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Limmud's Moving Poland and Lithuania Trip

Updated: Sep 19, 2022


 
Limmud is a Co-ed, experiential, 9-month study and Israel immersion program for the Southern Hemisphere. The program aims to develop 5 circles of “identity” including: Jewish, Zionist, Spiritual, Communal & Personal. Within this framework, participants spend time at Yeshiva/Midrasha, and experience Israel with a wide array of activities and educational modules, as well as a meaningful journey to Poland. Limmud culminates with a 3-month collaborative with our Mechina Olamit, together with Israelis, and participants from the Northern Hemisphere.
 

Shalom!


19 June 2022

Limmud continued our journey in Poland today with an early start, leaving our hotel in Krakow and beginning our long trek towards the Lithuanian border.


Our first stop was at a small green park in Radomsk, a quaint town where once a Jewish community flourished. We conducted our morning prayer service at the site of the town’s synagogue, unfortunately of which nothing remains, as it was destroyed along with the Jews during the Shoah. Despite this we conducted a moving outdoor service amongst the trees swaying the in the Sunday morning breeze.


After breakfast we loaded back into the bus and headed to the local Jewish cemetery which has become a highlight of our Poland trip. Our task was to combat the overgrown weeds that had laid siege to the graves in our absence. We were hot, tired, pricked by nettles which caused rashes, and covered in dirt and bugs, but not a word of complaint was uttered and we worked tirelessly to reach out to the long forgotten Jews to let them know that we still care. The first fallen, half buried headstone uncovered was a moment of surprise, joy and sadness. Joy, because we had found a forgotten name and could return some dignity to the grave, but sadness as we know that it has been many decades since his name had been said by another Jew. We uncovered more and more headstones as we worked, managing to recover four of them. Upon learning that a pair of the faded headstones belonged to the first Rabbi of the town and his son, we repainted the names and inscriptions so that when people visit the cemetery their graves won’t be overlooked.


Once we had finished our time on our plot, we ventured deep into the wildly overgrown cemetery to visit the mass graves where 1200 Jews who were shot and killed by the Nazis now rest. After Rav addressed us with moving words, we formed a circle and sang ״Acheinu״- ״Our Brothers״. Although these Jews may not be remembered by name, we wanted to let them know they will never be forgotten, and that young Jews from Australia and South Africa took a break from our year in Israel because we care. Many Jews come to Poland, we learn and visit many places and lament our plight, but how many can say that they actually did something about it? How many can say that they read out the names of Jews who have been forgotten in the earth for decades, reviving their memory? Limmud can, and we have never been more proud.


After loading back onto the bus (now joined by our beloved Daphna), the journey continued to another town, Kielce. Before the war, one in every three people on the street were Jewish in Kielce. 27,000 Jews, of which a handful served in the war. The real tragedy, however, is that in July 1946 a pogrom occurred, fueled by the fables of a young Pole. The Poles brutally killed 42 Jews, and wounded over 40 more. There is no memorial, as this does not align with the nationalist narrative of Poland being a “Christ among nations”. Among the dead was someone with B6269 marked on his arm, a Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor whose name was unknown until a few years ago. Rav had sat us down in a memorial park by the rivulet that flows through the town - many Jews had been beaten and thrown into the embankment - and he told us our next experience would include meeting Polish people.


When Rav told us that we would shortly be introduced to Poles, I was incredibly apprehensive and I prepared myself for Holocaust minimisation and the like. Limmud then walked to what’s the left of the shule, followed by a strange site: the Polish group walked in carrying a “We Stand With Israel” flag displaying a large Magen David, and an older gentleman wearing a kippah. Edward spoke to us in English and told us their story:


About 15 years ago, the group began researching the massacre that took place at the hands of the Poles after the war. They wondered why no one had told them about it, and wondered why the education system had failed them so massively that they did not realise that many Jews were killed by their neighbours rather than by the Nazis. They began to research their history, and realised how important it is to try reconcile Polish people and their past. Now they work to spread information and awareness to Poles and to try bridge the divide between Jews and Poles. They also have worked tirelessly to restore what they could of the old shule and to turn it back into a Jewish community centre.


Their story was incredibly moving and our group had so many questions about what they do and how it is received by their fellow Poles. It was interesting to hear that a majority of Polish people actually are very open to embracing their past and try to apologise and move forward positively. The speaker pointed out, however, how sad it is that Poles are only speaking up now.


After the talk we got back on the bus and headed up towards the border. We prayed at an old synagogue close to the border, the interior of which was decorated in verses and psalms.


The day was concluded with a catered dinner at a nice venue, after which we headed to our hotel to get some sleep after a long and meaningful day.


By Joe Treisman


The 20th of June Limmud 2022 arrived in Lithuania after spending the past 6 days in Poland. Our first day in Lithuania was a hard but fascinating one. We started off the day driving from Rajgrod to Sejny where we had the most beautiful tefillah service followed by a delicious breakfast in a trendy music studio. We then headed to the 9th Fort in Kaunus where we learnt about the more than 30,000 Jews who were cremated in the forts by cruel Nazis and their Lithuanian assistants. We had a group perform a meaningful tekes at the 9th Fort which was incredibly moving. We then made our way to the Kaunas garage which is now a school. We learnt of the atrocities of the 27th of June 1941, in which Lithuanian citizens violently beat up their Jewish neighbors killing at least 60 people. We were horrified with this information and decided to honor their memories by visiting a place of “hope”. This led us to our next destination - the house of Sagihara where we learnt of the bravery and courage of Sugihara who illegally issued thousands of Polish Jews visas to leave Lithuania and avoid persecution. Proceeding this, we visited the Choral synagogue in Kaunas where Nesya Singer shared her great grandparent's story. Specifically, her great grandfather who assisted in building the shul. We davened mincha and sang songs together. We then made our way to Villa where we had a delicious barbecue under a bridge next to the Neris river. We spent the night at the Radison Blu in Vilna. It was overall an amazing day filled with learning, inspiration, stories, happiness, and sadness too. By Tali Atie, Jacob Boner and Gil Zelwer





Tuesday, June 21, 2022

First thing in the morning we went to daven in the last standing shul in Vilnius out of the previous 110 Shuls that were active before the war. We even learnt that the congregations of the Shuls were defined by their professions meaning bakers davened together and doctors davened together.

We then went to the Cemetery where the Vilna Gaon was reburied. The Vilna Gaon learnt Torah for 22 hours a day. He was an extremely pious man who slept in intervals of 30 mins and by the age of 10 he knew all 6 books of the Mishnah and from that age no one could teach him anything anymore so he learnt by himself. After the Cemetery we headed to the Rudniki forest which was the home to a Jewish Partisan Brigade consisting of over 600 families. We stood inside their original bunkers. It was raining and there were bugs everywhere, which made us feel the hardships of our ancestral partisans. We paid tribute to the partisans by singing and listening to their songs. We then went to the Ponar forest where most of the Vilnius Jews were mass murdered. Despite the rain and cold not many people complained because of our appreciation that we get to survive the very place where Jews before us were marched naked and shot namelessly into mass graves. Once we got back to the bus we all had cup a soup to warm our bodies and then made our way to the airport. We flew from Lithuania to Warsaw and then onto Tel Aviv. We all felt extremely happy to be back on Israeli soil. We then drove to the Knesset in Jerusalem to have our closing Tekes. This significance of being at the Knesset in front of the menorah to daven shacharit was acknowledging the dream of so many who perished in the Holocaust, to have a Jewish state governed by a Jewish government that would always strive to protect and support world Jewry. Despite everyone’s exhaustion we linked arms and sang "Hatikvah" while the sun was rising. What a way to end the most meaningful and life changing experience.


By Samara Jay


 

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