DL Israel #12: A Hurting Heart On Birthright

I never knew a heart could hurt.

I’ve heard it said, often, but never felt it myself. My heart hurt today at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.

I had studied the Holocaust in school, of course, but there was so much I did not know. There were so many details that I learned today for the first time. They were details that made the situation uglier, that made it hurt that much more, especially after nurturing my newfound connection to Israel and its people.

But more than hurt, I think the museum brought me hope.

There is always light in this world. Sometimes it is obscured by the darkness, but the dawn always comes. All things pass. The light shines through.

Time and time again, our guide balanced the horrific—truly, horrific—stories of mass executions and dirty details with stories of hope. I cried. But my tears were tears of a soul touched by the selfless actions of human beings.

While doctors consulted each other on the most “humane” way for the Nazis to execute Jews, it was the thieves that were housing Jews in the sewer system. (One in particular risked his life for thirteen months gathering food and medicine for three people he did not know.) It was the people like Oskar Schindler, who saved more than 1,000 Jews by putting them on his list of essential employees. It was the people that put their kids on trains to England with a few toys and no explanation in order to save their lives. Their children hated them. They never saw them again. They thought they were being abandoned. But it takes a truly loving parent to save a child’s life while likely throwing his or her own life away.

Why save one life? More than six million people died in the Holocaust. What is one but a drop in the bucket? Because one life means more than one life in the end. Had that child not been placed on the train to the UK, that child’s children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren would not exist. And what are we but the fusion of seven billion “one life”s?

Yes, the Holocaust Museum gave me hope. It inspired me. It showed me the value of a human life.

Just yesterday we were asked to a bone marrow registry, and potentially donate bone marrow. We didn’t have to sign up. But to save a human’s life is more than that human’s life. It’s the web of lives that crisscross that life. It’s the lives affected by that life. If I can save someone by doing something so easy, I would have done what I want to do in this life: leave the world better than I found it. Change someone’s life. Or in this case, save it.

The Israeli Defense Force didn’t have to trade 1,100 Palestinian terrorists and criminals for one Israeli hostage. But again, there are ripples that extend from saving one human life. The country’s faith is restored. Every Israeli soldier knows that just like Gilad Shalit the country will do anything to bring him or her home.

The fog blew out the background outside as we neared the end of our exhibit, washing out the details beyond the door. It was the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s what it felt like. The edges of the triangular path grew fuzzy as the light shone through.

The group stepped out into the light. Our hell was over. Once again, there was no genocide. There was no persecution. At least not in our world. I stayed behind though and signed the guestbook. My name and hometown. The date I visited. And a phrase: Humanity is good. There will be light.

Even in the darkest of times with their own lives at risk, heroes existed. Good trumps evil. The darkness only stays the nighttime.

We must remember the atrocities, sure. We must never forget. We must learn from the past. But it is equally as important to remember the good.

The sun always rises, as long as there are people there to help it rise. And we owe it to the heroes before us to do for the future what they have done for us.

My heart hurt once again stepping through the door—but now touched by goodness and swelling with pride.

I hope it hurts for a long time.

-Lorne Fultonberg

About the Author
The Dateline Israel blog is written by participants in "Newsroom to Newsroom," a trip sponsored by Taglit-Birthright Israel: MAYANOT and geared for practitioners and students of journalism. They'll be blogging it like they see it throughout their tour, which lasts until January 10.