This past summer, I was fortunate enough to join 200 other Jewish campers from around the world on Ramah Israel’s Seminar Program. I was excited to spend time in Israel, but my mom insisted I go on the Poland trip the week before, meaning I would miss my last two finals of junior year. The experience I had on Poland was life changing and all who have the means of visiting should do so in their lives.
To me, the greatest thing about the trip was its focus on the thriving Jewish community of Poland, before the Holocaust. At the start of the trip, my group drove directly from the airport in Warsaw to a Jewish cemetery that managed to survive the war and my suspicions of the trip were confirmed. Coming from an upbeat and exciting end to junior year, I was dreading the sadness of the trip, though I knew it would be valuable. Our tour guide, however, told us that this cemetery would be “a happy cemetery,” and this wouldn’t be a dreary start to our trip. We learned of the vibrant Jewish life and saw magnificent gravestones that equated Warsaw to Jerusalem. It was amazing.
The topic of the Holocaust is truly incomprehensible, even after one walks down the same paths as the prisoners of Auschwitz did. It’s very puzzling to us that a killing of this magnitude could ever occur. Visiting the concentration camps makes all other forms of education seem less genuine or authentic; I’ve never felt so connected. Much later into the summer, we visited Yad Vashem in Israel. The work done by the museum was incredible, but it was difficult finding meaning the same way I had in Poland.
Visiting Poland taught me a lot more than just the Holocaust; it taught me the importance of a strong and unified Jewish community. I learned about the great tolerance and diversity of the Jews that lived in Poland. Following various inquisitions of Jews around the world, Poland opened its arms to Jewish refugees. A vibrant Jewish world developed within Poland, as it was a safe place to be a Jew. The safety obviously did not last forever as Nazi Germany took control of the country, ghettoizing and terrorizing the Jews inside.
It is because nearly all of Poland’s Jewish population was murdered that it is imperative we stay together through bad times. Singing songs from Friday night shira in an abandoned temple with Ramah campers from all over the world shows the persistence and unity of the Jewish people. It is important to learn about the struggles of the past to preserve our future.
The disappearance of the Polish Jewish life serves as evidence for the creation of the Jewish state in 1948 and sure enough, we spent our next 6 weeks touring through Israel. I believe it is our responsibility to educate others on the history of the Jews and to bridge the differences between our community.