Home sweet home

April 26, 2010 by Henry Benjamin
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Ninety- five Year 11 students arrived  home safe and sound in Melbourne and Sydney this morning after experiencing the air traffic chaos in Europe which stranded them in Warsaw for four days…and denied them the opportunity of celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut in Israel.

Donna and Terry Sher all pix: Henry Benjamin

The 16 and 17 year old students together with their adult support team became caught in both the volcanic ash fallout and the fatal Polish plane crash situation forcing them to be grounded in Warsaw, Poland for several days.

An unscheduled El Al airlines flight was chartered via Budapest, Hungary to airlift the group out of Europe, arriving safely in Israel last Wednesday. The mammoth effort required a coordinated and synchronised multi-bus convoy to depart Warsaw with only 2 hours notice and travel 12 hours overland to meet the El Al flight.

Students from Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and New Zealand had participated in the 10,000 strong international ‘March of the Living’ at the Auschwitz concentration camp to commemorate the atrocities of WW2.

While contingencies from most other countries managed to fly out of Warsaw prior to Iceland’s volcanic eruption and head for Israel to celebrate its 62nd Independence Day, it was only the Australian and Turkish groups, together with their Holocaust survivors and support staff who were unsuccessful in leaving in time.

Finally reunited in Tel Aviv, Israel on Wednesday  with their counterparts from USA, Canada, South America, South Africa and Europe, the Australian participants spent four days touring the highlights of Israel.

As a result of the delay, organisers in Israel busied themselves rescheduling the visits and activities planned for the students in Israel.  An organiser told J-Wire: “We just about covered everything…except Yom Ha’azmaut.”

J-Wire asked the students, some from Canberra and New Zealand,  how they spent their unscheduled time in Warsaw.   One happy to be home student  said: “Well, we saw the Ghetto but the main trip was to the Zoo!  And we spent a lot of time just chilling out.”

Teacher Marion Seftel said: The parents were very supportive…they knew we would do what had to be done. They packed a lot in to the four days in Israel including a meeting with Mark Segev, one of Prime Minister Netenyahu’s advisers. They also visited an organisation which arraanges for children for from other countries to come to Israel for heart reconstruction.”

But all agreed that the March of the Living at Auschwitz was a memory that would last a lifetime. Masada president Cecil Zinn was at Sydney International Airport. He told J-Wire: “I do not have enough praise for the organisers. They were fantastic. Some of our parents were on an emotional roller coaster but the children handled the downtime in Warsaw well.” Brian Gillman, whose daughter Jody was with the Masada students in Warsaw said: “The organisers arranged tours of libraries and orphanages…certainly enough  to keep them occupied.”

Now it is back to their respective schools and the road to the HSC. The March of the Living and four unscheduled days in Warsaw will certainly add weight to their schooldays’ memories.

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