A Special Two-Part Update
Today was a very special, but incredibly difficult day. We started the day at Yad Vashem, where we walked and discussed the Holocaust. I've learned the facts many times before, but what I found most interesting is watching the videos of survivors sharing their personal story. Even though there was a screen between me and the speaker, I felt immediately connected to them. My grandpa was a Holocaust survivor in Auschwitz, where he lost his parents, his brother, and one of his two sisters. His second sister and him managed to survive when they successfully escaped to Israel. I'll never forget sitting with him the first and last time he shared a holocaust story with me. He held my hand, his eyes were full of tears, and though he kept many details out, I now better understand how hard it was for him to let me in. I will forever cherish that moment and as we continue to lose more and more survivors, I hope that our generation will help keep them alive by continuing to educate others. I know I will.
When we arrived at the playground in Sderot, I felt hope. The continuous conflict in Gaza has placed many families in constant danger, especially in Sderot. Seeing this amazing playground be built in only nine months, the energy from the kids playing and laughing, and the pride and dedication Yedidya had for this project truly warmed my heart. I truly felt right at home and was so happy to share the lows and highs of today with this incredible group.
After we woke up and had breakfast this morning, the group boarded the bus and set off for Jerusalem, our destination: Yad Vashem. Going to the museum with my cohort of Taglit participants made this an experience unlike any other. I trekked from NJ to the Holocaust museum in DC with my middle school class many years ago, and did not have a pleasant experience - not that recounting the Holocaust could ever be 'pleasant' - needless to say, I was unsure of what to expect.
Snaking through the triangular building with the group of 50 made me feel distant at first. Even though I could hear our docent clearly through the headset, it was hard to see over everyone's heads to the exhibits she was speaking about. Then we got to the replica of the cobblestone street from Warsaw Ghetto and sat down to discuss the horrendous conditions our descendants were subjected to there. Physically being in touch with the cobblestones and seeing my new peers sitting on them with me gave me a sensation of community like I have never felt before. It was a bizarre moment to feel such a strong emotion. I imagined the children of the ghetto sitting together or playing together on the cobbled streets while not knowing what their tomorrows would bring, and I felt lucky to have made these new friends on Birthright and to be sitting on the cobblestones by choice and not by necessity. It made me realize the strength of those who came before me- those who somehow found a way to survive, and those who were not so fortunate.
At the end of our guided tour, we looked up at pictures of Jews who were being searched for, and then looked down into a stagnant pool of water that reflected their faces. The water was supposed to reflect the ripple effect of a catastrophic event like the Holocaust, and also represented the responsibility of our generation and generations to come to close the knowledge gap and keep both the history and stories alive. I had one more interpretation of my own: water in many religions and traditions is symbolic of an adaptable entity that flows unwaveringly on despite any rocks or waterfalls that might present themselves at some point down stream. I find this interpretation reflects the experience I had today at Yad Vashem when I realized that the tendency of my people to adapt and subsist is what has kept us alive, and that tendency along with the ripple effect our docent described is what will keep our stories alive.
After just seven short days, the group mentality and energy is a strong one, proving to me that the bond of religion or of a shared history is a powerful one that draws us together, in times of need and in times of leisure too. Now, as I sit under the stars at our kibbutz under Masada, writing this blog post as my friends lay near me looking up at the sky, I understand the purpose of this Birthright trip. This is a lasting camaraderie.