The 11th Floor

A Perpsective Overlooking Jerusalem, Israeli Life, and Talmud Torah

Saturday, April 21, 2007

And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name


Emek Refaim street is dark. Normally flooded with cars and restaurants flooded with young students and older residents, the street is empty and the cafes are shuttered. I’ve seen this at 5 a.m. walking back from a Super Bowl party or after 11pm on Friday night, but this was at 9 in the evening on a weeknight. This was the eve of Yom Hashoah, and by law restaurants are closed. Some civil liberties folks are sure to find such limitations of commerce ghastly, but there is a powerful metaphor here. This is a real day of remembrance, not just a few banners and flags but a situation that forces people to break from routine and think.

The night was filled with TV related to the day. Ceremonies were televised, and some stations on Israeli cable/satellite went “dark” to mark the day- see Robbie’s post here for some great pictures of networks showing a bit of class- the last one may surprise you.

As many times as you have heard about it, the sirens sounding on Yom Hashoah are still powerful and surprising moving . We left the Bet Midrash a few minutes before the set time, and wandered down the corner. We saw traffic flowing at its regular pace, messengers on scooters defying traffic laws and common sense, cabbies cutting through red lights- the usual. But as the time came near, matching clusters of people appeared on opposing corners of the intersection.

It almost sneaks up on you. The sirens where we were did not all begin at once, but they slowly became clear. And the traffic became still. The city was quiet beyond comprehension, excepting the grinding wail of the sirens. People stood by their cars, at attention, in contemplation, the ever impatient Israeli now suddenly still in thought. Of course there was one truck that kept backing up and two cabs that did not wait more than thirty seconds, but there are schmucks everywhere, and we did not think to bring eggs with which to pelt the vulgar bastards with.

Two days after Yom Hashoah, the Yeshiva went to visit the new museum building at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum. The use of architecture and design is devastating; the winding path in and out of the exhibits in the wedge shaped museum is so compelling that although there are washrooms halfway through the path, you have to really walk against the flow of people and concentrate to find them. The exhibits are presented in marvelous clarity; the museum does not require tour guides to be effective. Remarkable innovation fills the museum. There artifacts you can touch, videotaped testimony from survivors, and models (real and virtual) of camps and attacks. The museum begins with a digital video montage of life before the Shoah and ends with an exit from unfurnished concrete and steel to the green panorama of Jerusalem. The design is powerful on multiple levels; it is nearly impossible to avoid breaking down into tears at least once while working your way through the space. It is a remarkable place.

And now the city has moved itself away from the Shoah to more recent losses. Yom Hazikaron, the Israeli memorial day is fast upon us. Flags are everywhere in J’lem; schools, cars, balconies, supermarkets and new flagpoles just for the week. There will be more sirens, more ceremonies, and more speeches this week. It’s very intense week, and the transition from Pesach to Yom Ha’atzmaut is not an easy one. It is wise to recall Israel is still a young country making a great effort to remember and not to forget. These are two separate things, and if the efforts get muddled from time to time, that’s to be expected .

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