Can a Synagogue thrill a Christian?, a Jewish man asks!

May 22th, 2024
Fr. Eamon Kelly L.C.
Can a Synagogue thrill a Christian?, a Jewish man asks!

Learning to live at the Crossroads. A culture of Encounter!

Rabbi Gadi Capela and Father Roy Tvrdik, SMM, leading their joint group at Magdala near the miqva’ot. They encourage interfaith relationships with Jews, Muslims, Druze and Christians. 

“Why do you Christians have an interest in this old synagogue?” Jewish visitors often ask dramatically. They sense excitement as we present our 2000-year-old ruins but perhaps sometimes, they lack awareness of important contexts documented by the earliest Christian writings. 

At times, while presenting remarkable facts about our synagogue, I ask Jewish visitors if they are beginning to get goosebumps: such well-preserved archeology; the complex spatial articulation; the most beautiful synagogue of the Second Temple period decorated with mosaics and frescoes; the Magdala Stone, boasting the oldest sculpted menorah and the richest Temple-related artifact excavated, so far. Learn more about Magdala's archaeology here.
The Gospels frequently relate how Jesus taught and healed in the synagogues of Galilee. Our synagogue was active during Jesus’ lifetime and up to the Jewish revolt, 66-72 AD. So, it would not be unrealistic to imagine a possible visit there by Jesus. Magdala lies in the geographical area travelled frequently by Jesus during his public life. Many Christians will say they are feeling goosebumps, also! Maybe it’s time for a goosebumps competition! This is perhaps a lighthearted way to express something quite serious: we share the same treasure. 
By gently but dramatically laboring the “our” as in “our synagogue”, a path emerges, inviting us all to enter into a dialogue. We can discover the different motives why both Jews and Christians of all confessions celebrate this significant treasure. It’s not that often that a Jewish person hears a Christian or, even less, a Catholic priest saying “our” synagogue, where the reference is to the spiritual connection. But some Christians are also knee-jerked into deep pondering of our mutual connections. 
It’s now a relatively well-known fact that Magdala has been branded as a “Crossroads of Jewish and Christian History”. This should not be taken for granted! Rabbi Skorka of Buenos Aires, Argentina, a personal friend of Pope Francis for many decades, questioned restlessly five times “why have we found this synagogue, only now?” I had not answered his intense and incisive questioning as we walked toward the Miqva’ot area. Finally, I blurted out: “maybe, if we had found it 60 years ago, would we have been capable of interpreting and labeling it as a Crossroads of Jewish and Christian History?” Were it not for the almost 50 years of processing and the ensuing cultural fruitfulness of Nostra Aetate, how could we! Traditionally, the default mode might have been to leverage the advantages of such a discovery for one’s own outlook and perspective, exclusively.  

The ecumenical and interfaith experience at Notre Dame of Jerusalem had prepared us to establish a similar open encounter space at Magdala, also.  

Besides, Providence had us engage a series of companies for our development and marketing whose leaders were marked by the Reformation heritage. As we worked together, we were blessed with solid expressions of Magdala’s archeological significance for all of humanity, especially from the Jewish and Christian perspectives. 
Given the primarily first-century dating of our archeology and the specific Jewish and Christian significance of the discoveries, after much reflection, we call Magdala, Crossroads of Jewish & Christian History, but in spirit, Magdala is a crossroads for everyone.   
Most Holy Land Christian visitors, even on a mere weeklong or ten-day visit, easily encounter Jews and Muslims, due to the underlying tourism service infrastructure. A visit to either the Mosques on the Temple Mount or participation at a Shabbat service in a synagogue will open our eyes to their ancient prayer spaces and traditions. 
The pilgrims also meet a plethora of ‘unusual’ Christian phenomena. Just in the Holy Sepulcher, in Jerusalem, or in the Nativity Basilica in Bethlehem, Coptic, Armenian and Orthodox forms of Christianity are visible and tangible in the architecture and decoration. If you happen upon a ritual, procession or prayer activity, the perfumes, vestments, movements chants, hymns, and prayers will strike you as somewhat foreign to most forms of western Christianity. This genuine experience stretches our hearts. We step back from our own view for a moment. We begin to consider how others have captured and expressed the mysteries of our one shared faith. We are not the only ones who have thought about this treasure of received faith. How did the others reach their insights and expressions, some of which have remained basically the same for over a thousand to fifteen hundred years? Let’s encounter each other and engage in mutually enriching conversation. Let’s come to understand and cherish one another better. This is an intense crossroads exposure, particularly peculiar to the Holy Land and unavoidably available to pilgrims. 
The Magdala synagogue discovery empowers the spirit of open encounter with a unique impetus.  A new momentum to focus more on what we share continues shaping Magdala’s culture of encounter. As we survey the intensity of division and confrontation which seem to characterize our times worldwide, we can appreciate the gift of bridges to foster communion. 
Another day, we will have to share both the impact of these archeological discoveries on our recent architecture and decoration and, even more importantly, the living crossroads we have been experiencing all these years here by the Sea of Galilee, as we welcome people from almost every sociological category, worldwide. A culture of encounter flourishes at Magdala. 

Tarek Abu Janb 

Food and Beverage Manager 

“Magdala is unique! The Magdala people make all the difference” 

Tarek is busier this week, but he takes time to chat. It’s his sister’s wedding-week.  Ragda got married yesterday, Sunday! The celebrations continue daily until Saturday, in nearby Mughar, home to Tarek and his four sisters. The entire Abu Janb family numbers about one thousand members. 
The wedding is medium size for the local Druze community, with three thousand participants. His youngest sister’s wedding in September will be much bigger. A thousand guests celebrated Tarek’s own wedding. He and his wife are blessed with two children, four and eight years old.  
Sometimes Tarek is visible when a problem or particular challenge require his presence. Magdala’s Food and Beverage department runs well under his quiet management. He works with agents & guides as he coordinates service at the Restaurant, the Lobby Bar, the Visitors Center coffee shop, and outdoor service at the swimming pool or celebrations following bar/bat-mitzvahs, weddings and baptisms, etc. This is only his second place of employment since high school. His former Jewish Israeli manager invited him to work here. Some warned him that only Christians could work here. But on arrival, he realized this was not so. He even convinced some Christian friends to come, too! Tarek says, they are all like brothers. 
Each morning, he enjoys coming to Magdala. “It doesn’t feel like coming to work but to be with family. “Magdala is unique! The Magdala people make all the difference!”.