Sunday, February 28, 2010

Thoughts after visiting Yad Vashem

This afternoon, Anne, David (a new friend, on this pilgrimage with us), and I traveled to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum.

I was moved to tears by the cruelty that human beings can inflict on one another. At the opening of the museum, is a quote (I didn't have a pen, so I couldn't write down who said it, and I may not have the wording exact): Do not judge a nation by what it does, judge it by what it's people will tolerate.

Yad Vashem hits you again, and again with the cruelty that was inflicted on the Jewish people of Europe by their compatriots. Early on, I was struck (as I have been every time I've studied about The Holocaust) by how so many ordinary Europeans could watch what was happening and look away.

I was pretty stoic until I got to the stories of children and families. Children ripped from mothers' arms. Lovers separated, never to see one another again. I read about a mother who gave her children to neighbors before heading off to the camps. One woman left a note for her partner before committing suicide, rather than be deported to a camp. Tears were flowing as I walked from one panel to another.

As I walked, I remembered what it felt like to be marginalized and [figuratively] spat upon by members of the lesbian community, when I first came out as bisexual, in 1987. In that community, bisexuality was not well thought of. My question then: How can people who have experienced persecution themselves then turn around and persecute others?

I asked myself the same question today at Yad Vashem: How can a people who have experienced the kind of hatred that the Jewish people have experienced now perpetuate that hatred on the Palestinians?

Yesterday's crossing at a checkpoint from Bethlehem back into Israel, felt a bit like leaving a ghetto (in the old sense). Coming back tonight from Yad Vashem, our yellow cab driver (Israeli) was afraid to come into Arab East Jerusalem; the white cabs (Arab) are simply not allowed to cross the green line from Arab East Jerusalem into Jerusalem.

I know that there are many complicated issues here of land and history. And I certainly am not trying to denigrate the experiences of millions of Jews. But, having been in Bethlehem yesterday, the contrast was startling.

What do y'all think?

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