Day 9 - Lehava - Jasmine Warhaftig
After a week in Poland and a night davening, singing and dancing at the Kotel, our first day in Israel was a visit to Yad Vashem, followed by free time on Ben Yehuda Street.
We started our day with a delicious Israeli style buffet breakfast of salads, shakshuka pastries and more, a creative Tefillah session and then set off to the western slope of Mount Herzl where Yad Vashem is located. It was great to get some yummy Israeli food into us.
Yad Vashem was the appropriate place to visit to conclude the holocaust aspect of our IST experience. Yad Vashem although sombre, is a unique Holocaust museum. The architecture, position and location gave me a sense of hope in stark contrast to the cold, harsh reality of Poland and the confronting places we visited there. Being in the center of sunny Jerusalem is a strong statement of pride and victory.
We then had the great privilege of hearing from Mia Lazarus’s grandmother - Miriam Lazarus. She told us her miraculous story of survival. Miriam was given up for adoption into a Catholic family in Lithuania, but when the war ended, her biological father returned to retrieve her. Her story was a real reminder of the indelible spirit and determination of our people despite the challenges that we face. Miriam now lives here in Israel. She told us in an unequivocal fashion - “Israel is the place for a Jew to be.”
We then made our way into the museum.
The Yad Vashem museum tells the story of the Shoah from a unique Jewish perspective, highlighting the experiences of the individual victims through original artifacts, survivor testimonies and personal possessions.
The museum is designed underground in a long linear structure that cuts through the mountain with a skylight roof. The flooring of the museum transitions from carpet to concrete which represents how life in Europe as a Jew before the Nazi occupation was safe and comfortable, and then through the atrocities of the war, life as a Jew was no longer safe and comfortable but fraught with danger and hardship.
Each gallery branches off from the main hall that follows a route through the museum. This ensures that you travel through the entire timeline of the Holocaust. This process starts from Europe prior to WWII, then tracks the uprising of antisemitism, ghettos and concentration camps - climaxing with the ‘Final Solution,’ resistance, and liberation across Europe.
At the end of the museum we entered the Hall of Names, which is a cylindrical memorial dedicated to the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The room is filled with names, faces and has an indoor well that reflects the Jewish people’s long lasting and inevitable existence. To look around and see countless books filled with names and testimonies of individuals, including the names of relatives of my own who perished in the Shoah was truly special - although emotional and confronting.
As we exited the museum we stood before a beautiful panoramic view of Jerusalem, the expansive sky and the valley below. This view is symbolic of how Jewish life is still thriving and prospering. It left me with a sense of optimism and incredulity of what Israel has achieved in the 70 years since the Shoah ended. The light at the end of the tunnel.
After lunch we were divided into our Family Groups where we had a tochnit on Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s speech ‘Kol Dodi Dofek’ written on Israel’s Independence Day in 1956.
After a few hours rest at the hotel, we had free time to explore the streets of Jerusalem and eat dinner on Ben Yehuda Street. We all set off, very excited to indulge in the delicious Israeli cuisine of shwarmas, falafels, Israeli salads and for desert - waffles and ice cream. Whilst exploring all the different Jewish shops we had our first real taste of the vibrant and bustling atmosphere that makes Israel so special.
Overall, our transition from Poland to Israel with a day visit to Yad Vashem showed us that although the past, present and future of the state of Israel will always be exposed to conflict and discrimination, we are a strong nation and people. It left us with a sense of hope and belief that we, as Jews together, will always find a way to unite and overcome any obstacle that comes our way.
Am Yisrael Chai