Our final day of touring during Israel Connect brought us back to Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av. Tisha B’Av is truly the hardest day – it is a fast day, but you are still permitted to work. Who thought up this amazing combination, I do not know. I don’t usually fast on Tisha B’Av – between the heat and going to work, it takes me a few days to “reset” and get my body back to normal. Even under the best of circumstances, I usually just minimize my meals but don’t fast; in Israel, with competition looming, that was certainly my game plan!
Our trip back to Jerusalem included stops at Har Herzl (which is Israel’s national cemetery) and Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. In the cemetery, there is a section for top dignitaries of the country but most of the space is used to give honor to Israel’s fallen soldiers. In the same area, you find soldiers of all ranks buried next to one another, recognizing that each life lost is a sacrifice.
Unfortunately, we had to move swiftly through Yad Vashem, but I always notice new things when I’m there. It’s the smaller points, the finer details; the exhibit, by and large, is the same, but they are always acquiring new material to educate and give honor (see, there is a theme here) to those who lost their lives but also those who made sacrifices to save the lives of countless Jews. I’m always moved, though, by the Children’s Memorial. It’s simple in concept – 5 candles and numerous mirrors designed to symbolize the children who perished and the descendants who never had the opportunity to experience life. I still remember walking through the first time, eyes closed, and then opening them inside to see this incredible sight and that moment comes rushing back to me each time I approach that memorial.
The day ended with a short reflection session and the Maccabi USA B’nai Mitzvah Ceremony at Kedma Gardens, followed by a seudah mitzvah (meal after a celebration). The ceremony was nice and meaningful to those who took part. To me, one of the great moments of the week took place during dinner (which, by the way, was in this fantastic banquet hall at the facility). A member of the Tae Kwon Do team had befriended two other athletes that hadn’t really found their place among their teammates, or any of the other athletes, for that matter. The details, notwithstanding, they looked for a table that all three could sit at but by the time we entered the banquet hall, the pickings were slim. Instead, we made room for them at our table, introduced ourselves, and had a very pleasant meal together. That is the Maccabi spirit – when we call ourselves a “family,” we really mean it.