Today began on a somber note with a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust remembrance center. We were given audio tour guide devices and headphones, and then let loose to examine the exhibits in the Holocaust History Museum — one portion of Yad Vashem — at our own pace.
The Holocaust History Museum is designed in such a way that visitors zigzag back and forth, continually traversing a main hall that runs the course of the building. This main hall, whose ceiling comes to a triangular point, is divided by partitions that serve as introductions to each new section/room. In this way, one experiences the exhibits in chronological order, beginning with a short film about Jewish life in Europe before the Holocaust and concluding with stories of liberation, rescuers and resistors, and how people tried to pick up the pieces in the immediate aftermath of World War II.
Taking my time walking around, I was reminded of the various books I've read and movies I've seen that either touch on or directly focus on the atrocities committed during the Holocaust and how people — Jewish and otherwise — faced the terror of the Nazi regime. I think the earliest exposure to the event I may have had was in fifth grade when I read Lois Lowry's Number the Stars, a fictional tale about a Jewish family living in Denmark during the war who eventually make a daring escape to neutral Sweden.
Then there has been Jerry Spinelli's Milkweed, about a young boy in Nazi-occupied Poland; Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, about a young girl living in Germany during the war; and films like Shutter Island and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, the former of which centers around an American soldier suffering from slight post-traumatic stress disorder due to his service during WWII, the latter of which tells the immensely tragic (fictional) story of two eight-year-old boys and how they experienced the Holocaust.
That media objects such as these continue to be churned out and that places of remembrance like Yad Vashem are maintained and pull in thousands of visitors annually is a good sign to me. It means we aren't soon forgetting how dangerous racism and ignorance can be; though assuredly, we have much more work to accomplish in those departments, in Israel, America, and elsewhere.
Following a light lunch in the cafe at Yad Vashem, we journeyed to an archaeological site in Jerusalem called the City of David, where remains of ancient Jerusalem can be found. One attraction — if we want to call it that — is an underground tunnel that was once part of the ancient city's water system. Built by King Hezekiah, mentioned as an ancestor of Jesus in the Bible (Matthew 1:1-17), the tunnel is one of many that supplied ancient Jerusalem with spring water when under siege.
A large subsection of our group opted to walk through Hezekiah's Tunnel, where the water still runs and comes up to about the knees (for those of average height) at its deepest. For most of the way, the water was only up to my ankles. Some portions of the walkable tunnel are pretty darn narrow — a tight squeeze, one might say, for the three Michigan football players on the trip.
The last significant stop of the day was the Garden of Gethsemane, the site, the New Testament tells us, where Jesus was arrested following the Last Supper (though the two places are at a substantial-enough distance from one another, separated by a valley). The garden is not all that large, but is just as beautiful — if not more — than the church which now sits adjacent to it at the foot of the Mount of Olives. One portion contains a series of rocks that spell out "PEACE", and science, apparently, claims that a handful of the olive trees situated in the garden may be the oldest in the world.
Now, as enjoyable as it has been to sit in the hallway of the fifth floor of our current hotel — where the Wifi signal works best — I think it's time I should be moving on. See you tomorrow.