Today was a day to remember…or never forget. The day started off with another breakfast at the Jerusalem Tower Hotel, and the only thing missing was halva. Conversations over breakfast primarily revolved around recapping the night before. Thursday night in Jerusalem is the equivalent of a Friday night in Philadelphia. It was the last night of the Jerusalem Light Festival. Machane Yehuda market transforms after 9pm into a large outdoor bar and the crowd favorite is Goldstar beer.
After a 20 minute bus ride we arrived at Yad Vashem. The name Yad Vashem is meant to represent the physical and spiritual monument or memory of every Jew who lived or perished during the Holocaust. The literal translation comes from Isaiah 56:5 and means hand and name.
Before our trustworthy guide, Yoav, left us in the hands of a museum tour guide the following thought was presented: it is our responsibility to teach future generations about the Holocaust especially when there are no survivors left. We do not want history to repeat itself.
We were first introduced to the museum through a discussion of the architectural significance. The museum was built in the shape of a concrete triangle. The apex of the triangle, at the roof, is entirely glass and allows the only natural light there is in the museum. The glass and natural light reminds us that the Holocaust occurred in broad daylight. From within the museum the triangular shape gave the sensation of the walls closing in on us. The architects intentionally wanted visitors to feel a discomfort with the heavy concrete falling inwards. Additionally, visitors must zigzag through the entire history of the Holocaust; therefore, visitors cannot overlook any aspect of the tragedy of the Shoah.
One of the most touching aspects of the museum and the story of the Holocaust, which the museum did a great job of highlighting, is that once the war was over, one would expect Jews to be celebratory and excited…but they had no place to go and many of their family members perished. As our tour guide put it, “they were liberated but not free.”
Yad Vashem is an extremely important place to see for yourself.
We apologize for the lack of photos from the hours we spent at Yad Vashem -photos are not allowed inside the museum.
After our tour of the museum we had the privilege of meeting with a Holocaust survivor, Giselle Cycowicz. Her story began in her small town in Eastern Europe with her Zionist father who owned two businesses. Her and her family were interned in Auschwitz-Birkenau during the last year of the war. She told us stories about baking matzah prior to being taken to the camp paralleling the Exodus story, selection, the one dress she was given, advice her father had given her about always volunteering for any work offered, and a few episodes of kindness experienced at the hands of SS officers. She also told us about how her older mother survived against all odds (despite her escape attempt and success) and how she miraculously found her mother and her at home after the war. Eventually her family immigrated to the US and it wasn’t until her children made Aliyah that she was able to fulfill her father’s dream of returning to the Holy Land. Today she happily lives in Israel with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
After a near-revolt against Yoav, it was decided we didn’t have enough time for Mount Hertzel so we returned to the Old City for lunch, rugelach at Marzipan, the world’s cheapest wine, shopping, and experiencing the Machane Yehuda market before Shabbat.
Overlooking the Western Wall, we lit Shabbat candles in front of a golden Menorah that replicates the original from the First Temple. Yoav took us back in time to explain the historical significance of the Western Wall. From there we went through security to experience the Wall itself. On the women’s side there was singing and dancing in a large circle that encompassed more than 100 women, including Israeli soldiers and tourists. The men’s side looked similar. The closer one got to the Wall, the more quiet and reflective the atmosphere became.
Our next stop was Shabbat dinner at Natan and Michelle Cohen’s home. They have hosted over 25,000 people for Shabbat over the past 5 years. There was not only delicious food, but also story telling and singing. We toasted 40 l’chiams, sang “Simin tov and mazel tov” 20 times, and polished off 20 bottles of wine. The Cohens were radiant and gracious hosts and exemplified what it means to open up one’s home. The dinner ended around midnight and we still have “Yoselei” ringing in our ears.
Speaking of catchy songs, when reflecting on the past 10 days we are reminded of Dayenu.
If The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Israel 360 had just given us this opportunity and subsidized our flight, that would have been enough.
If we were given a flight and hotel/kibbutz lodging, it would have been enough.
If we were given a flight, hotel/kibbutz lodging, and food it would have been enough.
If we were given a flight, hotel/kibbutz lodging, food, and amazing guides and speakers it would have been enough.
While we are so grateful for all of these tangible gifts, we are most grateful for the priceless experience of new friends, inviting community back home, and gaining a new perspective on Israel that we are able to share with our significant others.
To make a long story short, it was an amazing experience, was it not?
Rebecca and Jonathan Reiter & Rachelle and Megan Schneider