July 14th 2015
You’re finally headed to Israel, and you’re going to make sure to visit all of the must-see places while you’re here, from the beaches of Eilat to the Western Wall in Jerusalem and the scenic hikes in the Golan and the memorial at Yad Vashem…. Or wait, should you really take the kids to Yad Vashem after all? Won’t it be too much for them?
The main Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem is off limits for children under ten years of age. The graphic nature of much of the historical material is deemed too intense, and Israeli schoolchildren do not visit the memorial until eighth grade (which should give you a reasonable general sense of age-appropriateness). The construction of the Jerusalem museum is such that deciding to skip one portion or another is not really an option, although you might decide to focus on Jewish life before the war with your teens, for example, and the stories of Jewish resistance, spending less time in areas documenting the extermination camps.
That said, Yad Vashem encompasses far more than the Holocaust History Museum, although that is what most people come to see. Some of the outdoor sections lend themselves to serious discussion without graphic display. The Garden of the Righteous among Nations and the Path of the Righteous among Nations serve to highlight the goodness (indeed, righteousness) of those who faced great risk and secretly supported Jews during the dark years of the Nazi regime’s official policies of anti-Semitism and genocide. The trees in these areas alone can inspire a calm that is ripe for the conversation.
The Holocaust Art Museum offers a large collection of works created by those in the ghettos, the camps, in hiding and after the war. The Children’s Memorial is heart-wrenching for any adult, but children may take in the 1.5 million names of children that are read out loud as part of the memorial without any more visual depiction than multiple reflections of a single candle. And the Valley of the Communities conveys an eerie sense of loss with artistic renditions of the names of many of the communities that were destroyed.
The real answer is, it entirely depends on your children and how you prepare them. These factors should inform your decision far more than any magic “Holocaust-appropriate” age. There are some kids for whom the experience of Yad Vashem will always be traumatic, and there are others who will take the museum in serious stride, even if you don’t prepare them fully. Most children, of course, fall into the middle group – for whom Yad Vashem has the potential to be powerful and meaningful, even if it is disturbing, and for whom parental preparation will make all the difference in preventing trauma for the sake of knowledge and awareness.
Discussing the events in advance, reading age-appropriate books together, and even speaking to a survivor, if that is an option, are all substantive ways of readying your children for the Yad Vashem memorial.