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As with many other holidays/days of importance, the national Israeli day for remembrance of the Holocaust (in Hebrew, “Yom HaShoah”) starts the evening before and continues for the full following day. This is, by the way, the same manner in which Shabbat is observed every weekend: the entire (Jewish part of the_ city closes down prior to sundown on Friday afternoon, and stays closed until sundown on Saturday.

On the actual day of remembrance itself, Tuesday the 21st, a few of my friends and I decided that we wanted to attend the morning remembrance ceremonies at Yed VaShem (check out my previous post for more information). We departed around 8:50, which as I was aware was definitely not enough time to get across the city of Jerusalem by bus, but that is what ended up happening nonetheless. On the Egged 23 bus, we started across the city towards Mount Herzl, but that meant going through the most traffic-fraught Orthodox neighborhoods in the middle of the city. We also ended up driving right past the Israeli shuk, which is also an extremely busy part of town. All of that detail serves a purpose; instead of being in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial Square at Yed VaShem for the sounding of the air raid sirens, we were in the middle of the street, still on the bus. This turned out to be both a blessing and a curse, as we were instead able to experience the effects of the 10 AM air raid siren with other average citizens of Israel (the sort still on their way to/from work) – the entire bustle of city life died. Cars stopped where they were immediately, the buses (ours included) stopped where they were, and people able to easily stand up got out of their cars, and in our case, off the bus to stand outside and spend several moments remembering all of those Jews killed in the Holocaust (that is what the day specifically commemorates, regardless of the fact that something like 12 million civilians were killed in the Holocaust). As a matter of disposition, there aren’t too many noises or sounds that truly bother me; on the very short list of those that do are nearby and unexpected gun shots, and air raid sirens, which are the same thing used in World War II and thus evoke many emotions upon hearing them in a non-historical-movie context.

To help truly explain the situation, here is a video of us (Justine, Théo, and his visiting girlfriend Aline) getting off the Egged bus at the sounding of the air raid sirens across Israel at 10 am, as the entire country stopped what they were doing, got out of their cars or chairs and stood to think about the people who died:

After re-boarding the bus, we continued on our way to Yed VaShem and arrived to a scene of hundreds and hundreds of Israeli students of all ages clamoring to get onto small shuttle buses, presumably to go down to the memorial as well. Justine and I got ahead of the others, and we decided to try and just walk the fairly short distance to Yed VaShem, thus avoiding the massive lines for the shuttle buses. Little did we anticipate just how RIDICULOUS the Israeli security arrangements for the day would be (and that statement was made keeping mind how important the day is for them).

Security Check 1
We were quickly and forcefully directed to go get in line for the small shuttle buses, thus delaying our entry to the ceremony even further. We picked up the pace, not wanting to get stuck behind the latest batch of 300 students just arriving, and got into a holding queue. There were hawk-eyed IDF and police standing around “doing nothing,” but it was pretty clear that they were watching the dispositions and body language of people in the first queue for whatever counts as suspicious in their eyes. We eventually were allowed into…

Security Check 2
Entering the temporarily fenced-in area, we were directed towards what I first (from very far away, mind you) thought was a concession van of some sort. It was actually an IDF security van, where the middle opens all the way up to reveal… a combined metal detector and bomb scanner, now with built-in conveyor belt. It was like a mini-airport security checkpoint, right there on the pavement. We moved through fairly easily, and eventually were able to swim against the flowing current of Israeli school kids and get onto one of the small shuttles. We drove over to the grounds of Yed VaShem and got out, leading us to the front of…

Security Check 3
This one was more selective in a few ways; first, there were temporary yellow fences leading in several different directions. We were asked if we had invitations at the first entrance, and said no; as such, we were sent down the longer, more-winding second path. In the middle of it, we were stopped by another security guard and asked why we were there, why we were in Israel, where we’re from, if we had any weapons (oddly, he felt compelled to ask each of us separately in front of each other if we had any weapons on us), and then checked out passports versus our Hebrew University identification (apparently, that checkpoint had the dual purpose of also being vigilant versus false ID’s). We finally got through, walked through the temporarily shut-down and cordoned-off Visitor’s Center, right into the clutches of…

Security Check 4
This one was the real deal, again. There were multiple temporary metal detectors (the walk-through sort) with barriers between them and enough security people milling around to put the security at the Senate buildings in DC to shame. We were asked to remove everything from our pockets, and then each stepped through the metal detectors at least once (I swear, in Israel they calibrate those things to detect the level of iron in one’s blood). Then, they asked me to demonstrate that my camera was in fact a working, legitimate camera. As horrible visions of Illegal El Al Possession Seizure 2.0 started running through my head, I got a shot of a gentleman cleaning some of the security gear up (that would be the attached crooked-angle shot of a guy with security stuff) and proved myself enough to allow us through. That wasn’t the last of them, though; they did a lovely job of tossing our possessions at us (literally); Théo wasn’t pleased about his tour book getting thrown at him, and I wasn’t so happy about my camera being tossed at me either. Yet another reason why I really, thoroughly don’t like “security” forces anywhere; they infringe upon your rights, and then gloat about it by treating your possessions as being of no value.

OK, having exhausted myself leading you, my readers, through the procedures I had to get through in order to remember victims of the Holocaust, I am happy to report that I was finally able to get into the actual grounds of Yed VaShem and walk towards the ceremony. As we approached, we noticed many different things at once; the huge variance amongst the types of people there (IDF soldiers, police, the elderly, the Orthodox, the non-Jewish, and so on), as well as a huge and elaborate setup for the event. Hundreds of chairs, towers with lights, and then a huge series of flowers in the process of being laid for the memory of Jews killed in each of the countries affected by the Holocaust; all this and more. The photographs speak well for themselves in this case.

After observing the events in the Memorial Square for quite some time, we made a fortuitous decision to go towards the Hall of Remembrance at the time we did. It is important to note that this year’s focus for Yom HaShoah was on those children killed during the Holocaust, and so the main event for the day focused on child survivors of the Holocaust. Each year, Yed VaShem hosts people reading the names of all 6,000,000 Jews killed in the Holocaust, which is a monumental endeavor indeed. This year, the readings took place in the Hall of Remembrance, but they opened them up with a haunting hymn sung by a youth choir.

A video of the performance of a youth choir to open the reading of all 6 million names of the Jewish people killed in the Holocaust:

After staying and hearing the moving testimony of child Holocaust survivors (although they spoke in emotionally-charged and -quickened Hebrew, I was able to follow that the one woman pictured below watched her grandmother, mother, and two siblings get shot to death in their home during a Nazi ‘Aktion’), we departed the Memorial and started towards the exit. Justine and I went to see one of the few parts of the grounds I missed last time; the underground Children’s Memorial. We went into the dark, dark area with the back-lit images of children who were killed and the names, ages, and countries of those killed being read in multiple languages. We walked past the area I reached last time, and into the main part of this specific memorial… an otherworldly, nearly pitch-black room filled with mirrors and extended upwards for a few meters. In the center of the room, there was a large series of ever-climbing rods with candles lit and burning atop them. Magnified by the mirrors, and with the background noise being the names, ages, and nationalities of children killed based on ethnicity was quite emotional overpowering, to be sure. I am very glad that I was able to experience it the second time I went, however.

We departed the grounds of Yed VaShem, having observed Yom HaShoah and laden with emotions and thoughts.

Photographs from Yad VaShem:

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