Jewish-Poland is reborn; there is life after death, after all.
For all whom Poland is the Holocaust, read on: For over 1,200 years Jews lived in Poland, prior to the Holocaust, prior to World War II. For centuries Poland was home to the largest Jewish community in the world, the center of Jewish culture, Jewish learning, and literature. Since the founding of the Kingdom of Poland in 1025 CE through the mid 1500’s Poland was the most tolerant country in Europe. According to some sources Poland was home to about three-quarters of global Jewry by the middle of the 16th century, given the nickname paradisus judaeorum (Latin for “Paradise of the Jews”), serving as a shelter for persecuted and expelled Jewish communities at the time. It wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation that we begin to see Poland’s traditional tolerance begin to wane in the mid-17th century onward. We know there were ups and downs from then on; we also know that by World War I Poland was the center of European Jewry with a population of over 3 million Jews.
By the mid-1900, end of World War II, 90% of Polish Jewry had been wiped out. Today we all know why and how, the Holocaust, the unimaginable, the most evil of human nature: government sponsored genocide.
It is this horrific chapter of the Polish-Jewish experience that we most associate with, still fresh in our national psyche, still available are the first-hand accounts of survivors of the Holocaust, and still the ugliest side of humanity.
And yet, Jewish life in Poland is reborn. Jewish life is real, it is growing and celebrated.
Visit the Jewish communities of Warsaw, of Krakow, and others, and you will find places of worship, Orthodox and Progressive, there are JCC’s and Hillel’s, a Jewish Day School, Youth Groups, Jewish Historical Institutions, concerts and festivals celebrating Jewish life and culture, and much more (Klezmer Festival in Krakow).
The rebirth of Jewish-Poland is inspiring and part and parcel of our growing Jewish narrative.
How we learn about, and discuss, the history of Polish Jewry is altered over time, with respect and awe, when explaining: it’s not just the Holocaust.
This is a process each and every educational program, service provider, and tour organizer, working within the Teen-Immersive market must enter to be honest when teaching about the history of Polish-Jewry not only as victims, but as victorious.
History is a living breathing trajectory of space and time, as history grows we must grow, and in this case: we must celebrate this rebirth.
Jewish National Fund’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) entered such a process of introspection and programmatic assessment as it pertains to the study of Jewish-Poland, and Jewish history at large. Together, in partnership with the Taube Foundation of Jewish life and culture, we have been able to reexamine our approach towards exploring history and what we learn from our past. This has resulted in a well-rounded educational experience for our students going to Poland. We study Polish-Jewish history in its entirety, its contribution to society, the communities that thrived, the Holocaust, and the rebirth – the celebration of Polish-Jewish life today.
Sending our students to Poland is of a strategic value within our overall study of Jewish-Israel history. After years of sending our AMHSI students to Poland, it is time we reciprocate and bring Polish-Jewish high school students to us, to Israel! In order for our youth to forge their link to the global Jewish community, this must be a two-way learning opportunity. Israel is theirs just as much as Israel belong’s to the rest of global Jewry. In Israel, our next generation will find inspiration, acquire knowledge, and gain the conviction to know we are one.
For the first time in its history, the Alexander Muss High School in Israel is launching the first ever Polish High School in Israel track as part of our global network initiative bringing High School students from around the world to walk through history – together. This group will be joining our ROOTS Israel community service track. This new generation of Jewish life in Poland needs to know that they are part of something great, that they are part of Global Israel, and that Israel is the beating heart of all our people.
Ours’ is a remarkable story unheard of throughout human history, a story of return, a story of rebirth. Come, let’s celebrate.
Leor Sinai, Rabbi |Co-CEO | amhsi.org