When the siren, sounding mournful, echoed through the Western Wall plaza, only the cats remained in motion running free. I was crossing towards the women’s section and had heard the chanting of a bar mitzvah boy, the laughter of children, and the pedantic tones of a plethora of tour guides before the siren.
This is my second Yom HaShoah since making aliyah in 2014. In the United States, I knew many survivors and was once married to a man born of two survivors at a time when each child coming into this world was a pathway to new life. If we counted each child’s birth (one, two, three…..) from the beginning, it would have been hard to predict the return from exile and thriving Jewish life in our own nation. There are now more than 6 million Jews living in Israel. We are home.
When the siren ceased, the plaza at the Kotel kicked into gear. Tour guides waving flags, children laughing, and the return to prayer. The bar mitzvah continued until you could hear the joyful singing of praise for the young man. The women of the family peered over the mechitza laughing and clapping.
It is said that many Jews on their way to death recited the Shema, just as we do before sleep. As I looked around the magnificence of Jewish life at the Kotel, I thought about the “what if,” the novelist and filmmaker’s trick of what if the dead could come back and see what is now.
What if they could see a Jewish nation, re-born after two-thousand years in exile in places where we were not wanted and were subjected to the same hate that created the forces of the Shoah?
What if they could see our playgrounds and schools, filled with Jewish children laughing and learning Torah?
What if they could hear the sound of young people singing and dancing at Kikar Tzion on a Thursday night, unabashedly and proudly Jewish?
What if they could see technology created to save and better lives being born in a Jewish nation in an effort to improve all of humanity, not just Jews?
What if they could walk the streets of Jerusalem and see people living fully Jewish lives, praying on buses, while walking, and observing Shabbat in all of its glory?
What if they could walk through the Jewish Quarter, as I did today, and see hundreds of young Jews from around the world visiting the only Jewish nation on the planet?
What if they could witness the arrival of thousands of new olim each year, coming home to a nation that was put on hold for 2000 years, disembarking from airplanes and kissing the ground? What if they could see that?
What if they could see the resurgence of hate in Europe and the United States, the same hate that led them to their deaths?
But then, what if they could see our military? Strong Jews, serving along with non-Jewish Israelis, able and committed to protecting this Jewish homeland with a force that had previously not been seen in history?
What if they could walk through Yad Vashem and know that they are not forgotten?
And what if, just what if, they could see a whole nation stop in silence to honor their memories as we did today?
I stood there, my teary eyes scanning the Kotel, and said the Shema after the siren ceased. The cats were scampering from under moving human feet; their unfettered movement now had barriers. We also went about our business, the business of day to day life in a strong Jewish nation that could have only been imagined by those hastily saying the Shema before their deaths.