Thoughts from Workshop 66 on the Journey to Poland, Part 1

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Every year, Workshop travels to Poland to learn about the Holocaust, Jewish history and the roots of our movement. The trip visits ghettoes and synagogues in Warsaw and Krakow, as well as Auschwitz, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Placzow and Treblinka. This year was particularly significant because for the first time, we joined HaNoar HaOved veHaLomed (NOAL)’s 800 chanichim on their annual Masa (journey) to Poland. This meant that we went through an intensive educational process alongside the Israeli chanichim of the movement (Jewish, Arab, Druze, Russian, Ethiopian, working youth and more), and also that NOAL was logistically responsible for us. This trip was also unique in light of the rising anti-Semitism in the world and particularly in America, affecting the schools, synagogues and hometowns of the Workshop chanichim.

– Emma Pasternack, madricha for Kvutzat Tammuz, Workshop 66

Workshop 66 in Poland!

Written by Hannah Robinson (Machaneh Moshava) for a tekkes at Majdanek, a death camp in Poland. 

In preparing for this tekkes, we read a lot of testimonies like this one. It was definitely hard to read, and it brought up a lot the same questions I had as a kid about the Holocaust. How did the world sit by and let this happen? How did these individuals get swept up in propaganda and hate, and how could so many other people turn their backs? This human tendency, to be bystanders, to only look out for ourselves, scares me so much. Because it wasn’t just a few people who tossed aside morality, who took our human ability to have choices and chose evil, or just didn’t choose anything; it was seemingly everyone.

So the questions are: in a world that tells us we should be alone and independent, and encourages us not to look out for others, how do we fight the apathy within ourselves? I don’t think that I can answer the questions of the Holocaust, but I think living in kvutzah has given me some answers in my own life. If a society with codes of alienation and loneliness lets us be apathetic, then kvutzah is the opposite. A kvutzah is built on deep love for each other and mutual responsibility. In kvutzah, where so much of what we do is look out for one another, how could we be apathetic? And in the youth movement, where we actively take responsibility over not just those in our inner circles, but wider society, how could we turn a blind eye to injustice?

During this whole journey in Poland, and today in Majdanek, it’s hard to come face to face with the evils that exist within humanity. I know it’s hard for me to accept that. What gives me hope and comfort, though, is the knowledge that it doesn’t have to be this way- it didn’t have to be this way. Because in addition to the tendency to be bystanders, we have something more powerful. We have the power to be active agents in or lives and to care deeply about others. And that’s what I think we’re building in our kvutzot this year.

The final tekkes of the journey in Warsaw .

Written by Meital Smith (Machaneh Miriam), in response to anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying graffiti found at her synagogue in Seattle. 

This hits me really hard. I know there are bad and bigoted people everywhere, but this hits way too close to home, being this was my school, my home, for 7 years.

I am actually in Poland right now, for a week long seminar with my youth movement, HaNoar haOved ve Halomed (The Working and Learning Youth) alongside 800 other Israeli Jews, Arabs, and Druze, learning about the horrors of the Holocaust in the most first hand way possible. I have been to Auschwitz, Majdanek and the ghettos. I have been in the gas chambers, where millions of my people choked to death in pitch blackness. I have seen a pile of ashes that is bigger than you can imagine, than you can take a picture of. I have seen rooms full of hair harvested from the walking dead, to be made into fabric, of shoes, of eyeglasses, of pots and pans, stolen from Jewish families before their murders. This is not fake history. This really happened, and the terrifying part of it is that is could happen again.

I am not allowed to get on or off our bus in Poland without our security guard telling us it’s safe. I am not allowed to post things saying where I am going the next day. I would never understand when my mother would warn me, would tell me about her experiences as being the only Jewish girl at Sand Point Elementary, getting bullied because she was a Jew. I never understood her love for Israel, her reasoning being she didn’t have to explain herself for being a Jew. Growing up in a friendly, proudly Jewish community, I was convinced that anti-Semitism was a thing of the past. During the years of relative peace during my childhood, I can see now that the hatred that has plagued my people for thousands of years was just dormant, simmering beneath the surface.

I call on every one of you, Jewish or not, who care about this, about me, or about the equality of people in general, to stop sliding down this slippery slope we are starting to go down. Counteract every vandalization, every bomb threat, every grave tipped over with an act of resistance, an act of love and selflessness, an act of pride and bravery. Do not become apathetic, do not let vastness of hateful people in this world drown out love and a desire for justice.

We can create a better world, a more accepting world than the one we are living in right now. We can do that by teaching people to value every human life equally, to be responsible over what happens to people in society around you, to learn about people and cultures different from you, because the more we know about something, the less we fear it.

Below is one of my favorite Jewish songs. It is traditionally sung during Hannukah, but I thought it was relevant right now. Listen here on Youtube, learn about a different culture! It’s called Banoo Choshech.

בָּאנוּ חוֹשֶׁךְ לְגָרֵשׁ
בְּיָדֵינוּ אוֹר וָאֵשׁ
כָּל אֶחָד הוּא אוֹר קָטָן
וְכֻלָנוּ אוֹר אֵיתָן
סוּרָה חוֹשֶׁךְ הָלְאָה שְחוֹר
סוּרָה מִפְּנֵי הָאוֹר

We came to drive away the darkness
in our hands is light and fire.
Everyone is a small light,
and all of us are a firm light.
Fight darkness, further blackness!
Fight because of the light!

Killing Pits
by Sarah Stein (Machaneh Galil)

I heard our footsteps
And I wondered how loud theirs had been.
I heard our footsteps
And I wondered how much terror there had been.
I heard our silence
And I wondered how loud the shots had been.
I heard our silence
And I wondered how loud their cries had been.
I heard the birds
And I wondered if they were singing that day.
I heard the birds
And wondered if they had stayed for the burial.
I sang Hatikva
And I wondered if their souls could hear us now.
I saw us there
And I wondered if their souls could see the survival of the Jewish people.

Written by Iliana Jaime (Machanah Moshava), for a tekkes at the Warsaw Ghetto with the entire mishlachat (delegation) of chanichim and madrichim from HaNoar HaOved. 

My name is Iliana Jaime, and I am currently on Workshop with Habonim Dror. I live in a communa (commune) in Kiryat Chaim. During the day, I do my messimah with my tzevet, where I run shiur chevra (lessons) in schools and take responsibility for educating the youth in my ken, and in the evening I come home to my kvutzah. On weekends, kvutzah members and I will use kupah (shared funds) to go out together, on Shabbat we will do Kabbalat Shabbat together, and once a week we hold asephot (meetings) together. Every aspect of my life right now stems from my movement – my finances, my experiences, my relationships, and my actions. But it took many years of me being in the movement to get to this point of making the movement the center of my life for an entire year. Most importantly, it took me really choosing the movement, a choice that has made me understand more fully what it is about the movement that I hold important to me.

While the sisterhood between Habonim Dror and NOAL is an incredible, growing partnership that I am glad to be a part of, there are some aspects of Habonim Dror that are really important to me and I believe add something really special to this partnership. The first may not be so obvious to most of you, but the movement is primarily what makes me feel Jewish. As a diaspora Jew, as a Jew living in a Christian country, one must put in an effort to be Jewish – an effort that often means going against the current of my government, school, and everyday culture of my entire country. It means explaining to people why I am eating funny bread called matzah on Passover in the cafeteria, it means trying to get my  picture day rescheduled so it doesn’t fall on Yom Kippur, it means enduring anti-Semitic jokes from people on the street who have probably never spoken to a Jew before in their life.

In America, one is not simply born a Jew, one has to make the choice. And for Jewish youth, this choice can often be confusing. The clearest path to choosing Judaism in America is through synagogue, through showing up for High Holidays, participating in bnei mitzvot, and reciting prayers to G-d at Saturday services. Synagogue as the core of Judaism leaves many who feel more conflicted or dispassionate about religion to go astray from their Jewishness. But by joining the movement, I was given another path – another way to choose Judaism in a manner that allowed me to develop values, provided me with culture, and gave me a meaningful community of other Jewish people. It was a path that gave me agency over my Judaism. Plus, in a country where youth movements are practically non-existent, choosing a Jewish community that wasn’t just a fun organization or club but an actual movement with an ideological path and goals is, in itself, an act of rebellion against the status quo of American youth culture.

Something else that means a lot to me, especially this week in Poland, is the history of the movement. Dror was born out of the rebellion of young Jews who had a vision for society and had the power to act on it. This movement was conceived by young Jewish fighters who did not succumb to the racism, dehumanization, and cruelty of the Nazis. When people like Tzivia (Lubetkin) and Antek (Zuckerman)  were rounded up into ghettos, they did not let their movement die, but rather turned it into the fuel for a mass burning resistance – the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. These youth refused to be led like sheep to the slaughter. They held on to who they were and their vision for the world, finding strength in their kvutzah, finding humanity in Dror. In the words of Tzivia Lubetkin, “The movement’s goal had always been to educate a new kind of man, capable of enduring the most adverse conditions and difficult times while standing up for the emancipation of our people, of the Jew, of mankind. It was our movement education which gave us the strength to endure.”

Tzivia Lubetkin, member of the Socialist Zionist youth movement Dror and leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

I hope that like Tzivia, I too can continue to find strength and resilience through my movement to actualize on my visions for the world.

This gap year that I am doing in Israel is a culmination of many years of loving and caring deeply for my movement. There are a number of things I could have done instead with this year – go straight to university, join a sorority, participate in a Jewish club, and yet i ended up here on Workshop.

This year ultimately was about making a choice regarding what is most important to me. I believe I made the right one.

One thought on “Thoughts from Workshop 66 on the Journey to Poland, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Garin Silan’s letter to HDNA’s Veida XX | This Chalutzic Life

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