“Why would the Jews after experiencing the Holocaust come to the Holy Land and confine the Palestinians?”
One of my high school students wrote that question in his journal after a very thought provoking day on a school trip to Israel. We had spent our morning at Yad Vashem. It is a modern museum in Jerusalem designed to take each visitor on an unforgettable journey through the Jewish holocaust experience.
If the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg is going to be anything like Yad Vashem it will be a significant place of learning and inspiration. The twenty- two teenagers with me were mesmerized as they walked from room to room. Everywhere they went in the museum there were screens on the walls with holocaust survivors telling their stories.
I saw some of the teens I was traveling with standing and watching these interviews with tears running down their faces. They heard stories about children who had witnessed their parents’ murders, women who had killed their own babies rather than have them sent to a concentration camp, school children who showed up in the morning for class only to find fellow students or a teacher had ‘disappeared’ over night. Many decades after the events being described the survivors could still recall their experiences in disturbing detail.
One room in the museum was completely dark save for thousands of tiny twinkling lights on the ceiling. Each light is there in memory of a child who died in the Holocaust and while you walk through the room their names are being whispered.
Just as you leave the museum you read a poem by Andre Schwarz –Bart written after the Holocaust ended. He has inserted the names of concentration camps into a prayer of praise. He is glad the Holocaust is over but how to deal with its reality? He leaves the reader trying to answer the question- Where was God during the Holocaust?
Later that afternoon our group went to Bethlehem and visited a Palestinian refugee camp. We heard the stories of children who had been shot by Israeli snipers while playing soccer. We saw the wall that has been built by the Israelis around the Palestinian territory. It was covered with graffiti and in places marked by bullet holes. We heard the story of a young Palestinian woman who was refused an exit visa to study medicine at the university where she had received a scholarship. We met people who have never been able to return to their family properties because more than a half- century ago their homes and land were taken over by the Israelis. A aid worker, who was our guide said it is ironic that anyone can convert to Judaism anywhere in the world and get an Israeli passport, but a Palestinian whose family has lived in Israel for generations cannot get an Israeli passport and therefore has difficulty traveling anywhere outside of Israel.
Just as our Holocaust museum visit raised difficult questions for my students so did our visit to the Palestinian refugee compound. One girl wrote in her journal, “God whose son was called the Prince of Peace must be very sad about the things that are happening in His Promised Land.”
Many people make pilgrimages to the ‘Holy Land’ of Israel in search of answers. I took a group of students to the ‘Holy Land’ of Israel and we left with our heads full of difficult questions.
Other posts about Israel……..