Sunday: Yad Vashem and Kiryat Gat
Today we made our way to Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust Memorial). As we walked through the children’s memorial we could hear the names of Jewish children that did not survive this horrific part in Jewish history. We started our tour of the main museum with an exhibit that highlighted Jewish life prior to the Holocaust with images of joy and happiness. As we made our way through the rest of the museum with our tour guide, we learned about what our ancestors were subject to during this dark era. After viewing all of the exhibits in the museum we were able to walk across the campus where there stood a rail car that was used during the Holocaust to transport millions of Jews to the concentration camps. Brandi read us the lyrics from a song was written about this rail car by The Indigo Girls called “This Train,” which they wrote after they viewed it back in the mid 90’s. It really hit me when we were at the end of the museum, when we saw a display of hundreds or thousands of burnt, unrecognizable shoes. The last room had 600 pictures of victims on the ceiling and lists of the names of the victims on shelves on the wall. Many of the shelves are left open, because they know there are more names they have yet to uncover. It made us realize even more so how important having a place like Israel is for the Jewish people. After our tour of Yad Vashem, we made our way to The Chicago’s Partnership Region Kiryat Gat - Lachish - Shafir. We learned how tough it is to grow up here. It is considered to be a tough neighborhood in Israel. Before this program existed, some children in this area would be affiliated with drugs and bad behavior. Back in 2000, JUF, with the help from multiple other resources in the Chicago area, began a program in this neighborhood in which children would have a place to go. Whether is was after school, on the weekend, or when they had free time; children of this community would now have a “safe haven” to go to. In the past 11 years, they have helped mold and brighten many children’s lives. Many children who were directly affected by this program have now had children of their own. These children also now have a place to go play, learn, and hang out with no worries of violence or an unsafe area. As we walked into the play ground we learned about the children and the talents they have. Over the next hour or so we had the opportunity to play, teach, and talk to these children. They are all so talented in their own way whether its from dancing, sports, or arts and crafts. I played pool with two of the children for twenty minutes while talking to them about their lives and how much they value this community center. Many other Shorashim participants were active with the children by doing crafts, playing basketball, or break dancing to the Israeli music that these children have grown to love. Although this program has grown tremendously in the last eleven years, it still needs constant support and help. It is going to be my goal upon my return to the Chicago area to get involved to do my part in supporting this amazing program. Although this day was the hardest one emotionally for all of us on bus 153, it helped us understand where we can from, what we’ve been through, and what we can do in the future to impact young Jewish lives. - Brian M. and Brad J.