[Continued from my previous trip blog]
After spending a week in Bethlehem experiencing the ongoing plight of my Palestinian brothers and sisters, I knew that I had to spend an afternoon at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in order to come face to face with the unbelievable suffering and horrors that my Jewish brothers and sisters endured less than a century ago in Europe. Part of being a peacemaker is listening to the narratives of BOTH sides and allowing oneself to feel even a tiny iota of the pain from which they come and which fuels their passionate devotion to their people. I’d done this all week in Palestine, now it was time to experience the perspective on the other side of the wall.
Near the end of the museum’s main exhibit, I sat down on the concrete floor across from a three dimensional model of the most efficient system of mass murder ever devised and started writing down my thoughts…
The second thing you see when you enter Yad Vashem’s main exhibit hall is a display about Christian antisemitism. It’s heartbreaking and the church failed its Messiah beyond all words.
The thing I keep thinking as I walk through the displays is, “The could be my family.” But I can’t think that because this is the suffering of another people’s families. But is it? We are all the image of God… This is the utter defacing of that image.
What if these children staring back at me had been Davis, Cole or Natalie [my nephews and niece]? Is there any greater suffering than having your child forcibly tortured before your eyes? Or being separated from them while hearing them scream your name? I can’t imagine anything worse…and I’m not even a parent. It makes me think of the slave trade in America. Children being taken from their parents at gunpoint (or sword edge). Would I have fought back? How would one know when to throw away all self-preservation instincts and fight with everything you’ve got?
The dehumanizing that preceded the Holocaust for over a century is unbelievable. The blatant racism…the Jews are “subhuman” therefore they can be eliminated in an almost clinical, detached manner…by “civilized” people who have totally euphemized what it is they are actually doing to other human beings.
Roe v. Wad…Rwanda…the Armenian genocide…
The Nazis did everything they did with the nationalistic support of the population…because it was done in the name of “SECURITY” from a supposedly evil enemy that was secretly bent on their destruction. How can people not see the writing on the wall as it happens again around the world today?? “Patriot” Acts, Drone Wars, Blasphemy Laws, Palestinian Occupation?
It’s all done out of FEAR, PAIN, TRAUMA…all of which are real and valid…but the solution is NOT military oppression of “the enemy” because then the cycle repeats as the pendulum swings in the other direction over time. Early Jews persecuted Christians. Christians gained Empire power and persecuted Jews. Jews gained power and now in Israel are using similar Empire power to make Palestinians suffer.
The walls of Yad Vashem are the same height, color, material and feel as the walls surrounding Bethlehem. The early measures taken to separate the Jews from German “demographic purity” and hegemony are eerily similar to those now being enacted to separate Palestinians from Israeli “demographic purity” and hegemony…enclosures, marriage restrictions, segregated roads, ethnic-based ID cards, religious policies intertwined with state and military power…ALL being done in the name of SECURITY!
The cycle of fear, hatred, libel, stereotyping, separation…it continues today.
A kid and his family just passed by. They guide is explaining why all of this relates to his upcoming Bar Mitzvah. Recent poles I’ve heard this week say that most Israelis of this younger generation view the Holocaust as the most significant religious event in Jewish history. Younger generations are brought here and the message is, “The only reason this isn’t happening to YOU is because we are strong and rooted in OUR own land now!” The Holocaust shapes Israeli children from the earliest age in school, then straight into IDF service. It is ingrained in the national psyche that the Arabs would relight the ovens in a heartbeat if they had the means militarily…and SOLELY because they are JEWS. Thus, any of these immoral measures taken against Arabs in the land are excusable and an unfortunate necessity of preserving Jewish security…there’s that word again.
I write all this as I sit on the concrete floor leaning against the concrete wall, watching grainy film of bulldozers piling emaciated corpses into mass grave ditches.
God help us.
Nationalistic fear and racial/religious hatred is NOT the answer.
Propaganda and selective news coverage of the ongoing Occupation completely dishonors the 6 million ghosts of this place and threatens to stain the people of Israel with the same hatred and dehumanization displayed all around me. Their memory deserves better.
After leaving the main hall, I go to the children’s memorial near the entrance. It is a simple dark cave with mirrored candle light on every wall and ceiling. A voice reads aloud the name, age and hometown of over 1 million children murdered by Nazi hatred…
I break down in tears and weep as I stand there, alone, with those children’s names echoing through the darkness. All I can hear are my own nephews’ and niece’s names…these names of little European Jewish boys and girls were someone else’s nephews and nieces…sons and daughters…brothers and sisters…
When will it end?
When will we realize that concrete, barbed-wire, bulldozers and bombs only perpetuate the cycle of demonic hatred and dehumanization?
Only a few hours after I leave Yad Vashem I read on an Israeli news website about a group of Holocaust survivors who had gone to deliver Purim gift baskets to Ethiopian refugees seeking asylum in Israel (who some have labeled “infiltrators” and sought to deport).
These survivors get it. On the Jewish day of celebrating deliverance from ethnic genocidal hatred, these survivors of the Shoah embody everything that Yad Vashem could ever hope to preserve.
There is hope, no matter how dimly it flickers at the moment.
May we truly “never forget.”