ShnUpdate - Tzuf 05.08.21 (Poland journey)

Shalom Rav,

This week’s update will be dedicated to our Poland journey. We returned earlier this week from a one week journey to Poland- Masa Le-Polin, as part of the Machon program of the Jewish Agency. The journey was intense and emotional and was challenging on many levels. At the same time, it was an important and meaningful journey, learning and seeing parts of our Jewish People’ history. A few update emails were shared during the journey itself, sharing the places we visited and some updates from our Shnattim themselves.

This week on Tuesday, we met for our last Yom Tnua (Movement Day). After an interesting visit to Kehilat Kol Haneshama in Jerusalem and a talk with its Rabbi- Oded Mazor, we had a lovely picnic followed by an evening Ma’amad (creative prayer). The Ma’amad included some quotes of Victor Frankl, an Austrian doctor, philosopher, author and Holocaust survivor. In his book “Man’s search for meaning”, Frankl discusses the need to find meaning in life in order to feel positive and overcome challenges, based on his own experience in WWII. We read a famous quote of Frankl: “Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for”. I asked the shnattim to share one paragraph linking this sentence to our experience in Poland. Here is what they wrote:

Our week in Poland was incredibly intense, full of heavy content and emotional moments. But crucially, I learned how to find positivity in tragedy: learning about resistance from the tnuot, and for myself, getting support from my friends during a difficult trip (Josh Freedman).

Meaning is something that is very difficult to find in life. There are many experiences we have and people we know and often we try to pull meaning from there. However, that is not so easy, especially when you travel to a country where most of the concentration and extermination camps are. It's very easy to think that meaning has been lost. But, after processing and reflection, we realise something: At the end of the day, meaning is not what we try to find, but finds us. (Julian Gordon).

During Mass Le Polin, I learnt how to channel my emotion into education. By this I mean, focusing my energy on something productive. I allowed myself to feel but only at appropriate times, as to not lose focus on why I was there. At times I was confused and sometimes even lost, but then I reminded myself that I was in Poland not only for myself but for others too - my friends, family and future generations of chanichim. I found a new meaning to being a madricha. I found a new meaning to the concept of visiting Poland where our ancestors perished. I found a new meaning to my relationship and position within the Jewish community (Evie Liebling-Blitz).

Last week we went to Poland, a supposedly life changing trip but Mentally my brain didn’t accept the facts in front of me, three days and three concentration camps with an added few weeks of buildup and not a single tear. I felt the pain of the Shoa (Holocaust) in my body and soul but not in my mind. Walking from room to room and gas chamber to bunker, my brain refused to accept that human kind could be so cruel and that it wasn’t just a museum this was a crucial part of history I have studied for over four years in front of my eyes. I may not have cried however I did indeed get angry. We preach about the importance of educating about the Shoa and Israeli schools go to Poland. However Israel still denies the Armenian genocide “because Turkish politics comes first”. As a people who have been persecuted for centuries we should set the example for love and acceptance not occupation (Lily Crane-Newman).

Trying to find meaning when both overwhelmed with and numb to feelings is very difficult. The week we spent in Poland was filled with education, personal stories and emotions. I went with the intention of just feeling what I felt and being okay with that. The trip left me with more questions than answers, most of which I don’t think I will ever have answers for. In our sikkum (summary) of the trip, we were asked to each come up with our own name for the trip and I chose the title “Masa of memory”. I think this is the true meaning of the trip, to keep the memory alive, to educate through memory and to remember through education (Elisheva Landau-Pope)

I feel the concept of "meaning" is dependent on the perception of the individual. Each person having their own definition of what "meaning" is to them as this dictates what they decide provides this sense of meaning or fulfillment within their lives. This past week in Poland, learning about the holocaust, has made it difficult to believe that anyone in that position could ever find meaning for anything. But hearing about how people still found hope and fought for their survival, really inspired and convinced me that it is possible for one to find meaning in whatever situation, as long as you're still willing to find it (Ghaim Atash)

In Poland we heard the stories of people who had such strength even if the hardest thing to do in the moment was to live let alone fight. If it wasn’t for those people finding and creating meaning in what they did, we might not be here today. Jews and the righteous among the nations. Since we are here we know we must continue to share meaning, Judaism and teach the lessons that are so important to ensure atrocities by humankind don’t continue. We have a duty to fight against discriminations from the smallest in everyday life to the prejudices and genocides happening in the world. It feels impossible to be positive sometimes when you see what humanity is capable of but we can find meaning in spreading compassion and justice and doing small things to make the world a better place (Tali Ehrlich).

Poland was a super emotional experience. While there was a lot of sadness I also felt a lot of empowerment from what we learnt. The stories of survivors and those who participated in uprisings made me feel hopeful for our future and even more proud of our past, and excited to teach others about what I’ve learnt. I am so glad I was with the group I’m with, everyone supported and helped each other when we needed it. It’s a much better learning environment when you know those around you are experiencing similar emotions and reactions. It was a great opportunity and I'm really glad I got to go. I learnt so much I didn’t know before (Em Brooking)



No doubt this week was a very challenging one, and it taught us a lot. Some lessons and processing will take more time and may hit us in the future.

With one week left till the end of the Machon, this is an emotional time for all of us. Five of our shnattim, are heading home to the UK in less than two weeks, while our South Africans are staying for an additional month, participating in Project TEN program together with some Australians who are joining them. When we farewell our UK SHnattim, we will also farewell our BRILLAINT Orit Shoshani-Sagi. We would love you to send a short message to Orit for a video we are putting together. Please upload your wishes HERE.

May we all have a restful weekend,

Lior Argaman

Director, Youth and Young Adults Engagement


 

01.08.21, Lior, Netzer Olami


Friday was a highly emotional day, as we visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. These two death camps contain a part of history that we would like to erase, but do not have the liberty to forget. It is very hard emotionally and physically to be there and see what human beings are capable of doing. Our brilliant and knowledgeable guide- Rachel, who works for Yad Va’Shem, is doing a wonderful work leading us through this difficult journey.


After a very exhausting day, we came back to the hotel in Krakow, to celebrate Shabbat together, doing some singing together, followed by a big Shabbat dinner.

Shabbat was also packed with experiences, as we toured the old city of Krakow, visited a number of Shuls, walked to see Oskar Schindler’s factory, the Jewish Krakow Ghetto remaining and more. In the evening, after a long day of walking all across Krakow, we had some free time in the beautiful Krakow’s Square.

Today is the last day of our Poland journey, and although we left Israel less than a week ago, it has been a really intense and important experience. Will hopefully send one more last update tomorrow.


 

30.07.21, Julian, Netzer South Africa


With another early start to the day, we left the hotel and travelled the long bus ride to our first stop – Treblinka. This extermination camp was completely destroyed after the Shoah, so all that remains are abstract artistic monuments. Some of us weren't sure how to feel as this camp felt "empty" compared to Majdanek the previous the day (which is still intact). Following lunch, we travelled back to Warsaw to visit the Hero's Way – a set of discrete monuments around the edge of where the Warsaw ghetto used to be. This is to commemorate the Warsaw ghetto uprising in the modern-day city. In our chavurah, we walked the streets in our tnuot chultzot to represent our respective movements


 

29.07.21, Majdanek / Evie, RSY-Netzer

We’ve just arrived at Majdanek and got off the coach. Before we even got off the bus I already shed a few tears. I feel emotional being here, a lot more emotional that I thought I would be. I feel confused as to why I feel this way before we’ve actually left the car park. I can see the ancient looking stones or bricks, whatever they are, and I feel confused. I don’t know what they are or what they represent, if they are merely a symbol of the time and events.

I can see the people I am surrounded by and I feel comfortable to be open and honest and vulnerable in front of them and I also know that I am safe.

This time for us as Jews is different. We are able to walk in and out if this place, proud of who we are and as a strong people. However, I am still scared to go in and witness the reality of what those people had to suffer through.

I aim to leave this visit today feeling empowered, not depressed. I aim to leave this visit feeling strong, not weak. I am to leave this visit knowing more than I did when I first arrived. And I suspect I will get back on the coach feeling something I have never felt before but knowing how I can deal with the situation we live in today and having learnt a new methodology of how to discuss the Holocaust from the perspective of young people in youth movements, so I can educate others (whether that be chanichim, friends or family).

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I’ve just been to the loo and now I’m walking to meet the Chavurah. I am absolutely terrified. I’m scared I’m going to break down as soon as we get there but I know that what Suzy said last night is correct. We have to be ‘strong in the day and allow the emotions to be released at night’. I will try to be strong but I am scared.

Seeing so many people wearing their chultzot adds to my emotion. I feel proud to be here, yet I don’t feel a connection between the two. As a young Jew who is “free”, I am emotional. I am proud to be a member of Netzer Olami. I am proud to be a young Jew living in the UK in 2021. I am proud to be in Poland with the Machon (Machzor 141). Despite feeling pride for all these elements of my life, I feel a terrible clash between them all. A great internal struggle.

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After spending between 4 and 5 hours walking around the camp, we are finally back on the bus and heading back to the hotel.

I feel calm - I am tired and mentally drained but I feel calm. Once I had accepted where we were and understood how to rationalise the emotion, I was able to simply learn. I was able to absorb what Rachel was saying and able to take in the sites. I made extensive notes throughout the day to give myself a focus and to ensure that when I leave I have something to read, instead of just trying to remember everything and resorting back to the stereotype and preconceptions I had of concentration camps.

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Today was a difficult day. Visiting a camp was a totally new experience for me but one that I am honoured to have had. I feel a great sense of pride to have had the opportunity to go and learn and view the horror that my ancestors lived through.

I have learnt an enormous amount in the last few hours and I am strangely excited to be able to go home and explain what I saw first hand to the people who I care about and to future generations of chanichim within the Netzer community.



 

28.8.2021, Josh, RSY-Netzer


After a quiet flight to Warsaw on Monday, we had a packed day to begin Masa LePolin. We started in the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw, learning about the stories of Jewish lives in 20th Century Poland from our tour guide for Poland, Rachel. A powerful moment was seeing the mass grave of those who died in the Warsaw Ghetto. From the cemetery, we went on a tour around the Warsaw Ghetto, though virtually none of the original buildings are still standing, where Rachel taught us about the actions of youth movements in particular in the ghetto.

On Tuesday, we visited the town of Tykocin, which was once home to the Shtetl, Tiktin. We spent the morning learning about the relationship between the fairly closed-off Jewish community and the non-Jewish one, and went to the beautiful synagogue (there are no Jews left in Tykocin so the synagogue is a museum). We went straight from there to the Lupochova forest, where the 3,500 Jews of Tykocin were taken, on the 25th August 1941, to their deaths. The beauty of the forest and the pain of seeing the three mass graves was really difficult for all of us, in different ways.

We look forward to a meaningful coming week.