The 99 Broward County high school grade 11 and 12 students who returned May 16 from the 14-day March of the Living program met with their parents May 19 at the Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie to discuss their feelings and observations of the MOTL program.
The phrase “I am forever changed. I will always remember what I have seen at the camps” was repeated by the teens as the most important shared observation of the MOTL Program.
The March of the Living program began in 1988 as an annual educational program for two weeks with 112,000 teens from around the world going to Poland for eight days and then continuing the journey to Israel for six more days in order to study the history of the Holocaust as well as examine the roots of hate, intolerance and prejudice.
The enrollment this year was nearly doubled from the 55 Broward students who attended the MOTL program in 2015. Overall, over 200,000 students from 52 countries have participated in the MOTL program since 1988, according to the program’s official website www.motl.org
Students from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach students also participated in the MOTL program. In Miami, the program is titled as the Leo Martin March of the Living program, in honor of the late Holocaust survivor and Miami-Dade resident who contributed $1 million for the establishment of the Friends of the March of the Living not for profit organization to perpetuate the MOTL Program.
By being “forever changed” meant many of the teens felt different about being Jewish, with a deeper emotional bond and understanding of Judaism, the Holocaust and Israel after going on the MOTL program.
“I saw the change in my 17-year-old daughter Addison immediately since she returned home. She always used to tell me that she never felt Jewish enough. Once she returned from The March of the Living, she immediately told me how connected she now felt with being Jewish,” said Vanessa Donaher.
“Before I went on the March of the Living, I did not feel that I prayed enough and took being Jewish almost for granted, especially because I don’t go to a Jewish day school. Now that I have returned, I intend to pray twice a day and become more involved in Judaism,” said teen Dylan Esquenazi.
The Broward students were accompanied by Holocaust survivors who joined the teens in visiting the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Birkenau, Majdanek and Treblinka in remembering the six million Jews who were murdered in the camps.
“Before I went to the concentration camps, I thought I knew all I had to know about the Holocaust from watching films and hearing the testimonies of survivors over the years at school, But, that is no longer true. Going inside the camps, seeing the gas chambers, even remnants of hairs of people who once were alive, is a very deep emotional experience that makes all I knew before my journey to the camps seem like nothing,” said Jessie Gedallovich.
The teens also expressed how joyous going to Israel was, as a contrast to the sadness of being in Poland.
“Going to Poland was depressing, but when we then arrived in Israel, I felt so elated. It was a time to celebrate, to feel joyous. I now feel more Jewish than ever before,” said Addison Donaher.
“It was so moving to be part of the March of the Living journey. Going to Israel was exciting. I also have a better understanding of the Holocaust and resolve to be a better Jew for having gone on the trip,” said Lauren Gutierrez, whose mother is Jewish and father is Catholic.
Survivor Adele Besserman, one of three Broward Holocaust survivors who joined the teens on the MOTL program, was both a resource and a comfort for the Broward students following their journey to the camps.
“I am a short woman and it was ironic how these young six foot plus boys came to me, wanting to hug me, kiss me, hold my hand after visiting the camps. The deep fears and sadness that the students felt help them realize the extent of the mental and physical torture all the survivors had,” said Besserman.
The MOTL program was not only about visiting the concentration camps. The students also visited the Polish cities and towns that once were vibrant centers of Jewish life and learning. The journey also included meeting with other Polish Jews at synagogues in Krakow.
On Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) the Broward students joined the thousands of teens from around the world, marching together from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the largest concentration complex built by the Nazis during World War II.
The teens resolved that going to the MOTL program is a highlight to be remembered for the rest of their lives. The teens also stated that they are open to share what they learned from the program with other students.
“Your children as well as yourselves will be the greatest ambassadors about the March of the Living program,” said Rabbi Arnold Samlan, executive director of Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education in Broward County in addressing the parents of the teens at the JCC meeting.
“The teens that went on the March of the Living will now be able to have the knowledge to combat the anti-Semitism that they may confront when they go to university,” said Samlan.
Orloff CAJE administers the Broward delegation at the MOTL program. Last April, Orloff CAJE received $100,000 from SNCF America, a subsidiary of the state-owned national railway of France for the MOTL program. The fund will be used over the next five years to enhance the ongoing educational activities of the Broward County March of the Living program.
“This gift will help Orloff CAJE’s March of the Living program continue to provide and enhance the tools the participants will need to understand, not only the Holocaust, but to go beyond the trip’s experience in learning about tolerance, indifference and standing up for your beliefs,” said Rochelle Baltuch, director of March of the Living in Broward County.
To learn more on the March of the Living program, contact the Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education, 5890 S. Pine Island Road in Davie at 954-550-2070 or go to www.mol.org
Originally published HERE