Alumni Reflection: Anna Valkin, South Africa, 2017

In this lifetime, according to basic societal norms, we have a responsibility to acquire as much knowledge as we have access to, and in turn, use what we’ve learned to improve the quality of our lives, that of our community and, as much as possible, our whole planet.

The potential of a well-educated youth should never be undermined and the value of a worldly, experienced youth should never be underestimated. Knowledge is power. However, experience is the system that is fueled by knowledge, but allows for actual application of the ‘potential’.

It is rare to have a single experience that can alter one’s life. It sounds surreal to even brand 2 weeks out of 16 years as ‘more uplifting’ or ‘more enlightening” than any other. So not only am I going to claim that this is the case, but additionally, I’m going to explain why:

8 of the many things that a 16 year old Jew from South Africa learnt from March of the Living: A condensed version of a 2 week life altering experience

1.) The importance of unity: As observed from the success stories from the dark period of our history- there is strength in numbers. This is true for our ancestors AND us. There are very few ways of finding comfort after standing in a concentration camp apart from the support of people that share the experience.

2.) GRATITUDE- Materialism vs what matters: Prioritizing what actually counts, as opposed to things attached to a numerical value or of a superficial nature. After hearing the description of the conditions of Jews forced into cattle cars, that bred illness, starved people of nourishment and their humanity- it’s hard to complain about slow wifi or a dead cellphone.

3.) Exposure to and ignition of interest in a diverse mix of religious and cultural groups: Whilst our own belief system and culture was explored, so too were that of Arabic culture, Polish livelihood, Bedouin living, Islamic traditions and even branches of Judaism whose origins differ from that of our own. If we want to boast an inclusive, non-discriminative future, it is imperative to gain understanding of and decode all stereotypes of people who are the same and different to us and to establish that we are all part of one human race.

4.) Exploration, embracing and expression of our personal practice of judaism: Everyday we wake up in a home and go to a school and walk in a street amongst people with a common heritage and religion, but different streams of practice and belief. To have the opportunity to learn from other people’s perspectives and opinions as well as being given a platform to establish individual choice is one that is not only comforting and safe, but NECESSARY.

5.) Starting a conversation- This refers not only to being able to interact and initiate a relationship with people who are new faces, but more so the ability to engage in discussions with likeminded as well as completely different people, on a global scale ,about global issues. After all, we are contributors to the future of our world, and we should establish a unified force of engagement.

6.) The power of choice- after learning about and visualizing scenarios from the Holocaust, whereby soldiers, civilians and bystanders allowed for the discrimination, incrimination and blatant murder of millions- one can’t help but question what would have happened differently if people CHOSE to react differently. Yes or no. Left or right. Life or death. We survived. And we get to live to make a choice and the opportunity to make it a good one every, single day.

7.) Acceptance- The Jewish people were not the first or the last group of people to be discriminated against to a humiliating, dehumanizing and fatal extent. There are people living in our world today, even after the atrocities reflected by our history, who don’t feel safe on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, sexuality, race, gender, and more. We have to ensure human wrongs become human rights. This is our fight.

8.) Responsibilities:
– WE have to implement the above-mentioned
– WE have to be good human beings- to people, to places and to our planet
– WE have to preserve our and all nation’s rights to freedom
​- WE have to question and fight against any human right violations
– WE have to tell their stories
– WE have to always remember, and never forget.

– Written by Anna Valkin, March of the Living South Africa, 2017


  1. Rick Shapiro says:

    This is an amazing piece…for anyone to have written, but even more so for a 16 year old….Anna Valkin is an extraordinarily thoughtful and insightful young lady!…and a South African!

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