JERUSALEM (Reuters) - At last, Israeli Jews long divided by a
common religion found a holy man to rally round.
``He seemed like a nice guy, a real human being,'' Haim Diamant, a
computer programmer, said on Monday, a day after the Pontiff ended a
triumphant week-long pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Before John Paul II's arrival, Diamant had told Reuters he had no
interest in the leader of the world's one billion Roman Catholics. The
Pope, he said, represented a Church that had persecuted Jews for
But the ailing Polish-born Pontiff won hearts and minds among
secular Jews like Diamant and Orthodox rabbis as he walked slowly in
the footsteps of Jesus, stopping along the way to ask forgiveness for
past sins of Christians.
``He broke a psychological barrier that existed in all of us,''
said Rabbi Michael Melchior, a cabinet minister of the ruling One
``He went to all the right places and said all the right things,''
echoed Avi Pazner, a former Israeli ambassador to Rome.
PSYCHOLOGICAL BARRIER BROKEN
In an emotional climax to the crowning pilgrimage of his 21-year
papacy, the Pope visited Jerusalem's Western Wall, Judaism's holiest
site, to observe a Jewish tradition and say he was sorry.
The Pontiff placed a written plea for forgiveness in a crack of the
wall, a shrine where for centuries Jewish faithful have crammed
prayers and wishes into crevices in hopes that their words will be
read by God.
``I don't think the Jewish people can ask for more,'' cabinet
minister Haim Ramon said about the Pope's visit to the wall.
A Holocaust survivor who telephoned a popular radio talk show, said
the Pontiff had shown good will from the moment he set foot in the
``After 2,000 years of exile in which the Church attacked, killed
and banished us, at last the Pope himself came and asked for
forgiveness,'' said the caller, who identified himself only as Didi.
But the Pope's visit to Israel's Yad Vashem memorial to the six
million Jews killed in the Holocaust stirred mixed emotions.
The Israeli government expressed satisfaction with the papal
address in the Hall of Remembrance in which the Pope deplored the
``terrible tragedy of the Shoah,'' the Hebrew word for Holocaust.
However, the Pontiff stopped short of atoning for what many Jews
see as the sinful acts of Pope Pius XII, whom they accuse of turning a
blind eye to the annihilation of European Jewry.
``It was a good speech, a nice speech -- very emotional -- but I
wait for chapter number two,'' said Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Meir
Lau, a Holocaust survivor.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF HOLY MAN
For Israelis, many of whom know little about Christian doctrine,
the Pope was a different breed of cleric.
Most Jews in overwhelmingly secular Israel rarely go to synagogue
and are more familiar with clergymen as traditional power brokers in
The Pope's New Testament theme of brotherhood, and a sermon on the
Galilee mount where Jesus praised the meek, stood in stark contrast to
the Old Testament toughness of rabbinical political kingpins.
The contrast was brought home to Israelis on Monday, a day after
they had watched the frail, misty-eyed Pontiff turn and wave an
emotional farewell from the door of an El Al Israeli Airlines plane
taking him back to Rome.
They were confronted with the spectacle of an Orthodox rabbi in
dark glasses who used a sermon to insult a political rival in the
language of the Old Testament.
Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein ordered police to investigate
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, leader of the powerful Shas Orthodox Jewish party,
for the sermon in which he had called left-wing politician Yossi Sarid
``worse than Pharoah.''
The contrast was not lost on many Israelis.
``There was the Pope on the mount talking about loving your fellow
man and here we have this rabbi threatening a member of the
government,'' a history teacher told her class in a high school in