Mark Wilf

March of the Living realigns the Jewish community toward a unified perspective

When 13,000 people come together at a place like Auschwitz, home to some of the darkest memories in Jewish history, it puts things in perspective.

Perhaps, most importantly, it realigns our perspective.

In the US, Israel, and worldwide, today’s steady stream of divisions can feel inescapable. Yet at the annual march from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Yom HaShoah, there is quite simply no room for divisiveness. Especially in 2023.

My role in the march is deeply personal — and simultaneously universal.

It is personal because my father, Joseph Wilf (z”l), was a survivor of the Holocaust and the first North American chair of March of the Living. Following his death in 2016, the 2017 march was dedicated to his memory. Decades earlier, I had the profound honor of traveling with my father to Poland and Russia in 1985, to witness my parents’ roots firsthand. I saw that their Jewish life was not radically different from mine in America. The horrors of the Holocaust and their own experiences demonstrated that the only thing which can protect the global Jewish people is a strong State of Israel, and that atrocities can occur anywhere if we do not care about each other and take action to preserve our community’s strength. Ultimately this is just as true in the US, where Jews have historically felt relatively safe and sheltered, as it was in Europe during the 1930s.

As a result of their experiences, my parents instilled the values of Zionism and community within me. Many of their relatives had perished in the Shoah, making them refugees with nobody to take care of them — because there was no State of Israel. They lived these values through their philanthropy which prioritized building a strong community and a strong State of Israel. They reinforced that only with a strong state of Israel, can the Jewish people stand up for themselves.

The March of the Living drives home this mentality in a way that arguably no other experience can. The confluence of Holocaust survivors and Israeli flags along the walk from death camp to death camp powerfully reminds us of the imperative to focus on what unites us. This notion of unity especially struck me as I led a group of over 35 Jewish Agency staff members on the march, each representing different sectors of Israeli society, bringing along their diverse Jewish stories on this transformative journey. Indeed, we cannot afford any divisions when it comes to fighting antisemitism and all forms of hate.

As board chair of The Jewish Agency for Israel, the global convener of the Jewish people, I feel a tremendous responsibility to amplify Jewish unity in the face of the divisions that confront us. In this era when the number of Holocaust survivors continues to decline at the same time antisemitism continues to surge, advancing Jewish unity means coming together to support Holocaust education, ensuring that younger generations are fully aware of the atrocities and that the world at-large never forgets. The Holocaust teaches us that hatred leads to utter destruction — and that the strength and perseverance of the Jewish people will be indispensable tools in helping future generations not only survive, but thrive, in environments of peace and tolerance.

At the March of the Living, the torch I lit was a statement not only against antisemitism, but also in support of Jewish unity. I lit the torch while bearing strongly in mind the mission of The Jewish Agency — working to ensure that every Jewish person feels an unbreakable bond to one another and to Israel, so we all continue to be a part of our ongoing Jewish story. The core strength of world Jewry lies in our unity and in our peoplehood.

Now more than ever, it is essential to be vigilant about rising antisemitism and against the backdrop of that challenge, to fortify our unbreakable bonds with one another as a Jewish people. That journey starts with making sure that the memory of the Holocaust is not only preserved but remains front and center in our consciousness.

About the Author
Mark Wilf is Chairman of the Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency for Israel.
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