Today is our last official day in Israel in what has been an unforgettable journey. We commenced this journey in Kraków learning about what happened in the ghettos and the Holocaust and today we end the journey learning about how Israelis memorialize the individuals and communities lost by this genocide.
We come to learn that there is no grand scheme for Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. Instead, every decade or so the Memorial had been expanded to particularly deal with the fact that our survivor population is slowly dying and we as the Jewish people MUST constantly share the story of the victims, the perpetrators, and those that kept silent.
The intentionality and symbolism of the Memorial are quite evident. The horror of the Holocaust would no doubt evoke the color gray or black in anyone’s mind of the color of death. At Yad Vashem, however, you are immediately drawn to Memorial Hill, a lush landscape of the green “Trees of the Righteous Among the Nations” planted in honor of those gentiles that were courageous enough to save a Jew during the Holocaust and to preserve a life.
We were then fortunate enough to meet with Raqueli Korzim, a leading Holocaust educator, who facilitated an engaging exercise to set-up how Israelis perceive the Holocaust. Paul and Ronnie were such good sports to role play the liberal, assimilated, upper-class Jew from Berlin and the ultra-orthodox, insular, Jew from a small town in Poland. Through this thought-provoking exercise, we learned the diametrically opposed response many Jews had to answer the question “Why?”: the ultra-orthodox thought we were not Zionist enough and the more assimilated thought perhaps we were too Zionist.
We continued through the newest addition to better understand from a first person narrative what happened. You are forced in a zig-zag through each part of the journey that our ancestors took, almost commanding you to bear witness. As you progress through the exhibit the building slightly descends lower and lower and becomes darker and darker. I was struck, however, at the end by the beautiful glass balcony overlooking the Holy City in all of its awe. At the end of the atrocity remained LIFE and beautiful Israel. The progression was emotional and then cathartic and served as a powerful symbol that the Jewish people emerged again to create families and COMMUNITY!
Jerusalem Center for Independent Living – Jami Kohn
Following some tight driving by our amazing driver, Aron (his bus has some magical quality that allows it to pass unscathed through double-parked rows of cars on already narrow streets crowded with drivers and pedestrians – the original Elvis may have been the “King” but our own Elvis is the king of the streets!), we arrived at the Jerusalem Center for Independent Living. The CIL offers peer counseling, an accessible garden, a workshop where an amazing inventor creates devices to help disabled people with everyday and extraordinary activities, community activities and gatherings and much more for individuals with differing disabilities. Another amazing program of the CIL is Merkaz Tipuach Yozmot, a “center for fostering initiatives” which helps teach its disabled population how to start small businesses – its successes include a ceramics business, one in graphics and another in electronic music. The CIL was established by Disabled Now Organization and JDC-Israel (Joint Distribution Committee – or “The Joint” as it is affectionately called). Henia Schwartz, the CIL’s director, is a passionate advocate for not just “independent” living for disabled people, but “interdependent” living – promoting interaction and integration between all people, regardless of disability.
We participated in an engaging discussion led by Stephen (who was at first esteemed in our eyes by being introduced as a good friend of our guide, Abraham, but then through his presentation, personal insights and thoughtfulness, was esteemed all on his own and may have even brought Abraham’s own vaulted estimation up in our hearts!) about the interplay between charity (tzedakah) and justice (tzedaka). We also evaluated differing visions regarding disabled persons between the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. This trip to the CIL was a great reinforcement of the continuing theme of taking care of our families, our communities, our nation and our people that permeated the trip. Although it was our last day in Israel and we had seen so many examples of how Israel and Jews across the world take care of our people, the importance of the CIL and the dedication of its Board, staff, volunteers and supporters was not lost on us. We enjoyed a brief glimpse into the workings of this important endeavor, challenged some of our previously held thoughts on how disabled people are viewed in society and came away with another inspiring (and dare I say, “collective”) memory upon which to build our own community of caring when we return home.
Dinner – Laura Drucker
It was so great that we had time to walk through Jerusalem one last time. We picked up last minute pastries and gifts. Then we headed to the hotel to pack up and meet in the lobby.
We all walked to our last dinner together. When we got to the restaurant they had a beautiful room set up just for us. What a special treat it was. The room was beautiful, the food was delicious, but the new friendships we all made are unbelievable. We all went around the table and talked some about the trip. One thing we all agreed on is keeping our group together when we get back to Atlanta. We will have to make an effort, but it is so worth it. It is amazing how close we all got it just 10 days. Thank you to Frank Mission 4 for our round of shots! Just what we needed before we left for the airport!
I’m on the plane now heading home. As I think about it I can’t believe all we did and all the information we got in just 10 days! Thank you to the Frank’s for this amazing opportunity and because of you, we are bringing all these new friendships back to the Atlanta community.
We will never forget this trip!