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Israel day seven: the significance of a name

January 20, 2013

The one place foreign dignitaries must visit upon arrival in Israel is Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial. This museum would take eight hours to go through if a visitor read every single thing, but we went through it with a tour guide in just two hours. The experience was just as memorable, and I must return some day to read all those plaques.

In the United States, we learn about the Holocaust many years in school; they show us pictures and videos, tell us stories and give us statistics. In school, it’s hard to comprehend the Holocaust; it’s hard to comprehend it regardless. I had been to Holocaust museums in Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia, but this was different. Yad Vashem emphasizes people’s stories and names, rather than numbers. This makes the Holocaust more tangible because the stories were about real people doing real things who deserve to have their stories told and deserve to be remembered. I also had the opportunity to listen to a Holocaust survivor – an experience that cannot be matched.

I wrote down the stories our tour guide told us in Yad Vashem that day, but I don’t want to write them out on here because I feel like that would take away from how profound the experience was (If interested, however, I’d be glad to share). However, there is one I would like to articulate on this blog. One man impacted by the Holocast knew he was going to die, and he wrote a letter to his girlfriend telling her that all he wanted was to be remembered – for his name to be remembered. That man’s name was David Burger (or Berger, I can’t be sure).

The last room at Yad Vashem contains binders with four million names of Jews who perished in the Holocaust. It contains shelves with space for two million more names – names that are still missing. These shelves represent the two million people who lost everything – everything, even their names. Standing in that room emphasized, to me, the importance of remembering people’s names – whether it’s someone in history or someone who’s impacted my own life or someone I just met. It’s the most precious thing a person has.

Yad Vashem viewWalking out of Yad Vashem brings visitors to one of the most amazing views in Jerusalem, according to me. It’s a view that shows Jewish life being built all around; Jewish life continues to thrive, 70 years after a man decided Jewish life should be eliminated.

Finally, we went to the children’s memorial at Yad Vashem. The tour guide calls this memorial the class of 1944 set in stone. It has unfinished construction that will never be finished, like the children represented by the children’s memorial. We have no idea what we lost by these 1.5 million children being murdered, and that is, perhaps, one of the most tragic things.

The other part of the day was spent at Mount Herzl, the final resting place for national leaders and military personnel. It also has a memorial dedicated to victims of acts of terror. On Mount Herzl, the military graves date as recent as August 2012. Beyond that, there is a patch of grass that is empty. The goal and the prayer is that that grass will remain clear, empty and without gravestones. Time spent here emphasized not taking anything for granted and the value of thinking about and living life rather than thinking about death.

Disclaimer: My birthright trip to Israel was absolutely incredible, beyond words. However, on this blog, I am trying to use words to describe how absolutely incredible it was. I explain what we did each day and attempt to describe the indescribable: how I felt as I traveled around the Holy Land of Israel. It’s difficult to describe some things because it was a very personal experience, but I’ll do my best. In addition, some things are just too deep or personal to comment on in a blog, but if you would like to discuss or go deeper on anything, feel free to contact me. I would love to talk about it.
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