Before the Student Delegation Leaves for Poland

November 2022 Reichman University Student Delegation to Poland at Yad Vashem before the trip (photo courtesy of author)

I just returned from the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem where we went as the Reichman University Poland Delegation, in preparation for our Poland journey which will commence on Monday morning three days from now. In anticipation for this Poland trip, the 60 or so students and staff of 8, spent the morning visiting the Memorial, ending an intense week where we had the privilege to hear from a Holocaust survivor, and each other about our family history, our trepidations, our hopes for what we would like to gain from this trip, both on an individual and on a communal level. We heard from Mr. Ron Lerner, son of Holocaust survivors as well as Mrs. Rena Quint and her amazing story of survival. We got to ask questions to them, and to each other. Mr. Lior Zagury who has made it his life’s mission to educate people on the Holocaust took out of his busy schedule to be with us this week and to lead us on this Journey including guiding us this morning at Yad Vashem.

I, granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, am incredibly grateful to my employers at Reichman University for choosing me to be part of this delegation this year as the staff member for the International Delegation and to accompany these amazing students, each with their own family history as well as their own individual story, on an experience of a lifetime.
I wrote the following words to them to read prior to the trip.


Dear Students,

Over the years, I have read many books on the Holocaust, spoken with Survivors and heard countless stories of suffering, courage and dignity. Sometimes those stories came un-encouraged; sometimes they came toward the end of a Survivor’s life, often one who had previously refused to talk about the pain and suffering of what they went through.

But there is nothing like seeing it with our own eyes. I use my word “seeing” and not “experiencing” very consciously because though we will be living some emotional and difficult moments together, we are wearing warm clothing, our stomachs are full and we have a hotel room to return to, and ultimately a Home to go back to. That Home is the State of Israel. Whether you live in Israel or not, having Israel enables Jews all over the world to walk our heads up high and know that Never Again!

I, granddaughter of Auschwitz survivors, am honored to be spending my first time in Poland with all of you, as your RRIS Staff Member. We are an eclectic group, different ages, different backgrounds and religions, different nationalities. But we are all coming here for the same reason- to witness. We come to acquire a proper sense of the place that has become the symbol of the murder of 6 million European Jews, of absolute Evil; to understand that it is Humans who were responsible for the Killing Machine that were the concentration camps and to perhaps find answers.

I often ask myself which thinker was ultimately correct. Was it 17th century British Thomas Hobbes who believed that humans are selfish creatures at their core and that left to their own devices, “Man is wolf to man?” Or was it 20th century French Emanuel Levinas, who believed that Man is responsible for the Other, that, ethically, people are responsible for one-another?

These questions will get us thinking. It will be easy to agree with Hobbes when seeing the horrors of the camps. But then we will hear testimonies of bravery, of those who put their lives on the line to save their family, friends and even perfect strangers and we might think Levinas had it right.

With knowledge comes responsibility. Perhaps after all, the correct one is John Locke who believed we are born with a tabula rasa, a blank slate. It is up to us to educate ourselves and the future generations on how to behave towards the Other and toward society at large; it is up to us to become more aware of discrimination and social injustice. To become bothered and involved.

As we embark together on a journey of a lifetime, let us vow to care more- about our various communities of friends, family, academic program groups, teams. Let us remember the wise words of the late Elie Wiesel: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

About the Author
Valerie was born and raised in Paris, completed her BA (YU Stern) and MBA (NYU Stern) in NYC, was living in Riverdale NY with her husband and 4 kids before they moved to Raanana, Israel in January 2019. In NY Valerie worked in Marketing for various companies, owned and operated an online store, and taught "Global Marketing" and "Managing the Fashion Enterprise" at LIM College. She is now employed at the Raphael Recanati International School of Reichman University (previously IDC Herzliya).
Related Topics
Related Posts