A Class Trip to Remember

Yossi Sevy is the son of two Holocaust survivors who met and married in Israel. His father survived the infamous death march from Auschwitz to Germany, and his mother survived Bergen-Belsen.

Next month Sevy will relive, in part, his parents’ journey with his 18-year-old son, Nadav, as they traverse the 2-mile walk from the so-called “death gate” of the former Auschwitz Nazi death camp to the International Monument of Holocaust Victims of the Birkenau death camp.

Nadav is one of about 23 students committed to a three-week senior class trip planned for the fourth graduating class of Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School. Their sobering itinerary includes Auschwitz, Schindler’s factory and the Warsaw ghetto, followed by Israel’s modern cities, historical sights and natural beauty.

“It will be an emotional and strong experience for both of us,” said Sevy, of Irvine. “It’s a wonderful way of summarizing 12 years of Jewish education.”

He thinks witnessing the residue of ferocious anti-Semitism will strip away students’ complacence about their Jewish heritage and instill a protective pride for Israel.

“I don’t blame them. They live in normal neighborhoods just like Jews did in Germany,” Sevy said.

Today, unlike then, Jews under threat can escape, like the modern-day exodus to Israel by Jews from the former Soviet Union and Argentina.

“It’s my duty to make sure his grandchild will keep the inheritance,” Sevy said.

Last summer when Rabbi Claudio Kaiser Blueth, the school’s director of Jewish studies, proposed the trip he hoped it would become a school tradition.

“We’re not going to Disneyland to have fun,” he said. “We are going to Poland to expose the seniors to the reality to be there. Then we go to Israel to see what has been created, to see the secret of survival. The theme is from death to life, from destruction to the future.”

Recalling the Holocaust is a recurring subject at the school, whose founder, Irving Gelman, outlived Nazi persecution by hiding underground. It’s also a subject woven into the dinner-table conversations of many students. Several grandparents of students in the 31-member class were concentration camp survivors.

Although most in the class are 18-year-olds that could take advantage of a free stay in Israel courtesy of the Birthright Israel program, administrators and parents think the $3,000-per-person class trip is a fitting finale to years of friendship, and will convert textbook learning into a behavior-altering experience. An early May 20 graduation ceremony is planned before the trip, which runs May 30-June 20.

“We want to walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau, walking in the footsteps of their grandparents,” said Kaiser Blueth, who will accompany the teens. Also going on the trip are a few parents; the school’s principal, Howard Haas; and its ever-present security guard, Shalom Shalev.

Thousands of youths from around the world take part in the “March of the Living,” on April 19, marking the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943.

Parent Sheila Stopnitzky, of Laguna Hills, expects the trip to give her son, Jesse, the grounding to assume similar roles as his parents, who support numerous Jewish causes and were founding members of Morasha Jewish Day School in Rancho Santa Margarita.

On a previous trip to Israel five years ago, the family felt the concussion of retaliatory bombing from Lebanon.

“They could see the necessity of protecting Israel,” Stopnitzky said.

But even more, she thinks the trip can solidify for her son his role in ensuring that Israel remains a haven for oppressed Jews.

“It’s a very real thing in this household,” said Stopnitzky, whose father-in-law, Karol, fled to Israel after surviving two concentration camps. His 11 siblings were exterminated.

“The most tragic part of all is the guilt that comes with survival,” he said. “The man could never just enjoy life because of the guilt that plagued him.”

The school is hoping to subsidize about half of each student’s travel costs through a $100-per-ticket raffle drawing this month for a 2004 Mustang.

For more information, call Tarbut V’Torah at (949) 509-9500.