Attended March of the Living, 2008

No, it was not the movie cool runnings that motivated me to compete in a winter sport for a warm-weather country. But rather a combination of childhood experiences - being raised in a Jewish home, going to Jewish day school, having a love for Israel instilled in me. But what most inspired my current journey, sliding for Team Israel, was attending the March of the Living in 2008.

I have so many vivid memories from the March.

The first time I walked in to Auschwitz and saw the familiar phrase I had seen my whole life: Arbecht Macht Frei. And now it’s not just movies or books. You can really put yourself in those shoes now. Imagine what it would have been like to walk into the camp, not knowing what was going to happen next.

Another moment that stays with me involves the survivor on my trip, Irene Zisblatt. Irene had been on the March a number of times, but the one thing she had yet to do on any of her visits was to enter the gas chambers at Auschwitz, where her entire family was killed. She told me and a friend that she was feeling brave on that day and if we would hold her hands through it, she would want to see where her parents and siblings died, just one time.

The chills I still get thinking about that moment, walking inside the gas chambers with Irene. She was only able to stay inside for a few seconds before being overcome with grief and begging us to bring her outside again.

The next day we reconvened at Auschwitz. This time with thousands of fellow Marchers, jews and non-jews alike from all over the world. Together we marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau. The ultimate act of defiance.

Leaving Poland, you realize the importance of a Jewish state. The one place where if it existed then as an independent state, there would be no Auschwitz, no Birkenau. No gas chambers for Irene’s entire family to be killed.

The overnight flight to Israel nobody slept a second. Most of my classmates had not been to Israel. And those that had, like myself, and even those who were born in Israel or had Israeli parents, were equally excited.

Why? Because now Israel carried a whole new meaning to all of us. For me, I was always told it was important to continue the jewish traditions. I was always told it was important to support Israel. But now, it all clicked as to why I was told all of that. I understood why those two things, continuity of Jewish tradition and support for Israel, go hand in hand.

Fast forward to 2016, my first few months learning skeleton in Lake Placid, NY.

Things were tough. I was taking quite the beating every day learning the sport. I was covered in deep bruises from head to toe. But I was enjoying the adventure, and was thrilled to be participating in high-level athletics again.

Later that season, I learned that Israel happened to have a Skeleton program. As it turned out, making Aliyah as a Jewish-American athlete is not so difficult.

The hard part would be actually sliding for Israel. It would mean no more free food. No more free housing. No more free coaching. Spending $40,000 on a season, instead of $10,000.

Despite the increased financial and logistical challenges, deciding to make Aliyah this past June, so that I can slide for Israel, was a very easy decision for me. I thought about my childhood experiences. Going to Jewish day school, being a part of a Jewish community that supported Israel with so much pride. But most of all, I thought back to the March.

I thought of Irene and her family.

I thought of the 6 million jews who were murdered across Europe. 1.5 million of them children, who never had the opportunity to realize their dreams.

I thought of those who sacrificed their lives ensuring Israel’s survival, in 1948 and the wars to come.

I thought about the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches, killed by terrorists in Munich during the 1972 Summer Games.

What better way to honor their memories than by having the word “Israel” across my chest, and the Star of David on my helmet for everyone to see, as I compete in races across the world, and work towards representing Israel in the 2022 Olympic Games.

I attended the March of the Living 11 years ago. Over a decade! To this day I carry with me that same sense of pride I felt marching defiantly from Auschwitz to Birkenau. A lifetime’s worth of pride in being Jewish, and in supporting and defending Israel in all aspects of my life.

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If you are interested in attending the March of the Living this year, click the following link for information on teen, young adult, and adult trips: https://motl.org/programs/

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