Israeli, foreign students pay tribute at Yad Vashem

Students, visitors from the US, Germany and Israel honor six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

Tour of Yad Vashem 521 (photo credit: Dara Frank)
Tour of Yad Vashem 521
(photo credit: Dara Frank)
Students and visitors from the US, Germany and Israel honored the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust, at a Yad Vashem ceremony in Jerusalem on Monday.
The students came in two groups – one comprising thirtyseven students from the Hebrew Academy in Miami, a national-religious school, in the country on a two-week tour and the other visiting as part of an Israeli-German exchange program.
Dr. Roni Raab, the Miami school’s headmaster, said he took his students to Yad Vashem to teach them about Judaism and why Israel belongs to them.
He also wanted “to shatter the illusion that [the country] is dirt, dust and tents, [but] that it’s a modern and vibrant country with a vibrant people.”
Rachel Kahn, a sophomore, said visiting Yad Vashem on Holocaust Remembrance Day had a powerful impact on her.
“It’s unreal how something like this could happen,” she said. “To me, it’s not six million Jews who died – it’s six million individuals. We can’t look at them as numbers, but as people who had a future that was taken away from them.”
Kahn added that she felt compelled to ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten by future generations.
“Ours is the last generation to meet survivors, so it’s our responsibility to share their stories,” she said.
Avigayil Adouth, a student from the school who is the granddaughter of a survivor, said she felt empowered by being surrounded by so many other Jews.
“Being [in Israel] is different because we’re not a minority here, like in America,” she said.
“So, to be here and celebrate with an entire country makes me feel safe and not alone.”
Ahron Diveroli, also a sophomore, said he felt a sense of pride.
“I came here to understand how someone could do something so cruel to other human beings,” he said. “I feel like all the people who died, that all their descendants are here to honor and remember them.”
“While all the Nazis are rolling over in their graves, [as Jews] we’re better off now because we have a country that’s ours,” Diveroli continued.
All three students said they were particularly moved when the memorial siren wailed throughout the country.
“I never heard a siren on Memorial Day or Veterans Day in America,” said Diveroli.
“People would go to the beach or have a party. Here, people respond [to Holocaust Remembrance Day] with respect – like we are a big family.”
Adouth said she was also moved by the sirens.
“In those two minutes, I felt like we were standing up and telling the Nazis that we’re still here and together,” she said.
“And no matter how hard they tried, they could not get rid of us.”
“It’s a great feeling to see everyone stop and become one,” Kahn added.
Ruth and Erv Fishman, an octogenarian couple visiting from Montclair, New Jersey, said that being Jewish Americans during World War II made them acutely sensitive to the possibility of another Holocaust.
“God help us if we ever allow anyone to forget, because what happened to us is symbolic of what can happen to any group of people – but always to us [as Jews],” she said.
“It’s profound to be here because of what’s going on in a world where it’s not getting any better for the Jews.”
Erv said he couldn’t help but identify personally with the plight of the Jews that were subjected to Nazi brutality.
“I ask myself what I would have done if I was in the Holocaust,” he said. “How would I have handled it? Could I have been heroic?” He paused briefly and looked at the ceiling while contemplating the answers to his questions.
“I don’t know,” he continued.
“I just don’t know.”
As tears began to well in his eyes, Erv added, “I just worry about humanity.”
Nearby, a group of Israeli teenagers, preparing to join the army in the coming months, said Holocaust Remembrance Day is just one of many reminders why they must fight for their country.
“I came here to connect with the legacy of the dead,” said 19- year-old Eliya Mor-Joseph of Ofra.
“The Shoah is part, but not the whole story [of the Jewish people]. It’s close to us in time, but I remember thousands of years of history, including [our enslavement in] Egypt. This is why we go to the army to defend our people.”
Yair Gallt, 18, said he also felt a strong connection to the victims and the survivors, and that they had inspired him to join the IDF.
“All that happened here is us.
The parents, grandparents, children – they are all us,” he continued.
“I don’t want to fight and am not looking forward to it, but I have to and I will. This day is just one of the reasons why.”
Two teens – one German, the other Israeli Arab – both visiting the museum as part of the joint program between the countries, said they were horrified by the Holocaust.
The exchange program was sponsored by the Gilboa Regional Council and brought together 12 German students with six Arab-Israeli students and six Jewish-Israeli students.
“I’m an Arab who lives in Israel,” said Lana Fodi, 16, of Taiba. “It’s horrible what I have seen happen to the Jewish people – it’s something that can’t be imagined. It’s not about being Arabic or Jewish – it’s about being a human being.”
Josefina Otschipka, 18, a German Catholic high school senior, said she was pleasantly surprised by how warm Israelis have been toward her.
“Israel’s a special country because there’s a lot of conflict, yet the people are very nice,” she said. “Sometimes I’m afraid to say something wrong because I’m German and I’m worried [Israelis] will think of me like I’m a Nazi.
But I realize it’s not like I thought before.”
Otschipka said when she returns to Germany, she will encourage others to visit Israel.
“I will tell them that they should visit because it’s a very nice and kind community,” she said.