From July 12-21, 2015, 12 Hillel professionals traveled to Poland to explore the renewal of the Jewish communities there and to experience Global Jewish Peoplehood firsthand, led by Trinity Hillel Director Lisa Kassow. Upon their return to campus, participants will create programming based on their experiences and will work collaboratively on a set of conversation guides for students visiting Poland in the future.
This trip was organized in partnership with the Warsaw-based Taube Jewish Heritage Tours and with support from the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture, Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington, DC and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland. To learn more, contact the Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Experience.
"Poland? Why would you go to Poland?"
That was the response I got from most people I spoke to about the opportunity to travel to Poland. In hindsight, it is almost tragic how little I knew about Jewish life in Poland, past and present. The thought of Poland seemed bleak and unexciting, overshadowed by the images of death camps and desecration caused during World War 2. Many Jews from Poland were lost during the Holocaust, this I most certainly knew. What I didn’t know was how important Jewish life in Poland was, and is, to the narrative of the Jewish people.
“A Thousand Years of History” should be a slogan that is shouted off the rooftops in Jewish communities around the world, especially in America where 85% of American Jews are of Polish decent. What Israel is today was once the essence of Poland; the hub of Jewish life around the world. How do we translate this to our students? How do we present the importance of remembering what once was and reviving what used to be? Poland once represented the most populated Jewish community in the world filled with life and tradition. The history is rich and full of beauty but has been overshadowed by the darkness of the holocaust.
This trip provided me with a view of Poland that is rare in comparison to the average understanding. Instead of only focusing on the evil, we learned why Polish Jewry is important other than the fact that it was the center of mass genocide. Whether or not there will ever be a true Jewish revival in Poland, it is just as essential to the history of the Jewish people as Israel is. We say “Never Forget” in order to remind future generations of the travesties of the Holocaust, but we should also preach to “Always Remember” what once was. Jewish Polish history should be celebrated, remembered, and taught to Jews around the world. As Jews we have always made sure never to forget our troubles and to always celebrate our victories and our culture. Jewish history prior to the Holocaust has been nearly forgotten in Poland and has been almost universally seen as non-existent after it. As Hillel professionals we have the opportunity to change this narrative and raise questions about what our role is when it comes to preserving Polish Jewry.
Do we have an obligation to revive Jewish life in Poland?
Can Jewish life really be revived in Poland, and if it can, what is our role? How can the Hillel community contribute?
And finally, why should the revival of Jewish life in Poland be important to us, if at all?
Ari Moore is now entering his second year as an Engagement Associate at the Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach. After his experiences in Poland, he is very excited to share his new insights with his students and community.