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 service, 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.
We 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
Lives ripped away
That was their fate
In that place
The place we visit 70 years later
Home to their souls
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
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