These and Those

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

Day 2 Reflection – Heritage Poland 2020

Posted on January 14, 2020 by Mimi Farb

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This blog post was written by Mimi Farb, first year PEP student.

My day began with morning minyan in the hotel conference room in Warsaw. We read the beginning of Sefer Shemoth from the tiny Sefer Torah we borrowed from the family of Adi Rubnista, that we carried against our chests later in the day through Treblinka, as the family had requested. As I read the third aliyah, in which Pharaoh instructs the midwives to murder Jewish infants, I couldn’t help but notice the echoes of our experience in Mitzrayim, the narrow place, where we were dealt with cruelly and wittingly (“Let us outsmart them,” Exodus 1:10), in the story we followed today in Poland.

In the Warsaw Ghetto yesterday, and today at the mass graves in Lupachowa and the massacre site of Treblinka, we called to memory the lives of men, women, children- mothers with infants, with daughters under the age of 13- who were tortured, degraded, and murdered.

In the mass graves at Lupachowa Forest, some of us offered earth brought by a student on the plane from Kibbutz Hanaton. I reached my fingers under the green fence surrounding one of the three mass graves and tucked a small clump of the coveted Land’s earth with the soft, moist soil on the Polish forest floor. How to remember thirteen hundred- thirteen hundred!!- lives, taken in a matter of hours?

I couldn’t.

Mixing dirt with dirt, I imagined individuals. Some were Zionists, some were not, I mused. But did they all long for the Land of Israel?

I tucked in the earth, as though tucking in a child. “Sleep in peace, in memory, in life,” I whispered.

As I cleaned off my fingernails, I noticed the reddish-brown color of the earth. Even as we lay the earth to sleep, I listened for the seventy-eight year old cries of blood screaming from the earth.
“Don’t cover their blood,” we said to Earth, in a closing line of the Kel Male prayer.

We walked back through the forest in silence and then rode to Treblinka.

Treblinka- how does one call to life the 700,000-900,000 lives taken– what?! seven hundred thousand- or more– and then every remnant destroyed, as though it never happened?

I don’t know that this is an answer, but I’d like to call in more of the history we witnessed: a beautiful Baroque shul kept in good care by committed Catholic Polish researchers, a sense of the shtetl and market life on the cobblestone streets in Tiktin, a thousand years of Polish Jewish history at the POLIN Museum, and Emanuel Ringelbloom’s Oneg Shabbes archive.

After returning the Tiktin shul to its original purpose– if only for fifteen minutes– with our minhah minyan, we began to sing an uplifting Yiddish melody we had learned earlier in the day. Some of us began to dance, and soon enough, the wide floor around the bimah of the shul was filled with our circle of singing and dancing. The words we learned to attach to the song, that resonated throughout and beyond the Holocaust, are “mir vel’n zey iberlebn”- “we will outlive them.” Not only have we outlived them by surviving as a people after the war, but we live over- we live “life-ful,” rich, meaningful lives.

I thought of what Dean Bernstein told us the day prior about life in the ghetto. “How did they survive for so long under such suffocating conditions?” he asked us. They kept culture alive, he told us. They ran a theater and held concerts. A doctor established, maintained, and taught a medical school in the ghetto. We learned about Emanuel Ringelbloom, who gathered Jews from every class, profession, and walk of life to create an underground people’s archive, which they named “Oyneg Shabbes,” of their experience in the ghetto. In death’s hungry, dark, threatening shadow, our sisters and brothers lived “over.”

The singing from this morning weaved its echoes with Pharaoh’s decree witnessed in the tiny Torah we clutched in the echoes above my head, as I waited for unnamed names, wondering when, through the destruction, and the destruction of the destruction, I’d hear their memory call to us in the dark, misty, chilling forest air.