Sunday, July 21, 2013

Friday in Jerusalem

Written by Jessica Landon
Outlook at Yad Vashem

In a barrack outside Yad Vashem

Ready for the day!

Amos teaching us our first Hebrew word of the day

Theodore Herzl's grave

Michael Levin's grave

Gifts to the Lone Soldiers

Avi from the Lone Soldier Center

As seven o’clock rolled around, we packed our suitcases and headed out for breakfast before the hour bus ride to Jerusalem. Twenty, jetlagged teenagers filed out from our rooms at Kfar Yarok to the dining area, still excited for our journey in Israel to begin. But keeping our minds off of our trip was something out of the ordinary—peacocks. Everywhere we turned, a peacock would catch our eye, especially the males with their beautiful feathers.
            After breakfast, we drove to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. Though we only went around the outside of the museum, the experience was still moving. The children’s memorial featured pictures of ten young boys and girls killed in the Holocaust followed by a dark room with tons of mirrors reflecting on five candles. The sound of a monotone voice saying the names, ages, and origins of children killed in the Holocaust filled the silence. Many children’s names and information remain unknown, explaining the brief amount of information given about each child.
            Then, we walked around the rest of the vast land of Yad Vashem—bigger in size than the old city—learning about the Partisans, righteous non-Jews, trains, and concentration camps. Additionally, we learned about the importance of remembering and teaching future generations about the Holocaust. The strangest part about the tour was the juxtaposition of the beautiful view and the depressing subject. The city of Jerusalem and the awesome land caught everyone’s attention as we walked from site to site, making the memorial surreal. However, the combination of the surroundings and the memorial shocked the whole group into the experience of our Israel trip. By starting at the Holocaust memorial, a defining part of Jewish history, and seeing the land of Israel from atop the hill at Yad Vashem, we were thrown into the heart of Israel.
            Following Yad Vashem, we continued to Har Herzl to visit the graves of some of the most important people in Israeli history. Not only did we visit Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, and many of Israel’s Prime Ministers, but we also visited the graves of soldiers killed while serving in the army. Arava, our tour guide, took us to the grave of her friend Uri, who was killed in the second Lebanon War at age 21. After reading his eulogy, we reflected on the meaning of being an Israeli. As Arava emphasized, when one person is lost, it affects everybody. The army, something relatively foreign to us Americans, is so inherent to Israeli culture that understanding what it means to be a part of the army and be interconnected to the entire community of Israel through the obligation of becoming a soldier allows us to further understand what it means to be an Israeli. As someone who has already been to Israel twice, this is the first time that I have felt a deep connection to what being an Israeli is like, rather than just seeing Israel through the eyes of a tourist.
            Then, we went to see the grave of Michael Levin, a lone soldier who was killed in battle, and talked to a lone soldier who is in the army today. We had watched the documentary about Michael back in Boston in May. He talked to us about the Lone Soldier Project, the process of becoming an Israeli soldier, and the life of a lone soldier in the army. Talking to him, too, connected us to Israeli culture through an American’s point of view.
            After talking to the lone soldier and eating lunch, we headed to Machaneh Yehuda for some pre-Shabbat shopping. The hustle and bustle of the market overwhelmed many of us, but gave us an eye into Israeli life. Hassidic men walking through to get to the Old City, women buying food for their families, and Dillers meeting Dillers in the markets of Jerusalem configured the tightly-packed setup of Machaneh Yehuda. As someone who loves fresh food, I quickly became engrossed in one of my favorite places.
            After we left the market, we went to check in at our hotel and get ready for Shabbat. With a ton of time to kill before leaving for Shul, many of us went for a swim on the rooftop pool! Then, we walked a short way to an orthodox Shul for Shabbat services. The services were very intense and the restricting Mechitzah did not allow enough room for all of the girls. Although they were extremely different from the services that I go to at home (and also very tiring for us jetlagged Americans), there was a distinct pleasure that I gained from hearing the familiarity of the prayers and seeing a mass of people praying so passionately.

            The first full day of the trip was a long, but powerful, day, starting off our Israel experience with meaning and intensity. We were thrown into Israeli culture and, personally, I loved it. The extreme differences yet deep connections allowed me to better understand Israel and created an amazing experience with the twenty other fellows in the group that will only continue to fill us with awe.

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