Thousands of young people participating in March of the Living walk from Safra Square to the Western Wall on April 23, 2015.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)
It wasn’t supposed to be this way – a windy and cloudy day in Jerusalem, that eventually turned rainy.
Independence Day is frequently a blazing hot day – but although this was different, it didn’t dampen the spirits of the thousands of March of the Living participants who thronged Safra Square.
Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of March of the Living, welcomed the assembled masses. Israeli flags were predominant, but there were others from Canada, the US, Brazil, Argentina, Panama Mexico and beyond. An electric atmosphere filled the space outside city hall.
The march’s subtitle is “From the Shoah to Rebirth” – a point that Rosenman pointed out. It was great “how you all came from Auschwitz to Jerusalem,” he said. He then led a rousing rendition of “Am Israel Hai
(The People of Israel Lives).”
An IDF dance troupe performed energetically, before the first of the day’s “Hatikva” renditions.
Serina, from Dallas, perfectly explained how powerful an experience March of the Living is. She said that the first leg of the trip had been her first visit to Poland and the various camps and that it was “impactful.” Visiting the camps had “opened her eyes” and “exposed in shocking detail, a way to understand what the Holocaust was like,” she said. Serina added that she felt “different and strengthened in her Judaism” – and also in her feeling toward Israel.
Like so many others on the trip, she had never been to Israel over Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Independence Day, and found the sirens to be significant and affecting.
Serina said that many of her contemporaries were contemplating making aliya as soon as they could, as well as in some cases enlisting in the IDF. She felt that the two parts of the march, in Poland and in Israel, “really helped to connect people to their Judaism” and that the experience would strengthen her and other people’s ties to their communities.
The participants snaked their way down to the Western Wall, passing many of the Old City’s gates and receiving audible support through car horns acknowledging their presence – as students from around the world reveled in their visit to the capital. Singing, darbuka-playing and selfies were definitely the theme of this final part of the march.
After an hour or so – and having had time outside the Old City walls to enjoy the IAF aerobatic display team, the participants made their way to the plaza in front of the Western Wall. For many it was their first visit – an emotional high, in sharp relief to the mourning that followed the walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Holocaust Remembrance Day last week. Here in technicolor was the rebirth part of the march.
Allowing some time for the marchers to take in their surroundings, many of the males took the opportunity to put on tefillin, as well as to soak up the atmosphere. The short ceremony drew quite a varied crowd of onlookers, including many non- Jews. Once again, Dudu Fisher assumed a central role in the proceedings.
He recited a blessing for the state and a prayer for Israel’s soldiers and security forces – and then led a medley of songs, including; “Od Avinu Hai
,” “Oseh Hashalom Bimromav
” and another rendition of “Hatikva
The marchers were set to go to Latrun in the evening (weather- permitting) to conclude the final section of this life-changing event – a big party – that started two weeks ago. From the outside looking in, the annual March of the Living seems to work – taking participants on both a tour of history, some of it the most painful and terrible in the Jewish people’s annals, and a journey into their own identity. Those taking part go to the deepest depths of European Jewish suffering, only to emerge with a positive and vibrant image of Israel at its best.
They get to experience what Jewish sovereignty means – that redemption of sorts was forthcoming. That after Jews were led to their fate, some meekly, some with songs or words of Torah on their lips – just a few short years later, Jews would lay down and continue to lay down their lives in the uniform of first the Hagana and then the IDF – victims no more.
From the sirens of pain and despair on Remembrance Day to the shofar of triumph on Independence Day, the journey from Holocaust to Rebirth is an enriching one that will stay with the marchers for the rest of their lives.