March of the Living is a Holocaust education and Israel experience trip for high school students encompassing observance of Yom HaShoah at Auschwitz and celebrating Yom Ha’Atzmaut in Israel. Janice Friedlich is the parent of two students who have participated in the March and shares her thoughts on why the program is such a valuable experience.
Having lived in both small and large cities in Canada, I have often said that living Jewishly in Canada outside Toronto or Montreal requires more of an effort, but that the the rewards that come from that effort are greater.
Toronto and Montreal will have huge contingents participating in the March and, yes, many of those students will be from Jewish high schools which incorporate the trip into the curriculum. Students from smaller communities like Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver – which form the March’s Coast-to-Coast contingent – have to think about it a bit more and, perhaps, juggle some things around to make the scheduling work.
In my opinion, though, it is so worthwhile; so worth the effort. The Coast-to-Coast contingent is a group of kids who really want to be there on this life-changing experience.
My kids participated in the 2012 and 2014 trips. Both were in Grade 11 at the time and both were able to deal with missing school. Teachers and school administrators were very supportive once they learned about the educational value of what the kids would be seeing and doing while away. Upon return, they shared their experiences at school. And they continued to do so. In the years since going on the trip, my daughter has had the opportunity to share her experiences on the March by speaking at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre during Holocaust Education Month, on Parliament Hill at a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and to many MPs and dignitaries on Parliament hill a second time as the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre launched the Tour for Humanity Bus here in Ottawa.
I have seen other participants return from the trip engaged and determined to share their experiences and act as the witnesses they have become, speaking for those who no longer can.
Part of the amazing experience of this trip is that there are still survivors of the Holocaust who are able to travel with the students and share their memories. Both of my kids shared very different, yet equally incredible experiences with the survivor on their trips.
For one of the survivors it was returning to his village in Poland for the first time since he was a child and finding the apartment where he lived with his family. For the other, it was an impromptu bar mitzvah atop Masada as he was raised by a Christian family to ensure his survival and only rediscovered his Judaism much later in life.
As the years pass and the Holocaust becomes less recent history, it becomes more important than ever to “never forget”; more important than ever for us and our kids to remember those who died in the Holocaust. March of the Living takes that further. Our kids become witnesses. They visit places that were once thriving centres of Jewish life in Poland and learn how those communities were wiped out. They observe Yom HaShoah with thousands of other students with a solemn march from Auschwitz to Birkenau. They see other concentration camps, death camps and cemeteries as they try to understand the magnitude of the Shoah.
The support of their peers, the survivors and chaperones makes this bearable. The week in Poland is heavy and intense. Then, together, they fly to Israel and celebrate the survival of the Jewish people.
Again learning so much about history and Israel, this second week of the trip is really incredible. Doing it with thousands of other Jewish kids from around the world over Yom Ha’Atzmaut is something very special.
This trip is the opportunity of a lifetime. Well worth the time and money invested.
The next March of the Living trip for students in Grades 10, 11 and 12 will take place in April 2018. For information, contact Natalie Abenhaim of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa at 613-798-4696, ext. 355, or firstname.lastname@example.org.