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Before the CESJDS Class of 2017 embarks on their senior capstone trip, alumna Shira Gould (’16) wrote what she thought was the message from her trip and about how the current seniors should go into their travels.
Dear CESJDS Class of 2017 (and all future JDS seniors),
Congratulations on finishing high school. Obviously, you are going through some big changes. Many of you have attended JDS since kindergarten, but regardless of when you began, and regardless of how you felt about graduating, JDS has been a safety net. It’s is a community that you know. Even the constant changes in the block schedule are comfortable because they are consistent in the fact that they constantly change. From this moment on, many things are going to happen that will surprise you. Like I said, it all changes now.
Okay, take the preceding paragraph with a grain of salt because, despite the fact that everything is changing, you’re not going to notice it very much. Last year, my dad and I went on a hiking trip in Arizona. We were about to begin our first hike and he said to me, “climbing a mountain is cool because you’re walking, and you’re walking, and all of a sudden, you look down, and you’re on top of a mountain.” That’s pretty much how life works. You’re living; you’re living, and all of a sudden, you realize that you have different friends, different role models, and a different home. That is why change is intimidating–you don’t even necessarily know that it’s happening.
I am writing to discuss your upcoming Poland trip. I am excited for you, 2017, I truly am. But I also feel sorry for you. I wish you didn’t have to go. While traveling to Poland was an incredibly moving and important experience, it was also paralyzing (when I say paralyzing, I mean that I spent the entire 10-hour bus ride from Prague to Poland crying). You are about to encounter the worst of humanity; you are about to see pure, violent evil. After spending your entire life learning the timeline of the Holocaust, you are going to walk through it. You are going to enter the gas chambers, stand in the crematorium, and look over mass graves. It will be disgusting. I say that I wish you didn’t have to go, but all that means is that I wish no one had to. I wish it didn’t happen. Knowing that people are capable of such unadulterated, poisonous evil really makes you question the authenticity of goodness.
After we concluded our Poland trip, one of our madrichim, or counselors, challenged us to think about why we went in the first place. He said that it’s hypocritical to travel and cry over those who have passed while we continue to let the living suffer. Although I don’t think that mourning our history and working to better the present are mutually exclusive, it did make me question the validity of my emotional response. I believe that going to Poland is important, but if you asked me why I would not have the answer. I don’t know why. He was right—multiple genocides are occurring as I sit here to write this. Humanity has yet to be eradicated from evil. Yes, the Holocaust is over, but in some sense, it isn’t. I don’t like comparing any genocide to the Holocaust. The Holocaust was too methodical, too genius and too contagious to be compared to anything else, but the evil that existed in the Holocaust is still with us. It is tormenting the lives of innocent people today.
So, 2017, I’m going to challenge you now, in honor of my madrich, because thinking about this before you embark on the trip will help you make sense of what you see.
If the evil that inspired the Holocaust is still around, why do we bother traveling to Poland? What’s the point?
Anyway, enjoy the four months, 2017; take in every moment.