Isaac Osiel grew up in a Sephardi household and did not have any contact with Ashkenazi survivors of the Holocaust. So when he heard Pinchas Gutter speak in 2008 and describe how he “celebrated” Passover while hiding in a sewer, Osiel was blown away.
“That resonated in me,” Osiel said. “What he had to go through to practice his Judaism was inspiring.”
Osiel, 40, subsequently participated in the 2014 March of the Living, an annual trip to Poland, in which destroyed Jewish communities are visited, along with Nazi concentration camps where the Jews were killed. It was a life altering experience for him and now he wants other young Jews to learn about the Holocaust and to hear the personal stories of survivors.
Osiel – with the support of Aish Toronto and the Olami Foundation, and with the input of a seven-member trip committee – is promoting the first ever Living Legacy Experience, a week-long trip to Poland geared toward young professionals between the ages 20 and 40.
They will travel in the company of a Holocaust survivor and visit formerly important Jewish cities like Warsaw and Lodz, while also touring Auschwitz and Treblinka, where millions of people were killed.
The trip, which will run from May 27 to June 3, is heavily subsidized by Aish Toronto, he said.
“Living Legacy came out of the need to send as many young professionals as possible to Poland in the next five years, with a survivor,” he said. “It will be a meaningful trip. We wanted to make it as affordable as possible.”
Osiel remembers the stories told by survivors and how they moved him. During the March of Living, he heard an elderly survivor describe how she spent five days in a cattle car, as people around her died.
“They had to go through hell,” Osiel said. And “we are the last generation of people to hear live testimony.”
Hearing their stories and passing them on to future generations would be a way of “paying respects” to the survivors, Osiel said.
There’s another benefit for participants on the trip, he continued. Upon their return, they will be asked to give something back to the community by getting involved with organizations that provide services to those with unique needs.
Zack Garelick, COO of Aish Toronto, said his organization decided to subsidize the trip for the younger cohort, because the idea “really fit in with our mission.”
“Aish’s fundamental mission is more than Jewish education. It is to empower Jew(s) to be better in the Jewish world. It is to look around the Jewish community and to take responsibility,” he said.
Pre-trip meetings will be followed up with further discussions when the participants return, in order to advise them on how they can address Jewish community needs, Garelick said.
In supporting Living Legacy, Aish Toronto is underwriting much of the cost. The $3,000 program is being offered to people between the ages of 20-32 for $999 and for those 33-40 for $999, plus the cost of the flight, Osiel said.
The deadline for applications is Dec. 31.