AMBERLY VILLAGE - Two weeks, two continents and two different worlds; that's what Tri-State high school seniors get to experience over the next 14 days.
Thirty-three Jewish teens will see different sides of history starting April 3 as part of March of the Living, a silent walk in Poland that honors Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day.
The high school students will miss two weeks of class for March of the Living as they join about 10,000 other teens from around the world to honor fallen members of their faith. The massive group will march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, two of the most notorious concentration camps.
"During our first week we're in Poland, we'll be going through a lot of the camps they talk about in the stories," said Matt Steinberg, youth and teen coordinator with the Mayerson Jewish Community Center in Amberly Village. "After that we go to Israel for a week, and sort of the idea that people get is the idea of the importance of having a Jewish homeland."
Some members of the delegation qualify to have their travel expenses covered, thanks to the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati.
Looking forward to the march
It's not the first time Steinberg has made the trek from one Nazi concentration camp to another. He did the march from Auschwitz to Birkenau last year.
Tessa Rothfeld, a 17-year-old senior at Walnut Hills High School, has also been to concentration camps. She described the experience as "not as intense as I thought it would be."
She expects this trip to be different.
"What really got me for here is like, I've been to visit a few concentration camps, but I really wanted to see the really famous ones you read about in books," she explained. "I know being in Israel you get a sense of belonging there, but I've never been there on a holiday. I wanted to experience that."
Sycamore High School senior Charlie Heldman is also going on the trip. The 17-year-old isn't exactly sure what to expect.
"You see a concentration camp, I've never done that," Heldman said. "This trip is only offered to high school seniors, so I thought I might as well take the opportunity as long as I'm able."
From Poland to Israel, two different worlds
Between the sobering itinerary in Poland and the more uplifting tour of Israel, the students will share a wide range of experiences.
"In Poland we have an awesome tour guide, who instead of saying ‘Six million people died during the Holocaust,' she'll have a story for every place we go from one person," Steinberg said. "Whether it's from their journal or a letter, so you have that connection."
The Tri-State delegation will get to see and take in Auschwitz a full day before the rest of the March of the Living group.
"We actually get to walk through the streets and walk into the buildings and see all the things they have in there," Steinberg said. "They have a display where it's just a bunch of hair, like they shaved people's head and the hair is still there. To see how much hair there is is something really eerie."
While on the trip the youth are encouraged to blog to keep a tally of what they've seen, heard and experienced .
In Israel students will immerse themselves in the local sights, sounds and culture, from Tel Aviv to Cincinnati's sister city of Netanya.
"I'm most excited about the food," Heldman joked.
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