Since returning from CCJ’s Yad Vashem study trip, I have often thought of a particular monument there: the Valley of the Communities, a 2.5 acre memorial dug out of the hillside, featuring the names of Jewish communities lost in the Holocaust. Warsaw, Lodz, Berlin, Kiev…the names of more than 500 communities are carved into the walls of the labyrinth-like site. The effect of the memorial is sombre, but also full of life; plants grow from the rock, and light plays across dust and stone. Here, the communities are not forgotten, but have a dignity, permanence, and beauty all their own. Wandering among the walls one feels the weight of great tragedy, of course, but not only that. Carved into the entrance of the community are words, in Hebrew, from Ps 78:6: ‘that a future generation might know – children yet to be born — and in turn tell their children’ (JPS translation). The artist, too, was inspired by the Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, the famous passage found in Ezekiel 37. In that vision, dead bones are knitted together and rise with new energy. While it recognises the immensity of the loss, the Valley of the Communities also hints that life has found a way, and is still continuing. The beauty of the memorial is a salve to the pain of history, and enables its own hope.
The wall that caught me short was the one marking the Jewish communities of Frankfurt, Germany lost in the Shoah. I spent a year in Frankfurt as a teenager and was back in the city in July. I was aware of the significance of the Jewish community there; Anne Frank, philosopher Theodor Adorno, and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm were all born there. But I wasn’t prepared to see the name of a city I love, and communities I knew, recorded in stone in this place. Studying the Shoah, we participants realised, strikes home in ways one doesn’t always expect.
I thought of my friends in Germany, especially my Jewish friends in Germany, when I heard the news of the events in Halle on Yom Kippur, just two days ago. I sent one or two messages on Facebook, and had a conversation on Skype. And I found myself thinking of the Valley of the Communities at Yad Vashem: its beauty and majesty. I hope that something of its peace, strength, and hope might be known this Shabbat and this weekend: in Halle, across Germany, and in your home, as well.
Revd. Dr Nathan Eddy