Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Finding a Way to Connect to History

Sometimes I forget how much the Jewish people have gone through, but touring through Israel, Jansport backpack, sunglasses, sweat and all, I have been forced to remember. I use the word “forced” because some of the history I have been presented with is not pleasant and does not sit well, yet I force it down with the knowledge that it is more painful to be ignorant.

Touring the City of David, the Old City, and the underground Kotel tunnels I am presented with years and years of history that I cannot comprehend nor find a way to relate to. I know that what I am seeing is my nation’s past and what we hope will be its future, yet I cannot make it click in my brain that it is thus. I am flooded with memories of eighth grade Jewish studies curriculum, holidays with the family, and history lessons, and I know that what I am seeing is a part of my identity, what I have always been taught, and what I know about myself. Yet I can’t stop thinking about the heat, my exhaustion, or the gift I want to get for my best friend back home. I am being presented with the opportunity of a lifetime, to connect to my cultural and religious roots but I cannot find a way to realize this, engage, and be awed by the years of history standing in front of me.

Often history is objective because it is told from the vantage point of the victor, yet when entering the Yad Veshem holocaust memorial I started to question whether we really ever won. The tour was overwhelmingly emotional and I could not help but break down and cry for the pain and suffering my people faced. I noticed that I was able to connect so easily to this piece of more recent history, and once again was stuck wondering why I could not comprehend and be moved by my people’s ancient history.

During the tour I asked our guide about the symbolism of the triangular shape to the building, his response gave me the chills, “That’s up for you to decide. The reason that we’re here today is because people tried to dictate what others thought and how they perceived things.” At the end of the tour I had several ideas running through my mind about the triangular shape but the one that stuck out the most was the thought I had when standing at the end of the building.  Looking backwards I had a clear view of the dark grey place that we had come from, turning around and looking forward I saw a beautiful lookout point brightly lit by the blazing middle eastern sun and overlooking the mountains and trees of our Jewish homeland, Israel. In that moment I was aware that even though I did not experience my nation’s past, it was still tangible to me, all I had to do was turn around and look. My immediate emotional connection to the Jewish people’s recent history and my inability to find the same for the ancient, all came together in that moment. The journey of the Jewish people is not far off or distant, because it trails me wherever I go; it lives within me, I just have to remember it’s there. I have to sometimes pull myself back from the bright future full of life that lies ahead of me and turn back to the grey journey my people have ventured upon. Remembering it’s there and what that means to me in terms of my past, present, and future is how years and years of ancient history can become tangible to me.

I forget how much the Jewish people have gone through but now I am able to relate to the pain and suffering, the joy and celebration we have experienced. Starting in the Old City and extending to me looking out onto the valley from the balcony of Yad Veshem, by realizing the historic journey lives in me, I have found a way to connect to the history of my people – to understand, to sympathize, and to learn from.

-Sarah Eylon

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