You can’t really understand the modern Jewish narrative without understanding Yad Vashem. Named after the verse in the Torah found in Isaiah 53, Yad Vashem is literally a “place and a name” memorialized for the victims of the holocaust.
As you walk into this incredible facility, you walk the road lined with trees accompanied by the names of the “Righteous.” These names are the Gentiles who carried out a risky proposition for sheltering Jews during the massive onslaught from the Third Reich, and are now given a prominent place at the entrance of an incredible architectural feet.
Every square inch of the museum is dedicated to the sensation of the visitor. Walking ‘down’ into the center of a long hallway created to take the spectator through the phases of the most awful modern human genocidal tragedy. As the walk takes you through the beginning of Jewish persecution around the world, it isn’t until you stand in the very center (the lowest place in the building) until you reach the center of the persecution.
At the beginning of the walk I read about the cultural environment going on around the world in relationship to the Jewish narrative. I guess I thought all along the Holocaust was implicitly a European problem, but in reality, the whole world was anti-semetic at the time. Immigration policies for western countries was often closed off to the Jews who were left to create their own culture in whatever country would let them in. I was also intrigued at the number of Jewish people spread across the globe. At it’s peak, the Jews held Poland with over 3 Million residents, and then when I looked at other countries, they all paled in comparison.
The emotional part of this journey, for me, was the systematic almost factory like elimination of an entire people group. With callous heart and mind, the Nazi’s acted like a normal empire of occupation, but in reality we all know those horrific images of human beings barely able to stand up in their hunger and disease. And then to watch the system of Gas Chamber and murder…I hardly could hold back the tears.
At the end of the hallway is the Hall of Names. A room dedicated to name every single victim of the Holocaust. As I stood over the railing and looked up into the rotunda, I could feel this visceral anger, sadness, and sense of deep empathy for those who died at the hands of this mass brutal empire.
When anyone tries to approach the question “Who is Israel?” There’s no question the Jewish collective sees themselves living through this time. It’s a vital part of the Israeli narrative, and has given us the mantra “Never Again.”
I know I can never fully understand what it means to live in a group of people who have been targeted for mass extinction, but if we’re ever going to truly understand how and why Israel makes the decisions it makes, we must take time to listen.
We need to listen to the pain.
We need to listen to the fear.
We need to begin to understand the worldview of a people who truly were victims of the whole world, not merely a subjugated group by a particular European nation.
In a sense, we are all responsible for what happened during the Holocaust. The whole world sat by and allowed this atrocity, and so when viewing the world through the eyes of the modern Jew, it’s not a fair assessment without including such a terrible time in history.
One of my Jewish friends explains it like this, “As a Jew, I’m part of a collective. So when Abraham walked this path by my house, I was there. When the Jews lived under Egyptian occupation, I was there. When Joshua marched into the promised land, I was there. When Auschwitz was gassing my countrymen, I was there. (with tears in his eyes) And so when I think about today’s current events, I’m there with all my Jewish brothers and sisters.”
If you want to understand another piece of the Holy Land puzzle, you must take some time to sit in Yad Vashem and listen to the voices of those who’ve gone before us. It’s a powerful story of despair, pain, and ultimately hope.