Thursday, September 17, 2015

Birthright Trip to Israel: Day 5

The Yad Vashem building and grounds. Image found here.
After a lovely breakfast at the Orchid Hotel, it was time to head out. We started the day visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. "Yad" means "place" or "memorial," while "vashem" means "name;" this is a place for the names (or lack thereof) that were lost in the Holocaust. This Bible verse is on the museum's website:

"And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a "yad vashem")... that shall not be cut off."  -Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5

First I should talk about the architecture of the museum. You start off at the back of the museum (near the upper-right in the photo above); you're high up and it's well-lit. But as you travel through the museum, it becomes darker, and you're traveling downward, representing how things got worse over time. You zig-zig through the museum, back and forth across the main hallway, which mimics the confusion and chaos of the time during World War II. But as you get to the end of the museum, you are coming up and into the light again, and at the very end, the museum opens up to face the city of Jerusalem in Israel, a land created specifically for the Jewish people.

We were led on a guided tour, and any guide certainly affects your experience. Our guide was very focused on the history: the timeline of when things happened, where things happened on a map, the statistics and numbers of facts, etc. So we got a very analytical tour, rather than an emotional one. I thought for sure I would cry my way through the whole museum, but I didn't. I think I was overwhelmed for one (there was just so much to see, read, and learn that I didn't have a moment to just think about one thing), but we also skipped things that probably would have made me more upset; we skipped the videos in which Holocaust survivors tell their stories; those are the things that would have impacted me the most. So unfortunately we did not get to see everything in the museum, and the tour left something to be desired (well, if you wanted to cry...).

Hall of Remembrance. Image found here.
The last room in the museum is the Hall of Remembrance (or Hall of Names), which features photographs and facts about people who were killed during the Holocaust. It is amazing to see all of the pictures, especially when some of them resemble people you know. Underneath the dome of photos are shelves where documents containing information about these people are kept. You can see the binders on the left side of the picture above; the museum has facts about four million people who were lost in the Holocaust. But notice the empty shelves on the right: those represent the two million people whom we know nothing about, and probably never will.

The Children's Memorial. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
There is a separate memorial for the roughly 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust. The room is very dark, and we had to hold onto a railing along the side of the room to get our bearings. The only sound you could hear was a voice reading off the names and ages of some of the children who were killed. In the center of the room, there are just a few candles that are lit. However, because of the many mirrors that are all around the interior of the room, the candle light is reflected, giving the impression of hundreds, even thousands, of candles. The real candles represent the children who died in the Holocaust; all of the reflected candles represent the generations that would have been were those original children not to have died in the first place.

Although I was not emotionally affected like I thought I would be, this was still a very somber experience, and we took some time after our visit to break into smaller groups and talk about our feelings, past experiences, etc. For example, I talked about how sometimes people say I'm not "really Jewish" because my mother isn't Jewish; I'm not particularly religious or closely connected to Judaism, but I do feel like a part of my identity is denied when people say that. One of our American guides said, "You would have been Jewish enough for Hitler." I think I'm going to use that response the next time someone tells me I'm not Jewish...

Afterward we went to another shopping mall for lunch. This was disappointing because I can visit a shopping mall in America whenever I want; I didn't travel halfway across the world to do that! But again, because of the heat, we needed a place that was indoors and air conditioned, so that's what we got.
Surfing in the Mediterranean. Picture by Taylor Arion.
After the serious morning, we got to have some fun surfing in the Mediterranean! It was nice to go to the beach in Tel Aviv and just enjoy the afternoon. After surfing, we went to our new hotel, the Metropolitan. It was quite fancy, and it was embarrassing to show up sandy and sweaty from the beach; we immediately had to go to dinner because we weren't given time to shower first. But the buffet was amazing (especially the stuffed grape leaves and the chocolate mousse!), and we all stuffed ourselves before going up to our rooms to clean up before our night out on the town.

Israeli beer called "Gold Star" (quite an awkward name...). Picture by Jocelyn Rubin.
Tel Aviv has the reputation of being a big party town, but since we were only out for a couple of hours (and were back at the hotel before midnight), we did not see the rowdy, crazy side of the city. I was actually looking forward to potentially visiting a disco-tech, but because we had to head in so early, that did not happen. So we simply broke up into smaller groups and went to a few bars. I drank a Coke in a glass bottle (yum!), and I did enjoy the company of the few people in our group. Again, this gave us the chance to get to know each other better, which was really nice. We ended the night with tequila shots (I felt no buzz whatsoever), and I almost thought I had lost my wallet, but it simply was hiding in another pocket of my purse (whew!).

We were delayed in getting back to the hotel because one of the girls from our group was missing. We spent at least 20 minutes on the street counting off and trying to figure out where everyone was. Later we learned that this girl had gone back to the hotel to hook up with a local Israeli she had met while surfing. So she delayed all of us from getting to bed because she was selfish and self-centered. Lovely.

But otherwise, an interesting, good day.

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