A remarkable museum, Yad Vashem, has as its mission a careful documentation of the horrific events surrounding the Holocaust in World War II. Painstakingly, researchers have gathered artifacts and testimonies of those who died and those who survived. Words can hardly convey the depth of emotions that wash over as one attends to the flood of information.
The first iteration of the museum stressed the guilt of the victims—they were either too Zionist or not Zionist enough, hence they were like “sheep to the slaughter.” A new museum emerged in 2005, and it holds the perspective that those who left Hungary, Poland, Germany, etc. before the war to build the new state of Israel were no more heroic than those who stayed and tended their communities, and in many cases, died with them. Visiting this repository, which bears witness to a scar on the history of humanity, is a searing experience.
Only the night before had our cohort seen the vibrant Jewish athletes from these countries where their forebears had been nearly decimated. The enduring reality, even stubborn persistence, of this historic people was on display as these international teams converged in Jerusalem. They are the legacy of those who were left in these Western and Eastern European countries.
The museum also seeks to identify those “righteous” who helped rescue Jewish families. I recognize names like Schindler, Wallenberg, and Ten Boom. These individuals put their own lives at risk to hide, pay, procure visas, and other acts that allowed families to survive. Among the righteous is the whole nation of Denmark. Countless persons rowed Jewish families across the waters to Sweden where they could find refuge.
The story of a ship with 900 persons, sailing from Germany, is also narrated. The ship came to Miami, only to be sent back. The US did not perceive—or did not want to perceive--the dire straits of these Jewish families. Hence, the US does not make the list of the “righteous.”
Our day concluded with observing the beginning of Shabbat as we attended a Reform synagogue. I remembered the words of Ahad Ha’am: “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” After the visit to Yad Vashem, this truth seemed more palpable.
Today, we will walk through different sections of Jerusalem, gaining insight into how differing expressions of Judaism and other ways of faith live in close proximity to one another. A highlight of the day will be an audience with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, an ancient expression of the church in this region.
Molly T. Marshall
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