My mother arrived for her first visit to Israel and I took her to Jerusalem. Our first visit was to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. We took the light rail from the central bus station up to Mount Herzl and walked along the edge of the forest to the museum.
We decided to do a self-guided tour of the museum and hired two audio guides and entered the main museum. It is shaped almost like a deep prism and your path through the various exhibits is a winding one. You can’t simply walk from one side to the other, you have to cross through all the Holocaust exhibits and be immersed in the unfolding tragedy as you go.
I wasn’t new to the Holocaust. I’ve been exposed to it for most of my life. Just the same, I found the museum almost overwhelming. It was filled with stories of communities that were, at first, sidelined. Later, they were taken from their homes, relegated to ghettos and, finally, shipped to the camps where roughly two thirds of all European Jews were murdered.
What the exhibits depicted using photos, video footage from the time and collections of victims’ personal effects and writings was just how brutal the genocide was. I found myself fighting back tears for most of the two hours we spent walking through it all.
We emerged at the other end of the museum and were presented with this remarkable view of the valley. It is a life affirming sight, almost as if the museum’s architect is saying –
Look! After all this tragedy and devastation, this is what we must protect. This is a reminder of what we must never forget and what can never happen again.
It was fitting that our next stop was the Kotel (also known as the Western Wall). On the other side of the Kotel is the holiest Jewish site – the Temple Mount. This was the site of the two great Temples and is also the object of considerable tension with Muslims who regard the Temple Mount as their third holiest site.
The first time I saw the Wall, it seemed so small. I expected it to be bigger and, as I learned a week later when we return for a tour of the tunnels underneath it, the visible wall we see now was only a small part of the original wall. Visiting the Kotel is a fairly personal experience. To me, it is a monument to an ancient people, my ancestors. It is a reminder of what we have been through and what we fight for every day.
Just the beginning
That day in Jerusalem was just the start of a staycation with my mother. I still had a couple more days to work that week before taking the week of Chol Hamoed off for some downtime, local tourism and quality time with my family. It was also the beginning of what turned out to be a profound personal journey that I’ll share in subsequent articles.
In the meantime, I have published my album from that day to Flickr. You’re welcome to view more photos here: