Jerusalem Day 4

28 May

“Jews don’t ask God for miracles.” When I first heard this quote in the rabbi’s sermon at the Conservative synagogue just down the street from our apartments on Friday night, I felt torn. On one hand, I thought that the rabbi made a lot of sense. He explained that the Jewish people do not ask God to provide miracles, but rather ask God to help better themselves so that their goals may be achieved. Though unaware that this is a Jewish value, I have always thought this way. However, as a part of Shabbat is reflecting upon the past day and week, I remembered our morning trip to Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl. If Jews were not allowed to ask God for a miracle during the Holocaust, what kind of hope did they have left? Who was supposed to help them? How could the Jews and other persecuted peoples during World War II ask to better themselves to save their own lives?
We began Friday, May 24 with a trip to Yad Vashem, The Holocaust History Museum. As I researched the name of the museum, I was surprised to read that it is not titled The Holocaust Memorial Museum, but The Holocaust History Museum. Though the museum is set up chronologically, it truly is a testimony to those who were slaughtered in World War II. At the end of the museum, there is a room filled with binders of nearly 4 million names of Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. This visit really struck me more than the first time I visited because we were allowed to move throughout the museum without a tour guide and read whatever interested us. One new view that I gained in our Politics and Communications class is that the one of the greatest reasons for the creation of the state of Israel was the Holocaust. After the mass genocide of approximately six million Jews, a feeling of desperation grew throughout the Jewish community. The Jews of Europe and Russia suffered a great loss, leaving the remaining determined to once and for all return to their homeland. World War II ended in 1945, and by 1948 Israel was declared as the official Jewish state. Yad Vashem truly represents how the tragedy caused the need for Israel to be declared as an official country.
The images throughout Jerusalem’s Holocaust History Museum consistently struck me because the people reminded me of many Jews present in my daily life. I saw images of people who looked like my family, that were set at eye level to force me and the rest of the audience to connect with them. The scary reality is that I am not any different from the Jews who were executed, and that the Holocaust was less than one hundred years ago. What is stopping this tragedy from happening again? This greatly relates to our class discussion about the ever-present fear of an existential threat to Israel. Many countries despise the Jews and the state of Israel, and after seeing how the world allowed the Holocaust to occur, who would defend and protect Israel from another war or Holocaust? By having an independent state, Jews acknowledge the need for self-defense and presentation of a united front against enemies.
One of the greatest ways in which Israel represents its determination for independence is through the Israeli Defense Forces. By requiring each citizen to serve in the country’s military, the state is able to gain power and successfully defend itself. After seeing Yad Vashem, I was truly moved by visiting Mt. Herzl, the burial ground for many important leaders and soldiers who helped create and defend this country. Significant people buried on this mountain include Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Theodore Herzl, and countless soldiers. I find it very interesting that Mount Herzl is located next to Yad Vashem. Yad Vashem is the place that signifies what created the need for a Jewish national state, and Mount Herzl is the burial site of the people that made the creation and success possible. Both places reflect significant, tragic losses of the Jewish people, but show how those losses influenced the development of Israel. The deaths greatly affected this country, but without them, Israel may not exist today.
Our day continued with a trip to Mahane Yehuda Market, also known as “The Shuk.” This marketplace in Jerusalem’s New City is the location of some 250 vendors, who sell fresh produce and a variety of other foods. Being at the market right before Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, was a crazy experience. The Israelis move through the market determined to purchase all of the necessary foods for their Shabbat meal, frustrated with the Taglit-Birthright trips and other Americans who appear to stand in their way. At this market we bargained with vendors over prices, and purchased foods much more fresh than those at the local supermarket. Despite the afternoon’s sky high temperatures, the group had a successful first pre-Shabbat market experience.
As Shabbat approached, while the rest of our group was catching up on sleep and getting ready for dinner, Matt and I decided to attend services at the aforementioned local Conservative synagogue. The service was filled primarily with Americans, including those who regularly attend and live in Israel, along with a Taglit-Birthright group. A Swedish group was also visiting! The service brought a piece of home to Israel for me, which after a very hectic week, I truly needed. We then joined our group for dinner with the Conservative Yeshiva students at the Fuchsberg Center. Together we celebrated Shabbat and learned about the holiday from the knowledgable students. After dinner, about half of the students concluded the evening by exploring the city, while the rest went to bed to catch up on some slumber.

– Anna Meyers

Mt. Herzl

Mt. Herzl

View of Jerusalem from the end of Yad Vashem

View of Jerusalem from the end of Yad Vashem

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