By Brent Bellamy, Creative Director and Architect
"Jerusalem from mt olives" by Wayne McLean (Jgritz) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jerusalem_from_mt_olives.jpg#/media/File:Jerusalem_from_mt_olives.jpg
After four airports, three connecting flights and countless hours staring at the ocean from above, I arrive in Jerusalem.
My taxi winds through unfamiliar streets until finally, I reach the stone steps leading to my new office. This was where I would be starting my first job after so many years in university. Exhausted from the travel, but buoyed by the adrenaline of new experience, I eagerly ask my co-workers what I should head out to see first. Standing in the shadow of the ancient fortifications in the most sacred city on earth, I expect the response to be the Wailing Wall, the Temple Mount or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Surprised, I am told without hesitation that I must first visit a museum called, Yad Vashem on the outskirts of the city.
With directions written in Hebrew, I venture out to find this place. I must look strange holding my map high in the air trying to match the unfamiliar squiggles scrawled across the page to the ones on street signs and buses. Finally, I find myself at the gates of what I think is just another museum.
I soon realize that this is not a building filled with dusty artefacts and shards of broken pottery. This place wants to tell me a story. It wants me to understand.
It is a holocaust museum.
I enter through a small underground cave protected by a large white stone. Stumbling in the dark as my eyes struggle to adjust from the desert sun, I hear a faint voice reading names - slowly - one by one. The voice gets louder. I turn a corner into a room filled with a million candles, flickering on the ceiling, the walls, the floor.
Surrounding me. Consuming me.
I realize each one represents a Jewish child who lost their life. Each one attached to a name being read.
I pause to rest, leaning on a cold steel handrail. As I gain my bearings the space comes into focus and I realize there are only five candles in the centre of a room filled with faceted mirrors, reflecting into infinity, the memory of those children.
I am overcome by a wave of emotions.
As I walk through the rest of the site, my feelings swing wildly from anger and sadness to relief and even happiness as I experience each chapter of the story being told. I become very aware of myself, contemplating my own story and wondering why I have had such fortune, such blessing. As I stack a few loose stones on the grave of Oscar Schindler, I pause under an olive tree and try to unravel my emotions, my thoughts.
"Suq Aftimos" by Rastaman3000 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Suq_Aftimos.JPG#/media/File:Suq_Aftimos.JPG
Riding the crowded bus back to the office, I again become immersed in the whirlwind of the modern city. I think to myself, why was this my first experience here? Why, with all the mysteries of this great city yet to be unravelled, was it so important that I hear this story first?
It was not until months later that I came to understand. I had made friends. I had gone to dinner with them. I prayed at the wall with them. I drank coffee with them. I danced with them. I laughed with them.
I sat on the curb with them - staring through streaming tears in disbelief at a pizza shop lying in ruin in front of us. It was our pizza shop. The one we had agreed to meet in after work on that day - as we did almost every day.
An hour before, a young man walked in and detonated a belt of explosives worn around his waist. The shop was destroyed. Those inside were killed.
People prayed. People cried. People cleaned. In an hour, the only evidence of what had happened was plywood covering the windows....and more candles.
Hundreds of candles. Flickering through the night. Lit to remember.
Through the sharing of this experience I could see what my friends see. In a small way, I could feel what they feel. It was then I understood why it was so important that the story at Yad Vashem be told, why it was so important that the story be understood. Knowing that story, allowed me to know them.