I am writing to you on a bus, driving by the shores of the Kinneret, our final location for the Toronto March of the Living student delegation. Over the past two weeks, we have slept in Krakow, Warsaw, and Jerusalem and now we are happily settling in for a few nights in the north of Israel.
The Poland component of this trip was not easy. I will share more about it when I return. For now I want to focus in on one mitzvah that is found in this week’s parashat, that I witnessed happening over and over again. The mitzvah is found in Vayikra 19:32: You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old.
The Holocaust survivors that joined us on the trip were treated like gold. The students carried chairs and blankets for them and held hands with the Survivors on our trip. They made sure that our Survivors were first in line before them. They sat with them on the bus and helped them with their suitcases. Equally as important, the students really listened when the Survivors who travelled with us shared their testimonies, the stories of their lives. These were the times when we saw the most tears. Phones were put aside, conversations halted, and the students really listened.
Teenagers these days often get a bad rap. They are portrayed as self-involved and technologically addicted. On the March of the Living, I observed something completely different! I witnessed teens connecting with each other; Survivors and young Jews from around the world meeting in hotels, on the Poland march, the Jerusalem march and at the mega event. I saw hesed and kindness at every location we visited. I heard thoughtful questions and insightful reflections from what they saw and how people felt.
Dear friends, I have reached a level of exhaustion I rarely encounter! While I may never get back the hours of sleep I lost in these two weeks, I have gained a new appreciation and hope for the Jewish future.
As we sang and shouted over and over again, both in Poland and in Israel: Am Israel Chai!
Rabbi Fryer Bodzin