Holocaust Memorial DayIn Israel, when Passover is over, we enter one of the most meaningful times of the year. Starting with Holocaust Memorial Day, then a week later Memorial Day for our Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror, and immediately following with celebrations of Israeli Independence Day (68 years and counting).
It is very interesting to work in the field of education during these days and even more so with people who have not yet experienced and learned to understand the importance and deep meaning of these days. During the week, we provided the students with many platforms in order to feel a connection and understanding to the Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel.
On Sunday, the students met with their Madrichim in their apartments. The Madrichim worked with the students to prepare them for the week to come which included meeting with a Holocaust survivor, a seminar at Yad Vashem, being a part of the national ceremony, and the siren which sounds each year during which time the entire country stands still and silent in remembrance of the millions who perished.
On Monday, Shlomo Adler, a Holocaust survivor, came to share his story. Shlomo described how he lost both his parents around the time of Pesach and how the holiday is hard for him still today. He also talked about being in a work camp, hiding in a swamp and later in a small space in a barn, and how throughout all of this he survived. Hearing first hand from a survivor is an opportunity that gets rarer from year to year and the students were very respectful and interested in hearing all that Shlomo had to share with us.
Bahai Gardens in HaifaOn Tuesday, the group went to Haifa but not before stopping at the Atlit Refugee camp along the way. The camp is where in the days of the British Mandate, Jewish refugees (in Hebrew, “Ma’apilim”) were held when they got caught by the British trying to enter the region by sea. The tour guide, among other things, told the group the story of how the refugees were released by a Palmach Force in 1945 in an action led by Yitzhak Rabin and the great story of solidarity of the local Jewish people around along the way. (If you’ve never heard the story, you have to read about it!). The second stop was the Bahai Gardens in Haifa. It is a beautiful structure with magnificent gardens and interesting architecture. Standing in this unique location overlooking the city of Haifa and the Mediterranean Sea made it all the more interesting to learn from the tour guide about the Bahai religion that was formed in Iran but is centered in Akko. Participants learned that Akko is not only a place to get good hummus but also the burial place for Bahá’u’lláh, the prophet who is considered to be the founder of the Bahai religion. The thing that surprised some of our students the most was the fact that the act of cleaning and maintaining these Baha’i Gardens is considered to be holy! Bewildered by the idea of cleaning as spiritual, they headed back to Tel Aviv, hopefully to clean.their apartments…
Later on that day, at Parsha and Pizza, the group learned about the Torah portion of Kedoshim. It includes a long list of commandments dealing with varied aspects of social, economic, religious and sexual life. We studied Nachamanides’ explanation of the command to be holy from the 13th century. He teaches that it is not enough to live according to the letter of the law but also we must reflect the spirit of the law. The group talked about holy people they have met or been inspired by. We then finished off by linking to Yom HaShoah and reading some very moving words from a Rabbi of the Warsaw Ghetto. He said that at a time when the Germans were trying to destroy our bodies, life itself and the need to remain alive, to survive, became the holiest act one could do.
Yad VashemOn Wednesday, we journeyed to Jerusalem to join the National ceremony of Israel at Yad Vashem. Upon arriving in Jerusalem, our first stop was at Mount Herzl, Israel’s national military cemetery. We gathered there for a seminar about the Holocaust which was sponsored by Masa. During one activity, each student needed to choose a postcard that was spread on the floor (all of which had some connection to the Holocaust) and to explain why they chose what they did. Lior Benzaken for example, chose a postcard with pictures of drunk soldiers acting violently. Lior said that she heard a lot of testimonies of Nazi soldiers saying that they were only a screw in a bigger system and they couldn’t be held responsible for their actions. She said that she refused to accept those excuses and that it reminds her of drunk college students that may do stupid stuff and then not take responsibility for their actions.
After the activity, we were honored to be a part of the national ceremony in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin also participated. This ceremony was broadcast to the whole country. It was very moving for us to hear the stories of the six survivors who lit memorial torches, as well as hear the songs, speeches, and other stories which remind us to Never Forget. On the way back to Tel Aviv, I spoke with many of the students and they were really affected by the evening.
I highly recommend speaking to your child about their experiences this past week and in the week to come. It is an emotional and intense time to be in Israel. These are uniquely Israeli experiences and they will likely have a lot to say about them. Whether the ceremonies, the activities, the remembrance sirens or the juxtaposition of our memorial days with our independence day, each student will surely have a meaningful experience in these days.
On my last email I’ve promised you to send a little bit about Noah Kats’s experiment so here is a good explantion by Noah Katz:
” For the past 4 months, for my internship during Aardvark, I have worked at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. Being there, I have learned a great deal, met some amazing people, and picked up some incredible life experiences.
I had started off as an observer in the lab, having been given a supervisor/guide to work under and help out among other tasks. As time progressed, I picked up and experienced more of the lab and its rhythm, and began to do more and more. I started off learning a process called the Western Blot, which is used to develop and show the size and concentration of proteins from test samples, commonly taken from cancer cells following an experiment. After learning how to do Western Blot, I was tasked with summarizing two research papers to experience firsthand the less technical and exciting but equally important side of lab work, all of the reading and writing.
After that, I was given responsibility over a dish of cancer cells to grow and maintain, and finally, was given an experiment to perform. That experiment, which is still not quite complete, involves hydrogen peroxide and its effects on cancer cells. For the experimental procedure, once my cells had been properly prepared for the tests, I took the cells and divided them into 6 groups. One was an untreated control group and the rest were exposed to a hydrogen peroxide solution for varying periods of time. After the exposure, I collected the cells and killed them, part of the process for revealing the results of the experiment.
With the cells now dead, I could extract their proteins and prepare them for developing, which is to be finished soon. The experiment, which is looking for the effect of the hydrogen peroxide on the cellular expression of a certain protein my supervisor is focusing on, called Ras, is part of a whole assortment of similar experiments. These experiments, involving many different substances, changes in conditions, and various other methods of testing what effects cancer cells and in what way, are all part of the greater effort of the lab to discover and strengthen our knowledge of cancer and its mechanisms.”
good job Noah!
On the Selah Track, the group had a Bet Midrash inspired by Yom HaShoah. They read some of the controversial thoughts of Orthodox Israeli thinker Professor Yishayahu Leibovitz about the Holocaust and religion, God and Israeli society. This Shabbat is the last of Selah’s monthly Shabbatonim and the group will be spending time in Jerusalem and the Old City. Monday also sees the group going on the last of its monthly Tanach Tiyulim (Bible hikes) this time to the ancient ruins of Khirbet Qeiyafa from the time of King David.