In 2009, we traveled to Israel. We had a private tour guide for this trip. At the end of the first day, Abram (pronounced Avram) said, “you seem like an open-minded people: I can give you the Catholic Tour, the Protestant Tour, or I can show you Israel (and make sure you see the important Christian sites)”. We opted for plan three.
We fit easily into a mini-van. This gave us incredible flexibility as we made stops since we didn’t have wait for 60 people to unload and load back onto a tour bus for each site. We spent the next 10 days traveling with and listening to the wisdom of Abram. He was in his early 70s and seemed to have more energy than all of us combined. Abram lived in Israel since 1948. He served in the military as an officer, spent years in business, and then became a tour guide in retirement — a position requiring two additional years of training. He possessed a rich set of experiences and wealth of knowledge about the country he lived in for the past 60 years.
On one of our stops was Yad Vashem: The Holocaust Museum. Prior to this, Janet and I had also been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. Janet noted the museum’s goal in Washington D.C. was to, as much as possible, connect you with the experiences of those who went through the Holocaust.
At Yad Vashem, as a non-Jew, you were an “outsider”. As you walk through the museum, you see the mounting evidence that much of the world was complicit with the Holocaust. The world knew what was happening and refused to take action. Certainly, Israel held the Nazi’s responsible for the death of six million Jewish people, but they also held the rest of the world accountable for letting it happen.
We each went through Yad Vashem at our own pace. Abram did not go through the museum each time he did a tour. It was too painful since he had lost family in the Holocaust. When I came near the end of the main museum, Abram stopped me. “David, I want to show you something.” He took me into a circular room. “In here is the name of every Jew who died in the Holocaust. That’s why they call the museum ‘Yad Vashem’ — a ‘place and a name’. Here, we remember and honor all those we know who were lost in the Holocaust.”
Abram said, “Now look back down the hall of the museum.” He explained the architecture is very important. It represents a tunnel. The beginning was narrow and widens as you go through the museum. As you progress through the museum the rooms on each side of the hallway also get larger. You are also walking up an incline.
We walk to the edge of the “tunnel” to a majestic view overlooking all Jerusalem. Abram said, “You see David, as a people, we were in a very dark tunnel, but we have come out of this tunnel. As we exit the tunnel, we pause to remember those we lost. You saw the room where the names are kept. The museum is ‘Yad Vashem’: ‘A Place and a Name.’ We remember the past, but we are not people of the past. We do not stay in the tunnel. We are people of the future“.
And then he turned and directed my attention to the spectacular view overlooking Jerusalem. “Now you know why we don’t count on the rest of the world. We learned we couldn’t count on them. This is why we invest so much in education, science, and agriculture. We have to care for ourselves.”
I have been profoundly influenced by Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, my trip to Washington DC, Yad Vashem, Abram, and once again, this week, as I’m finishing a remarkable book by Holocaust survivor, Dr. Edith Eger: The Choice. It’s essentially the same message: We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can choose how to respond.
At some point (or periodically) we face a very big question in life: Do I remain a prisoner/victim of the past or do I take a responsibility for my life and choose a different response to what happened? We do have a Choice!
My thanks goes to Victor Frankl and Edith Egers for publishing their remarkable stories. Thanks to Abram for sharing his wisdom and insight. A special thanks to my daughter and son-in-law (Lindsay and Dave) who provided not only the trip of a lifetime, but in ten days, the education of a lifetime.
Thanks again for your care in writing something from your past experience in Israel. It is always interesting and you always turn it into a beautiful point we can apply in our lives. Thanks David.
Wow! Just read this (finally) and want to reiterate Tim’s “Thanks David.” Your piece is a great reminder to us all, not only of ongoing global inequity and our responsibility to those who are suppressed but also of personal vision to learn from our past but live toward our desired future!