Inside the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum

Inside the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum

Our second full day in Jerusalem was one of extremes.

Extreme sadness while visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust history museum.

And giddy happiness while touring Machne Yehuda, a food market full of amazing tastes, smells and sounds.

First thing in the morning, at Yad Vashem, we got to know our guide Hazy Flint. I had never had a guided tour of a museum before but I can’t imagine having gone through this one without Hazy. With our headsets on, we could clearly hear her and I wanted to hear her every word.

She personalized our journey through the museum and spoke most specifically to my kids and my niece and nephew, the B’nai Mitzvahs. Stressing things that kids their ages, from 12 to 15, could understand. Giving them just enough information of the horrors of the Holocaust and evoking their emotions enough but without pushing them into a place that would give them nightmares. (Though my son did scream in his sleep that night.)

We started our tour in the Garden of the Righteous, a tribute to the non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Their stories are powerful and moving. And there are more of them than I had imagined. It made me think, “How much danger would I be willing to put myself in to save someone?”

And that was the first time my eyes filled with tears.

After that, I lost count of the number of times I had to dab and wipe at my eyes. And after a while, I just stopped trying.

Walking through the hallways of the museum with my kids and my family, while listening to descriptions of the lives the Jewish children lived in the ghettos, before they were sent to the concentration camps, was heart-breaking. And seeing the photographs and reading old letters. And learning of even more atrocities committed against the Jews in the concentration camps that I wasn’t taught about in school.

Phew. It was hard. It was meaningful. And it was a must.

And two of the most powerful things I took away from my time spent at Yad Vashem?

First, never forget what happened in the Holocaust. The youngest of the Holocaust survivors are reaching old age. Soon, there will be none left. What we will have left is what has been documented in places like Yad Vashem, in the remains of concentration camps like Auschwitz, and at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

And as unbelievable as it sounds, there are those deniers who say that the Holocaust never happened. Or if it happened, that there were not six million Jews killed. That there were not millions of non-Jews who were also persecuted and murdered. We can’t forget. We must continue to honor those who perished. And we have to ensure that the younger generations know what happened so they can help prevent this type of persecution from happening to others. Not just the Jewish people. All people.

And secondly, we need to be more tolerant of those who are different. And we need to teach our children to be more tolerant. And kind. And to appreciate people’s differences. I thought of my friend Ellen Seidman, a writer and the mother of two kids. One who happens to have special needs. A few months ago, she created a video explaining why using the word “retard” is so hurtful and demeaning. And she’s right.

I thought of my friends, and neighbors, two women who recently got married, but had to travel to another state in order to do so. And I thought about those jokes that people make, myself included, that take aim at the differences in someone’s ethnicity, their sexuality or the size of their nose. And it’s not okay. And our kids need to know that it’s not okay.

The tour ended with a ceremony in the museum’s synagogue known as “twinning“. My niece and nephew were each matched with a victim of the Holocaust, close to them in age, and were given a Page of Testimony filled out with information about their twin. The ceremony was extremely emotional, learning some details about these children, two of millions, who were not able to celebrate their bar or bat mitzvah because they had already perished.

And then our time with Hazy, and at Yad Vashem, was over. And we moved on. I quietly boarded the bus, feeling emotionally spent.  And welcoming our next experience which was to be in sharp contrast to this one.

I was going to write about it in this post. The sounds, the smells, the tastes of Machne Yehuda. But I can’t right now. It just doesn’t seem right.

It’ll have to wait.

Top image via Yad Vashem