I knew that sending my son away for a defining journey accross the world was going to be emotional: I was prepared. I was very proud that he had chosen to undertake the pilgrimage to his roots, and to travel through Central Europe prior to his first visit to the Land of Israel. This program, called “NFTY-Israel L’Dor V’Dor”, from generation to generation, is designed to introduce the teens to their heritage, most of them being descendants of Jews coming from this area, Czekoslovakia, Ukraina, Lithuania, Poland… Many of them, too, having heard of the many family members who perished in the Nazi atrocities that took place on the very land they were going to visit seventy years later.
They are discovering how rich the Jewish life was prior to be decimated. The remnants are powerful, and no one can measure on paper how much emotion they carry. Because human life is stronger than just a story, it has a soul and a way to attach itself into symbols, and into the passing of these symbols into the very same rituals that we observe today: you go far away from home, and some of the things you see, names, places, signs, are strangely familiar and known.
Passage from the prayer R’tzei – mural from the preserved hidden synagogue in Terezin
The teens went to visit the camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau. They grew. They understood something that has no words to describe the experience. Each of them is going to process differently and make what they felt their own in their own way. Some took pictures, some wrote poems and shared, some kept silent and will talk about it later, some will never say anything about it, but still, they are transformed by the experience anyways and they are grown from it, like having received sprinkles of a spiritual shower that has been particularly attached to that place, so that the seeds of life that were planted there for the wrong reasons – hatred, fear, prejudice – grew into love, support, understanding: life.
This generation of teens is the very last one who will be able to hear the stories from those who were their age at the time: what they lived, what they did, and how they remember it and what happened to them since. Next generations will only hear from those who were told the stories, and decided to pass them on.
But, we Jews, have done that for centuries. We know how to pass stories that stay alive. I am thankful for my community, for my Jewish family to allow this adventure to go on for the better, for life. Whenever something difficult is ahead, we know we can face it and transform it into hope and growth.
To quote one of the groups’chaperones, Rosanne Selfon, “Forever changed, but forever Jewish”.
Those Teens were traveling with NFTY in Israel - an organization providing Summer Israel experiences for teens.
Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning for humanity