May 24, 2022.
If you’ve ever wanted to see a perfect display of the strength and resilience of the Jewish people, all you have to do is spend a few weeks in Israel during Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom HaAtzmaut.
On Yom HaShoah, my Masa program coordinated a day at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. We spent the day reading and discussing testimonials written by people who perished in the Holocaust, all of them produced shortly before their deaths. As we made our way through the letters, poems, and pieces of art, I realized there is something so heartbreakingly beautiful about learning about the Holocaust in Israel. So many of the testimonials referenced hopes for the future of the Jewish people, and even a Jewish state. When people knew they would not survive the concentration camps themselves, they were sure that the Jewish people would prevail and eventually find their way back to their home land. It wasn’t lost on me how lucky we are to be here now, actually living out that dream less than 100 years later.
That same evening, I had the honor of attending the Opening Ceremony at Yad Vashem. In this ceremony, Holocaust survivors and their descenents lit six torches to commemorate the 6 million Jews lost during the Holocaust. As each Holocaust survivor was called up to the stage, the number of children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren was announced to everyone in their introduction. It was a beautiful testament to the legacies they were able to create. As the ceremony came to a close, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with emotion as we sang the Hatikva alongside Holocaust survivors, the Prime Minister, the President, Israelis, and Jews from around the world; realizing that after all this tragedy, we are here, standing together in the holy land.
Just one week after Yom HaShoah, I watched as the whole country stood still once again as we mourned the lives lost during military service and terror attacks. We stood together in silence as sirens sounded across the nation in their memory. In a Memorial Day completely different from the US, I realized how deeply each person was affected by loss here. With mandatory military service, the gravity of Memorial Day was truly recognized.
Despite the grief during the day, as the sun set and we moved from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut, the energy completely flipped. Israel exploded with celebratory fireworks, parties, and barbeques. In a display that only Israelis could pull off so effortlessly, it was evident that despite all of the hardship and all of the pain, Israel is still standing and we must celebrate the life and freedom we are so lucky to have!