Grateful for a Gray and Gloomy Morning
As I got into my Uber this morning to head to Babi Yar, I was grateful for the gray and gloomy weather.
For many local residents, Babi Yar is nothing but a park adorned with monuments, and, when the weather is nice, I am told that those visiting the site might witness people riding bicycles and walking dogs, children playing soccer, and even the occasional wedding.
This all belies the reality that 76 years and 7 days ago, the Jews of Kiev were ordered to gather all their belongings and march five miles from their homes to report to Babi Yar, on the premise that they would be relocated.
When they arrived, the nazis took their valuables, stripped them of their clothing, and men, women, and children alike, in groups of ten, were led into a ravine, forced to lie down, and shot dead, often dying on top of others who had been shot just before them.
In total, 33,771 Jews were killed on that day, their bodies covered in a mass grave under layers of dirt. Two years later, seeking to conceal the crime, the nazis would dig up all the decaying bodies and subject them to further desecration - burning them and scattering the ashes over local fields.
Babi Yar would be the site for other mass executions as well, including gypsies, Ukrainian nationalists, and Soviet prisoners of war.
As I wandered Babi Yar this morning, I was struck by the children's monument, adorned with stuffed animals and toys left by recent visitors. I stopped at the Roma monument, in the form of a gypsy wagon.
Finally, I reached the monument to the Jews killed at Babi Yar, a stately stone menorah, at which some flowers had recently been laid, perhaps at Yom Kippur.
But I was drawn behind the monument itself, for steps beyond one finds the beginning of the embankment, flowers strewn along the edges, looking down into a ravine where 33,771 of our ancestors were killed in a single act of murder.
While it is not my minhag to say Kaddish unless it is for my immediate family (a practice I appreciated when I said Kaddish after my mother's passing), I stood on the edge of the ravine, switched my baseball cap for a kippah, and recited the mourner's kaddish. Those whose lives ended in that ravine felt, in that moment, as immediate as family could be.
And then I left Babi Yar. I imagined walking out that I was carrying those 33,771 spirits on my back, and in my heart.
Walking out of Babi Yar seemed like such a simple act for me, but for those men, women, and children walking out of Babi Yar was an act they would never be able to take.