We began the day with a trip to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where a diplomat for the North America division met with us and talked with us about his job in working with and building relationships with North America. To have such a rare opportunity with someone at that level of government was amazing and very interesting. We then went to see the parliament building known as the Knesset. Normally, we would have taken a tour of the Knesset and seen where parliament members meet and make decisions for the country. But the day before, the president had decided against any tours of the building as they are still making adjustments due to Covid. But outside of the Knesset was the lovely detailed Menorah statue. This statue was a gift from the Parliament of Great Britain in April 1956 in honor of the eighth anniversary of Israel’s independence. This statue depicts different events of Jewish history including biblical events on the branches of the menorah and the Holocaust in the center branch, and at the bottom showing the modern age and building the country. It is considered a visual textbook of Jewish history and is a powerful representation of the people and their struggles throughout history.
We then made our way to the national cemetery to see the gravesite of Theodor Herzl, who is considered to be the father of the country. Herzl was a journalist, playwright, and political activist. With the concerning rise in anti-Semitic feelings throughout Europe and Russia, governments were sanctioning violence towards the Jews in their area. These violent pogroms were a foreboding idea of what was yet to come to the Jewish people. After witnessing such prejudice and violence targeted towards the Jewish people, Herzl began the journey of creating a Jewish state where people could go and be safe from any oppressors. He spent years on the road as he worked to gain influence and build support for the creation of a Jewish state. While he died before seeing the dream come to life, Herzl is honored as a visionary and the one who sparked the flame of the need for a return to the homeland for the Jews. He was originally buried in Vienna but was later moved to Jerusalem after Israel had become independent. The Herzl museum takes visitors through the life of this leader as if they are part of a play because of Herzl’s love of the theater. The museum showcases his exact office and some of his personal articles, preserved by a family friend knowing that it would be an important aspect of his life. Visiting the Herzl museum gives not only a look at the man who led the Zionist movement, but also at the spirit of the country and how that vision of Herzl’s is at the core of everything they do.
Our final stop for the day was to visit the Holocaust History Museum. The museum is part of a larger complex called Yad Vashem, taken from a bible verse in the book of Isaiah that talks about giving an everlasting name that shall not be cut off from memory. Along with honoring those victims of the Holocaust, this complex also aims at research and documentation and teaching others about the horrors of the Holocaust so that it never happens again. The museum takes visitors back and forth through a triangle building where it talks about the events leading up to WWII and the Holocaust, and then talks about the Holocaust and the victims of it, and then talks about the years after the Holocaust had ended. The symbolism of the building is that as you walk through the darkness, there would be light at the end of the tunnel. Other areas of the complex include the Hall of Names where pictures, testimonies, and names of those six million Jews are preserved in rows of binders and pictures covering the cone shaped ceiling. Every day someone goes through and reads aloud the names of each of the people. Another area is the cattle car monument, honoring all those deported during that time. The Valley of the Destroyed Communities has the names of entire communities wiped out by the Nazis. Trees are planted in honor of all those who tried to save and protect Jews during that time and so visitors can walk through what is called ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ seeing the trees and the names and countries of those that showed incredible courage in protecting the Jews. And in honor of the millions of children killed in the Holocaust is the Children’s Memorial where mirrors reflect millions of points of light and the names are read out loud. Yad Vashem is a powerful, heart breaking, and provocative memorial honoring the millions that died in the face of the very worst of humanity.
After dinner at the market, we made our way to the top of the YMCA tower for some incredible views of Jerusalem. As I watched the sun set over this beautiful city I felt honored to have had the opportunity to learn about the father of the country and to have cried for those of the Holocaust.