Impressions from the Trip to Poland - October 2014
On October 20, a delegation of six members from our congregation, led by Rabbi Yonatan Sadoff, left Omer for a journey that lasted six days and five nights in Poland. Our delegation joined a group of 30 members from Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Minneapolis, led by Rabbi Harold Kravitz. It was the most significant joint activity undertaken by members of the two twin congregations, which have been engaged in close relations for several years already. During the trip we visited Warsaw, Lublin and Krakow, three major cities in Poland, each with its glorious and rich Jewish history. We got a glimpse of this glorious history when we visited the new museum, just opened in Warsaw this past month, which is dedicated to 1,000 years of Jewish history in Poland. The museum presents vast multimedia presentations about the rich history of Jews in Poland. We also visited several old synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in Warsaw and Krakow, and were deeply moved
At the same time, we learned that Jewish life is undergoing a revival in several Polish cities. In Warsaw we had an unconventional experience when we visited Congregation Beit Warshawa, the progressive synagogue led by Rabbi Gil and Ziva Nativ. There we joined the evening prayer, alongside some members of the community, many of them converts, who shared with us their unique stories, leading them to choose a Jewish life - stories about a quest for personal, national and religious identity. We were very impressed by the work of Rabbi Gil Nativ and learned about his efforts to edit a Hebrew-Polish prayer book, "Siddur Beit Polin," specially suited to the needs of his congregation. Several days later in Krakow, we were hosted by the Jewish Community Center, a cultural center for Krakow's Jewish community, and participated in a 'Kabbalat Shabbat' service led by Rabbi Tanya Segal at the Reform synagogue, which is located at the Galicia Jewish Museum. In both places we were exposed to Jewish life in a nearly impossible situation, in a city where Jews enjoyed a golden age between the 13th and 16th centuries, and which continued to support a rich Jewish life until it was brutally interrupted by the Holocaust
The Holocaust chapter of our trip took us to the Warsaw Ghetto and its milestones: Umschlagplatz Square, the Ghetto's main square from which the residents were sent to death camps, the house on Mila 18, the house of Mordechaj Anielewicz, the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the Jewish cemetery of Warsaw. We paused in these meaningful places for short ceremonies conducted by Rabbi Kravitz, Rabbi Sadoff, and the rabbinical student Dikla Druckman. In Krakow we also visited the Krakow Ghetto and heard the story of the shipments of the Ghetto's Jewish residents, as documented in a realistic and chilling manner by a pharmacy owner, whose shop was located right in front of Zgodi Square, were the residents of the Ghetto were gathered prior to deportation. The most difficult segments of our trip were experienced in the death camps, Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Auschwitz I. In the Majdanek camp on the outskirts of Lublin, we visited the site of the monument and the crematorium and were overwhelmed by these two horrifying symbols. In Birkenau our sense of horror was intensified when we learned how efficiently the killing machine was devised and operated. In both camps we held moving ceremonies that left everyone teary eyed. We read testimonials and poetry, we recited the 'Kaddish' and 'El Maleh Rahamim' prayers. At Birkenau we chanted 'Avinu Malkenu' from the High Holiday service, in memory of our friend and congregant, Yehiel Shedller, who survived the war as a labor prisoner in this very camp; Yehiel used to sing this prayer to one of the Nazi guards in exchange for an extra portion of bread or soup.
Among the delegation members from Minneapolis was Reva Kibort. Reva was born in Warsaw; she was seven years old when her family was crammed, together with half a million Jews, into the Warsaw Ghetto. She was then sent to a concentration camp with her family. Despite the obvious difficulties, Reva shared with us some of her memories from the period, including the story of her survival, along with her sister, in the labor camp at Shastikowa. Reva's personal story is one of heroism, of two little girls clinging to life with all their might, overcoming the horrors with the force of desire and belief. Reva's first-hand testimony on Polish soil at the site of the scene itself, the Warsaw Ghetto and the camps, was an invaluable lesson that will remain etched in the hearts of every member of the delegation
Our trip to Poland was an incredibly enriching learning experience. The journey took place on several overlapping fronts. First, we marched in the footsteps of the 1,000-year-old Jewish Polish heritage. Second, we met with communities struggling to renew Jewish life in Poland today. Third, we prayed in memory of the martyrs and heroes of the Holocaust, who were killed only because they were Jews. Yet, there was something more to this trip. The connection forged between the members of the two congregations, Adath Jeshurun and Magen Avraham, was very meaningful. The long bus rides were devoted to learning, conversation and personal acquaintance. We learned to appreciate the wide common ground, Jewish values, and Jewish customs uniting our two communities, as well as our shared destiny. In my view, this lesson is just as important; it added another dimension to our journey and made it all the
Former president and dear member of Congregation Magem Avraham