On Wednesday, April 27th our March of the Living Journey began. The New Jersey/New York Region of 71 participants departed on an El Al plane from JFK Airport full of Jewish Teens, Holocaust Survivors, chaperons and other regions including the BBYO delegation and the Southern region.
This was the 23rd March, which began in 1988, New Jersey teens have participated in this program since 1990 and I have had the privilege of escorting the group every year since 1998. This year we had 16 New Jersey Teens, and 2 survivors Gil Lachow from Parsippany and Ray Fishler was joined by his wife Rhoda and 8 other friends from Wayne, NJ. The rest of our group was made up of teens & adults from Rockland County, Long Island, Las Vegas, San Diego, Tucson and Salt Lake City.
The March of the Living is a unique program that brings Jewish Teens together from 49 regions encompassing all 7 continents. Through local offices teens apply to participate, attend classes and seminars and are prepared for this once in a lifetime 2 week experience. This year over 8,000 teens met and somberly Marched the 3.5 kilometers on Yom Hashoa (Holocaust Remembrance Day) from Auschwitz to Birkenau, from the ‘Albeit Macht Frei’ gate â€“ to the train entrance in Birkenau, alongside the survivors who joined them. The March ended with a Ceremony at the Crematoria/Gas Chambers in Birkenau with survivors lighting memorial candles, Rabbi Lau â€“ Chief Rabbi of Israel and camp survivor speaking, Dudu Fisher singing the Elmalay Rachamin and Kaddish and the event ending with Hatikvah – Hope.
Also while in Poland we spend an entire day walking through these 2 camps as well as Treblinka, Plushov and Majdanek. We walked through the Ghettos of Warsaw and Krakow, the Shetle of Tykochin, and the adjacent killing fields. We attended Shabbat services at the Noyzk shul in Warsaw â€“ the only one left where there used to be over 40.
Our last day in Poland, we stood at the Ash Dome adjacent to the crematoria of the Majdanek Death Camp and with the souls of those murdered we drove straight to the airport and flew to Eretz Yisrael, for the 2nd week of our Journey, and our walk through history. We went from April 1945 â€“ the Liberation of Europe to May 1948 sitting in Independence Hall in Tel Aviv listening to David Ben Gurion reading the Declaration of Independence and Proclaiming the Land of Israel.
In Israel, we visited Yad Vashem and discussed with their scholars our role of being the Next Generation, of being the Witnesses of the atrocities and our Responsibility to tell the stories, to Never Forget, and to fight injustice wherever we see it. From there we went to Har Herzel â€“ Israel’s Military Cemetery, our teens saw the famous as well as all those who gave their lives for the security of the state and its people, we also visited the grave of Michael Levin, a young man from Philadelphia who made aliya and was killed in Lebanon.
During the rest of the week we traveled around the country seeing it beauty and history, we met with ‘Avreham Avenu’ our Father Abraham at Eretz Bereshit, who welcomed us from our dessert ride in on camels, explaining how G-d sent him here to this land and told him to settle it, and also taught us how to make Pita bread. We also visited Lad L’Kashish â€“ the Lifeline for the Elderly, a sheltered workshop and great gift shop.
We spent erev Shabbat shopping with other Jerusalemites in Machane Yehuda, and celebrated Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel with over 1,000 other Marchers and many Israeli Soldiers. As we continued through the week, we commemorated Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) up north in the Galilee in Kfar Vadim and then again at the Cabri Regional High School, where we met with teens who also traveled to Poland and are now preparing to enter the army. From there we traveled to the mystical city of Tzfat where we found synagogues the resembled those in Krakow. We learned that when we were expelled from Israel we traveled east to Europe and ended up in Krakow and built similar looking shuls for our communities.
We ended Yom HaZikaron in Tiberius at the Kinnerret on a boat cruise welcoming in Yom Ha’atzmaut â€“ Israel’s 63rd Independence Day. Under a sky of fireworks and festive music our teens danced and embraced the euphoria of the Independence, but they also knew that they and the rest of Am Yisrael â€“ the Jewish people have a homeland, security and have returned to our biblical roots.
Our Journey ended with the 2nd March, this one far different than the first. Again all 8,000 Marchers met at Safra Square in Jerusalem to dance and sing our way to the Kotel. From there we went out to Latrun a military museum which was once a base on the road connecting Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. There we had dinner and were entertained at the Mega Event, again Dudu Fisher sang under fireworks and the evening and our Journey ended with Hatikvah â€“ Hope.
On our last day in Israel, as we were bringing closure on our Journey, everyone had a chance to reflect on their last 2 weeks, Molly Horowitz a member of our group from Randolph wrote and read this to the group.
Ones’ Response to the 2011 ‘The March of the Living’
Molly Horowitz. (#17, Randolph, New Jersey)
Fourteen. Fourteen is the number of days we have spent together on this journey. Fourteen days of unexplainable emotions, and feelings. In fourteen days your life can change. In fourteen days you can find yourself. In fourteen days you can feel the pain of Poland when you stood in the emptiness of Treblinka surrounded by seventeen thousand stones, walked through the arch of Auschwitz and felt the scratches on the gas chamber walls, saw the train tracks into Birkenau that lead to death, experienced agony and pain when standing in front of the human ashes at Majdanek, felt the shoes of the six million lost Jews, and marched in their honor on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Throughout Poland, we experienced the unfathomable.
But in fourteen days you can also feel the joy of Israel when you visited shuls to doven, left meaningful messages at the Kotel, walked the lively streets of Jerusalem, bargained in Old Yaffa, enjoyed the beauty of art in Tzfat, stood still at the sound of the siren to commemorate those who died fighting for our country – our freedom, on Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, and celebrated the independence of the state of Israel, our home land, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.
These fourteen days are days you will never get back, but you’ll definitely never forget. In fourteen days, 336 hours, 20,160 minutes, 1,209,600 seconds, we went from strangers to best friends. Sorrow to happiness. Anger to joy. So now we go home, but I hope you remember not only the fourteen days, but also the six million lost Jews, as well as those who survived.
In fourteen days, we could never fully understand what humans like Ray and Gil were put through. Not ever could we understand, but we will certainly never forget and we’ll keep their stories alive for the generations to come.
I want you all to remember walking through Auschwitz, Birkenau, Treblinka, and Majdanek. Remember what you saw, what you smelt, what you heard, how you felt, and most importantly the impact it made on you. Take those feelings – those emotions, and light your personal torch. When you go home, carry your torch with an endless amount of pride. Retell the stories you heard to keep your torch lit. Share the pictures you took to keep your torch’s flame vivid. Fight anti-Semitism, hatred, and Holocaust denial to keep the flame of your torch growing. Make a difference in the world by becoming an advocate for ongoing genocides so everyone can feel the heat of your torch. But most importantly, keep your Jewish heritage alive so your flame will never burn out. Be proud of your religion, and remember the feeling of being in your home land. Never forget that Israel will always be your home, and you can always find your way back to it, because although six million were lost, these fourteen days proved to us that through it all, we are still here – still growing.
We must never forget the six million that were lost, but we must also never forget those who survived – the ones who saw it firsthand, who went through the horror, who fought for their lives. The ones who never gave up â€“ never stopped believing. The ones who enable us to be proud of our religion today. The ones whose stories must forever be told.
We may be home from our journey now, but my heart will forever be in Israel because these fourteen days I spent on the 2011 March of the Living have forever made an impact on my life, and I hope yours as well. I will carry my torch with pride, and allow it to glisten in the eyes of my generation, and those to come. I hope you all will do the same, so we can remember the past, and forever say, “NEVER AGAIN” to the future.
Our Journey will begin on Sunday, April 15th. For more information about the 2012 March of the Living, please contact Joel D. Katz at 973-632-9035 or MOTLJDKatz@aol.com.