Yad Vashem, Har Herzl & the Kotel - wow, what a day! It was quite intense & I experienced a full range of emotions from sadness to a great sense of pride & appreciation for who I am, where I come from & where I am today.
Entering the gates of Yad Vashem, we walked along the Avenue of the Righteous where trees have been planted in honour of gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. We've all heard stories of non-Jews who assisted, hid or saved our fellow Jews who would otherwise have perished by the hands of Hitler's regime. I was especially moved by the fact that our people value life & therefore choose living, growing things to commemorate those heroes. As a people, we place our focus on the positive & look to the light. Even the building of Yad Vashem, which houses photos, videos & accounts of one of the most horrific, darkest events in our history, is built in such a way that it goes from light to light. After touring the museum, you walk outside to such a spectacular view, reminding us all that there is light after the darkness. Despite the atrocities that have been inflicted upon our people, we choose to be happy; in fact, it is our obligation to be happy.
Next, we walked over to Mt. Herzl & the cemetery of the fallen soldiers. There are so many prominent people who are buried there: Theodore Herzl, Yitzchak Rabin & Golda Meir to name only a few. However, rather than focusing on those more renown individuals, our guide chose instead to tell stories of those whose names are less known. Buried in that cemetery are 14 & 16 year old children who, despite being so young, stepped up to serve in the army in 1948 because there weren't enough soldiers at that time. It was emphasized how each grave, each headstone, represents someone's child, someone's parent, someone's sibling - who gave his/her life for Israel. We are here today because of them. They paid the ultimate price so that we could live, so that we could be happy. As was emphasized at Yad Vashem, we owe it to the fallen - to those who cannot be here today - to be happy; in fact, we MUST be happy! We were asked to choose a stone to place on the grave of a soldier, & to perhaps see what we can learn about that individual when we return home. Jewish people choose stones, not flowers, to place on graves. A flower dies, but a stone lasts forever as should the memory of the deceased. As I washed my hands & walked out of the cemetery, I was overcome by sadness, yes, but also by such a strong feeling of intense pride for our beautiful homeland & gratefulness to the unsung heroes who gave their lives so that I could be here today.
Ending our day at the Kotel was the perfect way to cap off the intensity of the morning. As I touched, kissed & prayed at the magnificent wall of stone, I felt such a powerful connection. I thought about those who perished in - but also the heroes of - the Holocaust. I thought about all the men & women who are buried in Har Herzl & fought for our right to be in this land my people call home. I thought about my mother who died far too young & the 16 year old girl I was when I came to Israel for the first time 2 years after her death. I thought about my beautiful family whom I love with all my heart: my amazing husband & my wonderful children. And I thanked Hashem for all the blessings that He has given me. As I walked away from the Wall, hundreds of soldiers were singing, dancing & celebrating the halfway point of their training on the promenade of the Kotel. Everyone joined in & sang Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, arm in arm, swaying back & forth, like one, happy family. There was a precious little boy having his upsherin & I thought about the darkness of the Holocaust juxtaposed with the light & happiness that was in the air.
And I thought, with great pride, that these are my people, this is our home & I felt happy.