One of the most overwhelming experiences I’ve ever had in connection to the Jewish People was my visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. The entire exhibit is deeply moving as you walk from room to room tracing the events of the 1930s and 40s—seeing pictures of people who died in the death camps, standing before a pile of shoes (some high fashion, others shabby and worn out).
But for me, two exhibits stand out in my memory. One is the Valley of Destroyed Communities. Covering several acres, this out-door exhibit is a maze created by tall limestone walls 20 to 25 feet high. As you wander from one open air room to another you realize you are in a map of Europe, each room a different country—Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc. The walls are inscribed with the names of villages, towns, whole cities that were entirely wiped clean of any Jewish presence—5000 communities where no Jew was left alive by the Nazi regime! It is beyond imagination.
The second is a darkened room dedicated to the memory of one and a half million children who did not survive the Holocaust. As you enter the site through a dimly lit hallway, your eyes slowly adjust to the darkness as you view huge photos of individual children. When you move through a door at the end of the hall, you find yourself in a totally dark room. You feel your way around a path with hand railing and see in the center of the room six candles staggered on a glass column. The walls, ceiling and floor are covered with mirrors that reflect not only the six candles in the center of the room, but the images of the mirrors opposite them. The illusion is millions of candle lights surrounding you out into infinity in every direction. In the background different voices, one after another, recites the name, age and country of origin of the children who were killed in the death camps. The memory still haunts me today, over 20 years since I first saw this exhibit.
But as powerful as those two experiences were, the thing that moves me to pray is putting a face on Israel. It is not enough to think about the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. That is impersonal. What really makes it real to me is to meet and become friends with Jewish people in my city. As I have befriended some of them, it has made my prayers take on new life. Yes, I do pray for the peace of Jerusalem. I do pray for Israel and its leaders. I pray the nation of Israel will be protected. But when I pray for my neighbor here in my city, it takes on a whole new meaning. I pray they will experience the love of God and the gift of His Grace that leads to righteousness and eternal life. Join me?