Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The March of the Future

It’s a bizarre place to take a group of high school students. On this year’s March of the Living, I traveled with the teenagers to Poland and Israel. Frankly, it is a gut wrenching journey. An itinerary that includes ghettoes, concentration camps and death camps is gruesome, even for people with thick skins; so why were sixteen year olds visiting these sites in Poland?

We went because we had to go. No one wants to visit some of the most horrific places on earth. But for Jews, history is current events. Year after year, we sit at the Seder and recount the exodus from Egypt. Even though 3,300 years may have passed, the exodus is still our story, one that reminds us who we are. Certainly the most recent chapters in our story, the Holocaust and the State of Israel, cannot be ignored. And so we traveled to Poland and Israel, on a journey to reconnect with our history.

In some ways, 60 years ago could not be more distant. Here they were, a group of comfortable 21st century teenagers armed with ipods, cellphones and digital cameras, confronting the unimaginable. At first, many of the students found it difficult to feel sadness; they simply could not grasp what they were seeing. It was too foreign, too unbelievable.

That changed when the survivors began to speak. Traveling with us were six survivors, eyewitnesses to the Holocaust. As we heard their stories of suffering and survival, everyone’s tears flowed.

The survivors, all senior citizens, did not come along to serve as guides. They came back to Poland, one last time, to offer testimony on behalf of the six million. This was their last chance to make sure that future generations do not forget.

Our digital era teenagers may not have realized it, but they are the last generation to hear eyewitnesses to the Holocaust. As time marches on, there are fewer and fewer survivors. Ultimately, we will be left with witnesses of witnesses; our ipod wearing teens are the ones who will retell the story of the Holocaust in the future.

When I returned, a student asked me: will there be a March of the Living 50 years from now? Will people still care about this story?

My answer to her was simple: It’s in your hands. You will decide whether future generations remember the horrors of the Holocaust and the miracles of Israel. You will decide if future generations know what it means to be a Jew. The future of the Jewish people is in your hands.

On the March of the Living, I saw the Jewish future. I saw a group of ordinary teenagers learn about Judaism with idealism and intensity. I am proud to have gotten to know them. To be honest, I can’t think of better people to entrust with the Jewish future.

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