But a few short hours ago, we were at the gates of death, Treblinka. I sit in the rebuilt Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people. Driving into the city, it is clear that the Holocaust did not mark the end of the nation of Israel. As dawn broke, we made our way down the holy streets until we reach the Kotel. My heart swelled at the sight of the last remnants of our Holy Temple. I prayed with all my heart and marvelled at the beauty of our city.
The contrast between here and Treblinka is amazing. In Poland, I was an unwanted stranger, a foreigner, someone hated and loathed. Walking the streets of Jerusalem, I am home. This is where I belong. The sound of Hebrew and the familiar sight of living, breathing Jews makes me giddy. For a week I had seen nothing but traces of a glorious Jewish past and scars of a terrible destruction. The nation of Israel lives.
Kibbutz Ramat Rachel is set in the scenic Jerusalem mountains. A full Israeli breakfast awaits us. I almost cried with joy at the Israeli salads, eggs, borekas, teats, veges, etc. After a week of eating packaged deli meats in Poland, fresh food is a mechayeh.
Still early, we drove to the Dead Sea. I floated, took a mud bath, tanned, swam in the sulphur pool and showered. The sun on my skin is such a great feeling. We ate the most delicious grilled pita pizzas.
That night was Yom HaZikaron. On a hill overlooking all of Jerusalem, we had a memorial ceremony. It was extremely touching to realize that the only reason why I can walk freely in Jerusalem is because of the sacrifice of these young soldiers. Their ages were astonishing. So many feel so young and now lie coldly in the ground just so I could raise my head proudly as a Jew. This legacy of both pain and pride is written on the face of every Israeli.
We started the day off at the by saying the Shehecheyanu prayer overlooking Jerusalem. I am so thankful to G-d that He has preserved me and brought me to this moment. Afterwards, we explored the ancient Jewish Quarter. Spending so much time in Poland, it boggled my mind to see a city entirely designed for Jews, and suited to our unique needs. There were kosher restaurants, synagogues, mezuzot and all the Jewish paraphernalia everywhere. We searched for shawarma and devoured it with great gusto.
At night, we had a ceremony marking the end of Yom HaZikaron and the beginning of Yom HaAztmaut at Mini Israel. The transition was overwhelming. We went from the depths of sadness and loss to complete joy. We danced and sang, celebrating 60 years of Israel’s existence and miraculous accomplishments. We took part in the largest simultaneous anthem singing ever, joining Jews all over the world in singing HaTikvah.
Today is Yom HaAtzmaut. We celebrated by marching through the streets of Jerusalem. It began with a concert in the square outside of Jerusalem’s city hall. We then proceeded, accompanied by music, down the streets, around the walls of the Old City and finally to the Kotel. Imagine how many thousands of generations of Jews only dreamed to see Jerusalem and how I have been privileged to fulfill their aspirations. While our first march between Auschwitz and Birkenau was solemn, this march celebrated our survival and thriving.
We visited Latrun, the tanks museum and military memorial. It was extremely interesting. We had an MOL mega-event with 6000 people. It was an outdoor concert and show in an amphitheatre. Shai Gabso, one of Israel’s most popular singers, performed. It was so much fun.
Monday, May 26, 2008