On the road to Jerusalem, a first-hand account

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:50

    I am riding in a bus through Israel with 34 other Jewish teens, headed toward Jerusalem. The clock reads 23:05 in bright red numbers, illuminating the front of the bus. Guy, our medic and security guard, sits in the front seat. An unloaded rifle is slung over his shoulder. All around me, my peers are gazing out the windows at their homeland passing by outside. Signs for stores and restaurants read in Hebrew, a language which is so ancient yet so familiar to me. This my first day in Israel. My journey began in Prague, Czech Republic, a city so old I could feel its history as I traveled down the stone streets. The walls of each building and an old synagogue whispered stories and legends of the Jewish culture and life that was once thriving in the time before the Holocaust. The next step in my journey to Israel was a day spent in Terezin, a Nazi concentration in the Czech Republican. Terezin is a unique concentration camp. The facility was fashioned with a previously standing Czech fortress. The town within Terezin is still inhabited by people who had deserted it during the Holocaust. It was strange to see people living in a place that was used in the attempted destruction of my ancestors. The immense crematorium still stands in Terezin amid a field of mass graves. Within its walls, the stale stench of smoke lingers as a reminder of the bodies that were burned in the cold black furnaces that line the floor. Candles burn among the beastly machines as a memorial to those whose bodies were incinerated. A blue-tiled room connects to the crematorium. Long tables, scratched and worn, lie in the center of the room, stained by human blood. Shivers ran down my spine as I entered this autopsy room and I gazed at the metal instruments on the opposite wall. The experience at Terezin left me speechless. Although I had learned extensively about the Holocaust, there was such power in standing on the land where Hitler's will was carried out. Most people who survived Terezin were sent to Auschwitz to be disposed of. Those few who were lucky enough to escape had no homes, so they embarked on a journey to Israel. In honor of their history, I flew to Cyprus and boarded a ship to Israel. After two days at sea, Israel emerged through the fog in the distance. As Israel came into view, I was flooded with emotion. The beauty of the country was apparent as soon as I laid eyes on it. The rocky hills stretched out, as if the land was welcoming me into its arms. Stepping off the boat and finally into Israel, I was met by Israel dancers and music. I felt joy. I felt safe and at home. The journey of my ancestors has finished with my arrival in Israel, but my own journey has just begun. Shalom.