It was hot on Sunday, as the majority of us operated on espresso and three to four hours of sleep, hiding from the sun at the Temple Mount. Thankfully, after a second visit to the Western Wall to add notes, say some additional prayers and to take some pictures, we spent the morning touring the tunnels underneath the wall, walking the cool underground channels and learning a bit about its history.
Before heading to Yad Vashem, we were given about 90 minutes to grab lunch and purchase souvenirs at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. I rushed around with Geoff to find a somewhat authentic menorah for my mother and some items for friends and family, while others haggled at food stands and did their own browsing.
The bus ride to Yad Vashem was quick. There was a feeling of seriousness and anticipation in the crew – we all knew how emotional this visit could/would be. There was a small group of IDF soldiers outside the entrance performing some basic training maneuvers, their Tavors laying in piles on the ground nearby with a guard looking over them.
We met our tour guide and geared up with listening devices and headphones and began the three-hour tour (there’s a song about “a three hour tour”, right?). The first thing called out was how each specific design structure of the Yad Vashem facility reflected certain aspects of the Holocaust, like the narrowing triangular ceiling that focalized the light above, representing hope, and the removal of carpet towards the middle of the exhibit, representing the stripping of comfort and peace.
Andrew Hinton summed up our feelings well at the end of the visit. He emphasized how “angry” he felt that these human beings had the capacity and simple desire to do something so sinister as to kill off over six million innocent people.
Exiting Yad Vashem, we began our short hike up Mt. Herzl where we would hear stories from our Israelis of friends who had been killed in combat years before. Although the casualties represented on Herzl did not approach six million, the connections were much closer to each of us and especially close to the Israelis. Walking up Mt. Herzl next to Amit, he wondered why and how we were walking there next to one another, what choice was made that kept him above ground instead of those soldiers that fought alongside him that were buried all around us.
After a day of deep emotion, we turned to our last night of casual fun at the hotel, a final night of celebrating our new family and all that we had gone through together over the long week. We drank, listened to music, made a number of toasts (#lchaim) and were eventually asked to relocate to the downstairs shelter due to noise, as we hung to those concluding moments.
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