I was still confused as to which way I had to go and wondered where I was in the first place.
I walked down the grey alley looking for the entrance. The cold outside and my curiosity made me very restless. I looked at what I thought was the outer wall of the bookstore, but suddenly, I was facing a concrete wall engraved with names upon names. Jewish names. They went on and on. I raised my gaze further and found myself facing huge concrete wall built from carvings of Stars of David one on top of the other. My curiosity grew more acute, but I had not the foggiest notion what I had chanced upon. I felt emotionally moved and tried to capture the moment. I continued walking until the end of the alley, when I encountered several men in suits, carrying weapons. As an Israeli, I’m used to the sight of security guards with suspicious expressions. And here I was, at the entrance of the ParisHolocaustMuseum. All I had wanted to do was go into the bookstore.
I asked the security guards where I could go in from. Of course, they conducted a thorough security inspection, much like what you undergo in the airport. When that happens, I know that I’m in familiar territory. In the end I found myself standing in the entrance courtyard of the museum. Hanging in front of me is a huge Star of David.
I entered, and it was like walking into the hut in the middle of the forest. It was impossible not to feel the essence of the place the minute I walked in. It’s impossible not to feel your legs go weak in light of the scenes you encounter, that took me on a wondrous journey about the world, humanity and of course, the Jewish people
It seemed only natural for me to pull my kippah out of my coat pocket. It had been laying there for some time, perhaps waiting for the right moment. Silently I walked through the rooms and the exhibit halls that contained photos, letters, clothes, and yellow stars. There was a room with libraries of birth certificates, written by hand, and video rooms whose testimonies leave the horrors deeply embedded in the conscience. So that we may never forget.
I spent two hours wandering through the museum, without uttering a single word aside for a greeting at the entrance and a goodbye at the exit. I folded my kippah back into its place and emerged into the cold and the thoughts that had been flitting through my mind before I’d come in. But now they were stronger. They were flashing like a bright light, on and off in my mind’s eye. I walked, feeling restless.
The thoughts didn’t leave me. They caused me to take the kippah back out of my coat pocket and don it on the main avenue. I would do what Jonathan and the Jewish community members so wanted to do, but didn’t allow themselves. It wasn’t an act of heroism, and perhaps was foolish, but sometimes, we get this gut feeling that makes us do things that seem illogical or unexplainable, and it does not let us be until we capture that feeling. This was one of those moments.
I donned the kippah. At first, I walked a bit hunched, as though there was a stone on my head. I felt like I was carrying a boulder in my heart. I walked from a sparsely populated area on the banks of the Seine on a dark evening to the busy Hotel De Ville street.
Moreover, when I went down to the Metro to travel back to the northern part of the city I was still wearing my kippah. There were bigger crowds here, and I was more nervous, less confident about this matter that was far deeper than this story. But the feeling of unease accompanied me the whole way. The crush of people caused me to look more to the sides, to be alert, at the ready.
Not far from me in the train carriage was a young man from the Chabad community. He wore a hat on his head, a black suit and tzitzit hanging out. In the crowds, our eyes met. The kippah that was weighing down my head and burdening my heart was the link with a Jew that I do not know, and we got into a warm, short conversation in the frigid cold I felt at the time.
In my travels around the world in pursuit of a Jewish identity, there is something that will never change, irrespective of what country I am in. The connection of Jews one to the other underscores the meaning of “All Jews are responsible one for another.” It puts us all into a sort of framework.
And what is freedom? To be who you are and to know how to accept the other without differentiating between race, religion or gender. Between the Exodus from Egypt and World War Two, and the endless hatred, what was important and caused Jews to endure despite it all was being responsible for one another.
Wherever we may go, and whatever we do, Jews will always carry in their hearts the Star of David that connects us to our brethren. The symbols, the holidays, Shabbat, our history, and most of all, our hearts that go out to those who are like us, wherever it will be.