Saturday, June 06, 2009

A Monument And A Name not let the eunuch say, "I am just a dry tree." For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name [yad vashem] better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
Isaiah 56:3b-5

I know it doesn't sound very Christian, but the most moving experience I had during my recent trip to Israel was not the visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, nor celebrating communion at the Garden Tomb.

Yad Vashem is Israel's "living memorial" to the Holocaust, containing an archive and research center as well as several monuments and the Holocaust History Museaum. The campus features beautiful archetecture, sculptures, and peacefull gardens with thousands of trees planted in memory of the Righteous Among the Nations (Gentiles who helped Jews during the Holocaust).

As I entered Yad Vashem memories of Holocaust sites slowed my steps--crowding onto a cattle-car at National Holocaust Memorial Museaum; treading grey dirt paths at Dachau, ashes of the dead; looking up at coffie can sized holes in the concrete 'shower' ceiling at Aushwitz; witnessing rooms filled with shoes, eyeglasses frames, and human hair. And still it seemed my consciousness could only bear a fraction of the evil that occurred. I descended toward the cave of the Children's Memorial and overheard a guide: "...Israelis have a saying: You can take the child out of the Holocaust, but you can't take the Holocaust out of the child..."

After the Mediteranian sun, the tunnel was pitch-black and then emptied a room filled with children. Their larger than life portraits sorounded me, and smiles filled the cavern. But the hall was deadly quiet, and the black and white pictures were placed not on a living room mantle but suspended in the midst of darkness. One of the kids reminded me of my son; it was time to move on.

The next hall was a starfield. the darkness interupted by stationary points of light, some larger, some smaller. I noticed that the closer lights were lamps, and the smaller lights were the same lamps reflecting off polished surfaces. The grotto contined an infinite matrix of flames.

Then I listened. A flat male voice was speaking at regular intervals. First a name, then an age, then a country. Repeat.

I was confronted with the scale of an evil filling every horizon of space and time. Each star represented an innocent child of Abraham snuffed out by a human powered killing machine. Each name, in this blackness deviod of all privious meaning attached to it, was a reminder that there would be another and then another, and after I left there would be thousands more.

At that point, I had to leave because the place was too overwhelming. The Children's Memorial was supposed to establish a monument and give a name to the innocent victims of the Holocaust, in reality it was a testament to the capacity of humanity to generate evil on a scale that surpasses our ability to reckon. Within those subterranian walls I had no memory of the children, only of the atrocity committed against them. We owe to the children's murderers even our ability to read their names, while the dead of other genocides remain anonymous.

But another thought had occurred to me as I contemplated the matrix of lights: This must be what it is like to see the memory of God. Each innocent life stored, suspended, resting, until the resurrection. Waiting for the moment when the God of justice will use his creative power to restore them to a perfect world where they can live out the life that was cut short, no longer in fear of suffering and death.

No human monument can do justice to the breadth of evil in this world nor its victims. No reading of names can bring back the life behind the name, nor transmit the person from one generation to another. Yad Vashem testified to me that humanity needs a Savior, a Savior big enough and yet close enough to embrace the whole of human suffering and redeem it to something better.

That was the most profound insight God gave me in Israel.