Blog  Shabbat in Poland

Shabbat in Poland

South Africa ResizedLeah S. is a junior from South Africa. She is a member of Durban Progressive Jewish Congregation.

Shabbat in Poland provided a much needed happy ending to an intensely emotional week. On Friday night, we had the privilege of joining the Beit Warszawa Synagogue community for Kabbalat Shabbat services. It was one of the most memorable services of this whole trip- people from different countries speaking different languages, unified by a common religion, practices, and language. The first thing which struck me was the prayer book, which was Polish-Hebrew. There was Hebrew on one side, and Polish transliteration and Polish translation on the other. A part of the service entailed members of the community standing up and reading some prayers in Polish which was beautiful. The most incredible thing for me was the unity we felt with these strangers. We were welcomed with open arms and smiles and although a few melodies were different, the basic prayers were the same. Another distinguishing factor of this service was the addition of a violin to the instruments. It was very beautiful and moving and we all enjoyed it.

After the sIMG_0642 Resizedervice, we were treated to a delicious supper with our hosts. We were able to interact with them and learn about their lives and experiences. By the end, it turned into somewhat of a party with two guitars, many NFTY songs, and an atmosphere of community, excitement, and life, which we all needed after the week we had just had. After visiting so many sites of unspeakable atrocities and death, this evidence of not only life, but Jewish life, thriving on any level in Poland, was very encouraging. It was so important to end with the knowledge that there are people reviving Jewish life in a place where it used to thrive.

On Saturday, we went to the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. This is a creatively designed, interactive museum which traces Jewish life in Poland back 1000 years. The best part for me was the fact that I already knew almost all of the information in the museum which showed me how much I had learned in the past week. It was a great way to sum up the Jewish life we had learned about, although a lot of us felt it didn’t do the Shoah section justice.

Shabbat in PolandWe left the museum after sunset, and congregated in an alcove out of the wind for the Havdalah service. This is my favourite service because of the unity- we all joined hands and created a big circle. The idea was to show support for each other, which we needed after the emotional week. Standing together in a circle, singing ancient Hebrew prayers which have been sung for thousands of years, was a beautiful ending to the pilgrimage. It summed up the lessons which I had gained of the importance of community and my connection to Judaism. We had a few spectators videoing us and I felt like an ambassador for Israel and the
Jewish people, which was an amazing feeling.

“We’re flying home, to Israel…” I had the opportunity to say these words, that Israel my home. It was such a moving feeling, leaving Poland with its history of destruction of Jewish life, and going to the home of the Jewish people, Israel, an independent and successful country. It was the most hopeful part of the trip, doing what the victims of the Shoah never dreamt of being able to do- flying home to the land of the Jews.

I’ll finish this post with a poem I wrote:

Live for them how they could not

Powerless to escape

Unable to leave

Hope smothered

Lives ripped away

That was their fate

To live

To die

In that place

The place we visit 70 years later

Home to their souls

Their spirits

Reach out to us

Grab our hearts

Plead us to remember

Beg us not to forget

Plant in each one of us the responsibility

To do what they could not do

To walk

Heads held high

Out of those doors

Out of the gas chambers

Out of the forests

Out of Poland

To continue our lives

With them in our memory

Living for them

How they could not