Ride For The Living

From 2015-2016 Jennifer Singer served as a Global Jewish Service Corps Fellow in Krakow, Poland working at JCC Krakow. 

While a JSC Fellow in Krakow, I’ve had many meaningful experiences. Krakow today has an active, thriving, and growing Jewish community, and that’s something of a miracle, considering the city’s - and the country’s - past. Every day is a celebration of the rebirth and growth of Jewish life in the aftermath of the Holocaust and Communism, and Krakow’s Jewish Community Center is a tangible symbol of the local Jewish community’s triumph over tragedy. The JCC has a packed calendar of educational, cultural, and social events. JCC members also come together to celebrate the Jewish holidays and for weekly Shabbat dinners with over 50 local members. And though I’d be hard-pressed to single out just one impactful initiative the JCC organizes, Ride For The Living definitely stands out (among others). I am proud to have been a part of this annual event that both commemorates Poland’s tragic Jewish past and celebrates a Jewish future.

The Ride is a 55-mile bike ride from Auschwitz-Birkenau to the JCC to honor the history of Jewish life in Poland and celebrate the community today. Participants start at a place of darkness and loss and cycle together towards the JCC, home to Krakow’s vibrant Jewish community. The Ride began in 2014 with 15 participants who raised enough funds to send 30 of our Child Survivors of the Holocaust to Israel. Since then, the Ride has grown to 150 participants and welcomed riders from eight countries. It also has a partnership with the Jewish Community Center Association of North America (JCCA) in which JCCs across North America host satellite rides to support JCC Krakow’s ride. Part of my role as a JSC Fellow was to help coordinate the Ride. I, along with the team of dedicated staff, spent countless hours perfecting the details. An important part of preparing was getting to know the riders and understanding the emotional complexities that the participants would encounter.

While our hard work paid off and the Ride went smoothly, it wasn’t until after the event that I was able to fully grasp its gravity and impact. Many of the international riders, who had family that was directly affected by the Holocaust, told us how their experience was healing and therapeutic. Like many of JCC Krakow’s 100,000 annual visitors, the international participants usually think about the Jewish presence in Krakow, and in Poland overall, in terms of the country’s tragic past. Therefore, they are amazed to find such a strong and lively community whose members are eager to reconnect with, and develop their Jewish identities. International riders have the opportunity get to know the local community, they cycle side by side with some of them during the Ride and have Shabbat dinner with them, thus becoming a part of the local community. The whole experience brings them an empowering realization that no matter where they’re from, they’ll always feel welcome and at home in Krakow’s Jewish community. 

The Ride also has a great impact on the local participants. Many of them have been to Auschwitz before, but told us that being a part of the Ride was a different and deeply emotional experience for them. Joining the Ride was their way to honor those of their family members who did not survive Auschwitz, and a way to continue their legacies by becoming part of Jewish life in Poland today.

For me, one of the most emotional moments of the Ride was when Pani (Mrs.) Zofia, 81 years old, a local JCC member and a Child Survivor of the Holocaust, rode on a tandem bike with JCC Krakow’s Executive Director Jonathan Ornstein at the beginning of the ride. Pani Zofia’s father was refurbishing a bike for her right before the war broke out and didn’t have the chance to teach her how to ride. He was murdered at Auschwitz while she and her mother survived on fake documents outside of Krakow. Pani Zofia never learned how to ride a bike because of the memories it brought up - the beginning of the Ride was her first time on a bike ever. She joined the Ride because she finally felt that this was her opportunity to ride for her father and honor him.

I feel grateful that I had the opportunity organize and participate in such a profoundly impactful event, an event that enabled experiences like Pani Zofia’s and so many like her. I am proud to have helped honor those we lost, while also seeing firsthand the resilience and strength of the Jewish people to rebuild a thriving and loving community that was once thought to be lost. 

As I continue to work at JCC Krakow, prepare for the 2017 Ride, and help rebuild Jewish life for the community who are now my friends and family, I will be forever thankful to all of them for how much they have given to me and strengthened my Jewish identity. 

Click here to watch a video of Pani Zofia telling her full story. 

 

Written By

April 24, 2017 at 9:57 AM

 

 

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