Last year on the March of the Living (MOL) I had a fascinating conversation with a young teenage Muslim refugee from Afghanistan who was attending a Catholic school in Austria and her teacher. The school was participating in the March to learn the lessons of where hate can lead. We must remember what have in common and not forget that we are all made in God’s image.
Every year thousands of youth and adults from all over the Jewish world gather in Poland to participate in the March of the Living followed by a week in Israel to celebrate our rebirth. I am honoured to be one of the educational guides of this prestigious and important program. Abraham Hirchson, one of the founders of MOL, eloquently justified the necessity of such an event for young people in the following way,
These youngsters will form a link between those who suffered and the next generation when those who survived the Holocaust will no longer be with us.
My Jewish teen MOL group also met Theresa in the “Lomdei Mishnayot” study-house in Oświęcim/Auschwitz. Theresa is an 18-year-old Catholic German volunteer at the Jewish Centre in Oświęcim. I asked her why she was taking her gap year here of all places. She replied that it was her way of making atonement for the sins of her grandparent’s generation. She added she wanted to do her part in making sure people realised that there was a third generation of German youth that want to stress our common shared humanity and bring the light of healing into this world. Throughout history teens continue to create change and inspire.
I also remember on the MOL meeting Israeli teen IDF soldiers participating in a program called, “Aidim Bemadim” (Witnesses in Uniform). The soldiers and my group saluted our flag, our State, our people and our future. We sang “Hatikvah,”(The Hope) our national anthem, loudly and clearly with all of our Jewish pride, together as one on the blood-soaked soil of Poland. The profound text culminates with the words:
The hope of two thousand years to be free people in our land, the land of Zion, Jerusalem.
We sung a song of hope in a place of despair. In a place of death we sung a song of the rebirth of the Jewish people in our land. The soldiers symbolised what it means to have our own country where Jews do not to rely on the pity of their host nations. We all know that the culmination of that “pity” was the Shoah. Now we Jews are once again in charge of our own destiny and “never again” means NEVER AGAIN! Unlike our ancestors, who had to wear the “ badge of shame” – the Yellow Star symbolising our helplessness, we have our homeland Israel and can celebrate our right to proudly fly the “Badge of Pride” – the blue star. This is the March of the Living!
Dr. Tuvia Book is the author of “For the Sake of Zion, A Curriculum of Israel Education” (Koren, 2017). His forthcoming book on the Second Temple Period, will be published by Koren later this year.