Maintaining the trees planted in their honor
In 1953 the Knesset (Israeli parliament) passed the Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance (Yad Vashem) Law, which gives particular emphasis «to commemorate the high-minded Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews». Special legislation recognizes these courageous heroes as Righteous Among the Nations. Yad Vashem has the honor and privilege of being the only body in the world, which gives official recognition to those who saved Jewish lives. To date, the committee has awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations close to 22,000 people from over 30 countries.
The term “Righteous Among the Nations,” which is first mentioned in rabbinical literature, has acquired various meanings over the ages, including that of a non-Jew who acted according to the norms of ethical behavior and treated Jews with consideration. The personal stories of the Righteous Among the Nations are of the highest moral and inspirational value to Jews and non-Jews alike. These true histories demonstrate that even in times of war and the most repressive tyranny, men and women retain the inborn right and ability to act upon moral precepts.
Trees Dedicated to the Righteous Among the Nations
In 1962 Yad Vashem commenced on its world-renowned endeavor to plant trees in honor and memory of the Righteous Among the Nations. Since this time some 2,000 trees are now growing across the campus of Yad Vashem, each one of them dedicated to a specific Righteous Among the Nations.
These trees not only serve as a constant reminder of the small glimmers of light that shone through in those dark days, they also provide much needed shade for Yad Vashem’s millions of annual visitors. (The majority of the Righteous Among the Nations are recognized on walls in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem.)
Maintaining the Legacy
It costs US$100 per year to maintain and nurture each tree within the Yad Vashem campus. Yad Vashem is seeking donors to partner in the maintenance of the 2,000 trees of the Righteous that line the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, and affiliate with their legacy. Michael Onifer, director of Eagles Wings Ministries Israel Experience scholarship program recently brought 17 Christian students to Israel on a learning tour which included, among other things, a morning of learning at Yad Vashem. The group adopted a tree and met with a holocaust survivor, who told her powerful testimonial about her life in a concentration camp.
Dr. Susanna Kokkonen, Director; Christian Friends of Yad Vashem
Christian Friends of Yad Vashem (CFYV) was originally established in October 2006 in cooperation with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) to raise awareness about the Holocaust, Shoah, and its universal lessons in Christian communities world-wide.
Truly the Holocaust is a defining event in human history, which generated a credibility crisis of major proportions in our most basic assumptions about the nature of mankind, of society, of the modern state, and of our responsibility as individuals to take a stand against unjust suffering of innocent people everywhere. The Holocaust has therefore become a compelling challenge for concerned individuals all over the world. Today we are seeing an increasing interest in this topic from Christians worldwide, who recognize the Holocaust as part of human experience rather than just Jewish history.
Christian Friends of Yad Vashem seeks to spread knowledge about the Holocaust acting as a facilitator in bringing the universal lessons of the Shoah to the Christian world. This is a way to build bridges between Jews and Christians and to fight anti-Semitism together. In addition, we would like to educate about the legacy of the Righteous among the Nations; Gentiles, who acted to rescue Jews during WWII and have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous.
So far we have brought and invited Christian educators to Yad Vashem’s international seminars on how to teach others about this most difficult topic; we have arranged tailor-made programs including workshops to visiting Christian groups and in general made Yad Vashem’s many resources available to the Christian communities. I have visited churches and communities world-wide with presentations and films. As Yad Vashem’s motto goes Remembering the Past means Shaping the Future. To understand the anti-Semitism of today, we need to know what happened previously.
We continue signing up Christians as Christian Friends of Yad Vashem. These basic memberships are important because they enable us to continue our vital activities. Christian groups visiting Israel are welcome to contact us ahead of their Yad Vashem visit. We will be pleased to help plan a special program.
The survivor and poet Paul Celan asked “Who will bear witness to the witness”. Today we need to become the witnesses bearing the legacy of the survivors. We invite Christians worldwide to remember!
Groups or individuals visiting Yad Vashem can become guardians of a tree by contacting Travelujah or the Christian Friends of Yad Vashem in advance of their visit. A meaningful time around the tree will include reading together the story of the Righteous among the Nations and suitable related poetry. The guardian receives a special certificate confirming the name of the Righteous and the name of the guardian. Yad Vashem and the stories of heroism become alive in a new way when this special connection is formed between the guardians and Yad Vashem.