I’ll take any opportunity to spend time with my adult kids, travel and be outdoors. Earlier this year, my daughter Hayley had a friend working at the Krakow JCC and, out of the blue, asked me, “Hey Mom, want to do this bike ride with me called Ride for the Living?” My immediate answer was “Sign me up.” I was excited to travel, be outdoors and spend time with her, but wasn’t expecting to experience other parts of the ride that would be so personally enriching.
The Ride for the Living is a four-day event held in Poland from Thursday to Sunday and takes place the same weekend as the Krakow Jewish Cultural Festival. The ride itself is a 60-mile, one- day bike ride from Auschwitz-Birkenau to the center for Jewish life in Krakow: the JCC. The Ride for the Living was inspired by Holocaust survivor Marcel Zielinski after founders of the ride heard his story of walking 60 miles from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Krakow in search of his family after liberation. He was only 10 years old at the time.
On Thursday, we headed to Auschwitz-Birkenau for a tour of the camps. I had never been, and my emotions ranged from shock and frustration to anger and sadness.
Friday started bright and early as we rode the buses back to Birkenau. Marcel and Bernard Offen, another 90-year-old survivor, then mounted their bikes and, in tandem with the JCC Executive Director and a rabbi, led us away from the camp as we began the ride. I felt fortunate to be there with Hayley and to be living the life we currently have that those who perished were not allowed.
As we rode out of the darkness of the camp and throughout the Polish countryside, I thought of all the people who had supported me for this ride. As the miles went by and the group spread out a bit, I was able to be present in the peacefulness and beauty of the land while listening to and feeling the turn of my peddles. I thought of how lucky I was to have the life of freedom that for many of us Jews has been threatened or taken away throughout history.
As Hayley and I rode the last few miles of the ride and approached Krakow with the sun reflecting on the river, I could not help but smile. The cheering as we rode through the streets of the city truly demonstrated that we had ridden from darkness to light.
That evening, despite being exhausted from the ride, we rallied for the opportunity to dine with over 750 Jews at the Shabbat dinner that was part of the Jewish Cultural Festival. As I looked out over the crowd, it felt very special to be there. All the history only made me appreciate more that Jews are returning to Poland and a revitalized Jewish community is emerging.
Later, we saw what the Krakow JCC is doing to create community and resources for their 850 (and growing) members as well as for the Ukrainian refugees, both Jewish and non-Jewish. This is incredible, considering after the war and for many years the Jewish community there did not exist. I am so thankful that I was able to participate in this amazing experience and support the community of Krakow as well as the Ukrainian refugees.
The most unexpected part of my RFTL experience was how different the city of Krakow was than I expected. It’s a truly beautiful and historically rich city and I hope to return to explore more. I also was not expecting to meet so many interesting people and hear how they are using their time and resources to help refugees and make the world a better place.