Junior Journey: Reflecting on Heroism and Sacrifice

Shayna D., Class of 2018
"Today was the most inspiring, impactful, upsetting, depressing, hopeful, scary, touching day of the Israel Journey." Shayna D. shares powerful moments at Yad Vashem and Har Herzl.
Today was the most inspiring, impactful, upsetting, depressing, hopeful, scary, touching day of the Israel Journey. It's going to be hard to put the feelings we experienced into words but I will try my best.

After a lovely breakfast, we got on the bus and rode to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum. We began by hearing from Rabbi Kertesz about the importance of studying the Shoah. We went around the group and some of us shared our ideas about why we must go through the pain of studying this event. One person shared that we study the Holocaust so that it won't happen again. Rabbi Kertesz then responded by telling us that genocides are happening all over the world today and it is our job as Jews and as human beings to do something about it.

We then split off into two groups. One group went inside the actual museum while my  group, those that had already done the museum tour, toured around the outside. We started beside the trees planted for the righteous among the nations. We spoke about what it means to get that title and the discrepancy over Schindler's title as a righteous Gentile because, while he saved a thousand Jews, a lot of it was for his own gain. I had not really thought about the definition of a righteous Gentile so I really appreciated getting to discuss that.

Our guide Shaia then told us that the trees we were looking at were carob trees. We were all confused about the significance of the carob tree, but then it was all made clear when Shaia shared this story from the Tanach:

One day Honi was walking down the street when he saw an old man planting a carob tree. He asked why the old man was planting a carob tree since they don't produce fruit for seventy years. 
The man answered, “Perhaps not. However, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees."

The trees planted for the righteous Gentiles are carob trees because these righteous among the nations planted the trees for generations to come. By saving one soul, they saved generations and generations. I really appreciated the fact that we started the tour with hope.

We learned about those that risked literally everything to make a difference in the world. We then continued to the heartbreaking children's memorial. Before going in, Shaia asked us to listen closely to the names being read and try to remember one. When we got outside we all shared a name and a lot of us struggled to remember. Shaia explained that this is what will happen to the Shoah if we neglect to remember and memorialize it.

We then heard the story of Janusz Korczak. He was a well-known journalist who established an orphanage before the Shoah began. When the Jews were rounded up, he was given the chance to get out, but he made the decision to stay with the children from his orphanage. He had all of his children put their nicest clothes on and he led them, singing, with their heads held high into the gas chambers.

Overcome by emotion, we walked silently to a cabin rebuilt to replicate those that the partisans lived in while rebelling against the Nazis. We spent a long time discussing what it meant to resist in the Shoah. We debated whether Janusz Korczak resisted by singing into the gas chambers. While we didn't come up with a final answer, we all left with a greater understanding of what resistance means and how we can resist injustice.

After a lunch in the cafeteria, we met up with the other group and walked to Mt. Herzl. We gathered on a hill and Shaia taught us about the significance of the mountain and who is buried on it. The first level is Holocaust survivors, the next is fallen soldiers, the next is important Israeli political figures, and at the very top is the grave of Theodore Herzl. We offered different ideas about why the order is that way.

We first visited the memorial for those who died in acts of terror. While these people cannot be buried on Mt. Herzl, they do have a memorial dedicated to them. It consists of a series of walls that hold plaques with the names of victims of terror. To our dismay, Shaia shared with us that he knew one person on every plaque. He then shared with us the heartbreaking stories of his friends who were murdered by terrorists. He told us that he went to far too many funerals in high school.

We then walked to the level that holds the graves of fallen soldiers. It is challenging for me to say this but the first thought that came to mind was how beautiful the cemetery was. Every grave looks exactly the same, consisting of a plaque with the person's name, place of birth, place of death, and age, and a bed of flowers. Shaia asked a student at the front to pick a grave and stand next to it. We all stood by it and read about the man that sacrificed his life for the state of Israel. Shaia told us that every grave is the same because every person that is buried on Mt. Herzl was a human being and we cannot put more or less value on certain individuals when they all have the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

After saying thank you to those that we lost, we continued to the cemetery where soldiers who have died in more recent wars are buried. We visited the grave of a lone soldier named Michael Levin who, like many JCHS students, left his home in America to protect the Jewish homeland. This man's story really hit us hard because we could put ourselves in the place of his friends, family, and even Michael himself. Many of us began to cry and it was beautiful how everyone hugged and supported each other in this time of such sadness.

The group gathered on the grass where the new graves will be. We stood in a circle while some of my classmates read heartbreaking poems about sacrificing your life. Two people held up an Israeli flag as we all sang the hatikvah. It was one of the most powerful moments of the journey for me. I finally understood just how lucky we are to have a nation to call home. It is because of the people that put everything on the line that Jews can feel safe on their own land.

Afterwards we got on the bus and visited Kol Haot, a visual and performing arts program. During this trip we have done a lot of processing verbally, so we really appreciated the time to process this unbelievable day in a visual way. We were each given a piece of a puzzle and told to color/collage/draw/write on our puzzle piece about our feelings and experiences from the day. We then shared our pieces and put them together to make a map of Israel.

We went to dinner where we met up with JCHS alumni. It was so great to see all of them. We then had some free time on Ben Yehuda street to go shopping.

What a day. 
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The Jewish Community High School of the Bay (JCHS) is a unique college preparatory high school committed to integrating deep learning, universal wisdom, and Jewish values. We empower each student to embrace her or his Jewish identity, generate empathy and compassion, delight in lifelong education, and improve the world.