JJC Israel Journey Day 6
Today was a heavy day. We started early as Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, opened just as we arrived. 3 hours passed by quickly as we barely made it through the main exhibition hall. I visited Yad Vashem briefly three and a half years ago on an Educator’s Mission, and was thankful then as I was today that there was a conscious shift in pedagogy from my childhood/teenage memories of the memorial. Tell the stories. Share the pain as well as the hope. Our guide Morgi did an exceptional job setting the stage for our morning and walking the group through the timeline. We also heard fascinating stories of perseverance and pain from Kim, who shared the story of her father in law’s journey to Shanghai, and Ivy, who shared a few stories including one of a 29 yr old Leonard Bernstein, who brought light to the darkness the DP’s had experienced under Nazi horrors. A few things stood out:
Rabbi Kalonymus Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, is quoted on the wall of the exhibition, questioning why the world didn’t turn back to water (i.e. The flood) when the Nazi’s began their horrific acts.
At one section of the timeline, the visitor follows a pathway portraying the unthinkable Death marches that took place from Birkenau beginning on Jan 18, 1945 and ending May 10, 1945. At each stop you learn who survived and who did not. By the time of their liberation, only 120 of 3,000 survived the war. There were similar stories of agony, coupled once in a while by a story of perseverance and hope.
Having visited a half dozen concentration camps and a number of ghettos, museums typically don’t emit the same level of emotion for me. The end of the museum experience was much more difficult this time as I had remembered. As I watched a video of DP kids singing a version of Hatikva, just as my daughter sings around the house, I began to choke up. If that wasn’t enough, I heard the story of Uziel, whose parents survived the war because the mother’s mother took Uziel away during selection at the Death camp, so that his mother would survive. The parents later helped create the Children’s Memorial in his memory. Uziel was 3 years old, the same age as my eldest. That did me in.
We had a respite in between Yad Vashem and visiting the graves on Mount Herzl. After lunch we visited the Herzl museum with an epic film starring Ben Stiller’s doppelgänger (see below). This late 90s film telling the history of Herzl and the state of Israel finished up with a clip from the peace accords (skip to the last minute) with Bill Clinton helping to sign the deal (and play with the balloons)
Josh Weingram, husband of Ivy and son-in-law to Barbara and Michael Schneider, shared his personal connection to one of the Lone soldiers, Michael Levin, who always dreamt of joining the IDF. We visited Herzl’s grave, Golda Meir’s grave, and then the graves of Hannah Senesh, Max Steinberg and Michael Levin. Morgi points out the way the graves themselves are peaceful, tucking in those the country has lost, as well as how recent soldiers who died have a wider variety of ways people are remembering them at their burial sites. We said an El Malei as Michael’s 10th yartzeit is this upcoming week. I thought for a while as Morgi called all of the lone soldiers shlichat am, emissaries of the people, quite unlike a prayer leader being called shaliach tzibbur.
We drove over to the Menorah in front of the Knesset before a night out on our own, our last night in Jerusalem.