It is hard to describe the roller-coaster of emotions that the Diller Teens experienced on Friday. We began our day at 8 o'clock with breakfast and immediately boarded the buses to Yad Vashem. Almost everyone in our group had been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. but for many, this was a new experience. Walking to the entrance, it was hard to imagine that such a beautiful building with a gorgeous view of Jerusalem contained such horrifying information. One of the first things our tour guide told us when we met him was that he was going to try and give us the story of the people, not the perpetrators. I thought that this was a very interesting take on the subject because many of us have spent years in school learning about how Hitler came to power and the horrifying crimes that were committed, but very few of us had learned what individuals' lives were like before, during, and after. Most of the information and pictures in the museum I had seen before but what was different and what impacted me the most was the very last part of the museum. We entered a room that contained books of all of the known victims who were murdered, and there was empty shelf space for the names that are still unknown. As interesting as this was, the first thing in the room that grabs your attention is the middle; there isn't one. Our guide immediately brought us to the railing surrounding a hole with a reflection pool at the bottom. The guide explained that the room was designed this way so when you look down you see all of the books containing the names of people who perished but you also see your own reflection. This reflection symbolizes the future of the Jewish people and seeing that at the end of such a sad tour was extremely powerful.
We continued our morning with a quick ride to Har Herzl. Here we saw the graves of the leaders who did so much to ensure that the Jewish people have a safe state to call their own. Such people included Theodore Herzl, Golda Meir, and Yitzchak Rabin. Along with past presidents and prime ministers, soldiers are also buried here. The graves date back to soldiers who fought with the British in WWII such as Chana Senesh and are as current as soldiers who have died in the past few months. As we weaved our way through the cemetery were learned a lot about the sacrifices Israelis make for their country. However, we did not stop and have a sincere conversation about it until we reached the newest part of the cemetery. Here we saw Michael Levin's grave, a Philadelphia native who decided to enlist in the IDF after a trip to Israel. It was difficult to pass his grave because it was covered with Phillies hats, USA hats, pictures, and notes. As we walked to a patch of grass, we saw other graves where people only a year or two older than us our buried. Our tour guide, Pauline, sat us down and talked to us about what life is really like for Israelis when they know they must join the army and may never make it past their 18th birthday. It is hard to summarize the speech she made but by the end everyone in our group was touched in a way that we cannot totally explain. Many of us cried as we thought about loved ones who risk their lives because they have joined either the Israeli or American military. Others cried just because of the severity of the situation in Israel and the reality that next year, our friends from Ashkelon will be enlisted in the IDF.
After such a sad morning, we transitioned into a happier mood by going to a market called Mahane Yehudah. Here we traded fruits and vegetables and some of us got to go behind a counter and sell items ourselves. After we ate and had embraced the Israeli market atmosphere we went back to the hotel to get ready for our first Shabbat in Israel, and for four of us, at the Kotel. We took the bus to the Kotel and gathered to light Shabbat candles and to give Tzedakah and say our favorite thing from the week thus far. Our group then walked to The Wall to pray and celebrate Shabbat. It was a surreal experience having your head touch the wall as you bowed during the Amidah. Many women from all over the world gathered in a circle with us and we sang songs to welcome Shabbat. We stayed for about an hour and then had an hour walk back to the hotel. It was the perfect night; about 70 degrees with a beautiful breeze as we walked through The Old City. When we arrived at the hotel we discussed our experiences and then everyone passed out because of such a busy day.