Thursday, January 17, 2013

Taglit Birthright Day 8: Yad Vashem & the Kotel

I am transcribing my Birthright journal, a day by day account of my time in Israel. To start at the beginning, click here!

January 4, 2013

Hebrew word of the day: Lizkor velo liskoach (לזכור ולא לשכוח) = Remember and never forget

Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem was overwhelming, just like the Holocaust. There is so much significance and meaning just in the grounds and the architecture of the building. The museum is surrounded by beautiful gardens and trees. Within the gardens are monuments representing the lives lost. The museum itself sticks out of Mt. Herzl at the beginning and the end. You enter in the light and exit in the light with views on both ends of a beautiful and thriving Jerusalem. In order to reach the end, however, you must travel through the depths of the mountain and bear witness to the horrors of the Holocaust. There is so much material there that it is impossible to see it all in one day, let alone the three hours we were there.

The Menache Yehuda Market was also overwhelming, with so many shops and a mad crush of people. After the market, we prepared for Shabbat and went to the Kotel.

There are not words to describe the Kotel, but I'll try anyway. There is an overpowering sense of spirituality and unity at the Kotel. Singing songs surrounded by others who are singing the same songs and saying the same prayers that I say at home is an amazing and intense feeling, like being a family. We struggled past a throng of people to get up to the wall. It is a miracle that anyone is able to move in such a tightly packed crowd. Finally, all the women on our side of the mechitza made a giant circle and sang songs. It was incredible.

The modern feminist in me hates to admit it, but the mechitza was not the oppressive and segregating force that I have always thought it would be. When we arrived at the airport last week, our Mayanot coordinator, Abi, taught us a chant. With our arms around each other's shoulders, we chanted "Achim, achim, achim achim achim! Simcha, simcha, simcha simcha simcha!" Achim means brothers and simcha means joy. At the Kotel, as a large group of women, we did the same chant, but instead of achim, we shouted loud and proud, "Achayot, achayot!" "Sisters, sisters! Joy, joy!"

Unfortunately, the night ended on a sour note. After an awesome Shabbat dinner of banging on tables, we had a session called "stump the rabbi" with Rabbi Berel. One of the first questions was about conversion. Berel is a Chabad rabbi (for the Chabad opinion on conversion, check out this video), so I wouldn't necessarily expect him to see my Reform conversion as valid in his movement, but he went beyond that. He told a story about a woman who converted, but on her death bed when God didn't heal her, she turned back to Jesus. Berel went on to say that non-Orthodox conversions are quick things. He said, "You pay the rabbi $900 and you're Jewish. If you don't want to do it the right way [Orthodox], then you should choose a different religion." My husband argued in defense of non-Orthodox conversions without telling anyone that I converted. A few other people spoke up about having a parent who converted. I didn't speak up. I want nothing more on this trip than to be Jewish without question. Telling people that I converted requires a certain amount of trust. They have to trust me when I say that I converted for myself and not for my husband. I'm not sure that a twelve day trip will foster that kind of trust. I certainly didn't want to get into such a heated conversation after such an overall amazing day.

To hear more of my thoughts about conversion, keep reading!