For some elderly Polish Jews, a bike ride from Auschwitz to Krakow that began last year ended last month in Israel.
The 30 Polish seniors, most of them Holocaust survivors, visited the Jewish state in March as guests of a trip financed by a 2014 “Ride for the Living” under the auspices of Krakow’s seven-year-old JCC (jcckrakow.org). Nearly 20 riders, some of them from abroad, took part in the 55-mile trek through the Polish countryside last spring, from the infamous death camp to the American-style JCC, which has become a symbol of new Jewish life in the country.
The leaders envisioned the ride as a consciousness raiser, about Poland’s ongoing Jewish revival, and as a fund-raiser, to pay for the aging Polish Jews’ weeklong trip to Israel this year. Many of the participants in the trip, members of the JCC’s Senior Club, set foot in Israel for the first time; for others, it was a last chance.
The now-annual bike ride takes place under the patronage of Michael Schudrich, Poland’s Long Island-born chief rabbi. It was inspired by Robert Desmond, a JCC member who had ridden his bicycle 1,350 miles from London to Auschwitz, stopping at World War liberation sites along the way. He decided that future bike rides should end in a place of life, not death.
Last year’s bikers joined Krakow’s small Jewish community for Shabbat, then took part in the annual 7@NiteFestival, a cultural celebration organized by the Joint Distribution Committee.
“As a Polish Jewish community leader, I see too often organized groups from the U.S. and abroad bypass the great renewal of Jewish life here,” says Jonathan Ornstein, the JCC’s executive director. “Ride for the Living will bring together people from around the world to celebrate Jewish life in Poland — a bright spot in a darkening Europe.”
Ornstein and Rabbi Avi Baumol, the chief rabbi’s rabbinic representative in Krakow, led the senior group’s visit to Israel.
The second Ride for the Living will be held on Friday, June 5.