Thursday, September 3, 2009

Elul Project #3 - Memories of the March

Dr. Harry Romanowitz sent these Elul reflections along, as they relate to his life's work of keeping the flames of memory alive for the next generation. Stamford will be sending a delegation to the March of the Living next April and Mara and I will be going with them. Teens and adults interested in attending should contact

And please send along your own reflections and memories related to the High Holidays.

Memories of the March

Elul is a month of introspection and preparation. 'Memory is the key to redemption', the Baal Shem Tov teaches. As we look ahead, our traditions teach us first to look back. As with driving, before moving forward, we look behind us.

18 months ago, I was privileged to help lead the New England Delegation (including seven Beth El teens) through Poland and Israel on the March of the Living. .

A flood of memories, moments. Too numerous to list - many still need "processing". Both internally, and through family, friends, and co-Marchers.

Here are but a few:

Low points:

- Standing in hallowed ghetto spaces hearing histories of Lodz (first hand from "Uncle" Phil Ravski), Warsaw, Krakow;

- Of course, Auschwitz/Birkenau, but, perhaps, even more draining - Majdanek;

- “Second Generation” testimonies followed by El Moleh/Kaddish at Treblinka. Then, at the ash pit, a soft, united, uplifting, hand-in-hand Hatikvah at yet another site of horrific mass killing. Farewell to Poland as we head directly to the airport;

-The “lowest” point: Floating effortlessly in the warm, healing, mineral waters of the Dead Sea (“lowest spot on the face of the earth”); looking upon the beautiful, sun-drenched hills of the Judean Desert. With merely a turn of the head, facing the mountains of Moab in Jordan. Barely a stone’s throw across. Actually, not a “low” at all, but quite a “high”!

High points:

- Shabbat morning service at Nozyk shul in Warsaw - with a Bar-Mitzvah no less! The rafters are raised by the joyful noise and excitement of the packed, restored synagogue; the only remaining pre-war shul. (Sadly, it's probably this dynamic and inspiring only a few times year round.);

- We, the New England contingent, proud Jews strolling together through central Warsaw. Dressed in our Shabbat finery, we head towards the Europejski Hotel for our “elaborate” meal. Streets filled with Poles (couples, children, elderly) celebrating May Day/Constitution Day holidays with parades, festivities, Polish pomp. They scrutinize our group: some smile warmly, some seem indifferent to us, others with clearly hostile faces (“mehn hut zei tzushteyrt der simcha!”);

- March itself on Yom Hashoah in Auschwitz – cold, grey, light rain beginning. A quiet,
solemn, beautiful sea of blue.

- Over twelve thousand young people (and adult marchers) from around the world. U. S. delegations included L. A., Ohio, Florida, N. Y., New Jersey, MidWest, New England (of course !) etc. Major contingents from Canada, France, Belgium, Brazil, Argentina, Panama, Australia/New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, Japan, Israel, and numerous others;

- Just boarding El Al jet in Warsaw and landing in Lod 3 hours later. Wheels setting down on Eretz Yisrael - always thrilling !

- New Ben-Gurion International Airport - WOW !

- Wild, wonderful, rockin’ Yom Ha'Atzmaut eve at Zion Square and Ben Yehuda. A combination of Fourth of July, Mardi Gras, and New Year's Eve. Followed by fireworks over downtown Jersusalem;

- Our same Marcher groups gathering in the thousands at Safra Square (opposite Town Hall) next day for more outdoor partying – (Oh, do those Brazilians and Panamanians really have rhythm and boundless energy? Or what?);

- A dozen Israeli security guards dancing the hora;

- Followed by festive, uplifting March through glorious, golden Jerusalem streets, culminating at the Kotel;

- The party continues with evening outdoor barbecue for all Marchers. Then, the “Mega-Event” concert/celebration in Latrun Amphitheatre;

- Most touching:

Final night in Israel: Our New England group (Stamford, Darien, Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, Rhode Island, plus Harrisburg), 85 strong, gathers for farewells:

One large circle forms just before sunset of Shabbat - individuals describe moments, feelings, personal enlightenment: Some profound, some insightful, some funny, some unable to express fully.

United all, hand-in-hand, making Havdalah - separating Shabbat from the week. Symbolically separating ourselves as well. Quickly, we rush to finish packing and prepare for our return home to the more mundane. Knowing that, just as Shabbat is always there, so too is Israel and our people's history.

Indescribable pride and appreciation for each and every one of our beautiful, energetic, empowered Marchers (including, of course, our absolutely incredible, dedicated, tireless Staff);

Clearly, for all the experience was memorable.
For some, emotionally or spiritually expanding.
For a few, perhaps life altering.

With a lump in my throat, and tears welling up, looking at these magnificent souls, I see and feel and shep - DOS YIDDISHER NACHAS !

Harry (Hesh) Romanowitz
May 2008

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