Being in Israel on Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is truly unparallel to being anywhere else in the world on this day that we commemorate the 11 million who lost their lives in the Holocaust, especially the 6 million Jews. One of the main reasons that Israel exists is because after the Nazi’s attempt to destroy European Jewry, it became evident that the Jewish people needed a homeland; a place where they could always be welcomed. Throughout the past week, we have learned about the Holocaust, and commemorated it both at EMIS and with the broader Hakfar Hayarok community.
At 9:45 on Thursday morning, the Hebrew class along with the Israeli students at EMIS, attended the ceremony presented by the Hakfar Hayarok seniors. The ceremony consisted of songs and recitations of personal anecdotes written about their experiences visiting concentration camps in Poland earlier this year. Subconsciously, everyone at the ceremony came to a pause when the siren sounded across the whole country for two minutes. Within these two minutes, every person, no matter where they were in Israel, or what they were doing, stood in respect and remembrance of the victims of Holocaust. Seeing this commemoration firsthand was one of the most emotionally moving events I have ever seen. I started to cry because I knew how difficult the history for the Jewish people has been, and continues to be. Seeing the country of Israel stand as one, strong and proud, made me so emotional. That, coupled with the singing of Hatikvah, the national anthem that means “the hope” in Hebrew, was truly something remarkable.
On Sunday, three days after Yom Hashoah, EMIS took a trip to the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, Israel. It is an incorrect statement to describe the museum as “fun” or “exciting,” however, it was nonetheless a meaningful experience. Due to the layout of the museum, the visitors feel as if they are walking through history, opposed to other museums that feel artificial. The architect of the museum designed it in such a way that the entrance is above ground, and as the years get closer to the beginning of WWII, the walls close in. This leads to a claustrophobic effect, mimicking that of the Jews and other victims who were put in the ghetto, and later in concentration camps. It also gets darker, signifying how people who previously lived free and happy lives, lost their freedom and individuality, as the oppressive Nazi regime ceased their human entitlement.
Our tour guide Raz masterfully kept us engaged during the duration of the visit. For some of the boys, maybe it was because of her good looks, but for me it was the way that she spoke from her heart. You could hear the passion in her voice while talking about how morally wrong the Nazi’s actions were, and what steps we can take today to ensure nothing this terrible happens again. To me, this demonstrated the extent to which this horrific event in history can teach us that instead of just internalizing injustice, we must speak about it, and share the information with others. She informed us of many stories that have been told from Holocaust survivors when they spoke at the Yad Vashem memorial. I found her story about Dina Pronicheva, the only survivor of Babi Yar, a ravine near Kiev, Ukraine that was used solely for the purpose of executing Jews, to be the most memorable story of the museum visit. Raz also informed us that Dina was the only survivor of the 33,771 Jews who were massacred at Babi Yar, and her story of survival. It was truly remarkable.
After the museum, we visited the Children’s Museum. The Children’s Museum is much smaller than the museum commemorating the lives of everyone lost in the Holocaust, but is essential for commemorating the 1.5 million children who were killed. It consists of a dark room filled with five candles and mirrors. The mirrors are placed in such a way that the candles’ flames are reflected infinitely. This signifies the countless lives of children who were lost as a result of the Holocaust, and the extent to how massive the genocide was. What I learned from the guide is that the importance of having a children’s museum signifies that when a child dies, it is not just a life lost, but a whole generation lost.
Although this week was not easy as we extensively discussed difficult issues, it was nonetheless emotionally moving, and personally made me more mature and knowledgeable. It is important to learn about the past and not repeat the terrible mistakes that have happened in human history. It is an empowering feeling seeing peoples’ mistakes, and by using hindsight, learning from them with eyes for a more peaceful and hopeful future. This is one of the fundamental values of EMIS; as we convene here in hopes of a more peaceful future, where people from all over the world can freely express themselves and truly appreciate freedom.
Written by Hannah Cook
Edited by Tom Sagiv
Copy-edited by Emily Perotti