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To Hear or To Listen

As written on her Birthright experience

It is a beautiful morning in the city of Jerusalem. The sky is clear and bright and the view into the rolling landscape is vastly illuminated. Our Birthright group is more than halfway through our Taglit trip and we are holding on to our last days together in Israel.

It is today that we experience Yad Vashem together, with heavy hearts, frustration and feelings of hope. As we prepare to enter the building we are handed out headsets in order to listen our tour guide speak to us about pictures and profiles we are witnessing. When I get my headset and adjust the volume it doesn’t work completely, only functioning sporadically with moments of static. I picked up a new one at the reception of the exhibit, and we were on our way. I knew this day was going to be one that felt heavy on my heart. As someone who empathizes to lengths that sometimes surprise me, I knew that having an even broader, detailed learning experience of the Holocaust would lead to teary eyes and a lump in my throat. And that was okay.

Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, the layout of Yad Vashem is described as “a prism-like triangular structure that penetrates the mountain from one side to the other, with both ends dramatically cantilevering into the open air. The triangular form of the structure was chosen to support the pressure of the earth above the prism while bringing in daylight from above through a 200 meter-long glass skylight.”

As our group made its way through the various rooms in the structure, the material we were witnessing became more and more raw. One room featured hundreds upon hundreds of shoes from men and women, boys and girls, that were stripped from the Jews by the Nazis. All these shoes were arranged in a rectangular section beneath the floor covered by a thick layer of glass so in gazing downward one could see his or her own shoes within the pile. For some victims, this is the last tangible trace of their lives that remains intact today.

It is nearly impossible to imagine the hardships experienced in the Holocaust. As hard as we try to relate we will never fully understand what it was like to lose everything, to be stripped down to the core, to experience such fear and bravery. However, we open our eyes, ears, minds and hearts to take in as much as we can in order to remember.

We enter the last room of the exhibit; a circular room filled with 2 million biography pages, bound within books, with remaining shelves to house a page for the remaining uncovered names from the total 6 million victims. I ask myself, “How can there be so much hate in the world that this the result?” I try to realize that it is not the hate that we should hold on to when we remember, but rather the duty we have as human beings to be compassionate and create peace. The world we live in is far from perfect with wounds and gashes that sink deeper than others. But when we take a step back, prevention of these wounds starts with the individual.

We must accept our differences and reach out a hand to others, not turn our backs. We must find what unites us, not what divides us. This is what the Holocaust teaches us. Just like the faulty headset I received for the tour, we are not always given the tools to hear clearly. We often get caught up in our daily lives, we are human, we can be selfish at times. However, it is important to set time to learn about grave events such as the Holocaust, because it continues to teach us valuable lessons about the importance of loving thy neighbor. We might not all learn and absorb the same lessons that stem from the Holocaust, but we must not close off from it entirely. It teaches us how delicate and remarkable the human race can be. A Jewish Proverb says, “no one is as deaf as the man who will not listen” but I also believe those who will listen can encourage the deaf.

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