Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"...I will continue to remember him": A Visit to Mount Herzl National Cemetery

Even though I have alluded to my strong reaction at Mount Herzl in an earlier post, a stroll down memory lane (otherwise known as iPhoto) while finishing a few TripAdvisor reviews brought me right back to that location, emotions an all.  For that, I decided it deserved something more than a photo and a simple thought.

So, here for you, is a complete review:

I knew my first trip to Israel was going to be salty.  The waters of the Mighty Mediterranean of course have that briny bite, and a steamy low 70 at night means plenty of sweltering sweaty days.  However, nearly two weeks into my inaugural  “trip of a lifetime,” my trial aliyah, I expected more tears; with the exception of a few weepy moments upon decent at the Ben Gurion Airport and my first visit to the sea, my eyes had remained relatively dry.

That was until I visited Theodore Herzl.

The view of Yad Vashem from Mt. Herzl
It was on my second and final day in Jerusalem when I visited both the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and Mount Herzl National Cemetery. After three indescribable hours at Yad Vashem, I approached a set of steps that walked through the history of the creation of the State of Israel, from conception to declaration.  This travel through time escorts any visitor into a dense forest, rich with pines and other foliage that cast several shades of green into the ground; these flashes of chlorophyll provided ample shade along the for this weary traveler to took Jerusalem by foot (with the occasional light rail ride).   

I was completely in awe by the all-inclusive nature of Mount Herzl. There is not a sacrificed soul unwelcomed into these hallowed grounds on the Jerusalem hillside.  When following the trail that traces around this national site, numerous memorials and plots serve as “milestones on the journey to national revival,” as stated by the brochure available upon entrance.  From the post-Shoah Monument to the Last of Kin to the memorial of victims of hostilities and terror activities to the numerous military memorials that fall in between, there is not a loss that is not honored, not one casualty unaccounted for.

A photo from my Second Annual "Trip of a Lifetime" visit.
While circling these varied and valued memorials, the visitor trail places the tourist amongst the elevated plots of the Israel Defense Force members that have fallen, slightly lifting them back up in their limestone spaces.  These courageous  men and women are tucked into eternity by a blanket of well-tended shrubs, each with a little lantern set beside them, as if it were a night light for safekeeping. Row after row they rest virtually identically, only differentiated by their names, dates of births, and ages of death.

The twenty-sixth point along the path, however, is where my heart stopped. At first it was my whole body that paused at a few benches around a tree for a water break; when I looked up from my waterbottle, I had the hardest time swallowing my swig. Across from me was the final resting spot of the man that started the movement for this country that physically made me move onto my first Delta 747, which in turn had emotionally moved me for the first time in my soul’s home. 
The Final Resting Place of Benjamin Ze'ev (Theodore) Herzl

The expanse between the landscaping and Herzl is a chasm.  The tan tiles that cover the area between the visitor and Herzl reflects how he must have felt while in Austria, separated by soil and sea from the land he worked so hard to secure.  How fitting, however, how his delayed return to the precious soil has him eternally surveying the land he loved from a distance.  The writing of “The Jewish State,” the work in Basel at the Zionist Congress, the boat ride to Palestine, all for this--his visionary idea of a Jewish Homeland.

With a square-shaped white-gray rock in hand, I set out across the neutral space towards the block of black, engraved with the golden name of its inhabitant. A gentle breeze blew towards me as I walked, fluttering my maxi dress behind me, and the Israeli flag before me. I placed my stone, said my words of remembrance as well as my words of thanks.  I took a few pictures, took a few moments, and then took off towards the Malha Train Station that took me back to Tel Aviv. 
There was perfect wind for a flag shot.
And now that I have visited the land and the man behind it, I cannot imagine a life without it. Or him. When the 20th of Tammuz turns around every year, and I celebrate my Jewish life by rereading my Torah portion, it is not without thoughts of Herzl, who 109 lunisolar years to the day, at the age of 44, died of a heart condition in Austria.  Some have made a  poetic prediction that it was a broken heart for Eretz Israel; as the story goes, he commented a day before his demise that “I gave my heart’s blood for my people.” As one of his people, I am forever grateful, and hopeful of what is to come.