Last month, our 17-year-old son, Zalman, participated in a trip to Poland that has changed the way he — and our entire family — understands these days of significance during the post-Pesach period.
Zalman joined 15 other Englewood high school seniors in the culminating trip of the year-long Asher Strobel Leadership Program. Together, they traveled and observed not only the devastation of the Shoah but also the rebirth of post-Holocaust Eastern Europe and founding of the State of Israel.
Our son was the first in our family to have the chance to participate in such a trip. By being present in Poland with a group his peers, he was given a chance to bear witness to what happened, to commit himself to never forget, and to demonstrate his ability to live freely and proudly as an observant Jew. We hope each of these teen leaders will take up the responsibility to help share their experiences with the many people they will encounter throughout their lives.
With daily “WhatsApp” messages and phone calls, we were able to experience the highs and lows of this incredible trip. The pictures and descriptions Zalman shared provided new meaning in our collective redemption from slavery to freedom. We experienced the deep connection between Yom HaShoah, observed this week, and Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, to be celebrated this coming week.
In just one day, the group experienced the theological duality of this season. They visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most famous symbol of Nazi Germany’s attempt to exterminate the Jewish people more than 70 years ago. And later that day, they welcomed and observed an inspirational Shabbat in Krakow. We can only contemplate what this contrast must have felt like in their minds and their hearts. We can just imagine the powerful reflections on what they had seen of the Jewish past, even as they enjoyed a truly joyous Shabbat signifying the Jewish present and future.
In the weeks following Passover, we count the omer, marking the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. We come together as a community to count each day and to make each day count.
The days this week and next are particularly meaningful. If Yom HaShoah reminds us never to forget our past, Yom HaZikaron honors the actions taken by our brethren to defend our nation, and Yom Ha’atzmaut allows us to celebrate the miracle of our vibrant Jewish state and of our strong, lasting Jewish future. We feel so fortunate that our teens collectively could experience this incredible connection between redemption and freedom.
Now completing its fourth cohort, the ASLP program of East Hill Synagogue was created in memory of a remarkable young man, Asher z”l, who died suddenly six years ago during a ski trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Diane and Ron Strobel supported Rabbi Zev Reichman’s vision to create this tribute to their son by empowering more teens to form their identities and to find their voices each year. What a remarkable and fitting homage it is to Asher’s memory.
Each of these teens is capable, smart, strong, sensitive, and compassionate. The ASLP provides them with the chance to learn, to achieve, and to soar. As parents, we try so hard to facilitate the kind of incredible experiences that will serve as a positive catalyst for our teens as they prepare to graduate high school and embark on their next adventures. And we also learn so much from the powerful experiences provided to our kids.
Even though my wife and I did not travel physically to Poland, by doing so in our minds and through our son’s eyes we have remembered our past and have connected to our future. Our observance of Yom HaShoah this year challenges all of us not only to remember but also to take action to ensure we defend the right of Israel to exist as an independent, secure, vibrant Jewish state.
I hope that these days of significance will remain a part of us as we observe and appreciate our transition from redemption to freedom.