After real vacation, our journey shifts to what is far from a vacation, but certainly will be a life changing experience. We will leave South Florida today and travel first to London, then on to Warsaw where we will continue our pilgrimage, this time in the very capable hands of our guide, Rabbi and Scholar, Yehiel Poupko from Chicago. For those of you who have traveled with me to the Holy Land, you may well have met Rabbi Poupko as he has quite often made significant and gracious presentations to us on our journeys there. He is a wonderful human, and I am so grateful to be able to sit at his feet for the next 6 days as we explore Polish Jewish history, with a special focus on the Holocaust.
From the beginning of Jewish life in Poland nearly a thousand years ago, to the establishment of Jewish communal life in the early 1500s, to its zenith in 1900 when Jewish civilization in Polish lands stood at 8.5 million, to its eradication by the Germans and their collaborators during WWII, Poland has been the home of some Judaism’s most profound achievements and darkest moments. Alongside this Jewish history, Christianity has always played a pivotal role in Poland’s history, as was most recently experienced by the impact of Pope John Paul II’s historic 1979 return to his homeland. Following his visit, the Solidarity movement rose. Eventually this led to Poland becoming the first captive nation to throw off the 4-decade yoke of Soviet Russian tyranny. Over the next week, with 38 other Christian and Jewish leaders, I will be traveling across Poland making pilgrimage to sites of great sadness and despair, as well to those imbued with hope and optimism for the future.
Christianity also played a role in Jewish history in Poland and as is too often the case, not always in a good way. We will take this up head on while on this trip too. It is my hope to blog on these days, but for now, we are on our way. More to follow……
In his final letter to us before we all gather in Warsaw Rabbi Poupko wrote these eloquent words, which I end with today…
Your participation in this experience in Poland is an act of deep friendship that is profoundly appreciated by the leadership of the Jewish community, by my colleagues, and by me. There is no greater expression of friendship than to want to know one’s friends, their experiences, and their memories. There is no greater expression of friendship than to be with a friend in their time and place of sorrow and loss, and rich past as well. Indeed, this principle is first expressed in the Torah when we are told that when Joseph was in the prison, God was with him. In Isaiah God tells Israel, “I am with you in the straits.” So, travel well, safe, and with comfort. Please take with you Psalm 90, which is a wonderful Psalm for traveling. I look forward to our five days together in Poland. I look forward to learning with you. Every time one learns, it must be as if it is the first time. Every time one learns a text or travels to an important place with someone who has not been there before there is the opportunity to learn something new by experiencing the text or the place through the eyes of a friend. I look forward to this and much more during our time in Poland
I look forward to it too!