Today has been largely about immersion into the world I now find myself. The first half of the day was spent at Yad Vashem. It is an institution that is placed upon Mt. Remembrance in Jerusalem. We are guests of the European Department, whose work is more usually with educators from around our continent. The institute, whose name in Hebrew translates as ‘A Memorial and a Name’, is funded in part by the ‘Claims Conference’ which was instituted after the Second World War (to fund education and to provide funds for the survivors of the Holocaust), and other donor groups, most notable the Adelson family. Yad Vashem seeks to educate all ages, and if often visited by school children as well as their educators. Yad Vashem itself was created in 1953 by law as an organisation that, as it name states, allows the future generations to remember the great losses of the Jewish Holocaust and to learn its lessons.
Already, this visit is as much about hearing stories as learning theories, the most memorable for me so far was that of a family whose memorial marks the mid-point in this Institution between the archives (the past) and the education centre (the future). It was the tale of a family who were in hiding during the rampages of the Gestapo. That family had three babies who could not be relied upon to remain silent during the searches of the Gestapo. The decided that, rather than risk the lives of the twenty others who would be discovered by the cries of the three children, they would leave the three infants outside of their hiding place – and to their certain death. Their grandfather, after much deliberation, couldn’t bear to leave his grandchildren so alone and vulnerable, so went to them and shared their vulnerability. The inevitable happened, and the Gestapo removed them upon their searches. This was a memorial to one family who were representative of so many at that time, and the sculpture connects the facts of the past with the learning of the future in a very moving way.
Later we moved across the campus to the Valley of the Communities. It is a vast man-made construction of a mock-valley with high stone walls, modelled on the dry-bones story from Ezekiel. It comprises areas which represent areas of Europe where significant gatherings of Jewish communities existed. Largest of these was inevitably Poland. Etched into the walls of the rather stark grave-like place were names, in Hebrew and Latin script, of the chief of these communities as lasting memorials to them.
This evening saw a fascinating trip to the Israel Museum which proffered two treats – a scale model in breathtaking detail of Jerusalem at the time just prior to the Destruction (c66CE). The second was a visit to the Shrine of the Book where the Dead-Sea Scrolls are housed. To be inches away from hand-written texts that were so old and so significant was awe-inspiring. I am having trouble taking all this in!
As for Jerusalem as a place, I have not come to any firm conclusions. It is not unlike a southern-Spanish costa town in its appearance; I think the eventual visit to the Old City will bring so much of this home to me.