Yad Vashem and Mt. Herzl

Trip Start Jan 12, 2008
Trip End Oct 01, 2008

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The program decided to leave Yad Vashem (Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem) and Mt. Herzl (Israel's version of the Arlington Cemetery) until the last day and I think the choice is a good one.  We now have seen the various faces, cultures and dynamics that have and continue to make up Israel for the last 3,000 years.  While we felt entirely safe and happy throughout the trip, there was always something missing.  Something that wasn't being talked about. 

Nothing can properly prepare you for visiting Yad Vashem.  No words can accurately reflect the feelings and emotions it commands from visitors.  No actions can reverse the destruction and annihilation carried  out by the Nazi's.  No prayers can bring back those lost in the largest tragedy known to mankind. 

The museum itself is well put together, informative and in depth, with many symbolic artistic touches.  Exhibits are on display by chronological order and the museum itself descends into the ground as the walls narrow to give you a claustrophobic feeling of not being able to escape as the war and killing gets worse.  The finale of the museum brings visitors up into a beautiful panoramic view of the Jerusalem skyline.  For me, the hall of names was the most moving.  I could barely breath as I looked around a huge room full of binders filled with name after name of victims.  I couldn't count the binders in a single row, let alone column, and there were hundreds of names in each binder!  The circular room made it seem as though the names never ended and learning that the books contained over 3 million (of the 6 million) that perished was devastating.

Moving onto Mt. Herzl, I was expecting the mood to lighten up a little bit, as it can't get any more somber, right?  Well, attending the military cemetery with current members of the IDF turned out to be just as powerful if not more.  Each Israeli soldier shared a note, a letter, a poem, or a song, with the group that showed how much of a reality the struggle to keep Israel alive is.  Yael told her story of having to deal with her boyfriend being in action in Lebanon last summer and the entire group was dead silent for an hour, just listening to the pain and veracity in her voice.  Understanding that EVERY Israeli knows someone who was either hurt or killed in the army is a very foreign and sobering thought.

The juxtaposition of the amazing tour around the country full of fun and excitement with the somber mood and lessons today is very emotional and brings the group together more than ever before.  We end the trip with everyone sharing something about the trip and how it has affected them.  While I don't say too much to the group, I have definitely taken a lot away.  The world is a much smaller place than I've ever admitted before (even when it has seemed small), and people from drastically different backgrounds are much more alike than I had previously thought.  Israel's existence is not only a necessity for Jews around the world, but a strong indication that humanity needs to come together and do it soon.

Now for the rest of my trip to begin!  I part ways with my sister and the group at the airport and hop on the train heading back into Tel Aviv. 
For a brief second I start to feel nervous as I did when I got to the airport in NJ, but this quickly goes away, phew!  I check into a hotel on the beach and fall asleep with my clothes on before I have a chance to get under the covers!
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