“Remembering the past and embracing the future”
We stood crowded under the showers where the gas was once released and placed our hands along the cement walls that surrounded us. We felt the scratch marks where Jews once stood grasping for air and the reality of what once went on between those very walls set in.
In utter disbelief and with an overwhelming amount of sadness, we formed a circle with our arms around each other and began to sing Sh’ma Israel over and over, louder and louder. 30 new friends, all coming from different backgrounds, experiencing one moment; a moment that for most impacted us for the rest of our lives. As we stood there united, we celebrated life in a place of death, honoring and remembering those who perished. At that moment we assumed the responsibility to always remember and more importantly, to pass on the message. We became witnesses to a part of our history that changed the face of the Jewish people forever; we were now part of something much larger than ourselves, we became part of a tremendous community movement.
The March of the Living is a two-week program that is not only an educational trip, but is also a journey of self-discovery and reflection. The program consists of travelling to Poland where participants have the opportunity to see, first hand, the remnants of the Holocaust and participate in the March from Auschwitz to Birkenau which, during the war, was coined the march of death. After days of mourning, sorrow and understanding the importance of our presence, the journey continues on to Israel where exhaustion turns into adrenaline, tears turn into laughter, and sorrow turns into pride. We commemorate those who perished on Yom Hazikaron (soldier remembrance day) and then celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day). We learn about Israeli culture and have the chance to see and learn about accomplishments that have helped shape the country.
The March of the Living is helping recreate and recount an important part of Jewish history. I would describe it as having learned and put into practice the concept of paying it forward. Paying it forward is the notion of pure giving, without expecting anything in return but remaining hopeful that every individual will continue to give purely of themselves. This concept is like building a chain. As Marchers we can be proud to be actively participating in building this chain with thousands of Jewish young adults and honorable survivors; a chain from generation to generation.
Some of us are traditional Jews, some of us reform, and some of us Orthodox; BUT no matter what level of observance we live by and no matter what we stand for, we are all Jews and we were all there for the same cause; promising to always remember and promising to pass on the message always remaining optimistic that the words NEVER AGAIN will forever hold true. This part of my personal story, might I encourage you to share yours …