|View from Yad Vashem|
I have been to Jerusalem countless times, including a period of 3 months when I lived there studying Palestinian Arabic, and a period of 1 month where I lived and worked in the heart of East Jerusalem. However, despite my plethora of experiences in the holy city, including visits to the Old City that are too numerous to accurately count, I have never quite experienced Jerusalem in the way I did when I participated in a trip with my Ulpan class two days ago.
First of all, and most importantly, the ENTIRE trip was conducted in Hebrew. From the time we stepped on the bus to the time I was back in Tel Aviv no English was used by anyone official (i.e. our Madrich (councilor/tour guide), and Ulpan teachers). Though I didn't understand every word I had no trouble keeping up with the conversations and the tour information, and I have never felt more proud in my life. I have a long way to go but from where I was only a year ago it's unbelievable how much I have learned. The first stop on the tour was the famous Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem.
It has been 4 years since I have visited Yad Vashem but the impact the museum had on me was just as intense, if not more so, than I remembered. I don't know if this was because I was seeing it as an Israeli, a citizen of a state that was born from the ashes of this atrocity, or because I am 4 years older and wiser, but whatever the reason it was a mind-blowing few hours. When you first enter the museum you come to an oddly shaped room that is gray, plain, and eerily cold and uninviting; there is nothing warm about this museum (for obvious reasons), and right away you feel a chill of emotions ranging from sadness to hurt to anger at all of the things laid out before you.
Buried in the hollowed out slots in the floor were everything from stolen Jewish books, to personal treasures confiscated by the Nazis, and there were various movie screens showing clips of German propaganda speeches before the outbreak of the war. As we entered the first room I was immediately struck by images of Nazi propaganda contrasted by pictures of famous German Jews who revolutionized fields such as science, medicine, and literature. The Germans began an entire world war claiming that Jews, who were less than human, were the cause of all the world's problems, yet here stood a list of Jews coming from Germany who's influences are still talked about and taught to this day. Among the pictures were those of Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud.
As we entered more and more rooms were saw depictions of the camps, the ghettos, the various invasions across all of europe, German propaganda, and video testimonies from survivors from all over Europe. In the main hall were two exhibits that moved me to tears for very opposite reasons. The first exhibit, and one that eats away at me every time, is the pile of shoes collected from the people that the Nazis sent to the gas chambers. There are thousands and thousands of shoes that belonged to men, women, and children, who were slaughtered mercilessly simply because they were what the Germans deemed sub-human. Every time I see the shoes, really every time I see anything related to the Holocaust, I think about my grandparents and their parents and what would have happened had they not left Eastern Europe.
The second exhibit move me to tears for a dramatically different reason. In a place where so much hate was documented and preserved, there was a tiny place that showed the goodness and kindness of human beings who had nothing to gain and everything to lose. I was standing in the hall of the righteous gentiles and above each picture was a description of how they helped save the lives of Jews living in Europe. Even if they only managed to help or save one Jew it was enough to be recognized for their heroic courage and kindness of spirit. Among the people listed was Oscar Schindler who saved thousands of Jews who worked in his factory (2 survivors I personally met) and who is now buried in Jerusalem above Zion Gate in the Old City. The second thing to strike me was a quote by an Italian priest who persuaded the government to postpone the deportation of Jews (thus saving many), and he is quoted to say "I don't know of a Jew, but I do know of a human).
When we were finished in the main building it was off to the last two rooms on our tour, which, to me, are two of the most intense rooms to visit. The first room is a small, dark, concrete room with one raised slab of concrete, one holder with a lit candle, and a list of every Nazi concentration camp written in the stone of the floor. As you enter this room your breath is taken away, I stood against the rail, and silently said the mourner's kaddish for all those who were lost in these camps. It is about the most simple of memorials you can imagine with one of the most profound impacts.
The last room, and the hardest to swallow, was the room honoring the 1.5 million children who were killed at the hands of the Nazis. 1.5 million innocent children lost their lives due to hate, ignorance, intolerance, and a degradation of human decency such that the world has never seen before (and will hopefully never see again). The memorial room is a pitch black enclosure filled with mirrors that cover everything except the periphery where people can walk. There are 3 lights that are reflected 1.5 million times to signify each of the children that were killed and a recording reading the names and ages of each child is played over and over again. When I walked in they announced the name of a 2 year old girl who was killed in France, a 12 year old boy who was killed in Poland, and a 6 year old girl who was killed in the Check Republic. I had no words... I will never have words when it comes to this
The last thing I saw was a room with pictures of various victims surrounded by a a room with what seemed like thousands of books documenting the names of every person killed in the catastrophe.
As I was walking out of the museum I couldn't help but think to myself "If only Hitler could see us now". Here I was in the Jewish state, a state that is flourishing and thriving, with citizens who are prominent and excelling in every field and industry in the world. He tried to wipe us out and here we are rebuilding stronger than ever. At that moment I had such a sense of pride it was as if a flame was lit inside of me. I have always felt that being Jewish is the most important and special thing about me and it was only reaffirmed after spending an afternoon at Yad Vashem. My people have never had it easy yet here we are, and here I am in Israel, seeing the sites and exhibits completely in our holy language. There is no better feeling in the world, and I have never been so proud to be a Jew and an Israeli.
After Yad Vashem I decided to head back into Tel Aviv. I was just in the old city and not feeling the greatest (a nasty cold), so I figured I would end the trip while I was still able to travel back home in some comfort. When I returned home I reflected on the day, did some Hebrew homework, and go a good night sleep. It was a wonderful trip and I look forward to going back when I can really spend more time at the museum seeing absolutely everything.
Tonight I am meeting a new friend and going to a 4th of July meet and greet with young, Israeli entrepreneurs, and then Friday I am off to the north of Israel for the weekend with my Master's program. It is the last event I will be doing with my class before I say goodbye and go on my academic break to continue with my 10 month Hebrew program and 3 year Occupational Therapy degree! It should be a wonderful way to say goodbye to everyone and to see the North of Israel! Stay tuned for a lot of pictures :-)
Until we meet again!!