Written by Laura Bergsten '15
Today we woke up in our Jerusalem hotel, had breakfast along with a big group of Nigerians who were staying here as well, and headed out to Yad Vashem. Yad Vashem was a much larger center than I imagined, housing many separate memorials, the Holocaust museum, and the Holocaust studies school. We began a tour of the Holocaust museum with an experienced tour guide –who spoke 6 languages—Mordachai. He brought us through the large, symbolically designed museum while recounting his own personal stories of family loss and past tours. The museum itself was fashioned on the edge of cliff, with one side showing scenes of Jewish life pre-Holocaust and the other side a window to the Jewish homes and communities in Jerusalem today, showing the path of the Jewish people from the 1920s to the present. The path we took led us through firsthand accounts of the rise of Nazism, the spread of anti-Semitic laws, and the systematic killing of Jews and other enemies of the state in Europe. We finished the museum and entered the children’s memorial, an eerie, moving building consisting of somber music, pitch-black darkness, and mirrors portraying lit candles uncountable times. A voice in the room spoke the names, ages, and nationalities of some of the 1.5 million murdered children of the Holocaust. We next went to the school to hear the account of Holocaust survivor Hannah, who was a good friend of Anne Frank from childhood until meeting her one last time in the camps. We then walked up the hill to Mt. Hertzl, the cemetery housing founder of the Zionist movement, Hertzl, the majority of the Israeli heads of state, and the Israeli soldiers lost in battle in the founding and protection of Israel. We heard moving stories of heroism and sacrifice at each part of the cemetery, but the final location we visited, which contains those most recently deceased, definitely hit closest to home. Tal, Daniel, and one of the soldiers joining us, Tali, each shared a story of a recently fallen soldier they knew and the emotion in each of them made the losses symbolized in the cemetery incredibly real. We then said farewells to the soldiers who’d traveled with us for the past five days. We all agreed that their presence on the trip immensely powerful and the bus ride to the market felt much emptier without them.
I think that today was emotional for everyone, and not in a way that was easy. Unlike any other day on this trip so far, I didn’t feel happy or comfortable or excited. I felt sad. And I believe that on a trip like this, that’s important. We always hear stories about Jewish history and some of the great tragedies throughout it, but knowing about tragedy and feeling it are different things. And today, watching friends cry as they remembered loved ones and hearing Hannah detail her plight, I began to really feel some of the most recent and ongoing tragedies of Jewish people and of Israel. Feeling the tragedy of the Jewish people as my friends, my family’s, and my own solidified the connection I felt with Judaism and the state of Israel.