, where he met with Palestinian children, as well as religious leaders and local officials.”

The Washington Post reported that “before leaving Israel, Obama honored a pair of historic figures whose lives traced the arc of the Zionist movement — Theodor Herzl, its chief theoretician who didn’t live to see the Jewish state he envisioned, and former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who died trying to secure the Jewish state through a fateful peace effort with the Palestinians. Obama made his way on a clear spring morning to Mount Herzl, where, with Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres by his side, he stepped toward the granite tomb, marked simply ‘Herzl’ in Hebrew, on which he placed a stone in the Jewish custom. The visit, which other foreign leaders have avoided, was meant to underscore Obama’s understanding that the modern state of Israel traces its roots to the Bible, not to the Holocaust. Then Obama walked to Rabin’s grave, where he laid a stone that administration officials said was taken from the grounds of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington. Rabin fought for Israel’s independence in 1948, and as a prime minister forged the 1993 Oslo Accords with then-Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat. The two, along with Peres, shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. The following year a Jewish extremist assassinated Rabin, and his grave has been a common stop for U.S. presidents since. Obama declined to visit Arafat’s tomb during a visit Thursday to Ramallah, another customary stop for many visiting dignitaries. ‘A remarkable man,’ Obama said as he shook hands with Dalia Rabin-Pelossof, Rabin’s daughter, one of several family members who joined the president at the gravesite. After visiting the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, Obama set off to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built on the purported birthplace of Jesus.”

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