Annual trip lets thousands of students bear witness, realize their roots
When March of the Living (MOL) participants leave on their journey in April, they will be marking the 30th anniversary of the educational program and also getting the chance to visit Israel during its 70th anniversary.
Nineteen students from Ottawa will participate this year in the March of the Living program, which will bring more than 10,000 Jewish teens, young adults and adults from all over the world to Poland for one week to bear witness to the tragedies of the past. This is followed by one week in Israel, where we will celebrate 70 years of our country’s existence and gain further appreciation of the importance of the State of Israel to the Jewish people.
Joining the 19 Ottawa (Grades 10 to 12) students will be three other students, one each from Kingston, Montreal and Halifax.
Shelli Wittes Kimmel and Michael Kent are chaperones for the 2018 trip and I will be joining them as Chair of the Coast to Coast contingent. The Coast to Coast group includes participants from Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. We all travel together, making it a wonderful opportunity for our students to connect with Jewish teens from across the country, creating lifelong, enduring friendships.
In preparation for the trip, Shelli, Michael and I have organized regular educational sessions for the students. University of Ottawa history professor Dr. Jan Grabowski spoke to the group about the history of Jewish life in Poland. Cantor Moshe Kraus shared his personal story of survival during the Holocaust.
On the last weekend in February, we had a Shabbaton led by Eli Rubenstein, the director of the National March of the Living Canada. Nikki and Michael Shapiro and Samantha and Josh Freedman graciously hosted us in their homes.
We were so fortunate to hear from Ottawa survivor Eva Gelbman, who shared her story of loss and survival through the Holocaust. Eli spoke about physical and spiritual resistance during the Holocaust, the Righteous Among the Nations, and shared stories about survivors who have been involved with the March of the Living over the years. Éloge Butera (policy advisor to MP Ralph Goodale) joined us during Shabbat as well, and shared his experiences as an 11-year-old boy living through the horror of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda.
Further educational sessions included hearing from an indigenous woman who is a survivor of the residential school system. The same evening, Ariella Kimmel, a former March of the Living participant, spoke with us about her work with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) in engaging ethnic groups including the indigenous community.
Our trip leaves Ottawa on April 9, the day after Passover ends. We are blessed to have two Holocaust survivors travelling with us for the full two weeks: Angela Orosz Richt, from Montreal, and David Schaffer, from Vancouver.
As we organize the final preparations for the March of the Living journey, Shelli, Michael and I are anticipating an emotional and meaningful journey with the students. Given the reality that there are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors with us to share their personal stories, it becomes critically important for younger generations to bear witness to the historical truth – visiting once-thriving Jewish communities and synagogues, walking through concentration camps and standing by mass graves in the midst of seemingly peaceful forests in Poland.
We know that after their journey, the students return to our community with a deepened sense of Jewish identity, a strengthened sensitivity to social injustice, and a determined commitment to tikkun olam (acts of kindness to repair the world). This brings tremendous comfort to the survivors, knowing that their stories will be passed on from generation to generation.
You can follow the Ottawa students on their journey in Poland and Israel at marchoftheliving.org. Donations to the March of the Living Committee are
welcome and will help subsidize students for upcoming trips.