A Travellerspoint blog

A Day of Rest and Reflection

Today participants had flexibility to experience the city of Krakow or relax.

The morning allowed for two different options: 1) attend Shabbat morning services Isaak Shul a 400+ year-old synagogue or 2) partake in a spiritual and philosophical discussion about God’s role in the Holocaust.

Those who went to the synagogue got to experience a traditional service. Many students were inspired by the grandeur of the building and the services. Highlights of the experience were the physical beauty as well as the Torah service led by a talented IDF choir. Eden Zoghi who took advantage of the experience and said, “the writings and the paintings on the wall were gorgeous and showed their age. It’s amazing that the synagogue survived through the Holocaust.”

Participants who chose to discuss the role of God in the Holocaust were challenged to think deeply and share their ideas with their peers. Questions like does God exist, if so, what was his role in the Holocaust, and if he had specific intentions during the Holocaust, why were some saved while others not were asked. Candice Emrani enjoyed this challenging experience and said, “I enjoyed hearing from the Holocaust survivors who have thought about this topic for a long time. They have credibility and their perspective has a lot of weight. Their answers made room for more discussion and more thinking.” Those who attended left with more questions than answers.

Once we finished with our adventures, we all got to rest and relax in the hotel. Then, we had an optional walking tour of Krakow where participants saw major sites in the city. Jasmine Beroukhim had a special experience on the tour. She noted, “walking around a once thriving Jewish city on Shabbat after the horrors of the Holocaust was an incredible, meaningful and uplifting feeling.” Jasmine had a conversation reflecting on the experience with Carmel Madadshahi. Carmel said, “The diversity in architecture between pre-war and post-war really tells a story.” She said that she learned so much about the history of Krakow.

Finally, we closed our day with an energy-filled Havdallah service. Happie Hoffman played the guitar for us while both the adult and teen BJE March of the Living delegations danced and celebrated. We not only celebrated the new week but also our courageous and wonderful survivors. Participants took each of our survivors and lifted them above our heads so they could crowd surf. Emma Nulman said “The energy in the room was exactly what I needed to end such a heavy week. Watching the survivors crowd surf was a once in a lifetime experience.”

We walked back to the hotel and everyone was ready for sleep after all the dancing and sing they just experienced.

Posted by BJEMOTL 13:55 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Bimah, Mass Grave, Old Town Krakow, and Shabbos

Today was a loaded day with a much needed relaxing start to Shabbat!

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Yet another fun day on BJE March of the Living. Today everyone woke up anticipating what we had on schedule and awaiting the entry of Shabbat.

Immediately following breakfast, we made our way to the town of Tarnow that used to have a thriving Jewish community. During the shoah, Holocaust, the Nazis destroyed a synagogue in the town. The only remnant of the shul was the bimah, stage, that stood inside. To our luck, we had the opportunity to watch an IDF choir group perform a ceremony there. It was amazing to see a bimah that was once occupied by Jews regularly be occupied by our Israel's defenders.

The mass grave we visited and paid our respects to was one of the more somber experiences of the trip. The mass grave in Zbylitowska Gora was actually many mass graves of both Jews, Poles, and other peoples murdered by the Nazis. The specific grave site we visited was that of 800+ Jewish children. Our participants had the opportunity to reflect on how important their siblings, parents, and families at large are. How would I have felt if I were one of the parents? How would I have felt if my brother/sister was one of the kids in the line waiting to be murdered? Many of the children murdered were not lucky enough to have a bar/bat mitzvah. They never had the opportunity to get married. Their final Shabbat experience was taken from them at too early of an age. We decided to give these children everything that was taken away from them. We unfolded an extremely large talit, prayer shawl, and had our participants pass it over the grave site. We sang and said several blessings so that these children could have the experiences we are so lucky and thankful to have had. As we exited the mass grave site, we created shivah lines and accompanied our survivors the way one does for a family in mourning.

Students had the opportunity to reflect on the experience during the bus to Old Town Krakow. We talked about how they think they would have reacted. Many mentioned that mundane actions like lighting Shabbos candles and saying kiddush would no longer be so normal or taken for granted. It was clear that everyone walked away from the experience with a new appreciation for life, Judaism, and family.

Upon arrival in Old Town Krakow, we walked to the main square in the area where we heard a little bit about Krakow. Everyone then had the opportunity to explore the square and all it had to offer. People bought pierogis, a classic Polish cuisine, as well as went shopping and toured the beautiful sites and building surrounding the square. This was the first time on the trip where participants were able to go choose what they wanted to do with their time and everyone seemed thrilled. We all met back up at our meeting point and we hustled back to the buses to make it to the hotel on time to bring in the Shabbat together.

After showering and dressing up, everyone met in the events hall to do Kabbalat Shabbat, an evening service welcoming the Shabbat, together. We saying classics like Lecha Dodi with extra intention as we continued to reflect on the week and how fortunate we all are. The ruach was carried over into dinner where we had a fantastic Shabbat meal filled with different meats, veggies, salads, and sides. It was the perfect ending to a reflective day.

Posted by BJEMOTL 15:21 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Bimah, Mass Grave, Old Town Krakow, and Shabbos

Today was a loaded day with a much needed relaxing start to Shabbat!

Yet another fun day on BJE March of the Living. Today everyone woke up anticipating what we had on schedule and awaiting the entry of Shabbat.

Immediately following breakfast, we made our way to the town of Tarnow that used to have a thriving Jewish community. During the shoah, Holocaust, the Nazis destroyed a synagogue in the town. The only remnant of the shul was the bimah, stage, that stood inside. To our luck, we had the opportunity to watch an IDF choir group perform a ceremony there. It was amazing to see a bimah that was once occupied by Jews regularly be occupied by our Israel's defenders.

The mass grave we visited and paid our respects to was one of the more somber experiences of the trip. The mass grave in Zbylitowska Gora was actually many mass graves of both Jews, Poles, and other peoples murdered by the Nazis. The specific grave site we visited was that of 800+ Jewish children. Our participants had the opportunity to reflect on how important their siblings, parents, and families at large are. How would I have felt if I were one of the parents? How would I have felt if my brother/sister was one of the kids in the line waiting to be murdered? Many of the children murdered were not lucky enough to have a bar/bat mitzvah. They never had the opportunity to get married. Their final Shabbat experience was taken from them at too early of an age. We decided to give these children everything that was taken away from them. We unfolded an extremely large talit, prayer shawl, and had our participants pass it over the grave site. We sang and said several blessings so that these children could have the experiences we are so lucky and thankful to have had. As we exited the mass grave site, we created shivah lines and accompanied our survivors the way one does for a family in mourning.

Students had the opportunity to reflect on the experience during the bus to Old Town Krakow. We talked about how they think they would have reacted. Many mentioned that mundane actions like lighting Shabbos candles and saying kiddush would no longer be so normal or taken for granted. It was clear that everyone walked away from the experience with a new appreciation for life, Judaism, and family.

Upon arrival in Old Town Krakow, we walked to the main square in the area where we heard a little bit about Krakow. Everyone then had the opportunity to explore the square and all it had to offer. People bought pierogis, a classic Polish cuisine, as well as went shopping and toured the beautiful sites and building surrounding the square. This was the first time on the trip where participants were able to go choose what they wanted to do with their time and everyone seemed thrilled. We all met back up at our meeting point and we hustled back to the buses to make it to the hotel on time to bring in the Shabbat together.

After showering and dressing up, everyone met in the events hall to do Kabbalat Shabbat, an evening service welcoming the Shabbat, together. We saying classics like Lecha Dodi with extra intention as we continued to reflect on the week and how fortunate we all are. The ruach was carried over into dinner where we had a fantastic Shabbat meal filled with different meats, veggies, salads, and sides. It was the perfect ending to a reflective day.

Posted by BJEMOTL 13:44 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

The March of the Living

A day filled with ruach, spirit, as well as community, pride, and emotions.

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Today was the day that we were going to march from Auschwitz to Birkenau. After taking a little time to experience both camps yesterday, participants were excited to dive deeper today.

During our bus ride to the first stop of the day for our kickoff, some of our participants took the opportunity to lay tefillin and say the Shema.

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Our wonderful and inspiring survivors had a chance to share their personal stories with each bus as we made our way to Auschwitz.

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The programming kicked off with a charge. We heard from our educators about the beginnings of Yom Hashoah and why it is the memorial day we all know today. After, one of the survivors on our trip, Raul Artal, shared his survival story and talked about the medical experiments that were performed on Jews by Dr. Mengele. Everyone was moved by what he had to say.

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David Lax, the grandson of past BJE March of the Living survivor attendee Sandonia Lax, had the opportunity to share his grandmother's story with everyone. Seven years ago he promised her that when she could no longer travel to Poland with our delegation, he would travel for her to share her story. He reminded us of how hard the times were and that "things that are simple in our lives cannot be taken for granted."

The stories and memories were absolutely breathtaking. There was only one thing we could do after that, sing and celebrate our heritage. Happie Hoffman, our resident musician, led us in some Jewish songs and everyone had the opportunity to dance and sing!

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Once the celebration came to a close, we made our way to Auschwitz to tour the site and prepare for the march. Participants had the opportunity to go into different barracks and see the items on display. It was absolute silence as we passed the enormous piles of shoes, tallitot (prayer shawls), combs, suitcases, and much more. Educator Randy Fried told us to "imagine that every single pair shoe represents one of us."

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Suddenly, we heard the blow of a shofar and our different tour groups came together as one delegation of over 240 individuals to begin the march with 15,000 others to Birkenau. Altogether, we walked out from Auschwitz under the "ARBEIT MACHT FREI" gate. Phil Liff-Grieff reminded us that while we are fortunate enough to walk out of the camp, "many of our ancestors were not as lucky. We have the opportunity to walk out to our futures while they did not."

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Participants took the opportunity to meet other delegation members from all over the world. They traded pins, hats, flags, ribbons, etc. so that everyone could share as one community. The LA delegation swag was a hot commodity! Upon arrival at Birkenau, our educators brought different groups around to learn about the mass murder gas chambers that had been built in the camp. We saw how the Nazis tried to blow up the evidence of the atrocities that occurred on the cursed land. Everyone was in awe as they saw the efficiency at which the Nazis were able to murder and cremate Jews in the camp.

Soon after the Yom Hashoah ceremony began where we heard from survivors, their children, religious leaders, Israeli government leaders and more. The pinnacle of the experience was at the very end when all 15,000 rose together to sing Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, all together.

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Everyone returned to the buses and took a minute to digest what they had just experienced. Upon reflection, some of the participants took the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings.

Some were most moved by the community they witnessed at the march. Aaron Louis mentioned that "marching with everyone showed me the unity of the Jewish people." Ava Hekmati said that she was amazed by "how many different countries and peoples with different beliefs and backgrounds came together unified on this day for the same cause." Others really took the time to be grateful for all that we have. Nikki Hagigat talked about how "a lot of our families came from places like Iran and Poland where they were persecuted for being Jewish. We need to recognize how lucky we are to be able to wear a magen David, Jewish star of David, proudly around our necks."

It was safe to say that everyone in attendance walked away with a new lesson or reminder about our lives and how we should go about living them.

We got back to the hotel and immediately had dinner. Estelle Nadal, a veteran March of the Living survivor participant, had the opportunity to share how she and other family members were saved at the hands of Righteous Gentiles. She then introduced us to her savior's son who was present with us all day. Estelle lived for two and a half years in an attic so weak that they could not walk inside as the floors would have fallen in.

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Today was physically and emotionally exhausting. While everyone was thankful, all were looking forward to a good nights sleep in preparation for the following day's activities. Big shoutout to our four educators who made the experiences at the camp today and the learning what it was.

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Posted by BJEMOTL 13:52 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Lodz, Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Yom Hashoah Ceremony

Today was a heavy day that helped our group immediately get into the mindset necessary for the rest of the trip.

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After a short night of rest, we all woke up smiling and ready to go! We started off with a lovely breakfast at the hotel and some remarks from our educators, Mark Lazar, Randy Fried, Michal Porath-Zibman, and Phil Liff-Grieff who helped set the scene in Lodz in the early 1900s.

We packed into the busses and headed to Radagast station where Jews were forced to come to be deported to ghettos and concentration camps. Here we had the experience of hearing Bob Geminder's Zl" story, a survivor who traveled with BJE March of the Living for many years who recently passed away. Stories were told about hard decisions to separate parents from children in order to save lives and the dehumanization of Jews in the ghetto. We took time to step into a cattle car with our groups to try and get the tiniest sense of what it might have been like to be packed in with hundreds of others. "This is real!"

Once we wrapped up at Radagast, we made the trek to Auschwitz. Erika Schwartz, a survivor on the trip with us, started off our time here by telling her and her mother's survival story. We had the pleasure of hearing from participant Elijah Cooperman about his grandfather, Freddy Diament Zl" and his story. Freddy had come with the first BJE March of the Living delegation in 2002. Elijah charged our group with this powerful story and message and ended his remarks by saying "I pray we never forget."

Some of us also stayed back and got to speak with participant Josh Cohn whose grandfather, Gunther, lost his family in Auschwitz. Josh had the opportunity to put a stone down in Auschwitz that his grandfather gave him for the trip.

Then, we made the quick bus ride to Birkenau (Auschwitz II) and walked the tracks into the death camp. We heard more about the dehumanization of our people. We heard about the terrible conditions they lived in, the removal of all their property, the work they were forced to perform, and the treatment they received whether or not they performed their duties. Our educators took time to contextualize the experience so that all participants could try to begin to understand what went on in this horrific place.

The day ended with our opening Yom Hashoah ceremony. March of the Living delegations from all over the world attended the event and helped share the experience as a kehillah, community. We were fortunate to have two representatives from our delegation, Ryan Abrishami and Lily Spar, on stage to accompany the Israeli Defense Force choir with an emotional reading.

It was a heavy day, but an impactful one.

Posted by BJEMOTL 14:16 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

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