Each and every high school senior pursuing higher education via the Common Application must essentially encapsulate him or herself into no more than 650 words.

Now that I’m a proud soon-to-be student in Brandeis University’s class of 2019, I’ve decided to share my 650 words, my story, or rather, my story of a people. My story of my people:

In the barren Lupochova forest of Poland I walked with purpose, enveloping myself in the security of an Israeli flag. Birds chirped and branches snapped in the trees above, but these sounds were drowned out by a roaring silence, pounding away in my brain as I glanced down and noticed my shadow. A shadow, I thought, disregards individuality, disregards detail. My shadow is merely a vague shape with an unknown identity left for others to determine.

Not long ago, over two thousand shadows were marched to this exact spot to be ruthlessly massacred. To the Nazis they were empty shadows, to me: Jews. I could grasp their death only because I could grasp their life. I was furious, but this feeling ultimately metamorphosed to a profound gratitude. I was grateful for nothing less than my very being. Days later, after I had fully grasped the gravity of my experience in the forest, a most extraordinary event transpired.

It was about four in the morning and the clock’s hands at the Polish Katowice Airport were ticking so slowly they seemed as exhausted as we were. Our charter flight to Israel had been delayed. Absorbed in my journal reflection, I was removed from the crowd when a few jubilant voices caught my attention. Perceiving potential, my gaze rose upwards in curiousity. I enthusiastically recruited others to join together in celebration. Instead of screaming or mourning, we sang invigorated with soul and happiness. There would be time to cry afterwards, but for now, we had one single-minded concern: Life. Within moments, our motley crew had swelled into hundreds dancing and singing in unison. Am Yisrael Chai, we chanted,the people of Israel live. Our overjoyed mass was a force with which to reckon. The sense of gratitude I had experienced in the forest was now amplified beyond measure.

With the nauseating, depraved chambers of Auschwitz in mind, we travelled to the marvelous, expansive fields of Israel. Thus, from a place notoriously infested with anti-Semitism to a place where Jews could live and flourish in freedom, I was making this physical yet tremendously symbolic journey for those who never could. Unified with my brothers and sisters, I could not have been more proud.

Learning about the genocide that nearly annihilated my people genuinely facilitated my understanding of the causes and consequences of human suffering. Precious people and cultures are lost. Yet, this genocide did not entirely obliterate the Jewish people. From a world engulfed in flames, remnants survived, which I subsequently discovered in Tel Aviv.

On a wall in my great uncle Emil’s living room hung faded pictures of solemn yet benevolent faces. As he pointed to an early photograph of his large Polish family, my eyes drifted to the tattoo located on his left forearm: A701629. I wondered if certain memories still haunted him — the putrid smells he smelt, the abhorrent sights he witnessed, and the harsh indignities he suffered in the camps. Two words emerged from the depths of my consciousness: Never Again. 

For me, the Holocaust had previously been a mere chapter in history. After seeing firsthand the devastation and loss, I recognized the vital importance of a Jewish homeland. Only a homeland secures a reality of Never Again. 

The surreal and frightening fact is that today in 2014, anti-Semitism is raging throughout Europe. Observing current events that duplicate pre-Holocaust tensions further solidifies my belief in the necessity of a Jewish state. I am called by the injustice done to my perished people to ensure a safe haven not only for Jews, but for all people worldwide. I embrace the obligation to stand up and be courageous. I am committed to social justice and determined to make my vision of a just world a reality.

If not me, who will?