Yad V’shem and the Biblical Farm
Yesterday I left out a little bit of what happened after being in Jerusalem, because I thought it would better fit into my story for today.
After returning from a long day in Jerusalem, we were all tried. I took a quick nap before heading off for dinner. We were informed that following dinner we spend some time prepping for Yad Vashem.
For those of you who don’t know, Yad Vashem is a library of Congress of sorts for the stories of those who perished during the holocaust. It is one of the most extensive and incredible holocaust museums I have ever seen.
Anyway, following dinner, we were forced to ask ourselves some tough questions. One of the ones we posed was whether Israel exists because of the holocaust or despite it. To be honest, I don’t really what my answer to that is in my mind. It’s something I think I will personally struggle to define for a while, but I can certainly say I am glad that Israel exists.
We all talked about our experiences learning about the holocaust as a collective group. I tried to recall where my knowledge of the holocaust came from. I have vague memories of talking to friends of my grandparents who had survived the holocaust. My mother told me stories of the parents of her friends that are engraved in my mind.
I considered my trip with camp years ago to Whitwell, Tennessee, a small town where students at a local school collected paperclips to quantify the number of people who had perished during the holocaust. These students were aided by a holocaust survivor who helped them get a train car that had been used to transport Jews to the camps and use it as a museum for the paperclips.
The whole group had differing stories as well all came from different places, from Idaho, Kansas, and New York. We talked about how anti-Semitism still exists and the ways that it had impacted our lives. I thought about being yelled at in Paris with just the word Jew and holding on to my Star of David.
We talked about what exactly we’d be seeing at the museum. Ten years ago, we would have almost certainly have heard the testimony of a holocaust survivor. Since many have passed away over recent years, we watched part of a taped one of a Greek man, but the DVD didn’t work properly, so we didn’t get to watch much of it. From what I was able to gather from the part were able to see, the man had lost his sister to the holocaust as well as most of his family.
The tour of the museum itself began with a section just about the children. One of the hardest things for me to imagine is a child being put to death. They were innocent and had no way to fight back.
This section was followed by a part where we discussed righteous gentiles. To be considered a righteous gentile, there were certain criteria established:
- They must be nominated by a Jew or “Jewish Party”
- They can’t have helped by converting someone to Christianity.
- Assistance must be repeated and/or substantial
- Assistance has to be given without financial gain expected in return.
Based on these criteria, Oskar Schindler never lived to be named a righteous gentile. Although he is one of the most famous of the righteous gentiles you’ve probably ever heard of, it wasn’t until recently Yad Vashem started to consider him one. One of the others you may have heard of that our group mentioned when asked to name righteous gentiles was Miep Gies.
After completing our conversation about righteous gentiles, we started our walk towards the actual museum itself. The museum is built into the some of the lowest portions of Mount Herzl. Remember the name of that mountain, because I’ll mention it again in another entry later.
Inside the museum, the further you go into the building down the middle, the thinner it got as if you were being trapped. The symbolism of everything in the building gave even more power to the meaning of the place than I thought was imaginable.
The museum told the story of the holocaust from start to finish in a way that I cannot fairly describe to you, especially because cameras weren’t allowed on tours. Our guide spoke of the early ghettos, the early methods of killing the Jews, and the decision that using bullets was too expensive of a method to kill Jews. This part brought me to a very frustrated place.
The Nazis employed doctors to find a way to kill the Jews inexpensively, which is what led to the gas chambers. Living in the US, it is hard to believe anything like this. When I think of doctors, I always think of people who are going to make sure I am healthy. I think of people who are bound to their profession by the Hippocratic oath, something those in Nazi Germany were not bound by.
For the first time in the museum, I saw of the artwork that survived Nazi death camps. Jews drew, painted, and wrote poetry with very limited supplies to tell their stories so that people would know what happened to them. Not much remained, but what was left was incredibly powerful to me and beautiful.
Towards the end of the tour was a clear box that was on floor level. Inside of it, it contained hundreds of pairs of shoes of those from the camps. The shoes looked as though they were made of leather or something similar. They ranged in size from shoes that were obviously for children to those for adults. Some shoes had heels while others were flats. It was as though I was looking at the story of the feet of the Jewish people of the holocaust at this point of the tour.
The last part of the tour was into the library area. It was a balcony of sorts that was surrounded on all sides in a circle with large binders. Our tour guide asked us to look down into a reflecting pool below us where we could see our own faces as well as the faces of holocaust victims pictures above our heads. She explained that the binders around the room were the stories of those we lost during the holocaust, but many stories were still lost. Full villages of people died, so some stories may never be able to be told. She encouraged all of us to check the online database to make sure that anyone we may have known of was listed. She talked about the generation of scientists, doctors, lawyers, accountants, politicians, and so many other things we lost.
She mentioned grandparents and that is right when I lost it. Grandparents. As much as I don’t talk about them that often, my grandmother and grandfather meant an awful lot to me. They are in the end a big reason why my trip to Israel was so important to me. I didn’t realize that they were part of the reason until that moment.
I thought about the stories that were contained on the shelves around the walls and thought about how important a story can be. A room like the one I stood in is the ultimate tool to use against someone like Ahmadinejad, well, if he wasn’t insane.
All of this made me think about how important stories can be to understanding our world, stories of those who were good and those who were evil, those powerful, and those not as powerful. Despite the fact that we study history, we seem to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. We need to remember this and learn that terrible tragedies must lead us to fight with love rather than hate, because hate will never change the mind of your opponent, but rather reinvigorate them. There is a famous saying that that the best revenge is living well, and I advise all of you to do just that.
When we exited Yad Vashem, it was cloudy and drizzling, which pretty much described the mood of all of us as we left the museum. We were all struggling, either crying or pretty damn close.
We left to have lunch at a nearby shopping mall. A bunch of our group went again for falafel, while others went to McDonalds. I slipped in to McDonalds to eat at a table and bought fries to split with Emily as we both ate our falafel. It was entertaining to see others in our group with their giant kosher McDonald’s hamburgers. They were so much bigger than American McDonald’s burgers.
Following lunch, I rounded up Hillary to come with Emily and I to go grab some candy, since I finished my Starburst Jelly Beans the night before. I bought a giant bag of Sour Gummy Worms (made me think of my college buddy Andrew Edahl). Later in the week, the Israelis informed me that they were sour snakes, not worms, but who knows?
At the same store I bought an ice cream bar my little sister had told me about called Magnum. Word for the wise, just because your sister tells you that you should have ice cream, doesn’t mean you should eat it outside when the weather is low 50s. Our security guard laughed at me as my hands shook, enjoying my frozen treat.
We walked further up the shopping complex and happened upon a bookstore. It was one of the big Israeli bookstore chains, but a fairly small store. I looked around for a while with Emily and Hillary. Emily found some of the children’s books. I was so excited to see a copy of the Cat in the Hat that I made Hillary hold the book up for a picture. Emily found 3 books on sale and was excited to find such a bargain. She bragged about it outside the store and I joked to her that she did the most stereotypical Jewish thing possible, finding a bargain, in the most Jewish place in the world, Israel.
After eating and shopping was done, we all got onto the bus for a long ride to the biblical farm. So at some point, the Israeli government gave a ton of land where they didn’t think anything would grow so this could be developed. Instead of desert, everything was green.
We were supposed to walk around, but since it was raining, we did less of the activities. Our guide was a man in his late 50s-early 60s who spoke great English. He talked about the sustainable water practices of Israel. Israel knows how to use their water and does it more effectively than just about any other country in the world. One of the big keys to this that he talked about was that water was that Israelis reused water for many different purposes. While under a tent, he showed us how to grind up our own oregano, which we all did and put in tiny bags. The bags looked like something else, so we all walked around jokingly trying to sell our bags for 200 shekels.
One of the coolest things our guide told us was that he used to be a computer engineer of some sort. He told us that his job as a guide paid only 1/5th of what he used to make, but there was a big difference for him. He said that as a guide he was much happier. He showed us his cell phone, a candy bar style phone that reminded me of the Nokia phones my next-door neighbors had back in 2002 or 2003. He said he was happy with it and didn’t want an iPhone. He joked a museum would be coming soon to ask for his phone.
From that area, we went to another area where he talked about acorns and he left us plant acorns in some soil that he said he’d be putting in a greenhouse. One of the last things he said to us before we started our long journey back to our hotel was one that he was repeating from others before him on my trip. He said welcome home and to me, Israel was starting to really feel that way.