Local teens to tour Auschwitz and Israel on new spring trip

It’s one thing to read about Auschwitz. But Jewish educator Ariana Scott says it’s quite another to stand before the very gates of the death camp.

Scott says, “Just to see with your own eyes the sign there” — the one that reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work makes us free) — “is very emotional.”

That is exactly what’s in store for a group of up to 35 local Jewish high school juniors and seniors participating in Shalhevet, a new program co-sponsored by the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education and Peninsula Havurah High.

Similar to the March of the Living, Shalhevet teens will travel to Poland this spring for a week of touring concentration camps and sites of Polish Jewry’s former glory. Then they fly on to Israel for a second week of learning and fun. Unlike the March of the Living, which involves thousands of young people from around the world, Shalhevet keeps things small, bringing together a close-knit handful of teens to share the experience

Shalhevet is the Hebrew term for “flame,” and it signifies a flame of remembrance passed on to a new generation. “These students will become witnesses to a recent part of our history that informs who we are as a people,” notes Nechama Tamler, BJE director of teen programming.

The Jewish Community Endowment Fund of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation is subsidizing more than half the per person cost of $3,800. The application deadline has also been extended.

Before taking off, the kids must take a course designed to give them context. Scott, who also serves as teen activities coordinator at Congregation Emanu-El and is herself an alum of March of the Living, is one of the teachers.

“There are so many emotions and facts involved,” says Scott. “Kids need to know what their experiences will be.”

One of those kids is Zach Bronstein, 17, of Redwood City.

Says Bronstein. “I’ve been to many Holocaust museums, but after going to a museum, you want to learn everything you can. I’m looking forward mostly to going to a concentration camp. I really want to see one.”

He’ll get his chance. The kids depart March 20 for Poland, where they will tour the Warsaw Ghetto, the Martyrs Memorial and Oskar Schindler’s factory. In addition to the camps at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek, cities on the route include Lyublin and Krakow.

The second week in Israel includes visits to the Galilee, the Golan, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. They return home April 3.

Says Peninsula Havura High principal Claire Mikowski: “We’re arming them with historical perspective: the political rise of the Nazi Party, the ghettos and camps, the resistance. The big question is, what can we do with this legacy?”

A partial answer comes after the trip, when the participants will continue to meet, comprehending the meaning of their trip.

“These kids are part of living Jewish history,” says Mikowski, “and where they take it is in their hands. They can never be passive, never be silent.”

Adds Scott: “A trip like this is not for everybody. But for students that have the inclination, it starts them on a path for the rest of their life to bring something back to their community. They become witnesses.”

Information about the Shalhevet program or to request an application: Nechama Tamler, Bureau of Jewish Education, (415) 751-6983, ext. 143, or Claire Mikowski, ext. 128.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.