11th graders from the Dror Israel’s youth movement set out to clean and renovate Holocaust memorial monuments, and remind us that the best way to fight darkness is to increase the light.
In any other year, Dror Israel leads thousands of 11th graders on Holocaust study trips to Poland. In addition to learning about Holocaust and its impact on the Jewish people and the entire world, participants come away empowered about their place in society, understanding that youth movements and youth have so much to contribute and the responsibility to be involved and active members of society.
Last spring, because of the outbreak of the pandemic, all Poland trips were cancelled and trips in spring 2021 are not expected to be possible either. Throughout the year, Dror Israel’s educators have been working hard to develop COVID-safe educational alternatives to this seminal experience, including workshops via Zoom, interviews with survivors, trips in small groups to museums and other sites in Israel, etc.
This Chanukah, as part of this project, groups of 11th graders decided to put their commitment to action and set out to clean and repair Holocaust memorials throughout the country:
“...At 11:30, I arrived at the Nachalat Yitzchak Cemetery in Givatayim, where one youth movement group of 11th graders was cleaning a memorial to communities lost in the Holocaust,” writes Aya Zohar- regional youth movement coordinator. “Before we got to work, the students took part in a workshop run by Uri Meiselman and Nadav Raviv, who had led me on my Poland trip when I was their age, 15 years ago. Uri taught them about Janusz Korczak and Treblinka and played a song by the poet Vladislav Szlengel.”
“We cleaned, gardened, cleared off trash and mud that was covering the memorial. We repainted the names that were faded,” says Matan Malcha, an 11th grader from Lod whose group was cleaning the memorial at a cemetery in Holon. “We talked about the stories of these people, these communities and who they were and what they did.”
The cleaning projects came just before the 78th anniversary of the beginning of the first Jewish uprising against the Nazi occupation of Poland. The Fighting Pioneers – a group of Jewish youth movement members in Krakow who came together to start an armed rebellion against the Nazis – orchestrated an attack on the Cyganaria Café frequented by Nazi officers on December 22nd 1942. This week, many youth movement members in Israel went to the graves of those who participated in the various uprisings to hold a memorial for their brave acts of rebellion.
The number of survivors still alive today to tell their stories is decreasing every day. Add the coronavirus crisis and it makes it incredibly difficult to meet and hold ceremonies, testimonies, and memorial events. Our responsibility and commitment to preserve memory, teach, and pass on these stories and to talk about their heroism and rebellion only intensifies. They will be remembered forever.