March of the Living

Although senior year is full of many happy and celebratory times, I chose to spend two weeks of my final month of IMG_1760high school on a trip called The March of the Living with BBYO, a Jewish youth movement I have been active in throughout high school.

With a guided a group of around 150 teens, we traveled through the horrors and destruction in Poland that were done during World War II. After learning and seeing so much during our week in Poland, we then went to Israel to honor and remember on Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, and celebrate on Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day.

Growing up I spent a fair amount of time studying the Holocaust in Sunday school, Hebrew school, middle school and high school. I visited museums, watched movies and read statistics of the genocide in my textbooks. All of the knowledge I thought I knew came crashing down the moment I arrived at Auschwitz Concentration Camp my first day in Poland.

By being exactly where so many innocent lives were stolen, I felt overwhelmed with emotion. I was frustrated, disgusted and confused. With my small bus group of 40 Jewish teens I saw things that I will never forget. The numbers and statistics I had heard growing up came to life when I saw the piles of shoes, hair and personal belongings of the victims. Walking where they walked, and standing were they stood gave me chills I was unable to shake.

I learned and gained so much from visiting every camp and ghetto we stopped at in Poland but the simple fact is I will never fully understand and neither will you. We cannot relate to and grasp the suffering that people endured due to the Holocaust, or understand Hitler and the Nazi regime’s reasoning, or know what it feels like to lose everyone that you love. Even without those things, it’s most important to remember what we do know and honor those who were cheated of a happy life.

With the help of self reflection, journaling and group discussions, I found myself questioning God, humanity and myself. I started to see my life from a new perspective. Not only being more appreciative for how privileged I am, but also the responsibility I hold to be a proud Jew.

As all 10,000 Jewish youth marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau, I felt tremendous amount of Jewish pride. Together we made such a dark place, full of pain and hate, light. We walked alongside some of the few remaining survivors and lit candles on the tracks leading into the camp. Completely surrounded by people carrying Israeli flags and singing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, was incredibly empowering and unlike anything I have ever done before.

The powerful juxtaposition of the transition from Poland to Israel made my first visit to the Holy Land even more special. While traveling abroad anywhere with your friends is usually fun, Israel was different. The country was new to me but somehow made me feel right at home.

We hiked Masada, went swimming in the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee, visited Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and so much more during our one week.  Having heard so much about how beautiful of a country Israel is, my expectations were pretty high But I was in no way let down. Every breathtaking view on the bus rides and walks the group lead me on blew me away.

If you have the opportunity to send your child, or yourself, on this trip it’s truly essential. We are the ones that have to remember and tell what happened because soon there will be no first hand accounts left to tell it.  This trip gives the opportunity to explore our Jewish lineage that’s different than simply going to Hebrew School or observing Shabbat.

I was able to attend this trip partly because of the generous Natania Lipp Scholarship from the Jewish Federation. After Natania went on the trip, she told me about her experience, and I promised myself I would one day go too.  I am so honored and grateful to have received a scholarship in the name of a role model and old friend. Thank you to her, her family, those that donated to her fund and those who supported my choice to experience this trip.

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