Blog  Flashback Friday: An EIE Alum Returns to Krakow

Flashback Friday: An EIE Alum Returns to Krakow

Yael Farber2Yael Farber is a Fall 2010 NFTY-EIE alum studying at Dickinson College. This semester, she is studying abroad in Prague. She has explored not only the Czech Republic, but neighboring countries in Europe as well. Recently, she visited Krakow, which brought back memories from her trip to Poland on her EIE semester. With her permission, we repost an edited version on our blog below.

We arrived in Kraków yesterday afternoon and had a few hours to relax and settle in. Jenny and I went for a walk to explore a bit, found some coffee and headed back to the hotel before our walking tour of the city. The 2-hour walking tour started at 5pm, so it was almost dark and already cold- only to continue to get darker and colder as we walked. Following the tour, we ate at a traditional Polish restaurant where I ate cheese and potato pierogi with grilled mushrooms on the side.

This morning we had a tour of the Jewish District. There’s no other good title to use for this post, because this morning’s tour of the Jewish District of Kraków was just that- flashbacks. Since I took my first trip to Poland on NFTY-EIE (my semester in Israel in high school), I have blocked out many of the memories. As a 15 year old, I was not anywhere near prepared for what I was going to see and learn about while in Poland. That’s not to say that I’m prepared now as a 20 year old, but still. As we walked to our first stop at the Remuh Synagogue, I thought to myself “this looks familiar.” About 30 seconds later I realized, “of course it’s familiar- I’ve been here before!” I then accepted that I would be spending the next 3 hours seeing sights that I’ve already seen and hearing facts I’ve already heard. That was only half true. I learned new facts or heard ones that I had forgotten about, but more importantly was the places we went. Walking through the synagogues and Jewish cemetery, I was amazed by how much came back to me.

Yael FarberMore than any of those places, as we walked to the end of the street in the Jewish Town and reached a set of steps to a courtyard outside a synagogue, I had a moment unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Seeing this courtyard, I suddenly remembered doing the Havdallah service here, in this courtyard, with my 44 EIE classmates, our staff and our Jewish history teachers, 5 years ago. Up to this point, I had completely forgotten about this experience. An experience that had such an impact on me at the time, that I haven’t thought about since. I remember it was cold, and we were all exhausted from our long day of sightseeing, but we stood in a circle singing Havdallah melodies in the middle of Kraków. A group of people gathered to watch us, but we didn’t care. We sang Eliyahu HaNavi, extinguished the candle in the wine, and sang the Shavua Tov Song at the top of our lungs. In that moment, we were our own symbol of hope for the future of the Jewish people. Being back there today, it hit me how much time has gone by since that Saturday night in Kraków 5 years ago. After that trip, I never thought that I would be back in Poland. But now I am so thankful to be back, if only to remember that night and realize how much has changed since then, and how much must continue to change.

For Shabbat, we went to services in the Isaac Synagogue sponsored by the Kraków Chabad. Although I do not feel comfortable praying with a mechitza, and I often have trouble keeping up with Orthodox services, it was amazing to be surrounded by both locals and visitors from all over the world in a synagogue that was built in 1644. Following services, we went to dinner at the Kraków JCC. The community rabbi, as well as other community members were extremely welcoming and happy to have us for dinner. In addition to our group, there was a group of people from the States, Canada and Australia, as well as a group that was focusing on Polish-Jewish dialogue, plus all of the regulars.

KrakowAs we sang Shalom Alechem, I couldn’t help but smile. I smiled because I was brought back to the entire chadar ochel singing at Eisner, and because I was brought back to singing at Woodlands, and because I was brought back to singing at Hillel, and because I was brought back to services with the communities in Prague, and because I was singing with the JCC in Kraków. In all of these places, Shalom Alechem was the same melody. Although each was a different experience, and each brings it’s own identity, we still have one collective Jewish voice through a shared melody. Whether in Westchester, Great Barrington, Prague, or Kraków, Shabbat is Shabbat, and I feel so blessed and lucky to be able to celebrate Shabbat with so many different communities.

At the end of dinner, we were led in singing by a man who was a Holocaust survivor and a native Yiddish speaker. He only sang a few songs, but to hear him singing and speaking in Yiddish was something I had never really heard before.

After a super busy day, I’m looking forward to tomorrow when we have a less-hectic schedule and can do some exploring on our own.

Shabbat shalom and Czech ya later!

You can read more of Yael’s blog posts at