Just as the evening ceremony at Yad Vashem commemorating Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day (Yom Hazikaron Lashoah Ve'lagvurah in Hebrew) was done in an incredibly emotional and meaningful manner, the following day continued in this trend yet in a drastically different way in which I had expected following the moving experience the previous night. The events throughout the day provided a more intimate setting, allowing greater room for personal reflection as visitors and guests (including many survivors themselves) came to remember and memorialize both the individual lives of loved ones and the immense collective loss of entire communities whose absence is still heavily felt, honored and mourned until this day.
The day started with a wreath-laying ceremony, attended by survivors and their families as well as President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and visiting American Secretary of State John Kerry, that began following the sounding of a two-minute siren at 10:00. The siren serves as a reminder regarding the gravity of the day as we gathered together to remember the victims who suffered such extreme cruelty and memorialize the spirit of those who resisted. Despite the large number of people in attendance, for me personally there is nothing like the siren which has such a profound effect in creating a sense of complete aloneness, leaving oneself emotionally isolated and detached from others and thus allowing the most intimate reflection on such internal and sensitive thoughts concerning one of the darkest periods of human history.
Following the wreath-laying ceremony, members of the public were invited to recite the names of Holocaust victims in the Hall of Remembrance. This was an exceptionally moving scene as survivors and their descendants recited the names of their loved ones who were taken from them by such unwavering hate, standing firm as witnesses against the crimes which claimed so many victims whose names once recited instantly seemed to be made eternal. In addition to reading the names, many people included their own unique way of coping with such personal tragedy either by reciting kaddish (the Jewish prayer for the dead), telling a special story of the victim or community or even sharing the words from a poem or letter. Almost seven decades later, the pain and sense of loss is still so clearly visible, fresh and unrefined that it gives perspective to the magnitude of devastation during the Holocaust. As I began to internalize that each name being recited was an individual, directly connected to others who constitute our world, it became clear just how much our past, present and future are forever impacted by the lives lived and the terrible way in which they were lost.