Federation Report: The responsibility of remembrance and education is ours

By Allan Shefrin

The March of the Living started in 1988, and to this day offers an unrivaled, unique, immersive educational experience. Jewish high school students, joined by Holocaust survivors, visit the death camps and ruins of the Jewish community in Poland. This is followed by visiting Israel to experience the rebirth of the Jewish people and nation.

I first learned about the March shortly after it first began. Vadim Dreyzin, a schoolmate in Winnipeg, returned from the trip and at our Holocaust commemoration program, performed “The April Wind,” a song he wrote that has inspired Jewish communities ever since.

Hearing it, I could visualize what he’d seen – the empty barracks – and was inspired by his lyrics “for the songs you could not sing, I promise, yes I promise I will sing.” Beginning then, I knew what our responsibility was and is. We must tell the stories that the victims of the Shoah cannot tell.

Now, more than ever, these stories are so vital to hear, to record and to tell. Our opportunities to connect with survivors are diminishing and our responsibility to ensure this never happens again is growing. Recent studies revealed than more than half of Canadians and almost two-thirds of millennials do not know that six million Jews died in the Holocaust.

We must reverse this trend.

It is my privilege to have taken over as chair of Ottawa’s March of the Living (MOL) Committee from Karen Palayew. Under her leadership, the Ottawa MOL contingent grew and became more active in the community. While this is an off-year for our program, our alumni continue to share their experiences with Ottawa’s Jewish and broader communities. MOL alumni, and their characteristic blue jackets, are omnipresent at every local Holocaust event. In my tenure as chair, I want to prioritize re-engaging all of our alumni in Holocaust education and MOL activities.

MOL alumni, with the assistance of committee members Minda Chaikin and Janice Friedlich, are working on the MOL Alumni Project. In partnership with the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship, this project pairs alumni with Holocaust survivors who are part of the centre’s speakers’ bureau. As part of this program, alumni and Holocaust survivors are planning and delivering presentations at various local schools. The alumni will ultimately become the survivors’ voices by carrying on sharing their stories.

Our committee has been busy planning for Ottawa’s next MOL contingent. In April 2020 students from Ottawa will join the Canadian Coast-to-Coast group, along with Holocaust survivors, to learn firsthand about the horrors of the Holocaust, and themselves become witnesses.

Over a dozen families attended our first information session with MOL National Director Eli Rubenstein. We are holding a second session on Monday, May 6, 7 pm, at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre. There will be a third in the fall. These sessions allow interested families to hear from past participants, parents and survivors to prepare themselves for joining the trip.

We are also actively seeking chaperones for the 2020 trip. The deadline to apply is June 30.

The responsibility of remembrance is falling on our generation and our children’s generation. March of the Living is here to help and to do what we can so that never again means never again.

If you are interested in joining the MOL or being a chaperone in 2020, please contact Lindsay Gottheil at lgottheil@jewishottawa.com or 613-798-4696, ext. 355.