Thursday, July 7, 2011

Remembering at Yad Vashem

The Mamilla Hotel in the heart of Jerusalem is our home during our stay in this wonderful city. To say that this hotel is modern would be a vast understatement! The hotel has brought together old with new in a terribly fascinating way--many of the stone walls of the hotel's main areas are original to the location. At the same time, the hotel has a terribly unique design in it's common areas and even within it's rooms. We were told that usually guests receive a guided tour to go over the room's features. This makes sense after you enter the space that does sort of look like a hotel room, but with a twist. Within the traditional design, the Mamilla has created bathrooms that are partitioned by seemingly clear glass from the rest of the quarters; however, you discover that a simple flick of the switch creates an opaque glass in place of the see-through version. The Mamilla is certainly starting us off on a high note!

Our first morning in Jerusalem began with a lavish spread of foods in the hotel's first floor restaurant. There were more choices than I could imagine, but with a relatively sensitive stomach, I limited myself to only a few items. After breakfast and coffee, a few of us Internet addicts went out in search of wifi--to our great delight, this ancient city is filled with 21st century people who also need their connectivity. So, wifi hasn't been that hard to come by (so far).

To start our exploration of Israel, we headed for Yad Vashem the largest museum and memorial site dedicated to the Holocaust and the destruction of Eastern European Jewry. Rather than a singular building, Yad Vashem is much more of a complex. With this design it serves a multitude of purposes--artifact-filled museum, hall of remembrance, memorial to the children, memorial to the deported, path of the righteous among the nations, art museums, video centers, learning centers, a library, archives, and an educational institution. Yad Vashem appears more like a beautifully designed college campus at first glance.

Our acquaintance with the the site, began in the main exhibit, which much like other Holocaust museums was designed with very purposeful techniques in mind. Cold stone walls contain you in a very defined space, you can see the exist from the entrance but your path is blocked, flooring changes particularly in the ghetto section where stones and train track from the Warsaw ghetto have been laid, images/video/and sound floods the senses as you move throughout the space, and finally when you reach the daylight of the exist you find yourself overlooking the outskirts of Jerusalem. Within the museum, I was struck by the use of artwork from victims and the varied ways people made art in such trying circumstances. Based on the artwork alone, you can tell how vast Yad Vashem's collections must truly be! From a teaching perspective, I hope to use the artwork to juxtapose with my lessons on culture during Weimar and Nazi identification of degenerate art. Hopefully, students will see the varied works as expressions of resistance by those forced into ghettos, camps, hiding, and overall, inhumane conditions.

With our time limited, many of us hustled around the "campus" to see its various memorials. The warm sun and clear blue skies added dimensions to our walk as it was not only hotter than the indoor locations, but the bright sun also served as an interesting hopeful reminder as we viewed memorials to those lost. Also during are time at Yad Vashem, we had mini lectures from a woman connected to their education center (whose name I did not catch) and our trip's Stephen Feinberg. Both of these were very intriguing, especially discussion of the museum's mission and goals. Fortunately, our time at Yad Vashem will continue for a few more hours as we will have another lecture and be able to explore some of the other wonderful aspects of the site.

Upon returning to the hotel, many of us gathered our energy and headed out to experience more of Jerusalem. After navigating the kosher restrictions at lunch, we should have been prepared to find the same requirements elsewhere, but when a hostess asked us "meat" or "dairy" we were sent into a discussion on just what exactly did we want! With a great spot at an outdoor restaurant, we were able to people watch and just take in the city. We again had the fortune to have dinner on the rooftop with the most amazing views of Jerusalem, in particular the Old City. This was the perfect way to wrap up a full day in one of the world's most historically rich places!

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