As the world celebrates the 79th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, 38 RAJE students from across the U.S. including students, staff & board members from Baltimore, returned from a life-changing 7 day journey visiting Jewish heritage and Holocaust sites throughout Poland and the Czech Republic. The trip began in Warsaw, journeyed throughout Poland to Lublin, Lizensk, Lancut, and Krakow and concluded with a lively Shabbos in Prague. The trip was led by RAJE Maryland Rabbi Gavriel Horan along with RAJE NY staff and an expert tour guide.
The group participated in Torah learning in the famed Yeshivas Chochmei Lublin, the Ramah shul in Krakow, and the Alt-Neu (Old-New) shul of the Maharal in Prague. The group also engaged in a lively Chassidic-style tisch at the grave of the esteemed Reb Elimelech of Lizensk.
The “post-October 7th,” trip to Poland was an altogether different and more relevant experience. “While seeing the remaining Warsaw Ghetto wall, Majdonek, deserted shtetls, mass graves, Schindler’s factory, the bulldozed Plaszow concentration camp, and Auschwitz/Birkenau would be difficult and emotional any day – it was viscerally potent in 2024,” Lizzy Solovey of Pikesville, said. Many students are experiencing anti-Semitism for the very first time in their lives. Their parents and grandparents told them about the struggles they faced in the FSU and in Europe. They never believed it would happen here in America. The group visited the grave of Sara Schenirer just days after it was vandalized! The gravestone still remained where it had been knocked onto the ground (see photo).
One of the trip highlights was the visit to the Auschwitz and Majdonek concentration camps. There, students lay tefillin in the barracks, said a heartfelt recitation of the Shema in the gas chambers where over one million Jews said their final prayers before being murdered al Kiddush Hashem, and danced while singing Am Yisrael Chai. In Birkenau, the group was fortunate to meet Simon Gronowski, a Belgium Holocaust survivor, who uttered the inspirational message to remember that “life is beautiful,” despite standing near the gas chamber where his family was murdered.
Students concluded the trip with promises to light candles, learn Torah, don tefillin, observe Shabbat, and raise a Jewish family. The group has been forever changed and moved to ensure a bright and proud future for the Jewish people.
“The trip impacted me by showing me the sacrifices that other Jews made for their Judaism,” Vlad Borisenko of Pikesville said. “I was able to put on tefillin for the very first time – and did so every day of the trip. I’m getting my own pair now and looking forward to empowering others to follow in my footsteps!”
Thanks to RAJE, the 38 students returned home with a renewed connection to their Jewish heritage, to each other, and a desire to continue learning more.
“I grew up religious,” RAJE board member, Dov Ocken, said to the group of students at the end of the trip, “but this was one of the most impactful and inspiring Jewish experiences I have ever had. The most powerful part was seeing you guys connect to Judaism – many for the very first time. I hope I can bring that passion and newness into my own spirituality from now on!”
“The ultimate revenge on the Nazis is when we live proudly as Jews,” RAJE Maryland Director, Rabbi Horan, said. “That’s the mission of RAJE. Never Forget means not only that we never forget the Holocaust – but also that we never forget what it means to be a Jew. Never Forget is Now! The spiritual Holocaust is stronger than ever before – but we can stop it – one Jew at a time! Over 6 Million Jews have disappeared over the past 50 years in America due to assimilation. If one person can kill 6 Million of our people – imagine what one person can do if they try to bring back 6 Million!”