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Despite this year’s March of the Living being called off, volunteers, staff and participants manage to march on

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Would-be participants of the 2020 March of the Living trip from Toronto get together for a Zoom get together| Photo: Zoom

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This year, I had the distinct honour of being chosen to chaperone a number of students on the March of the Living (MOL). This incredible annual initiative unites 10,000 Jews worldwide who travel to Poland and Israel to retrace the footsteps of the martyrs and survivors of the Holocaust.

Coinciding with Yom HaShoah, the trip begins in Poland with visits to a number of key sites – including the notorious death camps of Majdanek and Auschwitz Birkenau – to learn about the Holocaust and bear witness. Groups are accompanied by survivors who share their stories and provide a depth of understanding to marchers that can’t otherwise be experienced through textbooks or multimedia. In many cases, the survivors become surrogate grandparents, offering comfort to participants throughout an extremely emotional experience.

Following Poland, all contingents fly to Israel to mark Yom HaZikaron, followed by Yom HaAtzmaut celebrations.

Toronto’s 200-plus Grade 11 MOL participants stem from various Judaic backgrounds and educations, yet all have their Jewish identities in common. For some, the March reaffirms a connection to fellow Jews through a significant and tragic event in history. For others, the trip fosters feelings of belonging, which many may never have experienced.

As with most group events, this year’s trip was very different. March of the Living International was compelled to do the unprecedented and cancel the trip – its 32nd annual – due to COVID-19. Needless to say, many chaperones and participants were extremely saddened and disappointed.

“We were devastated to learn that this year we [would] not march arm-in-arm from Auschwitz to Birkenau alongside our Holocaust heroes,” said Tammy Glied, chair of the 2020 March of the Living program.

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As MOL chaperones who were looking forward to the experience as much as the students, foremost on our minds was determining how to maintain the close bonds we formed through chaperone training, participant Shabbatons, and the evening seminars where everyone learned together in small, dynamic groups.

All Greater Toronto Area MOL chaperones and staff, as well as a number of Holocaust survivors, decided to gather every Friday, before the start of Shabbat, to participate in a Zoom l’chaim. In this way, we maintain the same relationships we developed prior to the global coronavirus lockdown. Amid the playfulness (kibitzing), there are plenty of welfare checks, showing-off of baked challahs, and storytelling. There’s a sense of community beyond what we MOL adult volunteers could ever have predicted. We know these calls can only strengthen the impact of next year’s trip, which we all hope to attend.

“The Zoom calls are a highlight of the week for many of us,” said Lissie Sanders, MOL vice-chair.

The Zoom calls for would-be 2020 March of the Living participants in Toronto have helped create some sense of community that would’ve been created had the trip gone on as scheduled | Photo: Zoom

Contact with several MOL student groups was also maintained after the trip’s cancellation. Some chaperones checked in with their groups to see how students were faring throughout the pandemic. More than 50 students also continue to learn together, at an NCSY Torah High philosophy class specifically designed for MOL participants.

Another initiative led by Toronto MOL Director Witnee Karp, Tammy Glied and Lissie Sanders, occurred on June 16th with the goal of maintaining a connection to, and understanding of, the Holocaust. Chaperones delivered packages containing a selection of Holocaust-related readings to participants. Some of the works included Witness, compiled by Eli Rubenstein, national director of March of the Living, and memoirs written by Holocaust survivors Max Eisen, Nate Leipciger, and Anita Ekstein.

March of the Living participants at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp | Photo: Igal Hecht

Despite the cancellation of the 2020 MOL trip, community bonding and education are continuing to the best of everyone’s ability. We all hope next year’s trip will be particularly special and poignant as a result.

Corey Margolese is the founder of JTeach.ca, a not-for-profit organization that offers training and resources in the dangers of antisemitism, Holocaust education, and in Judaic traditions, culture and religion. He is a public school teacher.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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