Posted on January 28, 2015 by Nate Goldman
From our trip to Poland, we definitely had our share of sad sights. Through the five days of our tour of the country we visited countless ghettos, camps, and graves. The stories about life as a Jew during the Shoah were tragic and horrifying. Other stories, like the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, seemed heroic. Seeing Schindler’s factory and hearing from a surviving righteous gentile was reassuring of the kindness and sanity of humanity.
However, by far the most meaningful part of the trip for me was meeting with the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schundrich. Rabbi Schundrich met with us in his shul in Warsaw and told us about the small remaining Jewish community he oversees in Poland. He told us as part of his job, he frequently helps people in Poland reconnect to their Jewish identity. Often these people only recently found out they were Jewish from a grandparent who survived the Holocaust. His role is to help facilitate the remaining Jews in Poland to feel comfortable coming into the open again.
Meeting with Rabbi Schundrich and seeing the destruction in Poland left after the Holocaust, I came to the conclusion that the only way to deal with this horrible event is to build the future of Judaism. Now more than ever in history, Jews are able to embrace their identity and feel relatively safe doing so. It is important to acknowledge the past, but defining your Jewish identity entirely by the Holocaust is a dead end. Instead, Jews today need to begin embracing Jewish learning and culture. When I return to America after my year in Israel, I plan to spread both the message of survival I got from Poland, but also the love of Jewish learning I got from learning at Pardes. My goal in returning to America will be to become a facilitator to inspire Jewish friends and coworkers to join me in Shabbat meals every week. I think starting with a simple, concrete act as easy as eating a meal together will create the foundation to reconnect my friends to the positive aspects of being a Jew. I think that with this foundation, I can inspire others to become curious about learning more, just as my journey into Judaism started with going to Shabbat meals in college.
Pardes trips to Poland are run in partnership with Heritage Seminars. The Claims Conference has provided trip scholarships for qualifying Pardes participants, as well as subsidies for program components directed at Jewish educators.