Friday, August 14, 2015

Jerusalem Part 3: Yad Vashem

Dave and I left for Jerusalem a day earlier than my family so we could spend some time with a dear friend from Cambridge and her beautiful family. Her friendship was one of the most meaningful for me during my Cambridge year away from Dave - spending time with her and her young, boisterous family in her home was fresh air for me when I was away from my own home and family. I have missed her companionship and her wisdom, intelligence, and frankness. It was ridiculously good to see her again.


And (clearly) we had a blast with her kiddos too! Aren't these two darling?
One of the things we did that day was visit the nearby yeshiva, or school of Jewish learning. What a neat experience! It was probably the most electric academic environment I have ever seen - dozens of young men together in a great room filled with tables and sacred texts sitting together in pairs, talking over and debating passages of scripture and commentary. No one was studying alone. No one was studying quietly. It felt like the kind of study that energizes - it made me want to join them. I was grateful to witness it for a moment.

As we were leaving the yeshiva, we passed a bus stop on the side of the narrow road. My friend quietly told us that it was the bus stop where three Jewish teens had been taken from last year and then brutally murdered. Had we heard about it? 

Of course I had heard about it. The murders and subsequent war with Gaza that resulted in the loss of more than 2,000 lives dominated the news last summer. And there was that bus stop, right in front of us, suddenly looking chilling and eerie. It was too easy to picture three of the yeshiva boys we had just seen standing there, then to see them...gone.

After I returned to the States and collected Madelyn and started back into normal, post-travel life, I noticed a small, cynical voice in my head. Where before I might have gone to bed late and exhausted and wish inside myself that my girls would sleep through the night so that I could just.get.some.rest, now the "devil-on-my-shoulder" voice sneered at such a trivial concern. My worries, when even subconsciously compared to three murdered boys and 2,000 other lives lost, seemed absurd. 

There have been times in my life when I have felt heavy, weighed down by thoughts about these kinds of huge, horrible happenings in the world. It has been said that in the last days, "the love of many shall wax cold." The internet makes it so much easier to see the hatred, scorn, cynicism, injustice, cruelty, hardness, and bitterness around us and throughout the whole world. Sometimes it is hard to fight against the feeling of being pressed down by it, consumed with despair for the apparent absence of kindness and gentleness. 

Yet, I had an experience at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum of all places, that helped to counter that pressure. My tour group was given some time - not enough of it! but so valuable nonetheless - to visit the museum while we were in Jerusalem. We loaded Anna into the backpack like every other time we had descended from our tour bus, only to be told by a guard at the entrance that babies weren't permitted into the main museum building. So I - who had been to Yad Vashem before - sent Dave in and set off with Anna alone into other parts of the complex where babies were allowed. 

I'm so grateful for that hour alone! Yad Vashem, perhaps paradoxically, felt to me like a place of supreme peace and quiet after the crowds and rush of the tour. 

First I followed signs to the art museum, which was empty and still. The art on the walls was from Jewish artists who were killed in the Holocaust, beautiful works, some with Jewish themes, some without (me being me, I liked the Jewish themes the best). The plaques next to the works told about the artist and the artwork as plaques in art museums always do. The difference, though, was that this time, every plaque ended with the phrase: "[Artist's Name] was murdered at [Aushwitz] in [1944]." One after another, "[Artist's Name] was murdered," "[Artist's Name] was murdered..." It was powerful. Forceful in a different way than hearing numbers - the way that forces you to see, brutally, what beauty and virtue the Holocaust ripped from the world.  

Anna didn't let me stay long in the art museum. She was tired and started fussing, breaking the stillness of the place. So I left, wandering through the complex, trying to pacify Anna, passing young IDF soldiers on field trip. Feeling dull after the horrible beauty of the art museum, I vaguely leaned against the walls of a concrete tunnel, then climbed some stairs, looking for a place to sit. But as Anna quieted, I was drawn to a monument I had seen on my last visit - the Hall of Remembrance, a large, dark tent-like dome where an eternal flame burns in memorial to those who were lost. 




Like the art museum, I was the only one there in the dark, quiet, airy place. I stood looking at the simple, stark tomb, Anna sleeping on my back, and all at once I was weeping. Everything that hall represented was so, so sad.

But just as suddenly as I was overcome by the tragedy, I was overcome with an enveloping, burning feeling of love. Not just my love, but I felt distinctly that I was feeling the love of Another, One who felt the grief and anguish of every innocent who has suffered in this world. One who knew people would suffer because the love of other men would grow oh, so cold. One who wept for them and suffered with them in a dark garden long ago, suffered so much that He bled from every pore. And I gazed at the cold names of the death camps on the floor and knew that His love and suffering was wide and broad enough to encompass everyone who suffers. Somehow, in a way we don't fully understand, it covers all the tragedies and injustices of the world. He knows those who have and do and will suffer. Somehow, He will make it right. Everything will be made right. I felt it so strongly while I watched that eternal flame burn.

The Lord God will swallow up death in victory;
He will wipe away tears from off all faces.
He is sent to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives;
to comfort all that mourn, to give them beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Isa 25:8, 61:2-3



....I've been sitting on this post for a while now. I know that it is complicated to talk about Jesus Christ and the Holocaust, I am sensitive to it (I have that degree in Jewish-Christian Relations for a reason). But I have seen what life looks like when a man confronts the world's horrors without any source of hope or love; it is unhappy and bitter and friendless. And standing there in Yad Vashem, I was reminded again that absolutely, in every possible way, Jesus Christ is the bright reason for my hope.