It’s hard to imagine a first trip to Israel that doesn’t include a visit to Yad Vashem, the national memorial to the Holocaust.
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But is it appropriate for children?
The simple answer is that it depends – both on what parts of Yad Vashem you plan to visit and on how old the children in question are.
Before planning your visit, bear in mind that Yad Vashem does not allow children under 10 into the Holocaust History Museum, which happens to be the main draw for most visitors. Many of the photos, videos, testimonies and artifacts on display in its nine underground galleries are considered too graphic for children that young. Although 11- and 12-year-olds won’t be turned away at the door, Yad Vashem doesn’t recommend bringing children that young to the museum either. Just as a point of reference, only in eighth grade do Israeli schoolchildren begin making organized trips to the site.
Still, that shouldn’t discourage you from making a family visit; it's doable as long as you’re willing to split up and take in different sites on the premises. But if you’re determined not to expose your children to the subject of the Holocaust at all, Mt. Herzl is within walking distance. Another option could be to split up between the two sites and have those children not old enough to handle Yad Vashem accompany an adult to the Herzl Museum, where they can take in the somewhat happier story of the man who conceived the idea of a Jewish state, and see where many of the nation’s past leaders are buried.
The Holocaust museum is constructed in such a way that visitors are forced to pass through all nine galleries to get from the entrance to the exit, so avoiding certain sections is not really feasible, if that happens to be your plan. If it’s important to you to bring your young teenagers along with you, Inbal Kvity Ben Dov, from Yad Vashem’s International School of Holocaust Studies, recommends trying to spend more time in those sections of the museum that highlight Jewish life before the war, life in the ghettos, and tales of rescue, while passing quickly through the others that focus on the death camps and extermination.
For younger children, she recommends spending more time at other sites on the premises, where there are fewer graphic depictions of the atrocities Jews suffered during the Holocaust. So if one parent is interested in spending time at the museum alone or with older children, Kvity Ben Dov proposes that another parent accompany younger children to any of the following sites: the Garden of the Righteous Among Nations and the Path of the Righteous Among Nations, where trees have been planted to honor non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust; the Holocaust Art Museum, which has a huge collection of art created by victims and survivors in the ghettos, the camps and hideouts; the underground Children’s Memorial, where they can hear the names of some of the roughly 1.5 million children who were murdered in the Holocaust recited; and some of the many monuments and sculptures displayed outside on the grounds of Yad Vashem. Children interested in their roots might want to visit the Valley of the Communities and see if they can identify their family’s ancestral town among the 5,000 Jewish communities destroyed whose names are engraved on large walls of bedrock.
Some of the temporary exhibits at any given time may also be appropriate for younger children. An example would be the current “No Child’s Play” exhibit, which focuses on the toys, games, artwork, diaries and poems of children during the Holocaust. Its title was inspired by an excerpt in Janusz Korczak’s “Rules of Life”: “It is not proper to be ashamed of any game. This is no child’s play.”
Even if your children are old enough to visit the museum, Kvity Ben Dov recommends that you prepare them ahead of time. “No child can walk into an experience like this cold,” she says. “Parents should talk to their children beforehand about what they’re going to see. It’s a good idea to introduce them to the subject through a book, like Anne Frank’s diary – a book they can read together.”
Another way to introduce children to the subject and make it more accessible, she says, is to introduce them to a Holocaust survivor or even bring one along on the trip.
Hours: Sundays through Wednesdays 9 A.M. – 5 P.M., Thursdays 9 A.M. – 8 P.M., Fridays and holiday eves, 9 A.M. – 2 P.M.
Cost: Entrance is free.
Tours are self-guided with headphones.
Getting there: Many egged bus lines, as well as the light rail, stop at the Mt. Herzl stop, which is about a 10-minute walk away. Tourist bus No. 99 also stops at Yad Vashem. Paid parking is available on the premises.