OJC’s March of the Living, Day 13 – Bringing it home
This day brought the OJC’s 2014 March of the Living to a close, and our experience came full circle. The Sefer Torah that was completed in Auschwitz-Birkenau was accompanied by loving arms and dancing feet into the Kotel plaza. All religious politics aside for a moment, it was symbolically important and powerful to be surrounded by thousands who had marched with us in Poland and who now sang Hatikvah at our side. The Torah had arrived home, until its next March of the Living, when it will travel back to Poland to accompany the next round of marchers.
We were all a bit depleted upon awakening this morning; the celebration last night took a bit out of us! Nevertheless, we pushed ahead and hiked up to Castel, the strategic vantage point that overlooks the main road to Jerusalem, and that was captured by Yitzhak Rabin and the Harel Brigade on the eve of the 1948 War of Independence.
Our bus carefully wound its way through the hills and valleys outside Jerusalem to the 9/11 memorial, the only memorial to this date that exists outside of the United States. We paid homage to the names of the victims, and sang “America the Beautiful” and “Hatikvah” as we reflected on the nature of Israel’s independence and her special relationship with America.
From the depths of the valley we ascended to Ammunition Hill, site of another famous battle of the 1967 Six Day War, the place many consider to be the turning point that led to Israel reclaiming the Old City. Today, the IDF was exhibiting its latest technology to the general public. Barbecues abounded, as is traditional on this day, as children played atop military vehicles. How ironic that just yesterday we mourned the price of war, and today we celebrated our ability to engage–and be victorious–in war. I can’t deny the pride I experienced and the security I felt surrounded by these young, smart and devoted guardians of Israel. I just wonder what is the toll on the psyche of the developing mind and personality in particular, and on the society in general.
All this before noon! Our next stop was the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Cardo for–you guessed it–food and shopping! We walked down to the Kotel plaza, where we joined our fellow marchers to bring this year’s March to a close. From there, we walked (Oy, enough with the walking already!) to Notre Dame, home of the Pontifical Institute and guesthouse. We met Father Eamon Kelly, Vice Charge of the center, who took us to the rooftop to give us a 3-minute overview of the Bible using the majestic views to tell the story. His teaching was a universal message of coexistence, tikkun olam, and a shared responsibility to build upon our shared mission.
A leisurely dinner provided the opportunity and the venue to share our reflections, highlights, and appreciation for having shared this experience. I hope we can bring it home to you in a way that inspires you to be among the next to carry our love to, and for, Israel.
With God’s help, we will see each other soon. May it be only for days of celebration such as this one.
Rabbi Craig Scheff