“One candle for each child. One flame for each innocent soul lost forever.” These words, spoken by our tour guide as we neared the exhibit, are just one out of the countless ways to describe the children’s memorial at Yad Vashem.
As I followed behind the rest of my class through the stone doors of the children’s memorial, each step I took brought me farther and farther away from the reassuring rays of sunlight. All side conversations between friends faded to a dull whisper as we soon became blinded by the unnerving darkness that filled the seemingly endless hallway. Struggling to navigate our way through the vast artificial night, I sensed the tension almost radiating from those around me. Even though we had just entered the exhibit, I felt the need to run back the way I came, back towards the comforting daylight and away from the sadness and misery of our history that hung in the air just as prominently as the silence. Despite my longing to escape, I acknowledged that bearing witness to the millions of lives portrayed in the exhibit was our obligation to the victims, the children, the Jewish people. My obligation.
The instant that I walked into the main exhibit, I felt my heart momentarily stop beating. As my eyes adjusted to the newly-found light, I gazed all around me in awe. Everywhere I looked, flickering candles seemed to float in midair, glowing radiantly from their positions filling every inch of the room. They resembled stars, shining in the night sky and looking down on the earth from above. A deep voice began to speak, the names it mentioned echoing mournfully around the exhibit. “Sara, age nine. Murdered. Rivkah, age fourteen. Murdered.” Each name caused my heart to beat faster and faster. The ages of the victims seemed to become increasingly younger; some of the children mentioned being under thirteen and even small infants. I tried to assign each candle I spotted to one of the victims, but soon lost track of the never-ending list of names. Each flame a lost soul. Who might have the children been before the horrific events that cut their lives so unjustly short? Who might have they became if they had been spared? Had they also enjoyed reading, or drawing, or writing stories? Had they dreams for their futures, the futures that they would never have the chance to live?
These were the thoughts that flowed through my mind in an endless stream, replacing those that I had first been contemplating on the way to the exhibit. The thoughts that now seemed to be shallow and unimportant, compared to all the misery and suffering that I had just became aware to. So many candles, so many souls. In this moment as I made my way through the exhibit by candlelight, I listened to each name spoken and resolved never to take life for granted again. How could I continue to live and breathe everyday and not think much of that blessing, especially now when I was beginning to understand just how many victims never had the chance to do so? Even the ground that I was walking on, Israeli ground, was something that so many longed to experience and longed to escape to. I was given the chance that so many others were not; a chance at life.
All of humanity has an obligation to its past. History is not something that we should run away from, or deny, or believe to be separate from ourselves and our identities just because it hasn’t happened to us personally. Rather, we are obligated to learn from the past and keeping those memories alive. Through our connection to Jewish Peoplehood, we inherit our religious culture, but more importantly, we inherit the responsibility to Jewish history. We often focus more on the future rather than the past, never truly understanding the significance it has on our lives. By doing so, we are ignoring a large fraction of our identity. Visiting Yad Vashem caused me to further acknowledge my role as a listener and messenger in memorializing the Jewish past and gaining a better awareness of history. The knowledge that we obtain while bearing witness to the past must then be imparted to others, fulfilling the burden that has been set upon the Jewish Peoplehood ever since the horrific occurrence that is the Holocaust. Israel is a unique place where history becomes more prominent through learning and experiences that enable one to create a deeper connection to the past. Students should travel to Israel in order to create this connection. Israel has many learning opportunities for students and others who wish to discover more about themselves and the factors that make up their identity, including their religious roots. If one stops learning and passing down one’s history, than the past will be lost and forgotten. Consequently, without trips to Israel and other similar learning experiences, humanity and specifically Jewish Peoplehood loses knowledge of significant events in history and their identity. Humanity must keep those candles burning for all eternity, a memory preserved in a single flame, a soul living on through its golden light.
By Avital, 8th Grade Student
By Avital, 8th Grade Student