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Events and Life Politics and government Spirituality Travel and places

Tragedy and Inspiration in Jerusalem

My friend visited me recently, and I took some time off to spend with him. One of our day trips was to Jerusalem, primarily to visit Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

We started off by taking a relatively new train to Jerusalem from the Ben Gurion Airport. This train takes about half an hour to reach Jerusalem, and shaves an hour (or more) off the previous train route that left from Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem train station

As I mentioned recently, I really like the new station. It was a great welcome back to Jerusalem.

We took the light rail up to Mount Herzl, the site of both Theodore Herzl‘s grave, and Yad Vashem.

We arrived at Yad Vashem at a pretty busy time. There were easily half a dozen tour buses there already.

Yad Vashem

We picked up two audio guides for a self-guided tour (although the guided tours are apparently really good too).

The main museum was pretty crowded, although the tour groups eventually moved past us as we walked through the exhibits describing the events leading up to, and the Holocaust itself in visceral detail.

Walking through the museum takes time, and I almost always felt like I was moments away from tears as I listened to the narrative describing how European Jews were first marginalised, dehumanised, and then eradicated in the many death camps they were shipped to like cattle.

It took us three hours to make our way through the exhibits, and each step reinforced why Israel is so important. Having our own country with an effective military means that Jews are no longer subject to the whims of other nations who repeatedly return to old stereotypes, and prejudices.

What still alarms me (even though I know better), is that we see the same rhetoric being repeated in various countries as the Nazis used in the 1930s, and other groups used in the centuries that preceded them. It seems that some things never change. Some people seem to drift back to anti-Semitism when they need someone to blame.

From Yad Vashem, we made our way to the Old City, towards the Western Wall.

Western Wall

We arrived at the Wall after lunch at a nearby schwarma place, and during preparations for Yom HaZikaron (our memorial day for soldiers and victims of terror attacks) two days later.

This photo of these three men sitting, facing the Wall reminded me of a previous visit where I saw three monks leaning over the railing, looking at the Wall and it’s visitors.

From here, we made our way back out of the Old City towards the train station, and home.

Categories
Events and Life

Remembering the Holocaust

Yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Here in Israel, we commemorate the Holocaust later in the year, on Yom HaShoah. This isn’t an event we only think about once a year. The ripples from this tragedy pervade our society.

At the same time, we should have times when we intentionally, and mindfully look back at what happened through the eyes of those who witnessed it. Reminders like this ensure that we never forget:

Nazi Holocaust / Concentration Camps liberation Footage World War II Camps Of The Dead 34682 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

This tweet is another stark reminder of the atrocities that the Nazis committed:

Featured image credit: Holocaust Memorial at California Palace of the Legion of Honor

Categories
Events and Life

10:00

10:00

Silence.

It begins.
The wail rises up from the earth beneath my feet to fill the spaces between us.
I stand, feel the heaviness in my throat that threatens to drag me down beneath myself.
The constant tone.
It connects us and it isolates us in our shared sorrow.
Then it fades.

Silence, again. Emptiness.
Something clicks, beeps and the world comes rushing back.
We sit again.
Somewhere, someone is singing, someone laughs.

10:02


These might interest you too:

Our Holocaust and ancient spirituality

Are we forgetting our Holocaust survivors?

Categories
Events and Life People Policy issues Politics and government

Are we forgetting our Holocaust survivors?

Sarah Tuttle-Singer highlighted an important issue as we approach Yom Hashoah later this week: is Israel forgetting our Holocaust survivors?

But. We forgot someone. Actually, a lot of someones.

The actual survivors who need our help.

Because during the rest of the year, during the cold winters and the blistering summers, while housing prices soar with the cost of living, one out of four Holocaust survivors lives in poverty and isolation.
Let me repeat that: One. Out. Of. Four.

Yes, a staggering — no, a SICKENING — 25 % of all Holocaust survivors in Israel are struggling to pay the rent, or buy groceries. The children of the Holocaust are in their 70’s and 80’s now…
Some are all alone.

Others are sick.

It is tragic that these survivors made it through the horrors of the Holocaust to our home land only to languish through neglect by successive governments.

I read some positive news just before I started writing this post, too. According to an article on YNet News titled “Kahlon: Half-billion shekels to go to holocaust survivors and elderly” –

Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announced plans on Monday to increase annual financial support for Holocaust survivors and elderly welfare recipients by a half-billion shekels in advance of the country’s Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, previous Israeli governments have not done enough on behalf of Holocaust survivors…the program is focused on pushing elderly Holocaust survivors over the poverty line,” Kahlon said during the annual Knesset event celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany. “In addition, there has not been enough done for the economically-disadvantaged elderly population—increasing their benefits was one of our conditions for entering the government.”

Let’s not forget the living as we remember the dead. Here are a few options if you want to make a contribution (feel free to share more links in the comments and I’ll add to the list):

Image credit: Pixabay

Categories
Events and Life Spirituality Travel and places

Our Holocaust and ancient spirituality

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.

Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center

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.

Photos of Holocaust victims
Israel Tourism, licensed CC BY SA 2.0

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.

The view as you exit the museum

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.

The Kotel

David's tower and the Old City walls
David’s tower and the Old City walls

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 Kotel
The Western Wall (the “Kotel”) in Jerusalem.

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.

I love this photo of these monks watching visitors to the Wall.
I love this photo of these monks watching visitors to the Wall.

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:

Jerusalem visit collage
View my gallery of photos on Flickr.

Categories
Events and Life People

Changing the Holocaust narrative

Shira Abel shared a terrific article titled “20 Photos That Change The Holocaust Narrative” featuring photos which change the Holocaust narrative. Very much worth reading and viewing:

Victims. Helpless. Downtrodden.

That’s the narrative that’s been spread about Jews for the last 70 years since the Holocaust. We’ve embraced it to our detriment. We can’t seem to address antisemitism without running to the world and screaming that we’re being persecuted, rather than standing up strongly in defiance, aware of our own inner strength.

The Holocaust has scarred us, a yetzer hara (sneaky bastard of a voice in our heads), that keeps trying to tell us how we are defined by our past, controlled by events that happened to us, instead of using those moments as points of growth.

And, in a weird way, that’s why all those images of us looking so helpless, so gaunt, in heaps of nameless bodies, have become a morbid fascination for us. We, and by extension the rest of the world, have chosen to define the Holocaust with these images.

But there are other images. Images that show a more subtle, more true, story. A story that shows our inner power, our inner turmoil in dealing with a situation we cannot comprehend, our attempts to gain justice, and our final steps into moving above and beyond our past and into a new future.

To say the Holocaust was a tragedy is a monumental understatement but that doesn’t mean we should always remain victims and perceived as helpless. What I love about many of these photos is that they reveal the spirit of so many of the Holocaust’s survivors and their will to survive.

Categories
Events and Life

Will future generations forget the Holocaust?

This Thursday is Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and is a difficult day for most Jews for obvious reasons. It is another day that is going to have new significance for me because one of the consequences of the Holocaust is all around me now, our new home. What worries me are predictions that future generations will forget what happened to Jews during the Second World War and in the many attacks on our ancestors in the past.

One of the admonishments that has been passed down to each new generation since the Holocaust is that we must never forget what occurred during that terrible time. If we forget, we become complacent and we could allow another, similar tragedy to occur again. As controversial as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent speech in the US Congress was, this extract isn’t:

… Standing up to dark and murderous regimes never is. With us today is Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Elie, your life and work inspires to give meaning to the words, “Never Again.” And I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Not to sacrifice the future for the present; not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace.

But I can guarantee you this, the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over. We are no longer scattered among the nations, powerless to defend ourselves. We restored our sovereignty in our ancient home. And the soldiers who defend our home have boundless courage. For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves.

The Times of Israel published an article titled “Almost half of Israelis say another Holocaust is possible” and while the world is a dangerous place for Jews living in Israel as well as outside Israel, the prospect that future generations will forget the Holocaust is scarier:

Some 46% of [Holocaust] survivors also say that future generations will not remember the Holocaust after they are gone, a spike of nine percentage points from last year’s study. A lower 31% of the general public has the same worry, while half of Israelis under 30, the study found, never knowingly met a Holocaust survivor.

We will teach our children about this dark part of our history when they are ready for it. It is an important part of their identity and a little part of our collective defense such a tragedy ever happening again. As PM Netanyahu said, “we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves.”.

Never again. Never forget.


Photo credit: Prisoners in the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen from Marion Doss, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0