Friday, May 2, 2014
Yom HaShoah in Israel
I was lucky enough to spend the past five days in Israel with my grandparents. I’ve been to Israel several times before, but this was a unique trip that made me appreciate and understand my grandparents on a whole different level. The fact that I happened to be there during Yom HaShoah with my grandparents who are both Holocaust survivors made the trip even more meaningful.
On my first day there, we drove to Jerusalem and visited the Memorial Cave at Yad Vashem, where my grandmother has a plaque for her parents and grandparents who were all killed during the Holocaust. I had visited the cave before with my brother and then with my parents, but seeing my grandmother light memorial candles at a place that serves as a cemetery for her to visit her family was something I’ll never forget. I had the opportunity to visit the homes of her parents and grandparents outside of Amsterdam a few years ago, and this experience made it all come together. My grandmother endured more than any child should, but she was able to come out of it and make a life for herself. She told me that the most important thing for her was to create a family, something she never had, and her nine grandchildren prove that she succeeded.
After Yad Vashem, we drove over to the Kotel, where my grandpa and his friend were able to charm the security guard into escorting our car right up to the wall. The ultimate finaglers. As my grandpa headed over to the men's section, my grandma and I decided to do something different and go to the women's part of the enclosed synagogue that you have to walk through the men's section to get to. Of course everybody yelled at us and told us to go to the women's section, but we walked in anyway. On our way out, a woman stopped me and asked us if we wanted to pray. She turned to a page in her book and then asked if we live in Israel. "I'm too old to move back here, but my granddaughter is coming here to work soon," my grandma told her. The lady smiled and handed me a book called "Prayers for Happy Times." Thinking this lady was one of many at the Kotel who give you things and then ask for a donation, my grandma reached into her bag to get some money. "Lo, ze matanah (no, it's a gift)," the lady said and wished me good luck in Israel.
On the morning of Yom HaShoah, my grandpa told me, “Briannale, in Judaism, you must honor the dead,” so we drove to the cemetery his parents are buried at. Just as we were getting out of the car, the sirens went off. For those of you who don’t know, on Yom HaShoah every year, air-raid sirens are sounded all throughout Israel, and people stop what they’re doing and stand in silence to pay respect for those who died in the Holocaust. As the sirens stopped, I watched my grandfather kiss the graves of his parents, and we lit memorial candles and said Kaddish for them.
During the few days I was there, my grandparents also took me to see other places that were important in their stories like the street my grandpa’s family lived on, the vineyards he worked on as a teenager, the place my grandma taught English and the Kibbutz she worked on and learned Hebrew. I had seen most of these places before, but seeing them through my grandparents’ eyes gave me a completely different perspective.
My grandparents’ lives started when they got to Israel. My grandmother, a victim of the Holocaust and then an adopted home that never gave her love told me that her life really began when she came to Israel on a Young Hadassah trip when she was eighteen and decided to stay. She told me it was the first time she felt she belonged and had people who cared about her. My grandfather, who also went through the Holocaust and then tried to get to Israel after the war, was turned away by the British and sent to a refugee camp in Cyprus. I asked him how he felt when one year later he was finally able to step onto Israeli soil, and he closed his eyes and smiled. “I had nothing but the shirt on my back, but I felt pure happiness.”
One day as we were driving past the kibbutz my grandma lived on when she first came to Israel she said, "As an eighteen-year-old just arriving in this country, I never would have thought that 50+ years later, I would be returning to show my granddaughter these places. That's a really special experience." And it was a special and powerful experience that I'll always cherish.
I’m returning to my work in Berlin with an added sense of purpose and understanding of my heritage and excitement for the months that I will serve in Israel!