We arrived in Jerusalem the day before yesterday, after some prep work at the hotel in Tel Aviv for the upcoming Retreat 5, at this beautiful restored old hotel and we just set up camp in our room and went to a great little restaurant down the hill for a late lunch of our new favorite salad “Jerusalem Salad” which is chopped up tomatoes, cucumber, mint and pine nuts with a little feta on top and some tahini on top of that. Fresh, nutritious, and delicious. And since we were in Jerusalem we had to have Jerusalem artichoke stuffed ravioli, which after some conscious eating, even though it was quite tasty, we couldn’t finish. Then we spent the rest of the day just relaxing around the hotel and loosing the last vestiges of Jet Lag, for Karen, and doing a bit of research on where to go while spending the next 4 days here in this ancient and beautiful city.Yesterday was day one of being tourists. We had both slept and lounged and relaxed the day before and we were ready to start seeing sights. We decided that yesterday was going to be a museum day and we would start with the Yad Vashem or the Holocaust Museum and then move on to the Israel Museum where the Dead Sea Scrolls are held. When we were in Amsterdam a few months ago we discovered how much we liked touring museums with the audio tours that seem to be everywhere. So we got ourselves some audio tours of the museum and the guy who sold them to us said it would take 2.5 -3 hours to go through the museum. We nodded our heads and thought that would be perfect. 6 and a half hours later we walked out the far side of this stunningly designed prismatic building completely full of this horrific story so personally portrayed and so completely and as much as possible contextually laid out that we were a bit numb we were so filled with emotion, story, imagination, questions, answers, and all sorts of other stuff. We were also very thirsty and needed to go to the bathroom. We were so absorbed in the unfolding story that we forgot about our own needs completely. Karen and I had both studied this period of history, we thought, and we had read Leon Uris and other writers who had written about this period and still we had only scratched the surface of understanding that we began to see deeper down into thanks to the experience that the folks at the Yad Vashem have created. They had a mandate to turn the Holocaust from a story about masses of people to the many,many, many individual stories that make up the masses. There mission was to take the pictures and the other things left behind and find the stories and the people behind those pictures and stories and to put the lives back behind the eyes of the people. Not an easy task I am sure and yet an astonishing accomplishment. To find stories that were so intended to be wiped clean and to bring them back to life is a powerful and life affirming act and the people who are the researchers and contributors to Yad Vashem are to be appreciated and thanked for their powerful work.
Knowing Karen and me, this visit to the Yad Vashem needed some conversation and we took our hungry and numb selves to our favorite restaurant and really the only restaurant we know here in Jerusalem for an early dinner and sat for several more hours looking at some of the questions that came up as a result of this visit, some of which were given more context at the museum and still impossible to answer. How could this happen? What kind of perfect storm of circumstances would have had to be in place for a man like Hitler to rise so quickly in power and influence? What kind of leader was Hitler that so many just said yes to such horrible things? Was the life destructive force that was kicked off by these events always doomed to fade away eventually as the life affirming force balanced things out again? Will life always find away to grow and evolve even when there are powerful destructive forces at work? What is the relationship of perpetrator and victim? Where would I have been if I were a Jew or a German? What in me determines what I say yes to and no to and what I deny the existence of even when it is right in my face? When would I fight or resist and when would I just follow as a way to protect myself?
These questions and many more we talked about as we went through another Jerusalem salad, some mushroom risotto and tahini ice cream. Big and open questions all.