The A-Z of Israel
On 22 January, Israelis will go to the polls. The world watches – but how much do we really know about the country that calls itself “the sole bastion of democracy” in the Middle East?
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Y is for Yad Vashem
On the slopes of Mount Herzl in Jerusalem stands Yad Vashem, the state of Israel’s “living memorial” to the victims of the Holocaust. Yad Vashem was founded in 1953 with the intention of establishing an “eternal remembrance” of the six million murdered Jews of Europe.
The memorial was the idea of Mordechai Shenhavi, a member of a kibbutz in northern Israel that was used as an army training camp by the British during the Second World War. It was Shenhavi who, in 1942, when the Final Solution was in full spate, suggested that it be called Yad Vashem. These Hebrew words come from the Book of Isaiah: “And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name [a yad vashem] . . . . an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”
When Yad Vashem was founded, the Holocaust did not have the centrality in Israel’s national conversation that it does today. On the contrary, the destruction of the European Jews was often passed over in silence. And when it was discussed, the “Sabras” – the “new Jews”, natives of Israel who saw themselves as a hardy and martial desert people – wondered why the Jews of the diaspora had allowed themselves to be led like “sheep” to the slaughter. That began to change with the trial of the Nazi functionary Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961. A new openness about the Holocaust was abroad in Israel, and Yad Vashem did much to foster it.