By Nancy B. Greer
President & CEO
As you enter the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the first thing you see and hear are the sights and sounds of the rich Jewish life and civilization that prevailed in Europe before the Holocaust.
Then – vividly and unforgettably – you are immersed in the experience of remembrance. Searing photographs of the Nazi terror. Artifacts, each imbued with a human being’s unique story. A case filled with the shoes of slaughtered children, as stark a demonstration of man’s inhumanity to man that you will ever see. The Hall of Names, the haunting memorial to each of the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust and the centerpiece of the Yad Vashem’s mission to make sure the Holocaust and its lessons are remembered for all time.
As Shimon Peres, of blessed memory, said, “If you take away from our people the memory, we shall not have a future. If you take away our heritage, we shall not have a vision. And we need a memory and a future, a heritage and a vision.”
As you end your visit at the Yad Vashem, you ascend to a place offering an expansive vista of Jerusalem. The sight of the ancient holy city symbolizes a rekindling of hope for a better future of universal peace and tolerance. After World War II, the Holocaust survivors gathered themselves, rebuilt their lives, and kept the flame of Judaism lit brightly. From their hands and hearts, they worked to create and develop the new State of Israel.
In reflecting on my time in Israel on the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle’s recently completed community trip, the Yad Vashem experience was a powerful reminder of the importance of the work that we do to assure the continuity of Jewish life in all its spiritual, traditional, and cultural dimensions.
Today, the lively, thriving Israel that we saw on our recent trip is home not only to Holocaust survivors, but also to Jews from Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Algeria, Ethiopia, and many other places – all of whom made Aliyah to Israel, the eternal homeland of the Jewish people.
In building Israel into the lively, thriving nation it is today, Israelis have constantly faced multiple disparate realities that spawn vexing dilemmas and force difficult choices. Nothing highlights this more clearly than the dramatic events of the past week: the Iranian rocket strikes in the Golan Heights and Israel’s swift response, the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, violent protests, deaths, and injuries on the Gaza border, the jubilant Tel Aviv celebration of Netta Barzilai winning the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest. Fear, determination, joy, sorrow, elation. Each highlights a dimension of Israel’s story. Each thread of this complex fabric cannot be considered in isolation from the others.
A role that we as American Jews can play in ensuring a bright future for Jewish life is understanding these interwoven complexities and helping others to understand them too. If Israelis can be grateful that they have a strong military to protect them from those, like Hamas, who would destroy Israel, if they can empathize with impoverished and isolated Palestinians, and mourn those killed and injured in violence, then we can too. Israel is a diverse nation, facing difficult security, economic, and cultural challenges within its borders and just beyond.
In living with such challenges, Israelis have developed a resilient strong-mindedness that in turn has been a foundation for building the strong and vibrant nation that Israel has become. That strength is manifested in the innovation taking place in Tel Aviv, where our community trip cohort witnessed the work of incredibly creative people from the fields of technology, the arts, and ecology, who are bringing to the world beneficial advances that will make lives better – ingenious solutions that help disabled people cope with everyday challenges, generate pollution-free energy from ocean waves, and much more.
Experiencing Israel today – including the many-layered complications that shape Israeli life, as well as the history, heritage, culture, and the people who are the beating heart of the nation – brings home in the most personal way the centrality of Israel to the Jewish experience and the importance of working as hard as we can to assure a bright future for Jewish life, in Israel, around the world, and right here in the Puget Sound region.
I want to thank everyone who joined the community trip and made it such a special experience. We look forward to creating more experiences with our community here and overseas as we build a bright future together.