This blog post is really only going to tell half the story about yesterday, as we were missing about half of our group due to stomach sickness. As such, we had to adapt our itinerary and did not visit the Kotel Tunnels. We did start our day though with a joyful celebration of Aaron’s Bar Mitzvah together with his family in the egalitarian section of the Kotel.
Afterward, we headed to Yad Vashem–Israel’s official memorial to victims of the Holocaust. Our tour began in the Garden Of The Righteous Among The Nations, where we learned extraordinary stories about non-Jews who risked their own lives to save Jews during the Holocaust and the law that authorizes Yad Vashem to confer these rescuers honorary citizenship of the State of Israel. We stood by the tree planted in honor of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker who rescued 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto with the help of an underground network.
At Yad Vashem, we also visited the Children’s Memorial, hollowed out from an underground cavern in tribute to the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children murdered during the Holocaust. Five memorial candles are reflected infinitely in the darkness, creating the impression of a starry night sky; in the desert we learned that Abraham was promised by God that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, and the candle lights are a reminder of infinite loss.
The names of murdered children, their ages, and countries of origin are recited in the background as you walk through the memorial. We were challenged by our guide Marcie to each remember one name spoken to carry forward with us.
We then entered the prism-like Holocaust History Museum. The floor slopes downward, starting with a haunting black-and-white slide reel of everyday life in pre-war Europe. Visitors descend chronologically into the darkest history of the Jewish people, reaching the lowest point with exhibit halls about the death camps. The floor slowly begins to ascend again with Nazi Germany on the brink of defeat, and you exit the museum to a dramatic view of modern-day Jerusalem. It’s a reminder of why the State of Israel exists and symbolic of the passage of the Jewish people from exile and destruction to rebirth.
We ended our tour in the Hall of Names, where “Pages of Testimony” aims to restore the personal identity of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their accomplices. Victims’ photographs are displayed on an overhead cone, and Marcie reminded us that it is our responsibility to keep their remembrance from becoming blurry like their reflection in pool of water in an opposing cone carved out of the mountain’s bedrock.
After the emotionally wrenching experience at Yad Vashem, we relaxed on Ben Yehuda Street for shopping and dinner. We are hoping for a refuah shlemah for those not feeling well in our group and look forward to a full day ahead!