Living the Jewish Experience
Today’s activities were a true metaphor for the collective Jewish experience. We awoke this morning to a beautiful blue sky and clear views of all of Jerusalem’s hills and valleys. It is impossible to take in Jerusalem all at once; Jerusalem must be experienced a little at a time. It is a city that begs to be savored with all of the senses and the entirety of one’s spirit. Jerusalem is as emotionally intense as it is physically beautiful.
Our Youth Hostel was located in the Jerusalem Forest; very close to the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament building) and several museums. The Jerusalem Forest is notably green right now as are the hillsides. Israel has had an abundance of rain this winter, which bodes well for the land and the people.
We ate breakfast and got on the bus for a short drive to Yad Vashem: Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Museum. It is remarkable to consider that in 1953 the fledgling State of Israel passed a law that requires that there be a memorial museum for Holocaust victims, survivors as well as those “Righteous Among the Nations” who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazi’s “Final Solution” to rid Europe and the world of the Jews.
We met our guide and began our tour of Yad Vashem. It was impressive how much our students know about the vulnerable position of Germany in the world post-World War I, the rise of the Nazis to power, and the subsequent destruction of about one-third of Europe’s Jews. Yad Vashem is more than its content and many artifacts. It is an ingeniously designee building with an incredible architecture and deliberate design that are inseparable from the narrative itself.
This messaging was not at all lost on our students, many of whom have an impressive command over this period of European history. As they listened, asked questions and spoke with one another, it was obvious that each student was utilizing the entirety of their education and experiences. They handled the difficulty of this museum extremely well and without complaining. It was crowded, it was difficult to focus, it was disorienting and there is information and emotional overload. The dark, black, white and gray of the museum reflects the bleak and monochromatic world of the Holocaust itself. The Museum is built with strange angles and dark corners; with photos and videos and original footage from the period.
Our students listened carefully and supported one another. There were some moments when I would look at them and their eyes were filled with tears. The group is so connected to one another; they looked out for one another; there were frequent embraces and genuine gestures of comfort. Our morning at Yad Vashem concluded at the Children’s Memorial, truly one of the most moving and beautiful memorials imaginable. It is a memorial that one walks through in the complete dark. The names of some of the 1.5 million children are spoken in English, Hebrew and Yiddish. The darkness is slowly replaced by the light of 5 candles that are refracted dozens of times through the artistic use of mirrors. The memorial resembles a night sky with countless sparkling stars. Each light represents one child whose life was lost but not forgotten. The memories of those we love continue to grace our lives and point to a brighter and more hopeful future.
There could be no greater contrast to the solemnity of Yad Vashem than Machaneh Yehudah in the final hours prior to the beginning of the sabbath. The market is truly one of the most colorful and vibrant places in all of Israel. Joyous music plays throughout the market, displays of multi-colored spices, olives, nuts, dried fruits, pastries and Challah are accompanied by the shouts of shopkeepers selling their goods. As sundown draws closer, the shouts of the shopkeepers get louder, the prices are brought lower, and the market begins to shut down one merchant at a time.
This is the Jewish experience: darkness is followed by light; grief and hope alternate; suffering and celebration define our identities as Jews and make us more compassionate and empathetic human beings. Israel captures the entirety of Judaism and Jewish life across time and space.
Our hearts were full of every emotion conceivable as we departed Jerusalem For Tel Aviv. As we celebrated our second Shabbat together at Beit Daniel, a large Reform synagogue in the heart of Tel Aviv, I realized that our students from Boston and Haifa have written themselves into the continuing story of the Jewish people; that we all stand in a long line of history that is beautiful and difficult and passionate all at the same time.
Our day that began with sadness and grief and loss concluded with a surprise 16th birthday celebration arranged by Alon's father and the Israeli teachers. The sounds of conversation and laughter tonight were especially life- affirming. As we approach our final day on Israel Rabbi Breindel and I want to thank you for sharing your extraordinary young adults with us and entrusting them to us.
“Zeh Hayom Asa Adonai, nagila v’simcha bo!
This is the day that the Eternal has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it!”
Shabbat Shalom from Tel Aviv.
Rabbi Lisa Eiduson