To begin our second day of sightseeing in D.C., we started at the national mall. When we were given options of visiting the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum along with the American Art Museum, I took advantage of exploring both. Even though I am a D.C.-area native, I had not been to either of these museums. Through a plethora of exhibits, the Air and Space museum showcased the aerial and astronomical achievements throughout history, such as a Wright Brothers exhibit and one solely about the planets. I found myself in the “Golden Age of Flight” exhibit, which told the story of the American excitement about aviation in the 20’s and 30’s eventually leading up to World War Two. It was a time where every aspect of American culture embraced aviation– whether it be stunt, business travel, or military. Besides looking at the planes in the exhibit, which were too cool to describe in words, I acknowledged that some parts of our normal modern lives–planes, in this example– were able to excite a whole American populous at a certain point in history. It made me reflect on the present day, in the height of the digital age, and how Americans–and the world– will view our technology in future generations.
When I decided I had had a complete visit at Air and Space, I headed over across the street to see the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I am not one that goes to many art museums, but I enjoy the occasional stroll along the galleries. I found the scenic paintings in the museum, such as “Green River Cliffs” by Thomas Moran, to be very entertaining. Another painting, titled “New York” by George Bellows, illustrated the New York City skyline at night in the early 20th century. It was intriguing for me to think about how the image I was looking at compared to its modern day self, especially after being in the Big Apple just a week ago (wow, time flies by fast!).
Our next stop was to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. This marked my fourth time visiting the museum, and each time I go, I have a unique and powerful experience. This time was no different, as I chose to focus and explore parts of the museum I hadn’t before. For example, I watched a video on the 1936 Olympic Games which were held in Berlin. This video explained how the Olympics not only caused tension within the US (whether to send their athletes or not), but also how the Olympics ultimately was a propaganda success for Hitler and Germany, as they deceived the world that they were peaceful and orderly. I hadn’t really thought of how much the Olympic Games impacted politics (besides the 1972 Olympics), and it was definitely interesting to hear the story of the Olympics in WWII, because it wasn’t as emphasized in-depth in my school studies.
There are parts of the permanent exhibit in the museum that truly make it a memorial, such as the hallway of burnt shoes. This part of the museum and memorial is probably the most powerful for not only me, but probably many others. Being in the presence of the burnt shoes of what seemed to be hundreds of Jews, I felt slammed with the reality of this undeserved genocide– of my people. The sight of the shoes not only accomplished this feeling, but also the smell of the shoes reminded me of a quote: “Never forget.” We can’t forget the Holocaust, especially as the generation of survivors may not be around in the next decade. We can’t forget the 6 million, and that they weren’t a number but also individual people, who suffered at the unjust hands of Hitler and the Nazis. The pile of shoes add to this by reminding us to never forget the sights and smells of the Holocaust, because the more we are able to experience with our senses, the more we can relate, the more we will remember. And that is how the museum is not only a museum but also a memorial. This notion was also apparent in the bottom floor of the museum, where the temporary exhibits are. There was a small exhibit for the Bosnian genocide of Muslims in the early 90’s. I was very glad the museum not only commemorates the holocaust, but also future genocides after it, because one of the ultimate goals for the museum, in my opinion, is to spread genocide awareness in general. The visit to the Holocaust museum was very important and impactful to me as a person, and to my Jewish identity, and I’m sure it was for my peers as well.
The next and final museum of the day was the Newseum, a relatively new museum about the history of news and journalism. This was probably my fourth or fifth time at the Newseum, so like at the Holocaust Museum, I was looking forward to seeing new exhibits and parts of the museum I hadn’t explored before. There were two new exhibits that resonated with me and the Etgar experience. The first exhibit was called “Civil Rights at 50,” which commemorates the civil rights movement and the brave individuals who documented it. This was very relevant to Etgar because we have spent most of this trip discussing civil rights, and we spent the first week of the trip going to significant sites of events during the civil rights movement. In the exhibit, there was a blurb on a man named Ted Polumbaun, who took tens of thousands of photos during Freedom Summer. It was really interesting to learn civil rights in a different lens than we had seen so far this summer–about the people who were actually reporting the news that we learn about. Another awesome exhibit called “News For All” highlighted the emergence of minority-based newspapers and other media in America. This country we live in is a melting pot, so it was fascinating to see minority groups exercising their First Amendment rights. There were newspapers such as the Navajo Times, representing the Native American population, and the Detroit Jewish News, representing the Jewish American population. As the minorities in this country slowly become the majority, it is important to acknowledge our First Amendment rights, and I’m glad the Newseum had an exhibit showcasing that.
After our a-museum-ing day, we spent that night at the E-Street Cinema to watch the new movie “Boyhood.” This movie was very unique in that it was filmed over the course of 12 years. We watched young Mason experience his childhood in its entirety. I could see this film being a cult classic in the next few decades, simply because Mason’s experiences were so raw and the cultural references were relevant in each of the 12 years it was filmed.
As we begin our final full day on the trip tomorrow, today was all about reflecting on the past and where we find ourselves now. This lesson translates to our trip as we look back on all of the things we have learned, all the friends we have made, and now we can take those experiences back with us.