Blog day 6 Sunday the 7th January 2017
Debbi Benn
Coordinator of Hebrew and Jewish Studies
Carmel School Perth

As the fog lifted and the sun shone through the clouds, a glorious day greeted us in Jerusalem. After an amazing Israeli breakfast, we made our way to the offices of the KKL making the most of the warm sunshine. We spent time listening to several speakers of note whose messages interlinked with one another about the mission of JNF.- Working together to advance the principles of harmony between people and their environment in Israel and all over the world. It was inspiring to see all the incredible projects that the JNF have undertaken since those early days when Herzl had the idea to buy land to secure a homeland for the Jews. It is quite remarkable that Israel has planted 240 million trees in just 70 years of existence. The contribution of JNF Australia is highly regarded in Israel and we should continue to use the blue box In our schools as our connection to Israel, to the land, the water, the trees and to our communities.

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We then boarded the bus for Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. It was now time to connect with our past. Understanding the Holocaust is essential to understanding the State of Israel. The Shoah (Holocaust) shaped Israel’s mentality to create a State out of the ashes where atrocities on such a massive scale would never happen again, as well as a desire to create something good after so much destruction.
Upon arrival, we were surrounded by young, vibrant Israeli soldiers in their newly pressed green uniforms full of the promise of life ahead -the living testimony to the future of the Jewish people and our unbreakable spirit and our triumph over evil.
Upon entering the museum we saw a prism-like triangular structure cut through the mountain, made of concrete floors leading deeper and lower into the museum, symbolic of the depths to which humanity had sunk in those dark times. As we walked through the galleries portraying the Jewish situation in those terrible years we were confronted with the dehumanisation and extermination of the Jews and everyone felt deeply moved and affected by the experience.
At the end of the museum in the hall of names, we were surrounded by the pages of testimony of millions of Holocaust victims – a memorial to those who died. Yad Vashem has personalised the individual tragedy of the victims of the Holocaust giving each victim the dignity of a name and with each name, the memory of a life is revived. Finally, we walked onto a platform overlooking Yerushalayim filled with natural light symbolising our hope for a better future. We then walked to the children’s memorial a short distance away to honour the 1.5 million children killed in the Shoah. As we entered the memorial, a dark room hollowed out from an underground cavern, we were moved by the background music and the memorial candles glittering like stars in the sky. A voice was reciting the names, ages and birthplace of each child and as we walked in silence, we were subdued by the reality that not only 1.5 million children perished, but with them their children and their children’s children forever.

We slowly made our way to Mt Herzl named after Theodore Herzl the father of modern Zionism where we were privileged to view the military cemetery and the graves of many past prime ministers and presidents as well as Herzl’s grave whose remains were brought to Israel in 1949.
Coming out of Yad Vashem where families were broken and separated, Yigal then surprised us with letters written by our “next of kin” which was so well organised and brilliantly coordinated by the one and only Tammy! It was wonderful to see the different reactions and emotions of the group when reading their letters; laughter and tears, excitement and happiness at such a thoughtful surprise (and for once the surprise wasn’t food!!)

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Tired but happy, clutching our beloved letters in our hands we made our way to Sderot in the south of Israel, to be greeted by the mayor Alon Davidi. As we sat on the rooftop watching the perfect sunset over the horizon overlooking the beautiful park sponsored by JNF Australia, we heard the stories of life in Sderot which is situated less than a mile from Gaza and has been an ongoing target of rocket attacks since 2001. Having 15 seconds to run to a bomb shelter in a code red situation has caused post-traumatic stress disorder in many children who have now become involved in working with animals to help them through their traumas. It was inspiring to hear from Rabbi Fendel that hate has no place in Sderot and that the citizens continue to build a life of giving and Godliness investing overground not underground.

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After a quick peek at the wonderful Sderot Hesder Yeshiva where students were engrossed in chavruta learning, we made our way to Shaar Hanegev school where we were greeted warmly by the principal and his teachers. An amazing choir of students sang songs to welcome us overwhelming us with their talent and dedication.

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What came next was one of the highlights of the evening where the synergy and interaction between the groups of teachers filled the room with laughter and discussions. All language barriers were broken down with the sharing and collaboration of ideas, stories, teaching principles and experiences. Upon thanking the teachers for staying late at school away from their home and families, we were told “ you are also our family”

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What we experienced today was the story of the Jewish nation, a nation that lives in the present, feels a sense of responsibility for what happens in the present, but also constantly looks back into the past and ahead into the future. This is a nation characterised by long-term memory and infinite hope…..

Debbi Benn
Coordinator of Hebrew and Jewish Studies
Carmel School