This trip has hands down been the most important thing I have done in my life. I have never been away from home for more than a week at a time nor have I been out of the country. I only knew one person before this trip. So, to sum everything up, I was pretty terrified to leave.
Stepping off the plane into Poland, I had no idea what I was about to become a witness to. No words can describe how I felt walking through the forest or seeing the 40,000 shoes and pounds of human hair. I was disgusted at the fact that this actually happened; that ordinary people let this happen. I constantly found myself asking the question why.
In contrast, landing in Israel was such an amazing feeling. Spending Independence Day “home” was an experience I will never forget. I’ve never been prouder to call myself a Jew.
-Sydney Zwick, Finneytown High School
Hello everybody. I would like to thank you all for reading this blog post. I am writing this from Ben Gurion Airport after a life-altering journey that is the March of the Living. It is somewhat difficult to reflect on an experience that I am still processing, but I will do my best.
Let me start by saying that these past two weeks have been some of the best and most impactful ones of my life. I have lived, learned, and loved with 24 of my peers, all of whom I now consider my best friends. We have shared an unbelievable journey and we will be returning as people with a responsibility, a duty. This responsibility is to carry the stories of the six million Jews with us for the rest of our lives, because now that we have seen the places where the atrocities were committed against our people with our own eyes, we must keep their memories alive in our hearts and with our stories, and we must not do anything less. We are now in the select group upon whom this responsibility falls, and while it may take us a while to process everything we have experienced in these past weeks, we will uphold our duty. It is a burden we gladly now bear. I feel honored to be one of these few.
I am so thankful for everybody and everything that made this journey possible for me. This experience has given me an entirely new perspective on life, death, human resilience, and miracles. I plan to apply the lessons I have learned on this journey to my life, and I am very grateful for them. I currently find myself at a loss of words to express how much the March has meant to me, and I think that says something in itself for the impact it has had on every participant. I am also now realizing how long I’ve been droning on for, so I’ll try to wrap this up. The March of the Living has changed my life in the best and most meaningful ways possible, and I recommend it to everybody. Am Yisrael Chai.
-Avi Dave, Walnut Hills High School
Breathe in, breathe out. It is the last day of the trip and emotions are flying. Our journey has been fulfilled and we are all happy with the people who we have become.
It was fitting that our last day was our most relaxed, late breakfast followed by a morning service led by Marissa and Jenna. Following services we all participated in a activity in which each person picked an individual from the group that has meant somthing to them on this trip, then followed by our most memorable moments in Poland and Israel. After those we would say our own messages that we would take away from this trip.
We were then given around two hours to pack, swim and hangout. I went swimming and had a blast for the half an hour I was there. We all met for lunch at 1:15 and after that left the hotel and started our day.
Our first stop was Mount Herzl, named after Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl, visionary of the Jewish State. There we learned about the lost lives of many soldiers who were fighting for the Jewish state of Israel. One story in particular told by Boaz included a soldier named Michael, he was a lone soldier and while taking time off Israel went into war, Michael left his vacation time as soon as possible and came to Israel to fight for his country and what he believed in. All of us can see how much keeping the Jewish state of Israel means to everybody and how we must protect it.
Next we drove to Jaffa to learn about important figures that had been there and much more. After which we had dinner on the beach, many of us had some great shawarma and smoothies. We all had a great time and it was a great way to end the trip.
-Jared Fisher, Seven Hills School
Today was the last day of our incredible journey from dark to light. I am confident in speaking for everyone when I say that today was a wonderful end to our trip. We woke up and had breakfast and services while overlooking Jerusalem behind our hotel. Afterwards, we did yoga and guided meditation which gave us time to reflect on the past two weeks. We packed, had free time at the pool, and ate lunch.
We left our final hotel and headed off to Mt. Hertzl. The heat was bearable and felt nice on our skin after the Midwest-like weather in Poland. We learned about everything Theodore Hertzl did for Israel and visited an innumerable amount of graves of soldiers who died fighting for the beautiful land of Israel. Seeing the framed smiling faces of 18 and 19 year olds sitting on top of their own graves made me feel even more grateful to have experienced the past week in Israel.
We left beautiful Mt. Hertzl and drove over to the port city of Jaffa. It was absolutely stunning to look out into the seemingly never-ending Mediterranean Sea and to learn about the history within the city. We ate the best Shawarma and fresh fruit smoothies on the beach and took in our final experiences in our homeland. As we drove to the Ben-Gurion Airport, we took time to thank our guide, Boaz, our security guard, Omri, and our amazing chaperones, Betsy, David, and Abby.
As I am sitting here at our gate getting ready to fly back home, I think we have all taken away many valuable things from this trip. The most important lesson in my eyes is that we must now be the voices of those who have perished. We are the ones who must speak for those who cannot speak for themselves– the ones who had a favorite pair of shoes and high school sweethearts, family traditions and who loved singing in choir class. We are now the voices of the ones who were lost before we were born, and we must carry on their story.
-Jillian Blumberg, Mason High School
This journey has left me speechless. I am in awe. I’m in awe of the lack of humanity during the Shoah. The millions of people dehumanized, worked to death, starved to death, and murdered in the most inhumane ways suffocated me as I walked through labor, concentration, and extermination camps. The blue stained walls from the Zyklon B and the scratches in the gas chambers gave me goosebumps I couldn’t get rid of. As we passed the mountain of ashes in Majdanek, you could picture the black smoke coming out of the crematoriums. The forest in which a whole town was murdered changed the word “forest” and “trees” for all of us forever. The stones representing whole cities, towns, and villages completely wiped of their Jewish culture in Treblinka was unfathomable. Walking through these places in Poland and learning about the Shoah was one of the hardest things I’ve done. But with my family I knew I was not facing these horrors alone. These young men, women, and adults have been my backbone; they’ve held me together through our journey through Poland. I am proud to say I have 30 new family members (including Peppi, Boaz, and Omri) who have been through hell with me. We are witnesses to the horrors of inhumanity. And because of this, we must never forget and always remember.
The day we arrived in Israel, we climbed into a crowded bus. I woke up to Roman arches and the beautiful Mediteranean Sea. The warm breeze blew the weight off my sorrows and anger off my shoulders. I had a smile from cheek to cheek and couldn’t have been happier to be in the Holy Land. I have seen more beauty here in Israel than I ever have anywhere else. The places, the history, the food, the markets, and most of all, the people. From a week of hell into a week of heaven truly brought everyone together as a community. We conquered Masada at 4:30 am and watched the breathtaking sunrise. We covered our bodies in the mud of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. And we guided each other through the underground water tunnels of the City of David (of course bumping our heads many times). I would not change anything about this journey. Not the places, nor the people. Through our tears of extreme sadness and happiness, we and 10,000 other people from around the world have connected in such a special way. I couldn’t be more grateful for this life changing experience. I will always remember.
-Gracie Groene, Mount Notre Dame High School
Today was an adventurous day in Jerusalem! We went to the old city and explored the Jewish Quarter. Before that though, we ventured off into the Hezikiah Tunnel. This tunnel was unlike any other tunnel. It was pitch black, water up to our knees, narrow walls, and very low ceiling. The tunnel took about 45 minutes and was around 600 meters. Right after we finished that we ventured off into yet another tunnel. This tunnel was used for the old city for the sewer system. The smell was pretty was bad, but it was bearable. It was a bit longer than the first tunnel we did, but we had light and this one was bigger.
After all that, I bought myself some Israeli chocolate and enjoyed the nice weather. As I grabbed my stuff to head towards the Kotel, I was taking multiple pictures with my GoPro. I was able to grab a great shot of the Kotel with having the Dome of the Rock in the background. When I approached the Kotel, I was able to wrap tefillin and have a moment with God. I took my note and put it in the crevasse of the Wall. 5 years ago, I got Bar Mitzvahed at the Western Wall, so being at this site was a very magical moment for me. I’ll see you again in a few years, Israel. Am Yisrael Chai.
-Max Fritzhand, Sycamore High School
It was my second time visiting the Kotel. I had felt a deep connection when I first visited in 2014 during the Israeli-Gaza War. This second time, I also felt connected, but in a different way.
After I inserted the note I had written for myself, I began to feel that my reason for being there was not for me, but for the six million voices silenced when they were murdered in the Shoah. I touched my necklace that bore the Sh’ma, and felt that I was here for those six million who were never able to know of or see the state of Israel and visit the Western Wall. It was the culmination of my decision to carry on their legacies, as I had decided when I signed up for this trip.
After I prayed for them at the main part of the wall, I was able to visit the newly announced pluralistic section that allows men and women to visit the Wall together. As a self-proclaimed feminist Jew, I was excited to see a section that women were finally able to pray as they please, with the ability to wear tallit and read the Torah. It was amazing to see a bar mitzvah taking place at the wall, led by a female rabbi, where the entire family was able to be present and celebrate together. Seeing this family rejoice while this boy fulfilled such an important life cycle event was so powerful just one week after our journey in Poland, two days after yom hazikaron, and one day after yom haatzmaut.
The Western Wall is a universal symbol for tenacity, as the wall held even as all other structures crumbled. Such is the story of the Jewish people – amid all struggles, when tragedy occurs (as it often seems to), we endure. More than 70 years after the Shoah ended, here stands this boy becoming a man, celebrating with his Jewish family in front of this Wall, this symbol of tenacity.
-Hannah Kaplan, Indian Hill High School
Hi everyone! It’s hard to believe that the end of our journey is almost here. Today our day started with a tour of the old city of Jerusalem. While there, we learned about the city’s rich history and had the opportunity to explore said history first hand. We traveled underground through ancient water tunnels that ran through the city.
Next, we walked to the kotel where we were able to pray at the western wall and place our notes into the wall’s cracks. The western wall is traditionally segregated by gender but recently a a conservative/reform style section was created. At Azrat Israel, we were able to pray together as a group at the newly opened section of the wall where boys and girls are allowed to pray together.
The rest of the day consisted of shopping and eating at the Mahane yehuda market and Ben Yehuda street. On our way back to the hotel we got to meet up with our amazing Poland tour guide Peppi, and catch her up on the rest of our trip in Israel.
We returned to the hotel to prepare for our last Shabbat together. Our Shabbat ceremony took place outside and consisted of the same prayers that we usually do on Shabbat. However, celebrating Shabbat in Israel after witnessing the atrocities that were committed in Poland gave the evening a whole new meaning. We all took the time to realize how fortunate we are to be standing in a country where we are free to be Jewish.
After our ceremony we did an activity where we recognized people on the trip who have impacted our personal journey. We cannot believe there is only one day left on this trip. Together we have laughed, cried, questioned, explored, learned and grown together. The memories we have made will stay with us forever.
-Becca Wise, Cincinnati Country Day School