The transformative journey of March of the Living

Samantha Weil is a senior at Ladue Horton Watkins High School.

BY SAMANTHA WEIL

In January, I wrote about the beginning of my relationship with Israel and the shift in my connection to our homeland. In that article, I pledged to continue growing my relationship with the country. I’m glad to say that I have. 

Last spring I participated in March of the Living. I urge anyone who has the opportunity to join the St. Louis delegation this spring to take advantage of this amazing experience.

March of the Living is a two-week educational trip to Poland and Israel where participants can experience the past of our ancestors. March of the Living brings more than 15,000 Jews together each spring on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, to walk the death march from Auschwitz and Birkenau. Instead of being a day of mourning, the march is surprisingly a prideful experience. 

Walking out of the gates of Auschwitz with thousands of Jews from all over the world is indescribable. As I walked across the bridge between Auschwitz and Birkenau all I could see around me were Jewish people. I was reminded of the amazing resilience our people have. Here in the place of deep persecution, where many of our people perished, Jews returned to commemorate those who were lost. We showed the world that the Jewish people will not be pushed down.

This two-week trip was made even more incredible by traveling with survivors. I met a great number of survivors who had returned to educate others and share their experience. Hearing their stories in the places they occurred brought a whole new layer of understanding. Meeting Jews from around the world also enhanced my understanding of the Holocaust and added to this celebration of Judaism. 

In addition, the multigenerational delegation from St. Louis, with participants ranging from teens to older adults, enriched the experience because of their varying perspectives.

The second week of March of the Living is spent in Israel with the inclusion of Yom HaZikaron, Israel Memorial Day, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. In one moment the country goes from the saddest day of the year to the happiest. The juxtaposition of these two holidays reminds us of the people who died fighting for the Jewish nation, before celebrating Israel’s independence. After thousands of years fighting for the Jewish homeland, it is incredible to celebrate the outcome in the streets of Jerusalem. 

On Independence Day all those who walked from Auschwitz to Birkenau in Poland reconvened to march through Jerusalem to the Western Wall. The image of thousands of Jews marching through Jerusalem yet again is a reminder of the strength of the Jewish people.

Unfortunately, March of the Living, which always occurs in the spring, does not come at the most convenient time. For students, this is the crunch time to finish curriculums and prepare for finals. Last year, as I was making my decision to go to the March of the Living, one of my teachers told me that in 10 years I wouldn’t remember the exams I took or the grades I received, but I would remember the experiences I had. “March of the Living is not an experience you should even think about passing up,” the teacher said.

March of the Living has been one of the most influential experiences of my life. If I had to sum the trip up in one word, it would be inspiring. The march inspires people in a plethora of ways. It inspired me to take action to advocate and educate people about Judaism, the Holocaust and Israel. If we, the Jewish people, don’t make it a priority to fight to remember our past and advocate for our future no one will.

Samantha Weil is a senior at Ladue Horton Watkins High School.