By Alex Berger
I am a member of the Jewish War Veterans and, along with other non-Jewish war veterans, was invited by Israel to visit to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Israeli Defense Force and symbolically salute all American war veterans for defeating the Nazis. I discussed the offer with Gloria, who began packing even before I had finished asking.
My JWV group, retirees of the military and 38 in number, was comprised of commissioned officers, enlisted men, a retired military minister and three soldiers from WWII. Many brought their wives and one WWII vet took his 18-year-old grandson who studied the Holocaust.
The dedication of the IDF’s 50th anniversary was spectacular. It was held in a large indoor arena before thousands of cheering Israelis and guests. Prominent Israeli leaders, past and present, spoke and, in conclusion, we American veterans were asked to stand up amid cheers and applause.
The hosts then escorted us into a large, private room and an Israeli decorated war hero, Gen. Barak Levy, presented the WWII veterans with commemorative medals, individually pinned on by the general, while the rest of us received military pins as many Israeli dignitaries watched. It was an appreciative way for the Israelis to express their gratitude to America.
Now on to our tour of Israel. For eight days we traveled all over Israel and at every stop I wrote about each specific attraction in anticipation of writing a full column about it. But upon my return home, I reviewed my notes, scratched my head and encountered difficulty choosing one.
Which site should be the one: Caesarea Archeological National Park, where Herod the Great built a great amphitheater 2000 years ago; the modern city of Tel Aviv and its Sabbath folk dancing on its boardwalk; Jaffa, the ancient city by the sea; Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee and the other roots of Christianity; Islam’s holiest mosques; the Dead Sea, 422 meters below sea level where Gloria and I tippy-toed in, completely muddying our bodies; Masada, the majestic fortress where, according to legend, a community of Jews living atop the mountain committed suicide rather than surrender to the Roman army that had surrounded them; or the Yitzhak Rabin Center and the spot where the late prime minister was assassinated Nov. 4, 1995?
Or perhaps the Carmel Market to see how Israelis buy their last-minute fruits and vegetables just before the Sabbath; Kibbutz Degania Aleph, the first kibbutz, which was established 100 years ago; Ammunition Hill, where Jewish settlers, living under the strict rule of the British before Israel’s independence, and under the noses of the British soldiers, secretively manufactured hundreds of bullets in makeshift machines with smuggled-in ingredients? It helped saved the country when the armies from Egypt, Syria and Jordan attacked the new nation in 1948.
All the above are worthy of columns, as well as others not mentioned. But I chose three others that had the greatest impact upon me:
1. The Western Wall, a remnant of the ancient Holy Temple, where hundreds of visitors daily pay homage and insert personal messages into its ancient crevices. I did and wished for world peace.
2. The Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem (“Mount of Remembrance”), housing a detailed and veritable depiction of the brutal murder of 6 million Jews during WWII. Its stirring revelations using video, audio, photographs, abandoned clothing of the deceased and other artifacts documenting the atrocities committed by the Nazis is certain to burn one’s psyche. Upon exiting, our chaplain, a German American, crumbled to the ground, sobbed uncontrollably and pounded his fist into the ground. It took an hour for him to recover. Let all Holocaust naysayers visit this museum.
3. Jerusalem, the revered City of David which reflects the meeting of past and present. Its historic sites and holy places, its hilly topography and colorful, multi-ethnic population create a magnetic tapestry attracting all its visitors. Jerusalem has captivated the heart and soul of people for centuries. Today, its name is uttered by hundreds of millions of people throughout the world. Indeed, the three monotheistic religions regard the city as a sacred and important place. If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand wither. Very inspiring.
Gloria, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
Contact Alex Berger at firstname.lastname@example.org.