Life - a living memory of our ancestors | Shorashim - Israel with Israelis
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Life - a living memory of our ancestors

Joey Swerdlin

I have had a free American life. This has provided me with myriad experiences and opportunities that, for the most part, I have been able to control based on my own interests and desires. I have not had to worry about the security of my daily life. I have not been forced to confront my identity every day of my life. I have not had to face my mortality by exterior forces every day of my life. I have lived a free life and I am finally realizing what a blessing and privilege that is. 

My ancestors did not always have that freedom. My family faced the terror of uncontrolled hatred. Some died. Some survived. My life is a blessing given to me by way of my mother's mother and and my mother's father. I am forever indebted to that. I am forever indebted to the horror that my ancestors lived. I take this for granted daily.

It is painful for me to take in visual Holocaust martial. I cannot internalize this information without attempting to imagine the pain that my family felt as they experienced these atrocities. It makes mefeel undeserving of the relative luxury in which I am able to live. At the same time, it is my life that gave them strength to persevere through their realities. It was the promise of life beyond the death camps that gave them hope to continue living .

Today, my life is a fruit of their perseverance. I am indebted to their pain. I am indebted to their pain, yet I feel compelled by their memory to live. I feel compelled by their memory to share their story. I feel compelled by their memory to not allow their tragedy to be repeated. I feel compelled by their memory to pass down their traditions. I feel compelled by their memory to love. To have life. To be full of life. To be full of love. To love. To live. To listen. To hear. To know. To be knowledgeable. To remember. To love. To feel. To understand. To forgive. To understand. To hear. To speak. To share. To listen. To love. To live. To be. To remember. To live. To love.

This morning began waking up and having a collective breakfast in Neve Shalom, a peaceful community where Jews, Muslims, and Christians live in unity. This community also housed our Shabbat rest. After the bus was packed, we traveled to the outskirts of Jerusalem where we arrived at Yad Vashem, the National Holocaust Museum of Israel. Similar to our other experiences on the trip, the arrival scene was lively; many Birthright Israel buses unloaded participants all heading toward the museum entrance.

The architecture of the museum is strong and fractured. Saturated with meaning, each space is designed to evoke specific emotions and memories. In Safdie Architect's scheme, the entire experience of the Holocaust, from the comfort of home to coldness of the camps, is exposed through thoughtfully placed materials such as carpet and concrete and the play of natural and artificial light, respectively.

The overall form of the building tells the story of hope lost and regained as the museum path crosses the center of the building where natural light floods the uncomfortably tilted walls from above, speaking to the unattainable hope that is accessible only at the end of the journey where the Israeli landscape opens up, welcoming the Jews home. 

Even though there was great hope at the end of the museum experience, we were quickly brought back to the serious reality of of Israeli life. Even at play, some Israelis are not able to live freely and must be constantly prepared for attack. In Sderot, the Jewish National Fund has created an indoor playground for the youth that is embedded with bomb shelters. This intense interplay of fun and austerity was made explicit through a poignant scene in one of the playground shelters: a half exploded rocket shell sat quietly in a brightly painted playroom. The contrast of the rusted metal against the joyful color was a sobering reminder of the reality of the situation for many Israelis.

To end the day, we have been spending time in a Bedouin-styled camp where we are experiencing a light version of the Bedouin life. Through a shared meal, sleeping tent, star gazing, and camp fire, we are getting a small glimpse of the communal Bedouin life. 

This day is exemplary of the multi-faceted nature of a Birthright Israel trip attempting to capture the complexity of Israeli life. Like the rest of the world, it is made of individual voices, and only by hearing each, one by one, can the whole picture be fully understood.

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