י׳ בניסן ה׳תשע״ז (April 6, 2017) The Last Walk
“The Last Walk.” That was what Betsalel kept calling it.
It was a walk in Warsaw from the POLIN Museum where we had spent the afternoon, to the Umschlagplatz-a rainy, chilly walk most of us spent huddled together under umbrellas.
It was a walk in Tykocin through the Lopowa forest that I took with 40 friends in complete silence before being deeply emotionally moved in ways I had never been before.
The Umschlagplatz walk was one of the first walks we took after landing in Warsaw. After this walk we continued to a beautiful shul to daven mincha, and then we took a third walk to a restaurant, where we were served an abundance of food and laughed together for hours.
When the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto walked to the Umschlagplatz only 75 years ago, given false hope that they were being “resettled,” they were put into cattle cars and relocated to the death camp of Treblinka.
In the Lopowa forest, there was an undeniable emptiness. I lit a candle and placed it on a metal rail that was part of a fence around the pits that the Jews were thrown into after being shot. We heard the testimony of a woman who had survived this experience but had lost her daughter, and we sat by ourselves and reflected. Then we sang powerful songs that replaced the emptiness with new life and new importance.
On the 45-minute bus ride to our lunch stop afterwards we were completely silent, although no one had asked us to be.
On that silent bus ride, I felt a heavy new sense of purpose. I felt the responsibility to fill all of the walks that I have the privilege of taking with intention in honor of the millions of Jews who no longer walk the earth.
As our bus pulled away from the vast Lopowa forest, I realized that millions of Jews had no bus to escape on, and no beautiful synagogue or restaurant to walk to afterwards.
So I dedicated all of my walks to those millions of people with no walks left.
Our many “Last Walks” in Poland have helped me understand the importance of using all of my walks not just for myself, but also for all the Jews in my past, present, and future.