On Monday night I made friends with the bunk mate next to me who was from Quebec and we decided to go to Yad Vashem together. We left early Tuesday morning and went for my first day there (I was only able to get through the first half due to time constraints); however, I went back for many hours the next day. I went in hungry, forgoing breakfast and lunch and water because there are some things that you should experience with hunger and thirst and I started back at the beginning.
When you go to Yad Vashem after you walk through security, you walk past luscious green trees that seem to speak to you as the wind blows through them, whispers that you can’t quite make out the words to. You walk across a bridge into a building that comes to a point on top, almost like an extended triangular prism. All the walls around you are cold and stone; this is a place that serves as a dichotomous reminder of death surrounded by the life of Israel.
Everything around you is cold and the walls are vast…surrounded by dozens if not hundreds of people, you find yourself alone (no doubt the intent of the curators). Walking through each of the exhibits, videos translated from German into Hebrew and then again into English play on repeat throughout the halls, showing you documentation that the Nazis took themselves to show to the world when they believed it was time to finally re-write history.
It was hard, and no matter how much you want to look away you have to force yourself to keep going: if my family could bear cold nights at Auschwitz…if they could bear the torture, beatings and rape the least I could do was read every placard, every information card, listen to every video they were showing me…because I know that I would be walking out of the museum again. I was not at risk, my person was not in jeopardy…I do not know, at all, from suffering and this was something that I needed to see.
I was managing to keep myself fairly well composed. For someone who does not often cry, this has been an emotional – usually the good kind – of trip, mostly just being moved by beauty; however, when I saw the two Torahs, desecrated…murdered, next to each other bearing silent witness to crimes of another land, resting in a glass tomb here in Israel I wept…there was nothing I could say, no emotion to cover how I felt: here were two fallen heroes, what Jews around the world have smuggled and hidden in times of danger and at times, have given their life for. Here laying before me, the crown of Jewish Life that provides happiness to all who cling to it, broken. You want to hug them, to hold them, to heal their wounds…but they sit before you in pain, torn, defiled telling in silence their story and they, sadly, have to stay that way…I was not, however, prepared for what would hit me later…I did not think it could have gotten worse from everything that I had already seen
in the first few halls…the living skeletons, ‘doctor’ Mengel’s human experimentation…but it does, it gets worse…so much worse.
As I continued through the exhibits there are countless video screens, each with a person on it, and they are are survivors who are testifying. Their voices will forever be heard to those who seek to deny the mass murder, rape, dehumanization, criminal, cruel and sadistic ‘medical’ experimentation of and on my people (Jewish and Gay) and my family members who died in the Pogroms and the Camps. They are there to tell their story…and you hear it, painfully, loud and clear. All around you photos and names are flashed on walls to remind you that these weren’t figures or statistics…these are people, and I don’t say were…because were implies that they’re gone…and they’re not…through us, they live.
What hit me hardest, though, was a letter that a young teenager wrote on some paper he had in his pocket and threw out of the train on his way to a camp (he thought he would be returning). In the letter, he asked whoever found it to please deliver it to his mother (the address he included on it) so she wouldn’t be worried, and so she would know where he was and for how long he thought he would be gone. It does not matter the country, the generation, or the family…there are certain values and traditions that have been and will forever always be a part of the Jewish community and keeping your family informed about where you are, is one of them. Hundreds (literally) of times my mother has reminded my brothers and I to call in so she should know where we are (just so she would know in case something – God forbid – happened to us…every time we go from building to building, we call and check in “I’m going to the dentist now, and then to the store…I’ll call when my plans
change…”)…and even as a sort-of Adult, I still get reminded. It hit me, hard because it was so Jewish and as this young man was headed to his death (though he didn’t know it), he was certainly scared, crowded on a train…and though he was facing horrors yet unknown…he thought first of his mother and his family, before he thought of himself…I could physically feel my heart breaking.
Continuing through the museum there are countless shoes, clothes, weapons used to beat my people at the camps, documents, photographs, videos all bearing witness to crimes that happened not that long ago. There is no question that we are a people who are survivors (we have survived, and will continue to survive any army that seeks to conquer us, we always have and we will always continue to do so)…I just have no idea if my generation would be strong, educated, savvy and skillful enough (think of the document forgers) to do what was necessary if God forbid we came under attack again…it’s a chilling thought.
Walking further, you approach the hall of the names…where in books, the identities of those who perished are still being collected and recorded…and further, the Righteous Amongst the Nations…those who aren’t Jewish, who risked life, limb, torture, rape and certain death to safeguard my people: these are the bravest of the brave, who did not have to help…but were compelled to because they knew right from wrong and were brave enough to do something about it. How many of us, having a family and children, would be willing to risk the torture, rape and execution of them…for a stranger?
As you exit the museum there is an overlook off the side of the mountain/cliff that it’s on and you can see, again, countless trees…life, right after death…but we are not done yet; walking outside into another building is the Hall of Memories which is a dark room, a hut with open, slatted walls. In the room, on a floor that you look down on are the names of all the camps and a Yarzheit fire burning at all times, in honor and memory of those who died.
Walking from there, you head up to Janus Korczak Square, in memory and honor of Janus Korzack. There is a statue there, of his arms wrapped around the children of the world, trying to protect them and keep them safe. Janus Korczak was the Dr. Seuss of his time, he ran an orphanage…and despite being given amnesty offers twice… he went with his 200 children, as they marched in silence, to the train…and he rode with them, to his death, to the camps so they would not be afraid, so they would not be abandoned: he gave his life so his children would not be scared even as they went to meet death and so they would not meet death alone. I left a rock on his hand on behalf of my Mother. He has become a personal hero for many, my mother and myself included.
However, while Yad Vashem documents the genocide against the Jewish People during the Holocaust it is important to remember that this is not the only genocide that has occurred and that Jews and Gays were not the only victims of the Nazis. The Armenian Genocide which is still denied by many, the Burnings of Pagans and Witches in Europe and in the United States, Darfur (which no one is doing anything about) are just but a few of the Genocides that have occurred.
Walking down from Janus Korcak square I made my way to the Cafeteria so I could get some food and some coffee; I had been there for close to five hours. I then took the bus back to Ben Yehuda street, and walked from there to Jaffa Gate and back into the Old City where I toured around and checked out a couple of museums that were of interest and mostly tried to get a grasp on the day and then went back to the Western Wall to pray.
On my way down, a Kippa Vendor yelled Kippa, Kippa, Kippa, Kippa, Kippa at me, so I just lowered my head so he could see that I had mine on and he smiled at me and laughed. Coming back up from the Western Wall, I ran into a group of students from the United States who were there on a tour. They thought I was a local Israeli and when they asked me I informed them (in English, with a New York Accent) that I was, in fact born and raised in New York and that this was my first ever trip to Israel…they ignored this (very crucial) fact, and they asked me many questions about Israel (most of which I had the Answer to, as I prepare to make Aliyah) and so when they asked what people did in Israel for work I responded that there are the same jobs here as in New York, though here there are some that New York may not have (Shook Cleaner, Kabbalah String Maker, etc)…at which point one girl in the group (perhaps not the sharpest tool in the shed) begins speaking very slowly to me in
English, enunciating (…because, apparently I don’t speak English as my native language…) and says “In OUR Country Most of the jobs are COOOORPOOOORAAAATE…you know…in NEEEW YOOORK”…I tried explaining, again, that I was, in fact, from New York and spoke English…to no avail.
I called Shirah that night and found out that she would be in Tel Aviv for two Days (which would make it easier to meet up with her) so I packed my things up, thanked Heritage House for their hospitality, and on Wednesday (Today) made my way back to Tel Aviv by Bus so I could meet up with her. I met her at the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station and we walked through the Shook on HaHagana street as we caught up with each other and made plans for Thursday.
Thursday (Tomorrow) we’re heading up to Tiberias and stopping in Nazareth on our way there. I’ll be spending a few days in Tiberias with her, seeing the sites and the archeology digs, and exploring that area in more depth before I head to Magido.
I’ll be back in Israel sooner than I thought though. I finish school (in fact, my undergraduate career) on December 7, 2007. Towards the middle of December Shirah and I are going to be doing the Israel Hiking Trail (which takes a month and a half to two months to complete). We’ll be hiking from Northern Israel to Eilat following the Israel Hiking Trail map and markers…and conveniently, February is when all of the Ulpans on the Kibbutzim start so after we’re done in Eilat I’ll be busing to whatever Kibbutz I’m on. This of course means that I have a lot of paperwork to go through beforehand to register, get funding, etc as I prepare for the next stage in my education (mastering Hebrew).
The Temperature in Israel is a Warm high 80s to low 90s and, since I’m 7 hours in the future from you all in New York I can tell you that today will bring wonderful things for all of you (I can also say, for a fact, that I’m more accurate than Miss. Cleo who didn’t see that giant lawsuit coming…).
B’Shalom (in Peace)