As Jews, we all know and understand the importance of our past and the imperative of “zachor”- of remembering. I just returned from my synagogue’s, Young Israel of Scarsdale’s, Heritage Mission to Poland two weeks ago, and the imperative of remembering has never been as clear for me. I am still decompressing from this very difficult but incredibly important and meaningful experience.
|Young Israel of Scarsdale Heritage Mission to Poland|
For me, the trip was also very personal. My mother was a survivor of the Shoah who was in eight or more different concentration camps over a four year period and lost her entire family during the war. I had felt a need to do this trip for a very long time in order to honor the memory of my grandparents, and aunt and uncle whom I never knew.
|Synagogue in Tykocin|
We, of course, went to concentration camps as well – to Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz. As much as you read, see on TV or in the movies, and for me – as much as I heard from my mother, nothing can prepare you to see firsthand the scope and enormity both of the richness of Jewish life that had been and of its destruction. Of the six million Jews killed in the Shoah, three million were Polish Jews. We learned the chilling statistic that at the beginning of 1942, 80% of Polish Jewry was still alive and 20% had perished – one year later, by the beginning of 1943, the reverse was true and 80% of Polish Jewry had been decimated.
|Davening at Auschwitz on Tisha B'Av|
I am back now for just two weeks and am still processing everything I saw and experienced. The trip had a profound impact on all of us and for me, I view it as one of the most important things I’ve ever done.
Thinking back, there were many difficult aspects of this trip but one of the most painful for me was to see the extent of the degradation and humiliation to which the Jews were subjected and their total helplessness and powerlessness. This is difficult for us to fathom since we are lucky enough to live in a time when we are not powerless, when we can be and are activists who have loud voices and can use our voices. And, thank G-d, we now have a state of Israel where no one will ever again be able to control our destiny. My husband and I were lucky enough to go to Israel after the mission and for as many times as we have gone there in the past, this tiny country never felt more precious. If Poland represents the incomprehensible pain of our past, Israel represents the beauty and richness of our future.
|Making an Israel connection at Auschwitz|
We are just beginning the Hebrew month of Elul as we prepare to celebrate the New Year in just a few weeks. This is a time of promise and of hope for the year ahead, but it is also a time of reflection looking back at the past year. As I said when I began, we are a people who know and understand the importance of remembering and embracing our past in order to have a rich and meaningful present and future.
Shana Tova U’Metukah!
Originally presented by Westchester Jewish Council Board Member Beverly Rosenbaum at the 2013 summer board meeting.