Baruch Kraus is the Principal of the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel. In these weekly postings, he gives a description and rundown of what the group is doing day to day, which he hopes sheds some light on what the EIE experience is like.
Early Sunday morning, the students traveled to the airport for a 4:30 AM flight to Warsaw. After a short flight, they landed at 9 AM. They have already been to the Warsaw Jewish cemetery, with over 100,000 visible tombstones. Here they began to study the who’s who of Polish Jewish life before the war. In the cemetery, we reconstructed pre-war Warsaw as the capital of Yiddsihkeit — not only the capitol of the Yiddish speaking world (80% of worldwide Jews spoke Yiddish) but the place where Judaism was being rejuvenated; streams of Judaism that are now lost — Judaism in academics, art, music, literature, religion, politics, economics, etc. This is the central theme of our Poland Journey — our lost civilization — heritage that is incumbent on us to recreate in our image based on knowledge. Knowledge of Judaism that they possessed and at NFTY-EIE, we are doing our duty of imparting this knowledge base for future building and creating.
In preparation for our pilgrimage to Poland and study of the Holocaust, we continued last week to study about the rise of Jewish sovereignty in Israel. Last week we went to sites connected to the rural and urban development of Israel during the end of the 19th century through the beginning of the 20th centuries.
Our first stop Tuesday was K’far Tavor (Tavor Village) on the northeast edge of the Jezreel Valley. Here at the reconstructed pioneering farm, we learned of the First Aliyah pioneers and their contribution to agricultural and rural life in Israel. Then, we travelled to Lake Kinneret, where the group learned about the lives of the early pioneers who “conquered” the land. Their story unfolded throughout the day, starting with a panoramic view from the Galilean hills offering a magnificent view of the cultivated fields stretching as far as the eye could see, continuing to Kvutzat Kinneret, a teaching farm set up to prepare the early pioneers for rural life, and finally to the cemetery on the banks of the Lake. Here, with the setting sun and the waves of the Sea of Galilee lapping the shore only yards away, the students heard the personal stories of some of the pioneers of the time, the most famous being that of Rachel the Poetess, whose life was typical of the young people who came to build the land.
Wednesday morning, the group left for Tel Aviv to examine the phenomena of “urban Zionism” – the development of the city starting in the 1880’s, with the founding of the historic neighborhoods of Neve Tzedek and Neve Shalom, to the rise of Tel Aviv about 100 years ago. That evening Sonia Kempler a survivor told her moving story to the students. Friday morning, our students traveled to Yad Vashem , Israel’s Holocaust museum and memorial, to prepare for the trip to Poland and learn.
Last Shabbat, Steve Toltz was with the students at Tzuba. We had a wonderful Shabbat, resting up for the coming week and learning more about what we were about to experience. After dinner, Steve introduced the film “The Pianist,” talking to the group about the collective group experience of 70 years ago compared to today. During the afternoon, the madrichot led a meaningful discussion about the emotional content of the coming week, giving the students a chance to talk about their own fears and expectations. Following that, I came to Tzuba to meet with the students, tell them about the importance of this trip, what to expect and how to use their emotions to process what they are learning. I also told them my personal connection to the Shoah, that I was born in a Displaced Persons Camp (Refugee Camp) and how my parents after their tragedies went about to create new families, new lives as did the hundreds of thousands of survivors.