March of the Living – The bus leaders
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March of the Living – The bus leaders

Jewish News’ Andrew Sherwood speaks to those who ensure the smooth running of the trip, getting the delegation around Poland, stimulating debate and coordinating the all-important toilet breaks!

Andrew Sherwood is the Jewish News Sport and Community Editor

Group F bus leaders Phil Peters & Talia Blank
Group F bus leaders Phil Peters & Talia Blank

Working almost side-by-side with the educators are the bus leaders, who in Group F were Talia Blank and Phil Peters. Yes, as their title suggests, they sit at the top of the bus, but they’re also a whole lot more than that!

Responsible for making sure everyone gets from A-B, they’re integral in the smooth running of the week, sorting out anyone’s problems, help process what’s been seen by providing and instigating stimulating conversation and activities, and yes – make sure no one is ever running on a full bladder.

For Talia, who was on her third trip, there is a sense of inevitability about her role at MOLT. ‘Very passionate’ about Holocaust Education, she says: “I work with young people as part of my job at Streetwise (a partnership between Maccabi GB and CST), teaching them about discrimination in various forms of hatred and what it can lead to. I myself am very passionate about this cause so leading young adults, many of whom don’t really understand the history of their family, how they perished and the journey of exploration their family might have been through, along with discovering some of their roots and helping them with their Jewish pride is very important to me – and that’s why I enjoy doing this trip.”

Despite it being her third time, this one was different – and really struck a nerve. “I’m not a particularly outwardly emotional person and these types of trips don’t normally make me cry, or show any outward emotion”, she said. “But since my last trip I’ve had a nephew, am very close to him, spend a lot of time with him, and I think this trip, particularly when I saw the things about the children and babies, that really touched me. I guess it’s finding out about the things you relate to on this trip and that was it for me.”

Talia (right) speaks to delegates at the Majdanek Concentration Camp

It was also a third trip for Phil who says: “I’ve always had a strong interest with Holocaust Education, my mum works with the Association of Jewish Refugees and it’s always been something that has been of huge interest to me, something that I can try and do something about and it’s a pleasure to be involved with this.

“Seeing how the group go from a tired bunch of people at Heathrow Airport on the Sunday morning to this really tight-knit group, marching from Auschwitz to Birkenau five days later is immensely rewarding, from a personal level and on a more professional level I guess, we, the bus leaders, educators and logistical staff put a lot of hard work into it and it’s really great to see.”

Lively, friendly and engaging, they also play a key role in lifting people’s spirits, something needed bearing in mind some of the places the group visit. While the staggering number of enforced toilet breaks could be an article in itself (just don’t ask Phil and no one will want to go), there was also a game on the coach which involved shouting out ‘delayed reaction’? – I was trying to get some sleep at the time, the chair game which saw educator Richard Verber nearly break his neck when he nearly fell off a chair in an attempt to sit on it in time, and of course the Bollywood dancing lesson, which by the end of the evening was so well choreographed and carried out – it was half reminiscent of Fatboy Slim’s Praise You video.

Sharing a real passion – and enjoyment of the role they carry out, both are also in agreement as to how they’d like to see more non-Jewish people make the trip. Talia says: “I actively recruit people to come on this trip – and did so with 15 people on our bus this year, because I think it’s so important. I’d also encourage more people who are not Jewish – I don’t think it has to be an exclusive Jewish journey – I think there should be more interfaith – and I’d encourage more people from different faiths to come.”

 

Talia, with Holocaust Survivor, Harry Olmer

Phil adds: “I think the whole MOTL UK and International movement is phenomenal, I totally agree with the idea that everybody – not just Jewish – should have the opportunity to come here to Poland, to Auschwitz in particular, to ensure that things never happen again and that the survivors and particularly those who died are not forgotten.

“Even if you’ve been to Poland before, I’d encourage anybody to come and participate in MOTL, it’s a very different experience and one I’d encourage anyone to do.”

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