‘Whilst we can remember the past, we cannot write the future. Only our children, the future of our community, can do that.” -Janusz Korczak
We all hold on to memories from our past, memories of experiences that have had a resounding impact on our lives.
I have a clear memory of being in Israel at 19 years of age and visiting Yad Vashem. I was walking through the outdoor garden exhibits and came upon the statue of Janusz Korczak – a larger than life memorial of him standing with wide outstretched arms, embracing children, his eyes filled with sorrow and compassion. That day, I learned that he was a pediatrician and an educator. He ran an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw, and had a unique way of working with them. He believed in a democratic approach, honouring the children’s individuality and giving each of them a voice to be heard. I learned that he was offered sanctuary by the Nazis and how he chose to stay with the children of the orphanage, ultimately accompanying them to the gas chambers of Treblinka on August 7, 1942.
In that moment, Janusz Korczak became an inspirational figure to me, and ultimately contributed to my pursuit of pediatrics as a profession.
From April 9 to 24, Shelli Wittes Kimmel, Michael Kent and I had the privilege of accompanying the Ottawa contingent on the 30th anniversary of the March of the Living program. We were in Poland for Yom HaShoah and then in Israel to share in the powerful transition from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha’Atzmaut, celebrating 70 years of Israel’s independence. We had an outstanding group of students who were committed to learning about the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and Israel. They were caring and compassionate with Angela Orosz and David Schaffer, the two Holocaust survivors travelling with us. They were loving and supportive of one another, creating new and strengthening old friendships which will last them a lifetime.
My involvement with the March of the Living began in 2011 and my passion for the program continues to this day because of the children. During this two-week journey, as chaperones, we observe and process through their eyes. We are tuned in to their emotional responses as they bear witness to man’s inhumanity to man in Poland, and we share in their pride and joy of what they are experiencing in Israel. We are with them as they move from darkness to light.
For each of these young adults, we know that this experience will in some way influence the path they choose to follow in life. They are our ambassadors. They are now the bearers of the torch, carrying the tremendous responsibility to share the history of our past and to be strong voices for humanity. They are our hope for our future.