Life Over Death

By Arielle K., 11th Grade, Irvington, NY

The first thing I saw this morning was a lichen [slow-growing plant] growing on a tombstone in what was once a thriving Jewish shtetl in Poland, a true Kehillah Kedoshah, Tykocin.

In August of 1941, all the Jews of Tykocin were herded into the town square of the village they were born in, lived in, laughed in, fell in love in, and built families in. The 1,400 or so remaining Jews were then forced to march into the Lopuchowo forest on the outskirts of their community. There, one of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen shot every one of these people- mothers, fathers, children, babies- systematically, leaving them to fall backwards into pits, mass graves they’d just dug for themselves. There they were murdered. In under 48 hours, there was no one left. Tykocin today is a Christian village. There is not a single Jew left to speak for the shtetl which once was.

The Lopuchowo forest outside of Tykocin

Still, before there was death, there was life. The synagogue of Tykocin is still standing. After the fall of communism, the Polish residents of the town took it upon themselves to restore it to its former beauty. Under no obligation, they took it upon themselves to honor and remember what had happened to half the population of their village.

We had the privilege of having a mincha service in the restored synagogue. We brought Jewish voices back to a place where the Germans tried so hard to silence them. We finished the service with joyful singing and dancing the hora. We brought back life into a place overshadowed by darkness.

The Jewish people live.
Am Yisrael Chai.

During this excursion, the Spring 2018 students of Heller High also filled the Lopuchowo forest with the words of Hatikvah. You can see a video of that beautiful tribute here.

Since 1961, thousands of teenagers have spent a semester in Israel on URJ Heller High (formerly NFTY-EIE), the Reform Movement’s most intense and powerful Jewish living and learning experience. We are currently accepting applications for Fall 2018 and Spring 2019.

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