March of Living brings home what cant be forgotten

There is no way I could ever forget such images.

It is not as though I learned only upon my arrival in Poland that such things happened, because I have been taught all this throughout my life. Yet, when one can put one's hand up to the wall that mothers scratched out of anguish after realizing that all hope was gone, that they and their children were about to be gassed, one can no longer be the same.

Whether it was seeing a large stone commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto uprising or six megaliths in memory of the 6 million Jews at the entrance to the concentration camp Majdanek, I and many other privileged teenagers from around the world memorialized the heroes who died in the name of Judaism.

When I was later in Israel, a loud siren rang out from Safed to Eilat, once at 8 p.m. and then at 11 a.m. the next day. No, the country was not being bombed. The occasion was Yom HaZikaron, the Israeli Memorial Day. Twice the whole country stopped what it was doing, whether on the road or on the job, to remember the 25,000 who gave their lives for the land.

The sirens were among many memorials I witnessed during "March of the Living," which took me from Poland to Israel this past spring.

I have always attempted to be as involved in my Jewish community as possible. I have been in Jewish schools my entire life and am now in the Hebrew Academy of San Francisco, so being Jewish has never been very hard for me.

Going on March of the Living did not open my eyes to Judaism, but rather, increased my pride and sense of being part of a greater, larger unit.

I remember looking up at the dazzling fireworks show in the Latrun tank museum near Jerusalem. I looked around me and saw about 7,500 Jews from all over the world, all participants in the March of the Living. I felt this gush of happiness and pride.

At first I thought it was from the beauty and crashing sounds of the fireworks. Then I realized it was a celebration of my Jewish identity. Although every day of my life is filled with Judaism, being in the land of Israel on its 50th anniversary, surrounded by so many Jews, made it all the more meaningful.

Having gone with six fellow schoolmates, a very large portion of the 19 from the Bay Area, I was automatically surrounded by friends the entire time. This trip did not only teach about the Holocaust and Israel, but about myself and making new friendships that will last a lifetime. This support network helped me while witnessing the atrocities that the Nazis did to our people: I knew I would not have to come home to uncomfortable questions about whether Poland was "fun," because my schoolmates would understand that this was not the case. Although there were many enjoyable moments, even in Poland, the trip was more an intense experience in delving into Judaism and the Holocaust than a simple two-week vacation.

Yes, it is true that the trip changed me, but I was not worried about going home, as were many of the others who had gone on the trip with me. First of all, my friends from the Hebrew Academy who were on the trip with me knew exactly what I had witnessed, and my friends who stayed behind at school knew all too well what had happened to our people just over 50 years ago.

I do not feel that the March of the Living made me "see the light" or undergo an epiphany in any aspect of my life. But my Jewish identity has been given a new perspective. As Elie Wiesel said, "Not all the victims were Jewish, but all the Jews were victims."

I am able to be all the more grateful for the relative easiness of being a Jew in the present time, knowing how closely my family was affected, as both my father's parents are Holocaust survivors. I do not experience persecution for my beliefs and can attend a Jewish school and teach the lessons of the Holocaust.

In just one year I will be going off to college, to a place where others will not know these truths quite so well. Some will even deny them. I must carry on the idea stated by philosopher George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." My mission is to help people remember.

A final image of the many lasting images from this trip is the march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the "March of Death," which our group retraced. It was a sunny day and there was a stream of blue coats farther than the eye could see. All I could think to myself was that this was not a march only commemorating the dead, but rather a celebration of the living.