Journeying Poland and the Holy Land
When I first thought about going to Israel and Poland on The Emery/Weiner School senior class trip, I thought I would go crazy being with my classmates for a whole entire month. How am I supposed to get my alone time? What am I going to do with no Wifi connection in the desert? What if I get sick? I quickly learned that in order to connect with my classmates, madrichim (counselors), and faculty members, I had to disconnect.
The journey commenced in Poland where we spent a week broadening our perspective and knowledge about the Holocaust. Many of my classmates and I have been learning about the Holocaust in Jewish day school our whole lives. Textbooks and Holocaust museums only shed light on part of the story. There’s truly nothing like seeing the concentration and death camps in person, which is something I think everyone in the world needs to see.
After our visits to multiple camps and cemeteries such as Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Buczyna Forest, I thought the evilness couldn’t get worse after seeing the horrors of those distasteful places. I was completely wrong. We witnessed mounds of our ancestors’ ashes at Majdanek concentration camp. The ashes were probably the worst thing I have ever seen and will ever see in my life. Almost everyone in the grade broke down into tears, and we all wrapped our arms around one another. The Nazis did not just want to eradicate and dehumanize us. They wanted to continue torturing us even after we were dead. I couldn’t have endured this without the love and support from my classmates. Leaving Poland, I grew an even stronger sense of pride for my Jewish identity.
I was ecstatic to arrive in Israel, as it was my first time. One day, we woke up at 3:15 a.m. to hike Masada. That same day, we also swam in the Dead Sea, went repelling and rode camels. Needless to say, this was the most jam-packed day in my life. One of my favorite parts of the trip was visiting the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site. We went to the wall at the very beginning of the trip and again at the end. During our first visit, I went into it expecting a deep connection. This wasn’t the case. I prayed and put a note into the wall, but I noticed that I didn’t feel as profoundly attached as others seemed to be around me. On our second visit during Shabbat, I wanted to stay when it was time for our group to leave. I felt an inexplicable link to the ancient limestone wall.
At the end of the trip, we visited the Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial. The museum provided me with more knowledge of what led to antisemitism and brought closure to the trip, putting Poland into perspective. After being in Israel for three weeks, I felt a deep connection to Israel that I never had before. I will always be thankful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that gave me an everlasting pride for my Jewish identity and wonderful relationship to Israel. As I now prepare to head off to American University in Washington, D.C., I know that I will always be able to look back at this trip as one of my best high school experiences.
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