Hard to believe; it’s already Day 6, and today it’s Nancy Maklan who is sharing our doings.
Today was a day of immense contrasts. We started out early for an all-morning visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s extraordinary Holocaust History Museum. Yad Vasem is not an easy experience, but it began with inspiration as we walked through the quite lovely Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations. In this outdoor space each of the many trees and each of the names engraved into a long wall represents one of the non-Jewish heroes who saved the life of at least one Jew during the Holocaust without receiving any recompense in return. This lead us to the principal museum building, designed by our own Moshe Safdie, who had carefully created a structure that would visually and experientially reflect the Holocaust. It is a long building that slopes downward, representing the terrible downward spiral of the holocaust. It is constructed of unfinished concrete walls that closes in above, just as the holocaust closed in on the Jews of Europe. As one enters one can see light at the other end, but there are many blockades along the passage making it impossible to reach that light with any ease. We therefore wound in and out through the many varied exhibits and, with the assistance of our very knowledgeable Yad Vashem guide, took in the horrific facts and overwhelming devastation of the Holocaust. Near the end of the museum we came to the year 1948 and the recognition of the Israeli nation. At this point the passage through the building begins to rise and the constricting walls of the museum open up like wings into a bright garden. The building ends with a movingly dramatic Hall of Names. This large circular space is intended to commemorate every Holocaust victim with a short biography and, if possible, a photo. The desire is to give back to each of the six million who were murdered her or his identity.
Upon completing this difficult immersion into the Holocaust, Rabbi Grushcow arranged that we have some time in the Yad Vashem synagogue. Here she lead us through a moving Yizkor service. We shared the funeral prayer, the El male rachamim, and then spoke of what of all the extraordinary things we had just seen had struck us most deeply. We were reminded of the short film clip of two emaciated small children in a street of the Warsaw Ghetto, one of whom was desperately trying to rouse the other who appeared to be near death; also of the glorious young woman, also in the Warsaw Ghetto, who faced the gun of a German soldier with full defiance. There were also reminders of the signs of hope — the extreme bravery of the Righteous Among the Nations, who risked not only themselves, but also their families, and sometimes even their whole village, to save Jews; and there were all the faces that were seen around us in the museum, faces from all over the world, from many cultures and many countries, all people who thought it was important to learn about the Holocaust and perhaps to join us in saying, “Never Again!”
This was followed by a visit to two profoundly moving memorials. One was the Hall of Remembrance — simple, dark, and serene. The other was the terrifyingly striking Children’s Memorial, in which the blackness is lit by one candle that is reflected by mirrors, creating thousands of small lights. And so we left Yad Vashem deeply moved and somehow changed.
We then had another surprise from our extraordinary guide, Noam; this one a sadder and more profound surprise than the others. We drove to a small treeless area edging a highway, and there Noam produced a small olive tree and large jug of water. The olive tree was planted as a memorial to honour a personal experience of loss.
From this experience we made a huge leap in emotional environments as we entered Jerusalem’s wild and wonderful outdoor and indoor street market, Machaneh Yehuda. For an hour-and-a-half we were on our own to push our way through crazy crowds of people who were preparing with vigour to feed their family and friends well over Shabbat. We jostled our way through; we watched in awe; we ate fabulous street food, and generally had a great time of it.
Tired, but still enthusiastic, we went to Hebrew Union College’s Jerusalem campus. We met with Rabbi Michael Marmur, Provost (head of academic programs) for all four HUC campuses, the other three campuses being in the USA. The tour he gave of the campus revealed a place of great beauty, most of which was again designed by Moshe Safdie. With great relish Rabbi Marmur explained that HUC and the World Union of Progressive Judaism had acquired a 99-year lease for this superbly located property for the price of one British pound a year. This was in the year 1963, and the location was then under the guns that stood on the west wall of Old Jerusalem, which at that time was Israel’s border with Jordan. This meant that the city was desperate to find someone to build on this location. Four years later, after the Six-Day War of 1967, this lease became known as the best land deal in the Middle East. Rabbi Marmur indicated that the campus is intended to be a place of meeting, just as Jerusalem is a place of meeting. Therefore, as well as HUC, it houses a museum, a day care, the Biblical Archeological School, and a number of Progressive Jewish organizations, including IRAC, the Isreali Religious Action Center, whose director, Anat Hoffman, has visited our Temple several times. Rabbi Marmur was proud to report that, despite the strong opposition in Israel to Reform Judaism, the Jerusalem campus now has 60% Israeli students, and that a number of past Israeli students are now holding significant positions, including one who is Deputy Minister of Jerusalem
Our enthusiasm left us with only a brief time to freshen up before we were off again for a half-hour walk (quite lovely) that brought us to Kehillat Kol Haneshema, the largest Reform Synagogue in Jerusalem and probably in all of Israel, and one that, unlike almost all synagogues in Israel, puts a major emphasis on social action. Here we had the privilege of joining their Kabbalat Shabbat.
The hike back to the hotel brought us to our Friday evening Shabbat meal, a joyous time filled with reflection on our time in Israel, laughter and good food. Joining us for dinner was one of Rabbi Grushcow’s students from Congregation Rodeph Sholom in NYC, Dara Frank, who had made aliyah four years previous. Rabbi introduced Dara as one of the brightest of the bright students whom she saw confirmed, and indeed, Dara did impress us as she described the critical work of the organisation she now directs. This organisation, Tiyul-Rihla, is working to bring together Jewish Israelis and Palestinians for two-day educational trips in either Israel or the Palestinian Territories. The important goal of these excursions is to have each of the two cultures learn something about, and perhaps better understand, the very different language and narratives with which the other culture defines its reality.
Inspired by Dara’s work, determination, and hopefulness, we ended our long and very full sixth day.