Sunday, January 31, 2010

Farewells, Shabbat, Gratitude and Yad-Vashem

I apologize for the delay in getting this post up. I have a spattering of journal entries from the past week, but only now have time to actually compile them into a cohesive blog post. Although these words do not convey the fast-paced intensity of the past week, it has been a period of transition, prayer, and reflection.

From Saturday Evening’s Journal Entry:

Until Shabbat began yesterday evening, the week was an intense whirlwind, actually more so than the entire trip and my life in general. Preparing to strike out on my own, I said goodbye to the Oberlin delegation, and to all of the wonderful friends we have made here. On Thursday evening I got on a bus to a Jerusalem, schlepping my 50 pound backpacking bag and doing my best to keep track of my belongings.

That night I stayed up until 3am talking to Sam, my Oberlin Zionists Co-Chair for the coming semester. We stayed in a hostel in the Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerusalem. It was very exciting to plan for the semester in our ancient capitol. Many Oberlin students are terribly misinformed about reality in Israel. We are going to do everything we can to change the scene.

Thank You:

I would never have been able to learn as much as I have so far without the generous support of many incredible people. Just a few of those to whom I thanks:

Jonathan, Yochai, Nomi, Ido
– These four talented educators, from Mevuot Hanegev High School, exemplify what it means to teach. They not only have an incredible respect for their students, but also had a sincere interest in doing their best to show us Israel.

Gilad – Gilad (name change) is an Israel soldier, my age, who I have greatly enjoyed getting to know. We were both eager to learn about each other; our friendship began with conversations about life in general, but evolved into a deep examination of the conflict here. We talked about education, sustainability, personal responsibilities and respect.

Obies – I spent my first 3 weeks with a wonderful group of Obies, volunteering at Mevuot Hanegev High School, travelling, and learning all we could about the complex state of Israel.

Batsheva, Doug, Ayala, Chana, Efraim, and Yoseph – You have not only welcomed me to your family and community, but also sensitively opened my mind to reconsider the complex reality of the West Bank. Right now I do not know what I think about the occupation, but I am certainly wedged far closer to center than I had been before. One thing is for sure: if there is ever a two state solution, Jews should be allowed to live here. The vast majority of Jews here are good neighbors, offering jobs, hospital care, and other critical resources.

From Yesterday Evening, Reflection at Yad Vashem (transcribed, edited from my notebook):
I squinted as I stepped onto the Bridge to a Vanished World. Walking toward the museum’s entrance, the low morning sun sprayed my eyes. When I passed through the door to the holocaust memorial museum, everything became darker. The only natural light came through a narrow window running the length of the building. Yad Vashem – Hand and God – places sterile, cold Nazi policies alongside the faces and stories of countless victims.

As I neared the end of my two-hour walk through exhibits, I noticed a tiny mezuzah in the corner of a small room. Somewhere in the Warsaw Ghetto, somebody had found this bullet casing and carved a “Shin” into it’s now aged copper casing. The modest prayer froze my slow, deliberate, silent walk through the exhibits. It is truly remarkable that the maker of this humble Mezuzah turned a bullet, a symbol of the Jews’ destruction, into a reaffirmation of faith.

I now sit beneath the memorial to deportees, railroad tracks and a disturbingly small cattle car. The memorial is at the head of a reflection path, lined with lavender and inspiring quotations, in the Yad Vashem gardens.

My thoughts return to the Arava and Judean Deserts. There, alone, I gazed upon barren landscapes rife with historical, geological, and geopolitical struggles. I wrote about Israel’s ancient struggles to live freely in Eretz Yisrael, to hike through sterile deserts, to relentlessly defend their homeland, and to fiercely safeguard their monotheism and Jewish culture.

I sit beneath the train tracks, tracks symbolizing a terrifyingly inescapable passage to living hell. Upon arriving in Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel wrote of a “fire that consumed my faith forever.” The Nazis created a reality so evil that Jewish faith became practically untenable. Had G-d and nature “unchosen” the Jews in favor of the Aryan race? The victims of the holocaust faced not only a destroyed people, they faced a destroyed religion – a world in which, for countless victims, Judaism became impossible to believe in.

The death camps became a physical embodiment of Nazi Ideology, a landscape layering existential crisis along side real, physical pain. The trains led into a barren landscape. The world of Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka. The world of the Jew’s destruction. The world where we became powerless to defend ourselves. Many struggled to keep faith, many cursed G-d, and millions perished in terror.

That tiny bullet-Mezuzah, that humble prayer, aged but shining beneath the plexiglass, pointed me forward. We must preserve our traditions and our marvel religion in the face of a defiant world.

Every injustice is a challenge to Jews, Judaism, and Israel. Every little slice of reality that calls for compassion demands recognition and actions. I ponder the words that a prisoner penciled onto the inside of the car above me:

Here in this car load
I am eve
With Abel my son
If you see my other son
Cain son of man
Tell him I

A placard that we made for students at Mevuot Hanegev, the middle/high school where we spent three weeks volunteering.

Lavender on the Yad Vashem campus. I intentionally place this below the quotation we inscribed on our gift to the school. At Yad Vashem, where pain dominates and sorrow may triump, the winding paths of lavender offer an antidote to sadness. These flowers are incredibly small, yet in vast quantities they turned the mountaintop deep purple. And, crushed between my finger tips, the pedals let off an incredibly alive aroma.

“Architecture as pedagogy.” –David Orr
The Bridge to a Vanished World is lined with lights, leading visitors into the depths of the Holocaust. Visitors exit through the Bridge to the Living, and gaze out upon a thriving a Jerusalem.

The Memorial to Deportees, above the reflection path where I wrote in my journal yesterday.

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