By Zev Krausman
When I boarded that afternoon flight from Chicago to Warsaw for Ramah Seminar in Poland and Israel, I had no idea what to expect. Sure I had read several books and even attended a few classes in school about the Holocaust, but nothing can prepare you for seeing the remains of the aftermath of the destruction caused by the Nazis. As our group of about 30 teens went from town to town and camp to camp, across the countryside of Poland, we bonded, brought together by the horrors we witnessed.
The most shocking and sad thing for me though, was not the camps, or even the mass graves, which mar the fields of Poland, but the sudden and tragic drop in Polish Jewry. We met a man named Pavel in a town called Lodz. The town was once 40% Jewish, but now he runs the only Jewish building, half synagogue, half museum, trying to preserve the memory of the Jews that lived there. What I loved about our trip was our focus on “doing Jewish.” We didn’t come to Poland to be spectators, but to actively engage the Jewish communities, praying where prayers are seldom heard and singing where songs were never meant to be sung again.
When the plane touched down in Tel-Aviv, I was elated. When that night I found myself face-to-face with the Kotel, it was like completing a 2000 year old journey on behalf of my Jewish brothers and sisters left behind. Despite my rage, I never cried in Poland. When it was time to leave the Kotel, there were tears pouring down my face.
The next day, we drove north to a town called Hodayot. There we were reunited with our friends who did not go on the Poland portion of the trip. As we hugged and greeted each other, knew we were in for the best summer of our lives. In the North, we learned about the land and the people. We hiked down from the giant Arbel Mountain and swam in The Kinneret. We also met with Arab-Israelis to learn about what it was like to be a minority in Israel.
After the North we headed to the Chava in Jerusalem, where we’d be staying for most of the trip. There we had countless adventures, like visiting Ben Yehudah Street and the City of David. We learned about leadership (and goat herding) as we developed the skills necessary to become future Ramah counselors.
For me, the most important part of this trip (besides seeing my friends again) was rekindling my Jewish identity. Going to Poland really helped me appreciate just how much my ancestors had to give up in order to be Jewish, and Israel showed me the dream we had been fighting for all those years. When I returned to the States, I brought back with me more than just T-shirts and other trinkets; I brought back a strong Jewish identity and the skills necessary to lead the congregation in positive Jewish experiences.