I wasn’t around when UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain held the piece of white paper in his hand as he left an aeroplane on 30th September 1938 (pretty close to the day of my conception), shouting “Peace for our time” but I was present as a Guest of Honour at Madrid’s Central Synagogue on 23rd June. The occasion was one to which the Synagogue was open to Jew and Gentile alike, and women were not banned to the upper gallery as observers (unless they felt happier following their usual Shabat custom) but one of solidarity, the like of which I never thought I would live to see – let alone be present to hear. It was only 16th June when we received the invitation, and my first thought was to drive there – but Ann says I am too old to cope with fast-moving Madrid traffic and multi-lane roundabouts. Second choice was the AVE fast train from Valencia, leaving the car at Xerasco and using the train to Valencia, but we would need to change stations in Valencia. Too many things to go wrong! When I checked the AVE price I was shocked at the expense of a quick 100 minute journey, so Ann awoke at 5 in the morning and checked on the price by ALSA Autobus. We’d sit in seats 33 and 34 and watch the countryside pass us by. The price was 104€ TOTAL for BOTH of us BOTH ways. We parked about 150m from the bus station in Denia and caught the bus at 9.30am. We were in Madrid soon after 4.30, via Calpe, Benidorm, Alicante and Albacete. A taxi took us from Madrid Sur bus station to Trafalgar Hotel, and Ann went on her usual ‘reccy’ to find the nearest supermarket and the best route to the Synagogue in Calle Balmes. Security in the area around the Synagogue was frightening, with National Police in black uniform, sniffer dogs checking every parked or approaching car, and shadowy figures holding Kalashnicov assault rifles at the ‘ready’. Even asking about the venue seemed as suspicious as planting an explosive device, and Ann was told the meeting was in a rear hall. When it was time to leave for the Synagogue, as I stepped out from the entrance hall of Trafalgar Hotel into a strong breeze, there was a huge flash of lightning, thunder clap to match – as if God had struck the Synagogue, and ‘stair-rods’ of rain dropped from the sky. Was this really, ‘Showers of Blessing’? We waited for 10 minutes and I hailed a taxi. I had all my ‘vestments’ in a large suitcase and the driver made no effort to get wet by helping, so Ann opened the front passenger door and plonked the suitcase on the seat. The driver would break the law if he drove like that, so dragged out the suitcase – as Ann and I sat (in the dry – Ann had packed a ‘Poppy Brolly) in the back seat – and put it in the boot, looking like a drowned rate when he returned. The driver knew where Calle Balmes was (200m away) but everytime he came close he was hampered by a NO ENTRY sign. Even I could see that he was ‘lost’ when he took me past the Erotique Massage Salon for the third time. His Satnav took us to the Synagogue, but his insistance that he knew best, cost us 15€. We had to show ID and that our names were on the list of Invitees (lots of fun in the pelting rain trying to explain why Clive does not begin with a C, but with an A for Archbishop. “You can go in but your case goes through that other door” but it contained my ‘fancy dress’ so a Conscierge opened it and punched the content with his fist (had I been a terrorist he’d have been ‘armless’) and I was told to ‘change’ in the toilets. I did, and left the case beneath the washbasin. Returning two hours later my suitcase had provoked its own bomb alert, and had been placed in a bomb-proof cupboard. Only around 50% of the allocated seats were occupied, less intrepid travellers being put-off by the ‘monsoon’. Many people I thought I’d meet again, like Mariano Blasco the Secretary of FEREDE, and Bishop Carlos from the Reformed Episcopal Church in Madrid (keeping a doctor’s appointment) were absent but we were escorted to seats, bearing our names. Many of the speeches were predictable, but the video presentation was supported by sub-titles in Spanish. I was watching and hearing TV reporters talking of Christian persecution (to Jews? – come on, non Messianic Jews don’t even revere Jesus) and I heard the request for Jews to unite in protecting Christians. It was unbelievable. One speaker summed it up so simply “Who knows more about persecution for their faith, than we Jews, who lost six million of our number in the Holocaust?” When God (Genesis 12:20) gave Israel to the descendent of Abram’s first legitimate son, He made provision (by designating the land between the Nile and Euphraties rivers) Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran to the descendents of Ishmael, his first (but illegitimate son to his wife’s chambermaid).
Left to Right: Rav Yersahmiel Barylka of the Rambam de la Moraleja Synagogue, Javier Cremades, Primate Archbishop Clive of the Anglican Independent Commnion – Worldwide, Padre Gabriel Nadaf Greek Orthodox Priest from Israel, David Hatchwell, President of the Jewish Community in Madrid, Monseñor Carlos Osoro Sierra, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Madrd, Mayte Rodriguez, from the Centre of Judeo/Christian Studies, Ignacio Cosidó Gutierrez, and Raad Salam Naaman, Professor of Theology and expert on Islam.