Record attendance overwhelms organizers of Auschwitz bike ride
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Record attendance overwhelms organizers of Auschwitz bike ride

WARSAW (JTA) — A record 150 cyclists or more are scheduled to participate in the third Holocaust commemorative Ride for the Living in Poland.

Participants aged 16-81 from eight countries are scheduled to join the 55-mile trek from the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in southern Poland to the Jewish community center in Krakow that begins on Friday.

The solidarity ride will be led by Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, and Auschwitz survivor Marcel Zielinski, according to Jonathan Ornstein, the director of the Krakow JCC.

Last year’s event featured 85 cyclists.

“We are overwhelmed by the incredible worldwide response to Ride For The Living,” Ornstein told JTA, noting the first ride had only 15 participants.

He said some 300 riders will be participating in rides organized across the United States and Canada by local Jewish communities in solidarity with the Polish event.

The ride remembers the Holocaust, but also celebrates the renewal of Jewish life in Poland, organizers said.

“Jewish life in Poland is flourishing — a miracle considering anti-Semitism in Europe today,” Ornstein said.

In a statement, Schudrich said: “While we acknowledge our loss as a people here, we must focus on the future.”

Participants from Poland, Israel, the United States and Britain will be joined by cyclists from Canada, Colombia, Ukraine and elsewhere. After the ride they will have a Shabbat dinner at the JCC.

The Krakow JCC uses the event as a fundraiser, urging visitors to its website who cannot participate to help the community.

In 2015, more than $150,000 was raised to launch educational programs and support for medical and welfare services for JCC members who are Holocaust survivors. Funds raised from the inaugural 2014 ride supported a JCC Krakow Holocaust survivors’ mission to Israel. For most participants on the trip, it was their first time in the Jewish state.

Ride For The Living was inspired by Krakow JCC member Robert Desmond, who in 2013 rode his bicycle 1,350 miles from London to Auschwitz visiting World War II sites along the way.