Wednesday, April 21, 2010

March of the Living: Endings and Beginnings

The March is over. Final day photos are at

We leave for the airport in just a few hours. Today we went to Masada and the Dead Sea, then back for a few hours at the Malcha Mall in Jerusalem and then one last session all together, where participants shared reflections on the trip. The group has come together remarkably and it was hard to imagine that this group, as constituted, will never be all together again. But we'll have memories that will always be shared.

For my bit of final advice to the kids, I referred to a selection from Pirke Avot that I had discussed at this morning's service atop Masada. We had a conversation about what it means to be a hero. And so many options were offered over the past few weeks, from Warsaw Ghetto fighters to Masada zealots, and everything in between. Moral courage and the willingness to sacrifice and to speak out were offered up as barometers of heroism. Judy Altmann has clearly emerged as a major role model to everyone in our group. She was not able to return to us for the end of the trip, but her presence remains most vivid. In the eyes of these kids (and adults too), she is a moral giant.

The rabbis measured heroism in other ways - in the ability to resist temptation. "Who is a hero? The one who conquers her incination."

So tonight I reflected on what we've seen and heard about. We've seen how perfectly normal people have the capacity to be utterly cruel. People who love their spouses and children and pets, could go to their "jobs" as death camp guards and perform unspeakable acts of sadism, well beyond the "call of duty." We've seen that such cruelty lies within the capacity of every human being.

We've also seen that the human conscience is capably of unfathomable acts of courage and kindness - that people can create mind-numbing beauty. We've seen that especially here in Israel, a nation built from the ashes, ashes that we literally stood before in Maidanek and Treblinka (and it was pointed out by our group leader that we'll be flying over a cloud of ashes in our return to the States).

The kids spoke of how important it is for them to bring these lessons home with them and teach others, and for some the first chance to do that will be at Beth El this Shabbat morning. They also spoke of how important it was to "be more Jewish," however they defined that.

I need to stop here, both to save something for the High Holidays and to give myself the chance to at least say that I tried to get some sleep before our 4 AM wakeup call (the flight home leaves at about 9 AM here, an hour later than scheduled - but that's fine; the Australian group is still making its way here from Poland!)

Again, thank you for your many comments and e-mails.

Signing off for now. See you in Stamford.


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