Jerusalem is a city who prefers her grief localized, for one spacious expanse of rolling hills and pine trees in the city's western fringes is home to two of the most emotionally draining landmarks in the entire city: Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl.
Yad Vashem, the brilliantly designed and profoundly distressing state memorial to and museum of the Holocaust, is well known and an established stop for Jerusalem tourists, but for a direct and uncompromising experience of a more uniquely Israeli sorrow, stroll through the quiet lanes of Mount Herzl right down the road.
Mount Herzl serves as the burial site for prominent Zionists, Israeli politicians and those figures who greatly influenced the development of the state (Theodor Herzl is interred there, his gravestone always covered in rocks, as are Yitzhak Rabin and Golda Meir), but the true spirit, and the true anguish, of Mount Herzl lie in the vast expanse of the Israel Defense Forces' official military cemetery.
The initial impression of Mount Herzl is that no country so young should have a military cemetery so full, and that feeling grows as one examines the graves themselves, the thousands of modest markers honoring those who fell for their country, many still in their teens. The cemetery is organized roughly by war – the section reserved for soldiers fallen during the War of Independence is particularly affecting, with more than one headstone bearing testament to the death of a 15- or 16-year-old during the fierce fighting for the establishment of a Jewish homeland.
It may seem obvious, but it is of the utmost importance that visitors to Mount Herzl comport themselves with dignity and respect (this is probably not a good place for young children, who may not understand the gravity of their surroundings); some of the families one sees in the cemetery are mourning the fresh loss of a family member.
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