Federation CJA’s young adult division, GenMTL, sent over 230 students on the 2019 March of the Living (MOL) – Montreal’s largest delegation in over 10 years.
The Grade 11 participants were accompanied by six Holocaust survivors, as well as staff, spiritual leaders and chaperones. During the trip, which took place from April 29 to May 13, the group travelled to Poland and Israel, together with other Jewish youth from over 50 countries.
“At a time when anti-Semitism is once again rising around the world, the 2019 MOL powerfully honoured the memory of the Holocaust and celebrated the resilience of the Jewish people,” said co-chair Joelle Sacksner.
“The record size of this year’s delegation was particularly meaningful given the current political climate, with Holocaust denial and violent hate crimes increasing, even close to home,” added fellow co-chair Andy Katz.
Starting six months ahead of the trip, the students and chaperones learned about Jewish European life before the war, the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel.
MOL participants go on two marches – between the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps in Poland and, a few days later, from outside the Old City of Jerusalem to the Kotel – which is meant to signify the survival of the Jewish people.
An important component of the annual trip (the first was in 1988) is the presence of Holocaust survivors, who share their stories and the importance of remembrance with a new generation.
“On MOL, having visited towns and villages in Poland where Jewish life was decimated during the Second World War, it was so emotional to travel to these areas with thousands of young people, breathing life into places that had been marked by death,” said Sacksner.
In Poland, Montreal’s delegation stayed in Krakow and Warsaw, taking day trips to areas that were once home to significant Jewish communities. Five girls on the trip held their bat mitzvah ceremonies in a synagogue in Tykocin, where they honoured the memory of the child victims of the Holocaust who never had the chance to celebrate this life-cycle event.
Later, at a yeshivah in Lublin, a rabbi led a Talmudic debate where the students argued and debated in a similar fashion to how it was done 100 years ago.
The group then flew to Israel in time to mark Yom ha-Zikaron, Israel’s Remembrance Day, and witnessed the entire country coming to a standstill. The next day, they celebrated Yom ha-Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, with a huge MOL concert and party.
The students spent Shabbat on the Kinneret, went to the Dead Sea and Masada, and explored Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Pointing to a poll conducted recently by the Azrieli Foundation and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany that found that more than half of Canadians, and nearly two-thirds of Canadian millennials, do not know that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, the co-chairs stressed that MOL is more important than ever.