Cynthia Sedlezky, a 2015 participant in the March of the Living, reflects on an experience she wishes all Jewish youth could share.
One conversation and I was propelled inexorably towards a set of values, way of thinking, and infinite relationships that, at that time, I could not have possibly predicted or expected.
It was a warm afternoon at Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa. I was sitting under the shaded roof of the arts and crafts shack with Jordan Geist. Jordan had been on the March of the Living in 2014, and I asked her what it was about.
My question could not have pleased her more, and she related an exuberant procession of stories and memories over the next 20-odd minutes.
After my conversation with Jordan, I was quickly writing letters home asking if I could participate in the next March of the Living.
This story is in not unique. Asking any March of the Living participant about their experience is bound to be an experience on its own.
The extreme emotion felt, and the tremendous self-discovery that occurs over the two-week expedition is impossible to relay in words, though attempts result in passionate, nostalgic reminiscing.
Our Ottawa group joined with groups from other parts of Canada who formed the Coast-to-Coast Contingency at Pearson Airport in Toronto to fly to Poland on a chartered airplane.
We spent significant amounts of time touring in Poland and learning about the rich Jewish life that used to exist there – which made what we saw next all the more heartbreaking.
Our excellent tour guide, Jonathan Duitch, provided us a personal connection to the history of the Holocaust. He introduced us to survivors who shared their compassionate stories and powerful memories as we made our way through a series of concentration and death camps, including Auschwitz, Plaszow, and Treblinka.
Each evening our group would debrief in our hotel about what we saw and learned, and it was surprising to see how each person had a slightly different reaction. During our discussion after we visited Treblinka, my new friend Dani Taylor was telling our group about the immense anger that was building inside her since being exposed to the facts and stories that day, while my reaction at that point was more of sorrow and disbelief. Our chaperones – including Gaby Scarowsky and Margot and Norm Viner – made us feel supported and cared for, and we developed close relationships with them.
After a week in Poland, we boarded a plane to Israel. There, we enjoyed the triumphant feeling of being home and surrounded by our people. Our appreciation for the State of Israel was then of the utmost magnitude, incomparable to any other point in our lives. Meeting Israelis and learning about the contrasting lifestyles of other people was illuminating. It put our lives and our respective peaks and valleys into perspective.
March of the Living changed both my connection to Judaism and my outlook on the world.
It has been two years since our March of the Living journey, but I feel its impact every day. The way I perceive and react towards foreign conflict has not been the same since, as well as my sensitivity to all forms of discrimination, regardless the victim.
I wish this message could reach every Jewish youth in the world, as this trip has been, and likely will remain, the most impactful and important journey of my life. I wish everyone could have such an influential experience.
Through the people I have met, the life lessons I have learned, and the values that were solidified, the March of the Living has played a pivotal role in inspiring me to help make the world a more liberated, inclusive and cohesive place for generations to come.