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Courses and Yad Vashem

Since my last blog entry, I’ve seen the Mount of Olives, registered for classes, and visited Yad Vashem twice. It’s been a rather productive two weeks, I must say.

The day after seeing the Western Wall, friends and I took a cab to see the Church of the Pater Noster, a Roman Catholic Church, and then the Mount of Olives. It is the most beautiful view from the Mount: you can see the Old City perfectly, and it’s astounding to see grave after grave as they trickle down the mountain. We weren’t allowed in some of the other churches in the area because of the way we were dressed, so we’re planning on making a return whenever we can.

During the week, registration for classes through the Rothberg International School started. Originally, I’d intended on taking an Independent Study course to research how women redefined femininity in the context of the Holocaust, but because I haven’t taken a formal course on the Holocaust, it was suggested that I instead take the offered Holocaust course because there would be a choose-your-own-topic term paper assigned within the class anyway. I jumped at the chance, and now I’ll be taking Issues in the Study of the Holocaust: Perspectives on Perpetrators, Victims, and Bystanders; Continuity and Change in Modern Jewish History: The Past 200 Years; and Issues in Israeli Society. Needless to say, I’m extremely excited!

And lastly, this past Thursday a friend and I went out to Mount Hertzl to see Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Israel. The only other Holocaust museum I’ve visited has been the Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and Yad Vashem and the Memorial Museum are extremely different in mission statement and in presentation, so seeing it was a little bit of a shock. Yad Vashem isextremely powerful, as its purpose is to bear witness to the event of the Holocaust, and it strives to record every name and, as well as it can, every personal story of every victim. Because of this, the majority of what one sees in the museum are very personal items that belonged to victims and survivors either before or during the Holocaust. What made this so effective and so very intense is that every single item was identified and had a backstory, which was written on a plaque beside the display—and every single plaque in the first room of the museum finished with, “She/he was killed at [name of camp, date when known].” Most named camps were Auschwitz. It took about 20 minutes for me to walk through that first room, and after twenty minutes of reading that same last sentence over, and over, and over again without fail—I almost started screaming. Sometimes I forget how many people six million people actually are—and Yad Vashem is very effective at reminding you the weight of all those lives lost.

The friend I went with is British, and on our way home (we were just about kicked out: they started closing the museum once we stepped inside the 3rd of 7 or 8 rooms) she asked me what I might feel if I had been German and had just visited the museum. I simply answered, “I don’t know,” but I think I do—I think a German citizen would’ve reacted the same way I reacted as an American. The Holocaust was a global event—it rests so heavily on all of our shoulders. Each world citizen has a responsibility to remember and to honor the victims. While I may not have relatives who were directly involved, I still feel a sense of guilt and mostly responsibility for what happened—also, America played a role in the Holocaust when it refused to accept thousands of Jewish refugees throughout the war. The Holocaust wasn’t a German crime, although most of the perpetrators were Germans: it was a crime committed by humans against other humans and we all hold responsibility for it, responsibility for the murders and responsibility for making sure that nothing like it ever happens again.

I spent the following Friday and Saturday emotionally recovering from that visit, and today after Ulpan I went back to walk through the garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, as well as look in on the current exhibit (which is an audio/visual experience centered around those Righteous and the people they saved) and the permanent art gallery. The Children’s Memorial was the most moving part of my visit.

So today I know I can ride the light rail by myself, and I know my way around Yad Vashem a bit more, which will probably come in handy during my course. For Sukkot, friends and I are hoping to make a return to Masada, as well as make a visit to Haifa! Fingers crossed!

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