History · Israel · Judaism

Yom HaShoah – the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day

BETWEEN ISRAEL… (by Marilyn)

On Monday, Israel observed a national memorial day: the ‘Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day’ or as we call it ‘Yom HaShoah’. It is an annual day of commemoration for the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany (1939-1945).

Yom HaShoah starts at sundown. You start feeling the heavy silence weighing in. Radios play sad songs, tv stations only broadcasts World War II related films/documentaries, restaurants and bars are closed by law. There are official ceremonies like the central one in ‘Warsaw Ghetto Square’ at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Authority in Jerusalem. During the ceremony the national flag is lowered to half mast, the President and the Prime Minister both deliver speeches, Holocaust survivors and their descendants light six torches symbolizing the six million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust and the Chief Rabbis recite prayers. There are more ceremonies and services are held at schools, military bases and by other public and community organizations. 

At 10:00 am on Yom HaShoah, sirens are sounded throughout Israel for two minutes. During this time, people stop whatever it is they’re doing and stand still; vehicles stop, even on the highways, and the whole country comes to a standstill as people pay silent tribute to the dead.

Israeli police officers stand still as a two-minute siren is sounded before a ceremony at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem(c) Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu lays a wreath during a ceremony at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem

(c) Reuters

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People stand still on a street as a siren marking Holocaust Remembrance Day is sounded in Jerusalem(c) Reuters

I guess we each have our own individual way of mourning the deaths of our ancestors, family members and re-thinking the almost unbelievable stories from survivors. Most of the Jewish people around the world have grown up with the Holocaust being very present, sometimes loudly sometimes silently. It’s sad that even today people get away with denying it and that there is such a thing called neo-Nazis. Adolf Hitler had a plan he called the final solution -the endlösung- to decimate the entire Jewish people. During Yom HaShoah in Israel you realize: we are still here. The Holocaust is part of us, of our (hi)story and each time we try to imagine what it was like, we just can’t believe it nor contain it. Those black and white images of starving people, concentration camps and gas chambers. We are shocked time and time again. How could this happen? How could the world let it happen? Many have tried to understand, to explain and to analyze. In times like today when the world is plunged in hatred and anti-semitism is never far away, we must open our eyes and see what is going on. We must remember. Never again.

… AND BELGIUM (by Josephine)

As most of the European countries, Belgium also has an infamous Holocaust past. Between August 4 1942 and July 31 1944, 28 trains left the Belgian transit prison Kazerne Dossin in Mechelen. Over 25,000 Jews and Romas were deported, most of whom arrived at the extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Only 5% survived. Today, the Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights tells their story and most of all, keeps their memory alive.

DOSSIN

A giant wall filled with about 20.000 faces of men and women, young and old alike, staring back at me. It’s an uneasy sight: people who had a life still to live, or had lived their life already. Some of them happy, some of them weary. These could be the faces of our grandparents, our children, our friends and neighbors. These are the faces of the people who were deported from the detention camp Dossin in Mechelen, Belgium. Colored pictures for those who returned, grey for those who did not. The Dossin Kazerne is first of all a place of remembrance, “a material witness to a Belgian war story” as professor and curator Herman Van Goethem describes it. On initiative of a number of Jewish survivors, among them the late Sir Nathan Ramet, the transit camp Kazerne Dossin was turned into the Jewish Museum for Deportation and Resistance, to remind us of its infamous period. Since 2012, the Kazerne Dossin houses the Documentation Centre and a memorial to those who lost their lives. The permanent historical exhibition is now housed in a brand new building, designed by architect Bob Van Reeth, opposite the Kazerne Dossin. The new building is rich in symbolism: the windows for instance, are covered with more than 25.000 bricks, representing the number of deportees.

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The permanent exhibition is divided in four parts. My guide, Patsi Ambach-Dewilde, unfolded the history and the ill fate of the Belgian Jews floor by floor. The first three floors cover photographs, documents and testimonies to illustrate the life of Jews (and gypsies) in Belgium before the war, the increasing discrimination and exclusion and the organized destruction of Jews and gypsies in the camps during the war. These 3 floors give a perspective on what the Holocaust meant to Belgians and Belgian Jews alike. The stories make you feel angry and sad, confused and even vulnerable: how can this have happened? But the Museum does not stop here. It also brings up the topic of rehabilitation, coming to terms with the past and Human Rights in general.  I learned that after the liberation, there was no place for Jewish suffering. Survivors simply did not talk about their grief, let alone discuss the things they witnessed and what had happened to them in the camps. They simply had to learn how to live with it. But the most interesting debate this Museum tries to stimulate is this of the Holocaust and Human Rights. By explicitly incorporating human rights not only in the name of the Museum, but also as a general topic, it broadens the context of the Shoah. Not only Anti-Semitism, but intolerance in general are always with us. Attempting to place the Shoah beyond itself by addressing values such as tolerance, respect and responsibility is also one of the keystones of the new Museum, which will leave its visitors with only one idea about the Holocaust: “Never again.”DSC_8465

 

Watch a video about the Museum on Holocaust and Human Rights, Kazerne Dossin by Fans of Flanders with Patsi Ambach-Dewilde here.

A very big thank you to Patsi for her beautiful tour (seriously guys, if you want a guide for this Museum: ask for her https://www.kazernedossin.eu/EN)

Dedicated to Nathan Ramet, Regina & Adolf Predinger-Wechsler, and the millions of people who lost their life due to racism, hatred, discrimination and genocide everywhere and anywhere. May they never be forgotten.

L.Cohen song The Partisan about The Resistance

History · Israel · Judaism · Uncategorized

Chag Sameach & Happy Passover

The Jewish people celebrate Pessach (Passover) to commemorate the story of the Exodus, their liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt and their birth as a nation under the leadership of Moses. According to the Bible, God helped the Children of Israel escape slavery by inflicting ten plagues upon the ancient Egyptians: the Plague of blood, frogs, lice, flies, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts*, darkness and the death of the firstborn. (*I’m not superstitious but Egypt and Israel had a big plague of locusts just last week, weird) The Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb so that God knew to pass over these homes and spare them from the curses, hence the name of the holiday. It is said that when the Pharaoh freed the Israelites, they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread dough to rise (leaven). Therefore, during the eight days of Passover, no leavened bread is supposed to be eaten, only Matzah.

The rituals unique to the Passover celebrations commence with the Passover Seder. In our family tradition we celebrate the seder with never less than 25 people, gathering over a big meal and some adapted Haggadah reading and singing. In Tel Aviv the Holiday is both observed and ignored, as usual in paradoxical Tel Aviv. On a daily level this mainly means that locals are going away on vacation, tourists are taking over the city, inaugurating beach season and that way too many youngsters from out of town (B&T) come in to party. I like some of those annual traditions; the family Seder, remembering school memories and childhood traditions; where was I last year, what has changed since. It’s always a good occasion for some in(tro)spection. Passover also symbolizes the celebration of freedom. Inner freedom means personal happiness. We don’t have control on most things in life, but the part we do have in our hands, is the liberation from our own barriers, monsters, defenses, roles, patterns and expectations. Being free means being you, the true you.

2013-03-251IMG_10682013-03-25IMG_11152013-03-252All photos taken with my Canon EOS M

History · Israel · Tel Aviv

Jaffa, the port(al) to history.

Ever enjoyed a Jaffa orange? Its excellent and sweet taste is known throughout the world. However, not a lot of people know that the oranges are exported from a city with a richer history than the content of Madonna’s bank account. Even fewer people know that partnerships in growing and exporting these oranges are an example of Arab-Jewish cooperation despite the political tensions. All politics aside, Jaffa’s history left me feeling like i just came out of an unknown bed in which i had a great time: confused and excited.

Jaffa - view from north

According to legend, Japhet (the son of Noah – the patriarch who saves himself, his family and all the world’s animals when God decides to destroy the world because of mankind’s evil deeds), founded Jaffa (Yafo in Hebrew). Jaffa has seen rulers from all corners of the world. From archeological discoveries and ancient documents, historians learned that Jaffa existed as a port city some 4.000 years ago. During that time it provided Egyptian and Phoenician sailors. From biblical accounts that mention the trade of cedars from Lebanon for construction of King Solomon’s Temple, to the story of Jonah and the whale, over Greek legends of the beautiful Andromeda and Perseus and the Biblical visions of Apostle Peter, the history of Jaffa seems like a never-ending story. Alexander the Great, Roman legions, Richard the Lion Heart, Muslim sultan Saladin, Napoleon and General Allenby all conquered the city. The port of Jaffa played a huge role in medieval pilgrimage to Jerusalem and in the increased Jewish immigration in the 19th and 20th century. In short: throughout time, people were very attracted to this economic, religious and vibrant place.

By the beginning of the 20th century the population in Jaffa had grown considerably. A group of Jews left Jaffa for the sand dunes to the north and started a settlement outside the congested city. This settlement, known first as Ahuzat Bayit (lit. “Homestead”), grew to be the city of Tel Aviv. The increased immigration also led to tensions between the Ottoman empire and the new arriving population. In the midst of the First World War, believing their military security to be at risk, the Ottoman authorities deported the entire civilian population from Jaffa and Tel Aviv. The Jews were to be resettled in Egypt, Jerusalem and cities in central and north Palestine. They were not allowed to return until after the British conquest of Palestine.

After the British took control of the area, tensions between the Jewish and Arab populations of the city start to become more frequent. This led to a wave of attacks: the Jaffa riots in 1921 (leaving many Jewish residents to flee and resettle in Tel Aviv), the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine (inflicting great economic and infrastructural damage on Jaffa) and the 1947-1948 attacks (following the 1947 UN Partition Plan). Because of these attacks, thousands of people fled from Jaffa, leaving nothing behind but cats and dogs. Poverty threatened the continuation of Jaffa as a thriving city. In 1968, the Government of Israel and the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality decided to establish a corporation for the Development of Old Jaffa. It’s primary task was to avert the total destruction of Old Jaffa’s glorious past.

(c) Sien Josephine (c) Sien Josephine (c) Sien Josephine

(c) Sien Josephine

Old Jaffa has since become one of Israel’s biggest tourist attractions. The city now consists of Jews, Christians and Muslims. Its narrow alleys are lined with artists’ quarters, art galleries and shops filled with jewelry, archeology (whether real or false is to be contested) and of course, oranges. The sight of the ancient port and the rocks, set against the back drop of the modern city of Tel Aviv, the romantic paths and gardens in Old Jaffa and blue Mediterranean waves nearby, excite all senses. Today the city of Jaffa is more vibrant and cultural than ever, with terms like avant-garde and bohemian chic written all over its streets. It is a home to contemporary theater and art, tons of restaurants, antique stores, souvenir shops and of course the famous flea market. All this resting on Jaffa’s historical heritage which will never disappear.

(c) Sien Josephine (c) Sien Josephine (c) Sien Josephine

UP: All things for the home at One Bedroom יהודה מרגוזה ,12,68136 Tel Aviv-Yafo.(c) Sien Josephine (c) Sien Josephine (c) Sien Josephine (c) Sien Josephine (c) Sien Josephine (c) Sien Josephine (c) Sien Josephine (c) Sien Josephine (c) Sien Josephine

History · Israel · Judaism

Jerusalem of Gold

The Italians say: “Vedi Napoli e (poi) muore” or:  when you’ve seen the magnificence of Naples you’ve seen everything, and it’s safe to die. Italians obviously have never been to the Old City of Jerusalem. Being one of the oldest cities of the world, Jerusalem is marked by religion and conflict. During its long history, it has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Jerusalem is also a holy city to the three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The spiritual power of this city is omnipresent. It’s hard not to feel even the littlest emotion stir inside you when you touch the stones of the Western Wall, when you enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or when you see the sun touching the golden Dome of the Rock. Jerusalem has been on my “things i absolutely want to see in my life”-list ever since i was a kid. We entered the Old City through the Jaffa Gate (inaugurated in 1538!). This gate is named after the port of Jaffa, from which the Prophet Jonah (the guy who got swallowed by a whale) embarked on his sea journey and pilgrims debarked on their trip to the Holy City. For us it was simply because Highway 1, the connection between Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Jerusalem, leads to this entrance. Our “pilgrimage by car” took about an hour an ended in a modern garage. I am very thankful to live in the 21st century and not having to do the whole Jaffa-Jerusalem road by foot, cause when you enter the Old City it’s all little cobbled roads and rocky steps. Not to forget about all the people crawling like little ants in between hundreds of food stands and small souvenir shops selling crosses, menorahs and djellabas. Obviously business is not divided by religion here. If you visit Jerusalem be sure to wear comfortable shoes and be well-rested, for it is a workout if i have ever seen one.

Jaffa_Gate_and_Tower_of_David

(c) sien josephine

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(c) sien josephine DSC_3687 (c) sien josephine (c) sien josephineThe Old city is divided into 4 quarters: the Muslim, the Christian, the Armenian and the Jewish quarter. Because there is a lot to see in the Old city of Jerusalem and we only had a few hours before the start of Shabbat we concentrated on two places of visit. The Christian quarter contains the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (or the Church of the Resurrection). It is said that on this place Jesus was crucified (Golgotha), buried (the Sepulcher) and even resurrected. The Sepulcher can be reached through countless other little churches, all connected to one another by narrow hallways. Without our Israeli friends guiding us through the city we probably would still wander around in this maze of holy stones, scented by heavy incense.

(c) sien josephine

(c) sien josephineUp: the Stone of Anointing, which tradition claims to be the spot where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial by Joseph of Arimathea.DSC_3675 (c) sien josephine (c) sien josephine (c) sien josephine

In the Jewish quarter lies the Western Wall or Kotel.  The wall is a remnant of the ancient Temple wall. The Jewish quarter has had a rich history, with a nearly continual Jewish presence since the eighth century BC. The Wall has been subject of many conflicts. According to the legend anyone who prays in the Temple in Jerusalem, “it is as if he has prayed before the throne of glory because the gate of heaven is situated there and it is open to hear prayer”. A lot of people come to the Western Wall to pray and wail (therefore the wall is also known by its other name: the Wailing Wall). There is also a practice of placing slips of paper containing written prayers to God into the cracks of the Wall. Fun fact: the Rabbi of the Western Wall receives hundreds of letters every year addressed to “God, Jerusalem“. He folds these letters and places them in the Wall. Twice a year the Rabbi collects the notes left in the Wall and buries them in the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.

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There’s a famous Jewish song called “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (“Jerusalem of gold”). The song was written by Naomi Shemer in 1967 and originally described the Jewish people’s 2000-year longing to return to Jerusalem. A final verse was added after the Six-Day War to celebrate Jerusalem’s re-unification, after 19 years of Jordanian occupation. I believe the saying “Jerusalem of Gold” has a wider meaning, that expands to all religions and nationalities who are touched by the presence of this historical and holy place. It’s a place of emotional, monetary and religious richness. Of gold in every meaning of the word. It’s what people have fought over for thousands of years and are still fighting for. This is a place that has conquered my heart and i hope to return to its splendor and greatness lots of times.

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