March of the Living: My journey

March of the Living: My journey

By Michal Lotzkar, Special to the Jewish Sound

I went on a trip to Israel a few months ago. I had been to Israel many times before, and each time I travelled there by way of a different route. This time I traveled to Israel via Auschwitz, on the March of the Living.

Every spring, thousands of Jews from all corners of the earth gather together in Poland and Israel for an inspirational, transformational and educational trip that is truly changes people’s lives.

The trip begins in Poland, where I searched, studied and traced a Jewish world that no longer exists. My family roots are in Poland, not unlike many Jews. I never truly understood why my family and so many Jews like them lived in Poland. How did they get there? What did they do there? Why did they stay? I traveled to places in that country that enlightened me about the glorious Jewish life that once thrived there — and was then destroyed.

On Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, thousands of March participants from 40 countries and regions around the world shared in a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Together we marched the three kilometers from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the largest concentration camp complex built by the Nazis.

As a March participant, my experience directly contrasted the tragic fate of the hundreds of thousands of Jews and others forced by the Nazis to take part in the infamous death marches across vast expanses of European terrain under the harshest conditions. For me and thousands of other Jews, this was, as our tour was named, the March of the Living. We marched together reaffirming am Yisrael chai — the Jewish people live.

In an impactful memorial service at one of the gas chambers/crematoria in Birkenau, we concluded with the singing of Hatikvah. Never have I sung the national anthem of our State of Israel with such, passion, emotion, commitment, volume and tears — of sadness, anger, joy, hope — a spectrum of emotions all different, all at once. I felt our shared past with all of my senses, being “there” in the guts of where the unthinkable took place.

As our El Al flight took off from Poland to fly to Israel, I felt a dark cloud lift. Our group’s lightened mood was palpable. In Israel, we celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. As a March participant, I took part in many unique events organized specifically for us. I learned about the many challenges that still face this young country and of the role that we can play in ensuring that Israel continues to flourish as a strong, independent and democratic nation.

For as many times as I had been to Israel, my week there with the March of the Living was filled with unforgettable experiences. I saw and felt everything in Israel with renewed appreciation, passion, commitment and support for my country.

Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’atzmaut are two of the most important days in modern Jewish times. As a I returned home from the March with a renewed sense of myself, my people, and my history, I pledged that I could not keep this experience of a lifetime to myself, that I must share it. I think about the March a lot, particularly now, on the heels of the 70-year commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz. Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’atzmaut quickly approaching, and I read and I listen to the news about events of intolerance, hatred and discrimination around the world, even right here in Seattle, where we feel, safe, accepted and comfortable.

I have a nice life here in Seattle. I live in a lovely home in a beautiful and safe neighborhood with my husband and two children. As a Jewish family we are members of Temple De Hirsch Sinai, we participate in temple life, we feel we’re doing our part. Are we?

It occurred to me after having been on the March that it’s absolutely necessary to take a long view into our glorious and tragic past and forward to our future. Yes, this takes time, thought, planning and discipline, but this is what’s needed for us and our children to be strong and self reliant with a deep sense of identity and direction.

I realized by being on the March that the medium is the message. Emotions are evoked and memories etched not with documentaries, articles, books or lectures, but through the senses — by being there.

Going on the March was difficult. Why would anyone want to go to Auschwitz? It’s a horrible place. No one should ever go to Auschwitz. But that is precisely why we must all go there. We must pay tribute to the memory of the victims who never lived to see redemption and then we must support and celebrate our State of Israel.

And that is why I have become program coordinator for March of the Living for Seattle. This year, join me on the March. March of the Living 2015 runs April 13–28. March of the Living 2016 runs April 28–May 11 (approximate dates). Reach me at michal@motlthewest.org or 425-736-2336 to learn more.