Our second exposure event was a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. When we arrived we learned that Hilary Clinton had preceded us that morning and there was a lingering ‘buzz’ among the staff. Our group was fortunate to be led by Tamar Avraham, an Orthodox Jewish woman, who led our synod group in Nov. 2007.
Flanking the entrance to the museum are the trees of the Righteous Among the Nations, planted in honor of those non-Jews who risked their own lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Tamar explained that the museum is built on levels and that as the narrative of the Holocaust unfolds we would be proceeding underground, a symbol of passing from life to death. The historical narrative ends in the Hall of Names, a repository for the pages of testimony of more than 3 million victims who perished. In the center of the Hall is a pit of water, a resting place for the names they will never know. From the Hall of Names, one exits onto a balcony with a panoramic view of Jerusalem symbolizing new hope. The tour takes about 2 hours and was as powerful for me the second time as it had been the first. I emerged, sickened and drained, but with a prayer that I will never become immune to the horror of it. For if I do, it will mean that I have crossed into a psychological space where I don’t ever want to be.
There were many tour groups that afternoon and I found myself particularly watching a group of young Israeli soldiers-in-training that were moving through alonside us. Some had removed their headphones and were paying no attention at all, laughing, joking and text-messaging; some were openly weeping, both the young men and young women; and others wore hard, angry expressions, whether real or feigned, that were disturbing. These are the young people that will be responsible for the checkpoints in not so many months and I wondered what message they were taking with them.
And once again there was the issue of the ‘parallel universe’ I mentioned earlier. The similarities between the early stages of the Holocaust narrative and the current occupation situation are inescapable…separating out a people as ‘other’, attempting to move them or forcing them to move elsewhere, decreasing economic viability, increasing denial of the most basic human rights, ghettos and walls…the list goes on and on. There is a national post-traumatic stress disorder in play here and it is being incorporated into the very DNA of succeeding generations. It has resulted in the establishment of a military society and the oppressed have now become the oppressors. During our meeting with Bishop Younan earlier that day he said “When I speak out against the occupation I am not only speaking for my own people, I am speaking for the Israelis too. They are destroying themselves from within.” There are no ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ here…and no one is winning.