The State of Israel's fifth President, Yitzhak Navon, said that "A Jewish boy must go through two stations - one in Auschwitz and the other in Jerusalem." Many studies undertaken by "Yad Vashem" show that Holocaust awareness is the most significant fundamental element in formulating the Jewish and Israeli identity of teenagers - more so than serving in the IDF, the Hebrew language, Independence Day, and all other national symbols.
Therefore, shaping Holocaust consciousness is critical in shaping the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state.
Any rookie teacher and educator would tell you that awareness, a message, values, and a worldview would be formulated more successfully the more teenagers feel, experience, and meet them in a direct manner. The pedagogical principle is that seeing is better than hearing; seeing and hearing together are more powerful than each one of them separately. Yet a combination of seeing, hearing, and a direct meeting with the subject is even more effective.
A visit to the "Yad Vashem" Holocaust museum would also be more beneficial and effective in instilling Holocaust awareness than a lesson in the classroom, even if educators have the best means at their disposal.
The visits to Poland include two main components: The first one is the meeting with 1,000 years of splendid Judaism that created a broad cultural infrastructure both in terms of Jewish law and interpretation of the bible, as well as cultural and artistic works in all areas.
The second component is the visit to the extermination camps - a direct meeting with the valley of death where six million members of our people were exterminated only because they were Jews.
The trip to Poland involves thorough educational preparation that provides teenagers with vast information on the Jewish communities as well as on the Holocaust. The preparation is an inseparable part of the journey and cannot be undertaken to such extent unless it is done in the context of preparing for the visit.
The decision made by former Education Minister Zevulun Hammer, may he rest in peace, regarding the obligation to hold 30 hours of Holocaust studies (which is not implemented properly, as it turns out) cannot provide a suitable response or alternative to the educational preparation for the journey to Poland.
Importance of memory grows
The meeting in Poland with 1,000-year-old Judaism teaches teenagers in the most methodical way that the Jewish people has a longstanding spiritual, moral, and cultural history and roots. The visit to the Warsaw Ghetto and to extermination camps such as Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Majdanek illustrates in the deepest and most powerful sense the consciousness of the Jewish people's extermination in the Holocaust.
The visit also assists greatly in rejecting life in the Diaspora and grasping one of Zionism's most important tenets - the gathering of all Jews in the State of Israel. The "March of the Living" also constitutes a touching display of solidarity between Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora that connects the story of the Holocaust to the story of the Shoah survivors' return to life and the State of Israel's establishment.
I have no doubt in my mind that by the end of the journey to Poland, the teenagers return to Israel as better Jews and better Israelis. Better Jews because they directly connected to the Jewish heritage in the Diaspora that was able to preserve the people, nurture its heritage, and shape a culture that reflects on its surroundings. Better Israelis because they undergo a difficult emotional experience when they see with their own eyes the fate of Jews that lacked sovereignty and political-military independence - butchered, burned, and murdered only because they were Jewish.
The teenagers are then able to better understand how important the State of Israel's independence is as a Jewish state, and how important it is for the Jewish people to have its own national home with the basic right to exist and defend itself just like any other people.
At this time, the phenomenon of Holocaust denial is rising, and as the years pass Holocaust survivors pass away, as is the way of the world. Therefore, the importance of memory and the ability to instill it grows.
The Mishnah says that in every generation a person must view himself as though he himself departed from Egypt - to that I add that in every generation, a person must view himself or herself as though they were the ones who came out of the cursed valley of death.
A boy that steps on the cursed Polish soil and a girl that smells the ashes of her burned ancestors will forever remember that the Jewish people is an eternal people and that "never again." Our generation, which connects the Holocaust and revival generation to the next generations, is tasked with the duty of telling the story of the Holocaust and its lessons when there is no longer anyone who can testify from personal experience and there is no substitute to the tools provided to that end by the visits to Poland.