“To them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever.”
November 16, 2017 – Jerusalem: Yad Vashem
“I will put my breath into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil.”
First rule of thumb – don’t ever go to a museum with the kid. I knew that one and still forgot to take it into consideration today. The kid has never been a very good museum goer, quickly breezing through each exhibit with a rare (if ever) stop to look (never read) something that might possibly catch her eye (if she’s paying attention). At two months of age, my very first museum attempt with the kid was to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City – my ABSOLUTE favorite museum of all time. When I was a child, my parents frequently brought me and my brother and sisters here to visit. It’s a great place to bring a large family because you only have to pay a “donation” – that is, whatever you can afford. You don’t even have to pay at all if you have no money thanks to huge endowments. Since that time, I have always paid full price to thank that wonderful institution for fueling my love of anthropology. Later rooting through old copies of National Geographic my father inherited from his father, I discovered that on the month and year of my birth the cover highlighted Louis Leakey and his discoveries in Africa. That was it – I was hooked! I would later gain a baccalaureate degree in anthropology and attempt a masters at the New School for Social Research with the lifelong dream of working at AMNH and following in the footsteps of Margaret Mead…a dream that would remain just that…sorry I let you down Lou and Peggy…
But I also remember that our trips to the AMNH (as well as most museums), were not always pleasant. Dad insisted on seeing every.single.little.thing. By day’s end, we were all exhausted and grumpy and couldn’t wait to leave. However, my memories of annual school trips left me exhilarated and yearning for more. Aside from everything being better with peers and friends (sans parental units), I realized the reason I loved it more was because the guide only hit on the “wow factors” – the stuff that would compress all information into a nutshell for us to crack open and explore in one spot. No endless meandering resulting in swollen feet and aching backs for hours…and hours…and hours…and hours…
Hence the first rule of thumb – don’t ever go to a museum with the kid. My bad…
This was my second time at Yad Vashem and this time I was determined to see everything (what can I say – the spirit of my father lives within me). During our last visit in July of 2016, we arrived in Jerusalem on a Tuesday with the plan to see Yad Vashem that Friday before Shabbat. Unfortunately for us, our tour guide, Asaf, received a message that week that he had been accepted into a masters level archaeology program outside of Tel Aviv and had to attend a meeting on the same day. Of course we were very proud of this achievement (having only known him for six days); however, being that his father, Arie (pronounced ah-ree-ay), was also a tour guide, he agreed to provide his services in turn. Having heard about Arie over the past week, the hubby and I were excited to meet him.
Arie was the grandson of a German Jew who was a high-ranking official in the German military as the Nazis were rising to power. As Jews were being forced into the ghettos, Arie’s grandfather was “advised” by his comrades to leave with his family and only with whatever he could carry. After escaping to England, the grandfather later emigrated to Israel. Asaf also told us of how his great-grandfather had somehow snuck back into Germany during WWII to collect the belongings left behind without getting caught by the Nazis. Many of these possessions included a number of religious artifacts made of silver, some of which are now displayed in the Israel Museum. Needless to say, with Arie as our guide at Yad Vashem, it promised to be an impactful morning. And it was…except…it was just like the tours we used to get in grade school – just the highlights…and I wanted to see it all.
So this time I forewarned the hubby and the kid and they agreed to allow me the time to examine every.single.little.thing…
Expecting temperatures in the 80s, the hubby and the kid also agreed to indulge me in walking the grounds outside before it got too hot. Upon entering the Yad Vashem complex, there is a fork in the road – you can either go left into the Holocaust History Museum or to the right where multiple footpaths wind throughout the entire complex to various gardens and monuments. So to the right we roamed…
Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations
Its first trees planted in 1962 (before Yad Vashem was even an architectural plan), the path is now lined with multiple carob trees honoring the non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Next to each tree is the name of those being honored, along with their country of origin, it’s most popular site being Oskar Schindler.
Then I remembered the story Arie had told us about the significance of the carob trees and why they were chosen:
The Talmud relates the story of a sage named Choni HaM’agel who was traveling on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked the man how long it would take the tree to bear fruit, and the man replied, “Seventy years.” Choni then asked him, “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?” to which the man replied, “I found carob trees in the world, as my forefathers planted these for me, so I too plant these for my children.”
Warsaw Ghetto Square – Wall of Remembrance
Here is where the path ends, depositing the wanderer into a large square surrounded by trees, benches and picnic tables to the left, administrative buildings to the right and a giant brick wall directly in front.
The brick, symbolizing ghetto walls, is embedded with two large sculptures:
The first, “The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising,” portrays the leader of the uprising, Mordechai Anielewicz (24-years-old when killed), surrounded by other members of the resistance. The second sculpture, “The Last March,” portrays the mass deportation of Jews to the death camps. During WWII, over 1,000 ghettos were established by the Nazis as a means of dividing the Jews in Europe and separating them from the general population, the Warsaw Ghetto being the largest of that period in time. In these ghettos, Jews lived in miserable conditions closed off from the rest of the world and rarely (if ever) permitted to leave, living on a mere 134 calories per day in some places. If they didn’t die from disease or starvation, Jews were shot or deported to killing centers. The residents of the Warsaw Ghetto resisted deportation but were ultimately murdered or deported and the entire ghetto completely razed.
Memorial to the Deportees
Looking to my left, I noticed a sign that read “Memorial Cave” with an arrow pointing toward a parking lot. Ever the curious one, I demanded we follow the arrow, despite the lack of enthusiasm from my compatriots…
Walking down the road for some time, listening to the hubby and the kid complain about the unnecessary exercise they were being subjected to, we were suddenly greeted by a large red cattle car on train tracks hovering over the forest below…
I was flabbergasted, to say the least! We soon learned that it is a German cattle car donated to Yad Vashem by Polish authorities in 1991 and dedicated in January 1995. Awe struck, I couldn’t figure out where to begin – there were inscriptions on the walls surrounding the car and stairs leading in different directions. I just couldn’t take my eyes off that cattle car and its track floating in the air. And this cattle car had actually been used by the Nazis to transport Jews to the death camps. Reading the inscription carved into the marble wall standing in front of the car, goosebumps formed all over my skin. Written in pencil on the wall of that railway car were these words:
“Here in this carload I am Eve with Abel my son. If you see my other son Cain son of man, tell him I…” Dan Pagis
I was elated to learn that the boy who wrote these words survived the camps! A Romanian Jew, Dan Pagis (October 16, 1930 – July 29, 1986) was interned in a concentration camp for several years until its liberation, making his way to a pre-State Israel in 1946 and becoming a teacher on a kibbutz. He later received his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and became a professor of medieval Hebrew literature. He is also known for his poetry and other writings.
That’s when the kid announced that her freshman-year English Lit teacher would be proud of her interpretation of this monument and said, “Jews had two choices – go over the cliff or crash into a mountain.”
She was two-thirds correct. On one end of the track, the cattle car is suspended on the brink of the abyss and on the other we are presented with a hill of solid rock – obliteration and nonexistence either way. However, what the kid (and we) failed to see at the time, was that the monument faces the hills of Jerusalem, conveying a sense of hope and renewal after the Holocaust. Man, this place is killing me!
The Memorial Cave
Oh, right…we were looking for a cave, remember? Continuing on our way down the road, we finally came to a sign pointing us in the direction of the cave. Representing a final resting place for the people whose grave sites are unknown, the Memorial Cave is formed out of a mass of stone with a labyrinth of passages, its walls filled with brass plaques dedicated to loved ones lost in the Holocaust.
As the temperature began to rise, we “collectively” agreed to head to the museum. I was eager to go explore more of the great outdoors, finding signs along the way for more monuments and gardens, but the pressure to succumb to the requests of my trollish partners decided otherwise…next time…
The Holocaust History Museum
Much to my chagrin, photography is prohibited in the museum. However, this ban forced me to pay attention. Upon entering the museum, we were swarmed with a multitude of IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers in “training.” Despite the kid’s impending enlistment a year from now, it didn’t dawn on me that we were in the midst of basic training, which starts with daily tours of Jerusalem as a means of reminding young Israeli men and women why and for what they are fighting. Swimming amid the multitude of soldiers, I attempted to look at and read every.single.little.thing. and listened in on their tour guide lectures. I managed this task until the third room when the hubby and the kid hunted me down and informed me that I had “a long way to go.” Hint, hint…
In customary fashion, the kid rushed through the museum, dragging the hubby behind her and lecturing him on her highlights of the museum. I reluctantly whisked through the remainder of the exhibits toward the exit with the hubby promising to indulge me on our next trip (without the kid). However, the pinnacle of our visit was when the hubby took me to the Hall of Names.
A memorial to each and every Jew murdered in the Holocaust, we entered a brightly lit circular room with a dome dangling over a pit in its center surrounded by shelving containing millions of file folders encompassing the testimonies of survivors and records of the deceased. Looking down into a pit of bedrock leading to oblivion, one is compelled to look upward into the dome overhead where thousands of photos line its surface – photos of those who have perished. Leading me to a computer, the hubby told me how he looked up his father’s paternal grandmother, Zlata Gershuny nee Trapido, who was murdered in Kovno, Lithuania in 1941 at the age of 75…
The hubby showed it to the kid…and she wept…
The kid is (and will always be) a slap in the face of every Nazi and every anti-Semite who dared test our people. It was at that moment that it all came together – the kid was meant to be here…and I was proud…
And the view off the museum balcony brought it all home…
Pillar of Heroism
Ejected once again to the outdoors, I dragged my reluctant ogres down yet another path where we were faced with a shiny towering column with Hebrew writing commemorating the Jewish Resistance throughout the Holocaust:
“Now and forever in memory of those who rebelled in the camps and ghettos, fought in the woods, in the underground and with the Allied Forces; braved their way to Eretz Israel; and died sanctifying the name of G-d.”
Moving onward, we come to my dearest place at Yad Vashem – the Children’s Memorial.
For those of you who have not been here, these photos in no way do justice to this place. In a blackened space in an underground cavern, numerous candles are lit behind glass and reflected off mirrors to represent the 1.5 million souls of the children murdered during the Holocaust while the recorded voices of a man and a woman enumerate the names, ages and countries of each and every child...you will not leave dry-eyed.
Uziel – “G-d is my power”
Hall of Remembrance
Continuing on, we find ourselves at the Hall of Remembrance:
A “tent-like basalt structure” commemorating the martyrs of the Holocaust, twenty-two of the countless camps and killing sites are embossed on the floor of the hall. A perpetual flame burns next to a tomb containing the ashes of victims brought to Israel from the extermination camps.
Janusz Korczak Square
Working our way toward the exit, the final monument pays tribute to Dr. Henrik Goldschmidt, a Polish-Jewish educator who ran an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. Repeatedly refusing to leave the orphans behind, he was later murdered along with the children at Treblinka.
As we departed, I was overcome with sadness, incapable of comprehending the hatred portrayed throughout the complex. I would later have a conversation with a friend who had just completed a DNA test through 23 and Me, to which he responded, “Imagine if Hitler had this technology…” and I was frightened…
Har Herzl (Mount Herzl)
To the east of Yad Vashem, a few miles down the road is a military cemetery named after Binyamin Ze’ev (Theodor) Herzl, visionary of the Jewish State.
As far as cemeteries go, this is by far the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen.
Meticulously cared for by members of the fallen soldiers’ families, each military grave site is unique in its own right – tombs adorned with flowers, ivy, rosemary, shrubbery, personal belongings and ornaments, watering cans hung on the ready for visitors to quench the multitude of mini-gardens. National leaders are buried here – Shimon Peres, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, to name a few and numerous memorials are scattered throughout the grounds. Herzl’s tomb lies on the crest of the mountain range overlooking the Judean Hills on the side and both old and new Jerusalem on the other. Dozens of IDF soldiers wandered about, eyes glazed at the tombstones of past comrades who died at the same age as their onlookers, some weeping as they come upon the resting place of a loved one. I was suddenly reminded that the kid will be in the IDF a year from now…talk about sobering up…
As dusk abruptly cut off our tour, the kid assured us of a reliable and tasty chain restaurant a short walk away.
Agreeing to stock up on breakfast at the hotel each morning, skipping lunch and only eating dinner out, the long day had left us famished. And the kid was right – the restaurant was very good! As I sat in my capri pants and tee shirt, soaking up the 70-degree weather while my Israeli counterparts froze in their parkas, I noted a window sign off to my left:
A sale in the store next door displayed a collection of umbrellas – “winter” in Israel = rain…I was not looking forward to returning to the States and the impending (real) winter snow that awaited us…
That’s when the kid announced it was time for ice cream…
Grabbing a taxi and heading back to Ben Yehuda Street, we walked the short distance to Aldo for some gleedah (ice cream) and watched the street performers as we window shopped.
Thoroughly exhausted, we headed back to the hotel and into the Kings Lounge for a nightcap. Among our many conversations, the kid calmly reported, “My anxiety is challenged here.” This was one of many fears I had for the kid traveling alone to a foreign country over 6000 miles away…but she was unruffled even when stating a fact. For the first time in her life, the kid had managed to take The Bully by the horns…
and I wasn’t so worried anymore…
“You can take everything I have
You can break everything I am
Like I’m made of glass
Like I’m made of paper
Go on and try to tear me down
I will be rising from the ground
Like a skyscraper, like a skyscraper”
Skyscraper – Demi Lovato
“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump