While traveling to northern Israel, we stopped along the Jordan Valley at a memorial to hear from one of our bus drivers, a retired Colonel in the Israeli army. He told of the three-year terrorism that occurred there in the late 1960's and related other historical events that occurred. When asked if he still lived in the area, he said that he and his family will always live there.
The past two days have been full of sites, learning and fun! We spent the day in Tel Aviv, first visiting the Ayalon Institute, a site that was vital in the history of the struggle for the establishment of the State of Israel.
We have had a rollercoaster of feelings the past two days. Our trip to Majdanek was when the reality of the Holocaust took on a new meaning for all of us. This extermination camp is right in the center of the town of Lublin and it was the one camp that was not hidden in secrecy or subterfuge. The fact that it is exactly as it was when liberated and can be up and running within 48 hours made the visit all the more horrific.
We began our day on Friday with a visit to the Okopowa Cemetery, the only Jewish cemetery in Warsaw and the largest in Poland. Established in 1806, the site contains 300,000 graves and burials are still held there. Teens saw how the stones were uniquely designed to represent various persons (tzedakah box for a charitable person, candlesticks for a woman). Two large stones are also there to represent BBYO's restoration and clean-up work at the cemetery.
Thursday was all about connection and Jewish identity - To walk alongside teens, dignitaries, and adults from 42 countries, approximately 10,000 strong, it was truly a reaffirming and prideful moment for all of us.
Yesterday, the group toured the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps, located in the town area of Osweicem, 37 miles west of Krakow. We visited the only original synagogue left in the town and learned that the community was 80% Jewish before the Holocaust.
BBYO's National Teen Delegation arrived safely and started their journey in Krakow. The group toured the Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz, the symbol of the wealthy and prominent Jews who had lived in Krakow for hundreds of years. In the area are numerous synagogues and old and renovated Jewish institutions.
More than 160 teens making up BBYO's National Teen Delegation to the March of the Living are on their way to Poland this evening. The teens have high expectations for their upcoming journey.