A Hand and a Name, and a Voice – Yad Vashem
Since I’ve returned from Israel with my family, friends and acquaintances stop and ask me:”So, how was your trip?”
As much as I like talking about the trip, it is just so hard to sum up Israel in a quick conversation in the produce aisle. My husband is also experiencing the same when asked this question at work. How was the trip? Well, in a word: life-altering? Or, how about, transformative?
To start retelling a multi-generation trip of a lifetime to Israel, unfortunately one has to start with the hard things first. It is only from these low points: visiting the Har Herzl National cemetery, and then the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, can one only understand the miracle that is Israel and how hard we have to work to never, ever take for granted the existence of this tiny country.
Before I take you to the heights of happiness of three generations celebrating a Bar Mitzvah, drinking fresh pomegranate juice, dancing on the beaches of Tel Aviv, or welcoming Shabbbat with thousands of Jews at the Western Wall, I must take you to the depths of sorrow.
It was a very hard first day. We first toured Mt. Herzl cemetery, Israel’s equivalent of Arlington National cemetery. Among Israel’s deceased prime ministers and other dignitaries lie the graves of the many fallen soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice during Israel’s wars.
Here, there is no rank. Privates are not separated from generals. The word “Nofel” – to fall – appears next to ages: 18, 22, 23, 25, young people cut down serving their country in the prime of life. The freedom to walk casually in Israel’s city streets or flowering mountainsides, we owe to them.
As part of officer training, it is common to see Israel Defense Force soldiers coming to pay their respects to those who served:
After this visit, we toured Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Holocaust.
The imposing concrete triangular prism architecture of the museum adds to the physical experience of the museum.
This is the central hallway: grey, dark, lit only by overhead skylights. On the sides of this triangular structure is the progression of evidence of the annihilation of 6 million Jews. How the Holocaust was engineered through cultivating a centuries-long culture of hate against European Jewry that culminated with the Nazis war against the Jews from 1939-1945. In this short amount of time, the Nazis murdered six million Jews, one-third of European Jewry.
The viewer zigs and zags through each exhibit. There is no cutting straight through to that light at the end. One must enter each gallery. And with each turn, you know the story will just get worse.
Sometimes, one can just get numb to the enormity of the Holocaust. The numbers of vicitms. How many were murdered from this shtetl or how many were deported from this city. Especially if you have seen the photos, confronted the numbers, and heard the testimonies of survivors for the better part of your life.
That is why within this exhibit, the story of one voice, of one victim, is powerful enough to shatter the anonymity of the number 6,000,000 and bring the narrative to one person, one name, who was lost.
On a wall was a small framed poem of a boy, age 14. He wrote: When I grow up to be 20, I will fly free away from here like a bird. I want to travel all over the world and cruise over the seas, and just be free.
The boy was murdered at Auschwitz at age 17.
Then, another voice, the voice of my daughter, who made her own discovery.
She was chanting Torah. Her Torah portion. From a battered, water-stained Torah robbed by the Nazis, to be used one day in a museum Hitler intended to create for an extinct people.
She said, this is my Torah portion, I can totally read it and make out the letters. It was also to be the same reading we would in a few days chant for the Jerusalem celebration of my son’s Bar Mitzvah, just days later.
What were the odds that this tarnished, damaged Torah scroll would be open to this very passage? How many kids in that dark time did not live to see their own Bnei Mitzvah? The tears refused to keep flowing.
So, you see, the Nazis did not fulfill their final solution. We are still here. We still live. We got through the darkness and made it into the light to behold the view of Jerusalem on a clear sunny day: