Today we were all taken on a roller coaster of emotions. The day began with a tour of the local YMCA, which focuses on being inclusive of all three monotheistic religions. We learned about the "triangle" that the YMCA is founded on: body, spirit, and mind. Correspondingly, we saw the gymnasium, which was the first wood-floored basketball court in Israel, followed by the chapel, which was notably lacking any specific religious symbols but rather focused on loving everyone as you would family. Finally, we learned about the bilingual (Hebrew and Arabic) preschool and kindergarten the YMCA offers. It was quite inspiring to see how the organization put so much effort into creating a non -political place for children and families of different backgrounds to interact with each other.
We then shifted gears and had a discussion as a group about how we personally relate (or don't relate) to the Holocaust. Many people shared their viewpoints, and it was nice to hear the different stories and experiences we have all had. After the preparatory conversation, we headed to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. We ate lunch first, then were led on a guided tour by a man named Hershy. We all learned a lot of facts about WWII, though towards the end we got a little rushed and had to quickly walk through the remaining parts of the museum. Many of us were especially moved by the Children's Memorial, which honors the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust, as well as by some of the video footage in the museum.
Discussion about what we saw would have to wait until later, as we were off to hear a lecture by Avraham Infeld, a South African Jew who moved to Israel after high school and is now a renowned public speaker. He told us 3 stories about his life, described to us 4 reactions medieval Jews had when invited to assimilate (yes, no, yes except for religion, or seeing Judaism as a form of nationalism), and told us the five "legs" of Judaism. These were: collective memory, a sense of family, interpretation of Mount Sinai, a relationship to the land/state of Israel, and the Hebrew language. The idea is that if every Jew has at least 3 of these that are important in their life, then Jews will always remain connected to each other in some way. Though the transition from Yad Vashem to Avraham was a bit abrupt, most of us enjoyed his humorous and engaging lecture.
We returned from the lecture to the hotel where we ate dinner, then watched a film as a group about a granddaughter learning about her grandfather's experience in the Holocaust. Following the film, we were finally able to unpack the day. There were many mixed emotions on all of the events today, as is to be expected. However, many people shared and everyone was respectful, which allowed those sharing to be honest and even vulnerable in sharing reactions to today. Tomorrow we will leave Jerusalem. It is bittersweet to be saying goodbye to such a beautiful city, but we are all very excited for the remaining days of our adventure here in Israel.
- Wittney Skigen
The Brody Jewish Center, Hillel at the University of Virginia, is the focal point in a renaissance of Jewish life for the 1,000 Jewish students on Grounds.