On June 3rd, sixteen students from campuses in the greater Baltimore area began a nine-day journey to explore Jewish life in Poland – past, present, and future. Students from Hillels at UMBC, Goucher College, Towson University, Johns Hopkins University, and University of Maryland focused on the broader experience of Jews and Judaism in Poland, rather than solely on questions surrounding the Holocaust.
In order to learn more about Polish Jewry, students engaged with Jews living in Poland and Polish non-Jews involved in Jewish life. Highlights of the trip included a visit to the Lauder Morasha School Building in Warsaw, the first Jewish school to be established since 1968, speaking with Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, and visits to historical sites and museums, including the Warsaw Rising Museum and the Lodz Jewish Cemetery. After visiting the Cemetery, Towson students Jayson Hirschman, Joel Wiener and Amanda Levin were inspired by “the number of those working on cleaning graves who aren’t Jewish, but are still willing to preserve Jewish history.”
It was through this that students were able to see that the Jews are not alone. As Johns Hopkins students Erica Biegen and Allison Rubinstein reflected, “The world is evolving, and while it is important to remember and to learn about the tragedy of the Holocaust, it is also important to realize that there is an increasing number of people working here to revive Jewish culture.”
The students also had the opportunity to spend Shabbat in Krakow, following a powerful and deeply challenging visit to Auschwitz and the town of Oswiecim earlier that day. After a meaningful and inspiring Havdalah ceremony, they participated in “7@nite,” Krakow’s Jewish cultural festival, during which the seven remaining synagogues in Krakow open to showcase Jewish life and culture.
When reflecting on their Shabbat experience in Krakow, Towson students Noga Raviv, Adam Mayer and Samantha Kaiden noted that, “Just having had the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat in the land where Jews as a people were not supposed to exist bestows one with a sense of pride in the ability of the Jewish people to persevere against all odds.”
Special thanks go out to Lola Hahn, Development Director at Goucher College Hillel, Maiya Chard-Yaron, Director of Educational Engagement at Maryland Hillel, and Sam Konig, Executive Director of Towson University Hillel for leading the trip, as well as to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Poland for their support.
Check out more pictures here, and visit Arutz Sheva to watch Sam Konig reflect on the trip’s focus, and why the goal of relationship building with Jews and non-Jews is so important.
Ali Schumacher is a rising senior at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is currently a Communications Intern with Hillel at the Schusterman International Center in Washington, DC.