Prewar Poland – The Epicenter of the Jews
Trip Start Jul 21, 2013
9Trip End Aug 05, 2013
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It is an easy 2 hour Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Warsaw. The plane is modern, the terminal is fancy and we see no sign of Edward Snowden in Moscow's International Transit terminal.
As soon as we step on to the jetway in Warsaw we know we are in for a change – the weather is above 90 degrees at 6 pm!
After a wait for the luggage and some confusion re: transfers we arrive at the hotel and get ready to explore on our own.
This leg of our journey is a group exploration of the roots of modern Jewish culture and civilization that sprouted during the 500 year history of Polish Jewry and, of course, to explore the course of the greatest crime in human history, The Shoah.
We are part of a group of 18 people connected to the Jewish Theological Seminary, Camp Ramah and/or Brandeis. We have two Rabbis, two Jewish Studies professors, and various other lay and professional leaders. The trip is organized by the Ramah organization based in Israel and we will be led by an Israeli educator with expertise in Holocaust studies and Jewish history.
The bulk of our group is arriving the next morning, so Marcia and I head off on our own for dinner and a good night's rest.
Warsaw – 1919
Imagine that you live in a capital of a newly free country with expansive borders. Your people have lived in the area for 500 years and you are part of the Jewish community that is 30-40% of the population of the capital Warsaw and of all the major cities in Poland – Lublin, Krakow, Lodz. Freedom reigns and you are fully part of all the civic, political, cultural and economic activities of the country.
More – in each of your cities there are more Jews than the Jewish population of entire countries – France, Britain, Germany, Hungary, Czechslovakia. You are the vital center of Hasidism, Talmudic learning, Haskallah, Zionism, Yiddish culture and socialism. You build synagogues that are majestic in stature. Although America at the time also has a few million Jews, they are overwhelmingly poor, uneducated and have no comparable centers of Jewish learning and culture.
It is hard for American Jews to imagine that kind of "ownership" and leadership of the country. Poland at this time is truly a binational state of Yiddish speaking Jews and Polish speaking Catholics working and living together - each with a 500-1000 year history of life and culture on this land.
That is the Poland we come to learn about and to explore how their "isms" got translated into our modern Jewish world. We will be schlepping by bus through Warsaw, Lublin, Lesjak, Jaroslav, Tarnow, and, Krakow. Along the way we are going to visit the shuls, yeshivas, mikvahs, academies and gravesites of the founders and shapers of the Halachic, Hassidic, and Haskallah movements. Ultimately, we hope to gain some insight on how to keep these strains alive for the majority of American Jewry.