Dallas March of the Living trip returns
Photos: Courtesy Dallas March of the Living
MOL Dallas and Seattle students at the Podogorze ghetto at the Plaz Zgody

After 3-year hiatus local teens journey to Poland, Israel

By Claudia Hurst

In April, for the first time since 2019, students from the Dallas area traveled to Poland and Israel for the March of the Living (MOL).

The March of the Living is a two-week educational program where students gain a better understanding of their Jewish identity. This difficult and informative experience starts in Poland and focuses on the past of the Jewish people and the Holocaust. On Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), students participate in a march from Auschwitz to Birkenau. The second part of this trip takes place in Israel, where students observe the present and future of Jewish tradition. In Israel, students commemorate Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day).

“This trip is a roller coaster — both in terms of your own emotional experience and the calendar itself,” said Pam Fine, director of Dallas March of the Living.

This journey was especially meaningful after the 2020 and 2021 trips were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2022 trip was called off because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“I think both staff and teens felt a greater sense of joy for being able to participate in the program,” Rabbi Michael J. Kushnick said, describing the sentiment of resuming MOL after three years. “We had more Holocaust survivors per student than we had in the past. I think many of our survivors knew this was an opportunity they had to take to go. G-d willing, they’ll have many more times. But, [after the past few years] they recognize, who knows what the future will bring.”

Max Glauben, who passed away last April on Yom HaShoah, had traveled with the Akiba Yavneh group 14 times. Although his presence was missed, his son Phil chaperoned the trip to keep his story alive.

The resurgence of the Dallas March of the Living trip was also an exciting moment for community member Deanna Kasten to memorialize her late husband’s life.

Deanna Kasten donated a recurring scholarship to the Dallas March of the Living trip in memory of her late husband, Jerome (Jerry) Kasten.

From left, David Gordon, Jordan Dekelbaum and Deanna Kasten. Dekelbaum was the recipient of a March of the Living scholarship that Kasten created in memory of her late husband Jerry, who was a high school history teacher and TJP columnist.

Jerry Kasten was from the Bronx and served in the army before attending the University of Texas at Austin, where he met Deanna Kasten at Hillel. The couple eventually moved to Dallas. Jerry Kasten taught government and coached swimming and cross-country at Hillcrest High School. He also wrote a regular column for the TexasJewish Post titled “Historical Perspectives by Jerry Kasten.”

“The reason I wanted to set this up in [Jerry’s] memory is because of his family’s connection. His grandparents were killed in the Holocaust in Poland,” Deanna Kasten said. “My husband and I had gone to Poland. We visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. When we were there, we saw the kids [on the March of the Living] carrying the Israeli flags when we were marching. We were very touched, so I thought when Jerry died this would be a good memorial.”

With administrative assistance from David Gordon and the Temple Shalom Brotherhood, Deanna Kasten selected Jordan Dekelbaum as the recipient of the 2023 scholarship.

Dekelbaum is a recent graduate of Akiba Yavneh Academy. He will attend Indiana University in the fall to study in the Kelley School of Business.

The March of the Living was Dekelbaum’s first time in Israel. “I had never been to Israel before and arriving after that week in Poland made it even more meaningful. You go from Poland, which is a dark, gloomy place, to Israel, which is the Jewish homeland and the environment feels much brighter. I think the transition between Poland and Israel is what makes this trip so unique.”

Gordon explained that Dekelbaum’s essay in his application was what stood out most in the selection process. Dekelbaum wrote about how his family’s story influenced his desire to strengthen his Jewish identity.

Two of Dekelbaum’s great-grandparents, Cantor Morris Lang and Pearl Lang, were Holocaust survivors. In his application essay, Dekelbaum explained that seeing the concentration camps that his great-grandparents were imprisoned in would be extremely emotional, but he knew that this experience would enhance his understanding of his Jewish roots.

As a teacher in the Dallas community and author of an informative column, Jerry Kasten had a striking passion to learn and share knowledge. The beautiful legacy Deanna Kasten created for him is fitting: His memory continues to emphasize the importance of education.

“The experience that I had on this trip taught me a deeper perspective of Judaism, which is what I believe Jerry would have wanted me to receive from this experience,” Jordan said while sharing his immense gratitude. “I am really thankful that the scholarship gave me this opportunity.”

The Dallas March of the Living is supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. Recruitment for the 2024 trip has already started, including an adult bus. Please email Laura Fine (ltfine.moldallas@gmail.com) for more information.

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