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Incredible March of the Living reinforces pride in being Jewish

Read this story in the Jewish Community Voice

As far as the eye could see were thousands of Israeli flags. Some waved triumphantly in the air, some were wrapped around shoulders or worn like capes, and some were simply held close to the heart. Voices rose joyously above the massive crowd, chanting the lyrics of Hatikvah and proclaiming “Am Yisrael Chai!” amid a sea of blue and white. The scene of this enormous celebration of Jewish life was not an Israeli street or festival. Rather, it was the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where Israeli flags waved before endless stretches of barbed-wire fences and voices rang out over the remains of barracks, chimneys and watchtowers.

Such a scene seems puzzling and paradoxical, as thousands of proud Jews celebrate life in a place that serves as the ultimate symbol of Jewish suffering. Called the March of the Living, this display of hope and pride in the face of darkness occurs annually on Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. Thousands of people march approximately two miles from Auschwitz to Birkenau, a path known in the days of the Holocaust as the “March of Death,” to affirm that Am Yisrael Chai—the Jewish people live.

The mission of the March of the Living is to bring students to Poland each year to study the history of the Holocaust and examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance and hate. Over 200,000 students from 35 countries have participated in the March since its creation in 1988.

Along with five other teens from South Jersey and over 120 from all over the United States, I participated in BBYO’s delegation to the March of the Living this year.

“We marched hand-in-hand into the future, ensuring the atrocities from 70 years ago will never be forgotten,” said Natalie Gray, a fellow member of the BBYO delegation from Denver, Colorado.

I can say without a doubt that participating in the March was the most meaningful thing I have ever done. I walked into a gas chamber at Auschwitz and walked out alive; I wept at the crematorium of Majdanek; I sang the Hatikvah amid the memorials of Treblinka; I felt more connected than ever to the suffering of my ancestors, and I contemplated deep questions about the capacity of human cruelty that will forever remain unanswered. I had the honor and privilege of doing it all with Trudy Album, a Holocaust survivor traveling with the BBYO delegation.

Trudy was a source of comfort and wisdom, even in the face of her own suffering. Her firsthand testimony to the horrors of the Holocaust inspires all of us who know her to live fully and to prevent such atrocities from happening again.

Following an emotional journey through the darkest period in Jewish history, we traveled to Israel and experienced the hope and pride embodied by the Jewish state. We observed the solemn sirens of Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Memorial Day, and danced on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem during Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. Each day was an adventure and a new opportunity to take in the rich beauty and culture of the Holy Land.

Participating in the March of the Living was an experience unlike any other. Words cannot truly encapsulate the horrors I witnessed in Poland, nor can they adequately express the sense of solidarity and community I felt among the participants, each dedicated to remembering the six million Jewish victims and to strengthening Jewish life today. Throughout my two-week journey, I felt countless diverse emotions, from despair to anger to confusion to joy, but one feeling rises far above the rest—I am incredibly proud to be a Jew.

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