Carob trees planted for the righteous gentiles at Yad Vashem.
So far we've focused on the older parts of Jerusalem. Today we venture into modern history. This morning we visit the Holocaust Museum --Yad Vashem (Hebrew for "A name and a place" taken from Isaiah 56:4,5 --"For thus says the Lord: to the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name...I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.")
It is a thoughtfully-designed, beautiful memorial. The area around the main building is landscaped with carob trees (significant because the Bible says that carobs will give you sustenance until better times come) planted in honor of each of the "righteous gentiles" who helped save Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
Exiting Yad Vashem--a glorious view.
Our tour guide walks us through the trees and reminds us that "evil is not a neccessary. It's always a choice. Even at the worst of times, there is always a choice. Yes, an order may be given and an order is to be obeyed, but God gave you a brain too."
The building is triangular shaped (think pup tent) and built on the slope of a hill. You enter from the bottom of the hill and the entranceway is very dark. A film collage of European Jews of the 1920s is playing on the wall. The darkness sets the mood for the terror that is lurking in these people's near future. As you walk through the building, you criss cross between rooms for each of the years leading to the end of the war. Our guide is a knowledgable man who has clearly spent his life studying this history.
Yitzak Rabin's grave--stones are left for rememberence.
He tells us fascinating stories as we walk past photographs, mementos and videos of survivors. He tells us that the ugly term "death camp" is really a euphamism as very few people actually stayed in these places--the average time spent by a Jew in a death camp before death was just 2 hours. He also talks about the Warsaw Uprising where Jews fought back against their Nazi oppressors. He tells us that the Warsaw rioters were not resisting in order to survive, but rather resisting as a way to fight back and get revenge even though death is guaranteed. I notice a tour group of Israeli soldiers nearby and a big, bulky soldier who could pass for Bluto's son has tears in his eyes. I think about today's Israeli army and wonder how this soldier feels about fighting back oppressors, revenge and certain death.
Israeli soldiers in the military cemetary.
As we continue to make our way through the museum, the light gets stronger and brighter. The last room of the museum is dedicated to preserving the names of everyone who died in the Holocaust. The room is lined with binders containing the names of anyone who died (although, of course, there are still many nameless victims). Anyone who lost a relative in the Holocaust can fill out a form to make sure the name is remembered here. Finally, you exit the building and walk out onto a balcony overlooking Jerusalem. It is powerfully symbolic. The Jews suffered terribly, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel--the creation of Israel, a permanent home for the them.
Next we travel to the Jerusalem Forest for lunch (a picnic of Burger King while sitting on pointy rocks--definitely not having it my way) where we hear stories about Israeli soldiers who fought here to protect Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem during the war of independence in 1948.
A few Israeli graves
Then it's on to Mt. Herzel to visit the grave of Theodor Herzel (the founder of the modern Zionist movement which calls for Jews worldwide to return to this land). We also visit the gravesite of Yitzak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who was assassinated in 1995. From here it's on to the military cemetary. I notice that Israeli graves are different than American graves. They are above ground, not below and the tops are like open planters for families to grow memorial flowers. It is also the tradition here to place stones, not flowers, on people's graves as a sign of rememberance. This is because while flowers can whither and die, stones will always stay there. We visit the grave of Uri Grossman, an Israeli soldier killed on the last day of the 2006 war with Lebanon. We hear a eulogy written by his father before leaving the cemetary for shabbat.
It has been a long and emotionally wrenching day. Luckily it is Friday and shabbat begins at sunset--no work for the next 24 hours. We all go to synagogue services around town. Sara and I go (with others) to a reform synagogue. It's my first experience in a synagogue and I'm pleased with how enjoyable the services are. People enter, grab their siddurs (prayer books) and join together in 45 minutes of songs and chants in praise of God. There is a rabbi leading services, but he's there more to keep the beat rather than preach to the congregation. I don't know any of the songs, but I'm still able to enjoy hearing the voices and watching the people. There is no driving after services, so we walk home, enjoying the warm evening. We have a late dinner and get to bed around 11pm... Luckily, I don't have to get up too early tomorrow. ;)