TAU professor presents Pope Francis with “Jesus from the Soil of the Holy Land”

Professor Dina Porat and Pope Francis.

"The Pope was moved by the gesture and said that it was a very special gift," says Professor Dina Porat

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Professor Dina Porat of Tel Aviv University (TAU) recently surprised Pope Francis when she presented him with an artwork by Nilly Shachor, “Jesus from the Soil of the Holy Land.” Receiving the work from her hands, the Pope thanked Profesor Porat wholeheartedly, saying that it was a very special gift.

A photograph, “Jesus from the Soil of the Holy Land” was conceived almost accidentally by artist Shachor, a resident of Sde Warburg. One day, as she was walking in the fields near her home, Shachor tripped and fell. When she got up, she saw that she had tripped on some branches that lay on the ground in an unusual formation, reminding her of Jesus Christ: two branches spreading sideways like human arms, a disheveled head, and long thin legs. Even a wreath was in place on Jesus’ head. Shachor took the branches home, cleaned them, and embellished the wreath with some more twigs and thorns.

Shachor called her friend, Professor Porat from TAU’s Chaim Rosenberg School of Jewish Studies and Archaeology, who was planning to attend an international conference on antisemitism in Rome a few days later. “Nilly sent me a photo of the unusual composition and asked, half-jokingly, if perhaps I could meet the Pope and bring him a very special gift from the soil of the Holy Land,” recalls Professor Porat.

Accepting the challenge, Professor Porat framed the photo in gold and called an old friend, Father Norbert Hofmann, Secretary of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, who immediately agreed to help.

“When I arrived in Rome, my friend Norbert said that the next day, like every Wednesday, the Pope would hold the General Audience in which he greets visitors, and that it had been arranged for us to sit in the VIP section, right next to the stage,” recounts Professor Porat. “It was a very exciting event. Thousands of people gathered in Saint Peter’s Square, the Vatican’s large plaza, sang songs and merrily waved their flags. The Pope came near and shook people’s hands. When he approached me, I offered him the gift. He was moved and asked his attendants to safeguard the artwork. It was a very meaningful experience for me, and I hope that ‘Jesus from the soil of the Holy Land’ is now displayed on a wall somewhere in the Vatican.”