Updated: Apr 25
Today was one of those days where you find yourself out of your body. You feel like you’re looking at the moment from a viewpoint above. See: the first days of summer, walking down the street when everything is green and full of warmth and light. Watching the people you love laugh together. Reading the news and wondering how it’s possible that we’ve come so far but somehow can’t help but move backward at the same time.
Today was one of those days, and even after the fact I am still thinking about it, now fully inside my body and my head.
We started off at Yad Vashem, Israel’s holocaust museum. I knew going into it that it was going to be intense. I’ve been learning about this mass genocide since I was ten years old, but I don’f think I fully understood the atrocities until going to this museum. The experience of winding your way down a vast triangular hall, each room taking you through another stage of what slowly became the brutal murder of 6 million people, it’s indescribable. You feel your body seizing more and more each time you see a new picture, a new first hand account. You clench your hands tighter and tighter every baby doll, every toy you pass, knowing that a real child held it in their arms as they got on a packed train. When you look down the hallway you can see the beginning of the museum: a video of Jewish life pre-WWII. If you turn around and face the end of the building, you see the view of Jerusalem through the window; an ending that represents the future, still holding everything we and our people have lost.
I found myself trying to make sense of it all. There’s no rationalizing what was done to the Jewish people and countless other peoples, so I tried to put myself in their shoes. I imagined what I could have done, what I would have tried to do to survive. I thought about what it would have felt like to wear that star, to be on one of those trains, to be standing on the edge of one of those pits. It’s too much to imagine, it makes me feel sick, but then I remember that real people lived through, or didn’t live through those things. It’s terrifying.
Despite that, I think it’s so important to learn about and to experience in that way. I now feel more connected to the history of a community that I have the privilege to call mine. Being there made me deeply realize that I want to carry on the traditions and values of Judaism not only because I love them, but also because of the people who were silenced too soon, because it was important to them, so it’s important to me.
This, this idea of our culture and traditions being so important, the fact that they can connect us to our past came full circle tonight. Shabbat arrived and the city went quiet, families gathering around their tables to celebrate. We made our way to the local reform synagogue and we joined in their service. I didn’t know the tune to most of the songs, nor the people, nor the language at times, but I knew the feeling. The feeling of singing together, of listening to toddlers play in the back of the room. The feeling of standing as a community, as one people who love and care for one another, even if they’ve never met before. And later that night when we sat down to eat with Rabbi Gordon’s family, I knew the feeling of being welcomed into someone’s home, of smiling and laughing and eating together.
This is why we take this trip, why we make this pilgrimage. It is so we can have these out if body experiences, weather they are caused by shock and horror and heavy history, or by joy and hope and found family. It is so we can leave knowing why we came: to learn more about ourselves, about where we came from, and about where we’re going.