These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Poland IV

Posted on March 29, 2012 by Lauren Schuchart

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

(The fourth in a series of 5 posts detailing my heritage trip to Poland… originally posted on my blog)



“Earth do not cover my blood / Let there be no resting place for my outcry” (Job 16:18)


When many people think of concentration camps, they think of Auschwitz. Why? Because many of the survivors of the Holocaust were liberated from there. When we hear horrific stories, they are mostly stories of Auschwitz.

But there are a few camps that aren’t as well-known, because there were no survivors. The sole purpose of these camps was extermination; there were no prisoners, no laborers, no hope. Every person that entered through its gates were killed almost immediately.

Belzec is such a camp, where approximately 500,000 Jews were murdered.

Sign outside of Belzec


Part of the Belzec memorial


Entrance to the Belzec memorial


When the Nazis left Belzec, they dismantled the camp so that there would be no trace of the atrocities that happened there. But, the area was essentially one enormous mass grave that could not be covered up.
A large memorial at Belzec was built to remember the 500,000 souls that were killed there. The memorial, however, is quite controversial. As you can see in the picture above, the memorial is built INTO the ground, making the observer feel as if they are entering a mass grave. Although many things were done to ensure the digging didn’t interfere with the mass graves, there is still the possibility of error.
We spoke about the implications of this:  Is it necessary to create opportunities for people to feel and experience a small piece of what the Holocaust might have been like? Or at some point, do we say that the magnitude of the Holocaust is simply beyond our comprehension? What risks are we willing to take in the pursuit of memorialization and remembrance?
In the museum at Belzec


In the museum at Belzec


Train tracks at Belzec.


“If you think good, It will be good.”

We had the great honor and opportunity to visit the small town of Lezajsk.

Lezajsk was one of the largest centers of the Chasidic movement in Poland. Chasidism is a movement within Judaism that emphasizes the “inner dimensions” of the Torah, or Jewish mysticism. Followers of this movement consider loving-kindness, spirituality, and joy as fundamental components of the Jewish faith. This movement is incredibly deep and rich, and I am certainly not doing it justice with this basic explanation.

We visited the grave of Elimelech of Lezajsk, an important, foundational figure in the Chasidic movement. He wandered for many years, spreading the word of Chasidism, until he finally settled in Lezajsk in 1772. Next to his grave, we talked about his role in Chasidism, learned a few of his teachings, and told stories of his life.

Photo by Daniel ShibleyGrave of the Chassidic master, Rabbi Elimelech of Lezajsk

After visiting the grave, we went to the nearby beit midrash (house of learning) and, in Chasidic tradition, did a couple of “L’chaims!” (toasts to life!).

Levi asked us to think about why the Chasids were frequently celebrating and making “l’chaims,” even in seemingly dark times. He said that our physicality can lead us down to the depths, which is the opposite of what the Chassidic movement teaches us. By easing our physicality, we can make room for spirituality. And the way to spirituality is not through melancholy and despair, but through joy and positive thinking (and sometimes, a little bit of whiskey).

In the words of the Chassids, “If you think good, it will be good.” L’chaim, to life!

Levi makes a l’chaim.
Andrew gives a L’chaim to the group



The Jewish quarter in Krakow is one of the best preserved Jewish neighborhoods in Europe. We had the opportunity to walk around the narrow cobblestone streets and see different sites and monuments, all illustrating the richness of Jewish heritage that existed before the war, and in some cases, still exists today.
We also had the pleasure of meeting with some students that are studying in a Jewish studies master’s program in Krakow. They told us about their motivations for choosing Jewish studies (many of them not Jewish), their lives as young adults in Krakow, and how they see present-day relations between Poles and Jews.


Kosher restaurant in Krakow


Kosher restaurant in Krakow






The entrance to the Remah’s synagogue (Rabbi Mosses Isserles of the 16th century).


Inside the Remah Shul.


Outside the first Torah-learning center for women.“A spark kindled in Krakow grew to a flame that radiated throughout Poland and across the oceans, this light of Torah continues to illuminate the hearts and minds of Jewish girls throughout the world”
Levi gives us a teaching inside the beautiful Tempel Synagogue, a progressive synagogue in Krakow. The synagogue was significantly affected during WWII, but has undergone major renovations in the past few decades.


Tempel Synagogue
Tempel Synagogue
Tempel Synagogue
Krakow Jewish Community Center


A cemetary in Krakow.
I couldn’t help but to post this picture of Kyle, Levi, and Leah, posing in their hermonits.

Building a Jewish future in Krakow.

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.