Tellus

Tellus: (tel’us), n. 1. [Latin] earth, soil, and the land; a country; the world. 2. a collection of Willamette University student’s insights, stories, photos and thoughts from their experiences studying abroad.

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This photo was taken in Budapest, Hungary towards the beginning of my time abroad. This memorial, which consists of a row of old shoes with candles in them,  is considered one of the hidden treasures of Budapest because there is no plaque describing what it is or its purpose. The story behind it goes back to World War II. During the Nazi occupation of Hungary, Jews were confined to the ghetto of Budapest. One day, one of the officers decided it would be easier to run the ghetto if there were less of them. They were going to die anyways. So, the SS officers lined up many of the adult males from the ghetto along the edge of the water and shot them into the Danube. This memorial was created as a subtle, everyday reminder and memorial for all of the Jews that lost their lives on this day and every other day as well.

Living in Israel, the effects of the Holocaust could be seen in every day life, in how the religious act amongst themselves, how the secular see religion, and the trauma that can still be observed in Israeli relations with outgroups. The effects were salient and tangible. Everybody knew somebody that died either in the holocaust or in the defense of Israel. Knowing the lives that fought and died for the opportunities they have today, the act of remembering, has become a part of the identity of every Jew in Israel.

I experienced this through volunteering at the local home for Holocaust survivors. This center is one of the largest of its kind in Israel and the world. It provides a space to rent for housing, a space for religious ceremonies, activities, and meals. I spent my time talking with survivors and listening to the stories they felt comfortable  sharing.

This experience has been significant to my time abroad because it was one of several experiences that contributed to a greater understanding for my identity, what it means to be a Jew in the United States, and what it means to be a Jew in Israel. This journey is a continuous learning process that will lead me to different places and different conclusions as I grow.

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