Tuesday, June 25, 2013
As we walked into the entrance of Yad Vashem, a museum dedicated to Holocaust commemoration, an elderly man scolded us for laughing too much. “This is a place to be serious. If you want to laugh, go to a disco tech,” he suggested. A bit shocked, we wandered away with the rest of our group, into the museum itself. Our tour guide led us through rooms and hallways, past ragged garments and videos of Holocaust survivors. I soon realized why the old man had been so grave. This certainly was not a place to laugh.
I’ve been to other Holocaust museums, I’ve written papers, I’ve led discussions. This is not the first time I’ve realized that the Holocaust is not something to take lightly. But honoring the genocide while visiting Israel was a new experience for me. The museum did not just symbolize another horrifying part of the history of humankind. It was much more real and direct to these people in this nation.
As I scanned the room, dozens of soldiers meandered throughout. This museum seemed to be a place for those fighting for the country of Israel to remember why they’re fighting for the country. It’s a place to remember what it looks like for the Jewish community to have no home; it’s motivation to continue the fight.
Our group’s Jewish, middle-aged tour guide took his time explaining the history. He seemed to find significance in each factor of the Holocaust and was careful not to leave anything out.
As we came to the end of the tour, our group stood in front of a photograph of Holocaust survivors. The photograph is often admired because it captures a Jewish service that took place in one of the death camps only days after they had been liberated. However, the guide pointed to a nine-year-old boy in the picture, and he explained that his father (shortly before being killed by the Nazis) had asked him to continue the tradition of becoming a rabbi. The young boy didn’t just grow up to become a rabbi, as his father had hoped --- he grew up to be the chief rabbi of Israel. Our guide began tearing up, recognizing the potential in each child killed during the Holocaust. As a Jewish man living in Israel, he recognized the significance of becoming a rabbi, of carrying on the Jewish traditions and values to the next generation.
I think there is something unique about acknowledging the tragedy while in Israel. The people here find more meaning in this part of history than anyone else, whether it’s motivation to fight for their country or it’s their unique understanding of the lives lost. And I think that they are more unified and joyous now because of it.