Dec. 10, 2008
Recently the students returned from their trip to Poland, witnessing first hand the greatness of the Kehillot Kodesh (Holy Communities) of the Middle Ages in Poland, which were a testimony to our strength and commitment and the loss of these great Jewish communities and in the Shoah.
Recently the students returned from their trip to Poland, witnessing first hand the greatness of the Kehillot Kodesh (Holy Communities) of the Middle Ages in Poland, which were a testimony to our strength and commitment and the loss of these great Jewish communities and in the Shoah. The students visited cities and towns closely tied to the rich Jewish life in Poland, including Warsaw, Krakow, Tictin, and Lubin, in order to further their understanding of European Jewish life before World War II. The trip also included visits to Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau where the students learned these concentration camps and reflected on their experiences. Below is a look into their first day spent in Warsaw learning about the rich history and vibrant life of Polish Jewery.
The first stop was the 200-year-old Warsaw Jewish cemetery with 150,000 visible tombs. The students felt the visual impact of the capital of “Yiddishkeit” prior to WWII. Here they saw and felt the loss not only of Jewish art, scholarship, and leadership, but the loss of a community that was multifaceted in its range of Jewish pluralism: from Yiddishis socialists through writers, actors, playwrights, Reform rabbis, Orthodox and Chasidic leaders. Following this, the students went to see the remains of the wall of the Warsaw ghetto and then took the “Memorial Walk,” from the Umshlag Platz (the site of the deportation from where we were sent to the death camps) to the hospital of the Ghetto, where Jews fought heroically against disease. They continued to Mila 18, the site of the headquarters of Mordechai Anilevitch and the Jewish armed resistance, and from there to the memorial for Shmuel Zygelblum, one of the leaders of the Warsaw ghetto, who tried to convince the others that civil disobedience and lack of compliance to the Nazis was the way to fight back. The lives of these two individuals paved the way for a lesson on the different types of resistance in the camps and in the ghettos. The next stop was at the Rappaport monument in Warsaw (a replica of which can be seen at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem).
The students then visited the Nozyik Synagogue, the only Warsaw synagogue not destroyed and one of the few buildings left standing in the city after the war. Joined there by Rabbi Tanya and Alachua Haskins, an EIE alumna who is volunteering for the year with the Polish Reform community, the students learned about the synagogue and today’s Jewish community in Poland. The Nozyik family built this synagogue with the specific condition that Kaddish would be recited for them, as they had no children. We kept that promise that was broken by the Nazis and throughout the communist regime. Here we had evening services that ended with Kaddish for the Nozyiks and all the Jews of Warsaw. After the service, the Rabbi and Alachua spoke to us about their work in bringing Jewish life back to modern Poland.