Remembering and Living

As the sun set tonight, we came out of Holocaust Remembrance Day where Israel remembers the horrors that were done to our people in the holocaust. We  remember the 6 million individuals who were murdered in the midst of this gruesome attempt to wipe our people off the face of the earth.

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Every year anew we hear new stories from the ones who survived this killing-machine, and you look at them and try to fathom how they have been able to keep on living after what they have gone through.

The children have been learning about this for the last couple of days at school. They come home and retell the stories they have been told, and I look at their eyes and see what an impact these experiences, this knowledge, this common memory as a people, is having on them.

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Every year they are told stories that are age-appropriate. Already in preschool and kindergarten they learn to stand in silence for the two minutes we hear the siren wail over our whole country, and everyone wherever they are stop what they are doing and stand still and remember.

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Little ones standing in silence and taking part in remembering. (Photo: Stand With Us.)

As three year olds I remember our children learnt stories of little children who were hidden by kind people, and made it our alive at the end. Now that they are 11 and 13 they hear more difficult stories. This evening, I was told a story that had been told at school today, of a kind family who had hidden Jews, and the nazis found them and shot first the Jews, and then starting from the youngest they shot each member of the family. This all happened in front of the other people in the village. The next morning 24 dead Jewish bodies were found in the fields. The other families were not willing to take the risk any longer…

I kind of wish our children did not have to be exposed to this part of our history. Yet others had to experience it. And we want to respect them by remembering them. I hope the stories are told also outside of Israel, – because I believe that the more they are remembered, the more we can ensure that this will NEVER happen again.

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We always watch the ceremony from Yad Vashem that marks the beginning of the eve of the Day of Remembrance. There are six survivors lighting the six big torches in memory of the six million Jews that were killed. Six million individuals.

One of the survivors’ story made an especially deep impression on us. He told of how he had been there as a child, with his father and other Jews, all of them stripped naked and lined up next to a mass grave ready to fall into it once they were shot. The moment before he would have been shot, his father pushed him into the grave and then fell on top of him himself. Many hours later, after the nazis were done shooting on moving bodies in the grave, Max was able to dig his way up and climb out from among the dead. He was 11 years old at the time. He went back to the ghetto, where he watched his baby brother be killed and ripped to pieces, and then his mother being hanged in front of his eyes. He himself became a very young soldier and spy, and worked for the freedom of his people, and this he has kept on doing.  As he came to light this torch, he wore a uniform fully covered with medals! His father had told him; – if you come out of this alive, tell people what they did to us just because we are Jews. This he has done. And he has kept on living, and like many other survivors, established a new family, and named his children after the family he had lost way too early.

In Israel we remember the holocaust on a different day than the rest of the world. There is a date in the end of January that is the international day for remembering the holocaust. This spring-date, the 27th of Nissan, which is the Israeli remembrance day, is during the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. We remember both the horrors and the ones who were killed, and we remember the heroic acts of those who stood up and fought against this evilness. In the case of the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, they were able to hold their stand for four weeks, which is nothing short of miraculous!

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Yesterday our son and I had an errand downtown, and on our way there he was telling me about what he had learnt about the holocaust that day at school, specifically about the Crystal Night. And as we walked on Jaffa road, he shared how encouraging it was to be there and see the flourishing life our people has today! There are successful Jewish shops and businesses, and nobody is stopping us! I smiled and said, yes, “Am Yisrael Chai.” (The People of Israel Lives.) He looked back at me and said with excitement “Am Yisrael Chai Kol Kach!!!” (The People of Israel Lives So Very Much!!!) 

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It truly is good to be here in Israel at this time, and be a part of the answer to the hatred of Jews then and now. Our answer is to keep on living. We are here. We are thriving. And we are here to stay.

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Holocaust Memorial Day

It is hard to even begin to describe Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. As someone who has joint on to the Jewish people myself, I do not have the same family history with this tragedy, but I feel that whoever I spoke with the last few days, all had a story connected to the holocaust; – Yes, both my parents were holocaust survivors. My mother was in Auschwitz and my father escaped and was able to get false identification papers. Or, – my grandmother was in Auschwitz. Or, – my father was the only survivor of his family. Or, – I was named after my father’s mother, who was killed in the holocaust. There are SO many stories! This gets SO real here! And of course, it WAS way too real for way too many people.

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At the children’s school, each of the children were given the name of a person murdered in the holocaust. They searched and found out some information about the person, and then on Holocaust Memorial Day they lit a candle in memory of this person. Each candle had the name of a person written on it. This was done at very many schools in Israel this year. Sadly there are plenty of names to go around, – 6000000 of them…

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One of the candles at the school had the name our daughter’s friend’s father. We know him and everything, and it was kind of strange to see his name on a memorial candle. The explanation is that he is named after his uncle whom he never met. His father survived alone, after losing his father, mother and brother in the holocaust. He himself came very close to dying, but survived and made it to Israel, where he married and had three children whom he named after his brother, father and mother. What a way to keep on living, to choose life!

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The horrors we are remembering on a day like today are so awful, there are no words to fully describe them. Being at the ceremony at the school this morning, I looked out at the crowd of children, and felt my heart aching that they have to learn about this reality already. Our children are big, 10 and 12 years old, and I still feel bad for them, but here were first graders, – six year olds! It wasn’t like people were telling all the worst stories, but even in the traditional “remembering-prayer” there are enough horrific details to make me sick (maybe especially the “being buried alive”-part…).

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Our 12 year old son is a very sensitive boy, and he takes days like these very heavily. Couple the sensitivity with curiosity, and you have someone who is looking up details of the holocaust, and afterwards loosing his appetite and just feeling deeply sad that something like that ever happened for real.

And it leaves me feeling sad that he has to already be marred by this tragic part of our history. Yet again, – it is part of who we are. People had to live through it (or die through it…), the least we can do is learn about it and remember them and what they had to go through.

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All of the holocaust ceremonies end in the same way. We stand and sing the “Tikvah”. And how fitting it is! We have hope! We are living that hope! Hope of being a free people in the Land of Zion and in Jerusalem!

 

 

 

Imma, – what is a gas chamber?

This evening we entered the Day of remembrance for the victims of the holocaust. Those are special times here in Israel, where we as a people remember. Restaurants close, the TV-channels show holocaust-movies, the schools host ceremonies etc. And the whole thing starts with a national ceremony screened live on TV just after sunset. Along with the rest of our people, we always watch it, and this year we let both of the children stay up and watch it as well.

It is always a bit of a dilemma how much to expose the children to. They are just children, and you wish they could keep on living in a reality which did not include holocaust and all that it entails. But, they are hearing about it anyway, so it may be even more scary to have it all as a big unknown. And when they will have to be exposed to those horrific realities, wouldn’t we want them to face it safely here in our home with us right here with them?

Never again!

They have even started to teach about the holocaust in Israeli preschools now, and of course they learn about it in school. So we sat here, the four of us. All sets of eyes glued to the screen in front of us, as president Shimon Peres spoke, and as prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke, and most of all as the six holocaust survivors lit the torches in memory of the six million Jews who were murdered. Each of them had a touching story, so far from our own realities, but then again, so connected. The common thread was that they by a miracle had survived a killing-machine, and they ended up in Israel were they rebuilt their lives. One of them used these words to describe it: – I have a feeling that I lifted myself from the dust…

In the middle, one of the children asked: – “What is a gas chamber?”

Oh, where do you start… how do you go about even trying to explain this horrible nightmare to your little children? Which words do you choose? How do you explain it in a way that will not fill them with fear? How can you possibly go about this topic gently??

Then there are the stories of all the Jews who were collected and put into local synagogues, and then the doors were locked, and the nazis lit it on fire, and all the ones inside burned…

The ceremony ended with everyone standing and singing HaTikvah together, Israel’s national anthem. And as we stood here, the four of us, joining our voices in this song of Hope and Promise, I felt moved with emotions. The contrasts. The tragedies, and then the hope and rebuilding and life! Am Yisrael Chai! The people of Israel lives!!!

Am Yisrael chai!!!

If this was just something of the past, I think it would somehow be easier to deal with. But knowing too well that history repeats itself, and seeing the signs in our days, complicates it, to say the least. Netanyahu always touches on this in his speech. He described the Europeans of the thirties like this: – It’s not that they did not see, – it is that they did not want to see… The Jews did not want to have to cope with the consequences, as in having to pick up their family, leave their home and find somewhere else to settle.

In our days we have a huge threat hanging over us from Iran. Do we see it? Or maybe we don’t want to see it??

May we all have learnt something from the past, and do the right thing this time around!

Privileged to live in the Land of Israel.

Friday I found myself driving a car full of gum-chewing, I-Pad playing kids to a baseball-game about an hour outside of Jerusalem. (*They were playing the baseball-game, it was just on the way there and back that they played on the I-Pad! 😉 Anyway, all of a sudden, as I was looking around at the terraced hills of Judea, it struck me again, – how privileged I am who gets to live my life right here! To do all these every-day-life tasks right here, in a place with thousands of year of real unique history!

The amazing view from Mt.Eval, where we visited during Pesach-week.

The amazing view from Mt.Eval, where we visited during Pesach-week.

I guess every place has its history, it is just that here, the history means so much to us! These places are so central to our faith! We can look around at the same views (*well, close to the same views…) as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did when they walked the land!! Quite amazing! And here I am just driving to a baseball-game!! I have to remind the kids to look around, – “look at the hills, they are still green, and they are not going to stay green for much longer.” They take a super-short break and look up from the I-Pad: – “Ah, yes, they look nice.” Not very impressed, this is just where they are growing up, home.

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Savyon from the land of Israel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I was back on the road again. This time it was a work-related trip to Haifa, and I so enjoyed taking in the views of the Land of Israel, the Land that has been built up so greatly during the 65 years since the modern state of Israel was established. And what did I do in Haifa? I met with ten different immigrant families and helped them in practical ways in their process of settling in their new homeland. This is also something I always find very inspiring, – God’s prophecies are being fulfilled! He is bringing His people back to the Land that He promised them thousands of years ago!

All of this is extra special and relevant these days, because tonight we are starting our solemn Memorial day for the Holocaust victims, and next week we have the Memorial day for fallen soldiers and others who have given their life for the Land of Israel, and then we celebrate our great Independence Day. These days are all somewhat connected. Now we are focusing on the tragedy of the holocaust. We still have survivors among us, and we read their stories in the newspapers and magazines, hear them on the radio and see them on TV these days. It hurts our hearts to learn about what they had to go through, and about all their dear ones that they lost. But then when we see them with their families, – children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, – then we see who are the real victors! The faith and hope in life and a future is what has kept them going!   They have spent their lives building up their lives, their families, their country. And now we are building together with them, continuing what generations before us started. It is all very exciting when you start thinking about it! We get to take our little part right now, and in that way we get to be part of something really, really huge, – we get to take a tiny little part in God’s huge plan! What a privilege!