Aviva In Poland

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

April Shower bring May Flowers?

Dear Friends Family and Readers

I have gotten really bad at keeping up with my blog and I think the reason is that it comes to a point where you get so caught up in the life you are living. But I still want to share as best as I am able what I am doing and what life is looking like here.

April is a very busy month for Polish Jews and this week in May marks the end of a period of memory, commemoration and reflection. Right when Pesach ends Poland becomes filled with young people here to learn as first hand as possible about the Holocaust through the March of the Living Program. It was very overwhelming for me to come to shul on the Friday that marked the beginning of the trip. Suddenly the small Friday night service that I have come to enjoy and feel so comfortable at was filled with at least 600 people for the 3 different Kabalat Services. I happen to have for the one that a large delegation from Canada was at and ran into many people who were shocked to find me living in Warsaw. Luckily the JDC March of the Living group that I was working with was not beginnig their program until Sunday morning and I had the pleasure of hosting one of my JDC bosses from NYC for a Shabbat meal. I have to share with you how nervous I was to commemorate Yom Hashoah, which began Sunday night, in Poland. I spent Sunday hosting MOL participants, that JDC gathers from many countries and continents around the world. We did a ghetto tour and saw many key monuments. To start the evening one of my seniors who I have gotten very close and who has a wonderful story, came to the Youth Club to share her story witht the teenagers. On Monday I joined 8000 on the March of the Living which is a march from Auschwitz to Birkenau. The day brought out many different feeling and I look forward to sharing them in the future. The week also brought Ghetto Uprising Memorial Day which is a very important day in Warsaw and is commemorated in many different ways.

To switch from Holocaust commemoration to happier things, my Dad and Linda came to Warsaw. After 8 months I got to see some of my family and it was so great to have them in Warsaw with me. We had such a busy week. The day they landed there was big birthday party for Tal Osnat and I and my parents were overwhelmed with all the people they met, but enjoyed seeing the people who I spend my life with. Together we went to Zakopane a mountain town outside of Krakow, Krakow and to Auschwitz(yes thats a lot of that place in a short time). We returned to Warsaw in time to celebrate Yom Ha atzmaut in the Senior Club and they got to see me speaking in Polish and hanging out with my seniors. It was a very special program and it was incredibly moving to be with 25 seniors in Warsaw while they all sung Hatikvah. I took my parents to meet friends, they were happily in attendence at my surprise party at the office and of course I made sure to include one of my favourite spots in my Warsaw tour, H&M.

I am now back at work after my parents have gone and week holidays in May-they have soo many national holidays here it is wonderful! For that week I was in Stockholm with friends and I met my Dad and Linda for the last part of their trip in Budapest. I feel like I have been running all around and cramming lots of different things in and when I looked at the calander today I realize I have just over 3months here and so much that I still want to see do and be able to share. These nexts are going to be incredibly busy seniors camp, a volunteer exchange program visit and camps! I am looking forward to sharing the last part of my journey here with all of you

Lots of love from Warsaw

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Wonderous Life in Warsaw

Dear Friends Family and Readers
Wow a whole month since I have posted, I really have been so incredibly busy with so much that has gone on. So I will just give the short and sweet run down of what I have been up too. I did move, apartment hunting in Warsaw is a very interesting experience. One of my co workers was put in charge of finding me a new place and together we looked at lots of places, and let me tell you, after 7months in Poland your needs and standards really change. I found a great place that is very close and central, it has is very small and lacks an oven but I love it. My friends all helped move and I got setteled into my new place very quickly-there of course some hilarious stories of figuring out a new apartment, but those will need to be told in person. Right after the move I went to Slovakia for a students seminar which was very interesting, very unlike any other seminar I have ever been on and the bottom line even though we spent 10 hours in small van to get to and from and it was still very fun.
In terms of work Pesach meant a lot of prep, a program for the Seniors, Matzah delivery for the seniors and of course visiting with all my old ladies. All of these projects were a lot of work, a little aggervating but at the end of the day very rewarding.
Pesach of course for me meant a lot of cleaning, a gathering of different food that was sent to Poland from Israel and North America and learning how to make food that I never had to cook before.
The Seders that I had were very different and meaningful. On the first night I attended the large community seder, which fortunatley was divided by Polish and Hebrew, so I attended the smaller Hebrew Seder with many of my close friends. It was very nice, desipte the homesickness that I felt not being with my family. I did bring some of our family traditions to this Seder. On the second night I had a really special oppurtunity to a lead JDC Community Seder for young families and adults. It was a lot of fun, I used my broken Polish and had someone translating and Tal and Osnat brought a lot of ideas and explanations to the Seder as well. Together we know that we gave an interactive fun and informative Seder to people who never would have one.
Now as Pesach is nearing the end, I am sick of Chicken Soup, have gone to the movies twice, have been able to plan some upcoming programs, most excitingly my Dad and Linda's trip to Poland and have gotten numerous emails from people coming on the March of the Living this week. So I am getting ready for a lot of work and fun things coming up!
Sitting in shul a lot these past few days I have thought a lot this year and my Pesach. The message of from being Slaves to being free is a strong one in the Hagaddah and a strong one to Polish Jews today. For me, this year I have felt the message of freedom in a stronger way then I have ever felt before. I have been free to spend a year helping a reviving, dynamic and interesting Jewish Community. I have had the freedom to learn, help and learn more. I hope that the freedom I have felt this year and Pesach is one that I will be able to nurture and maintain. The lessons that I have learnt about what it means to Polish Jews today to having once been an enslaved community in so many ways to now being free are lessons that I will always take with me.
I am looking forward to sharing with you about the March of the Living, my visit from home, Yom Hatzmaut and the birthday party that Tal Osnat and I are having in honour of the three April birthdays we have. Enjoy your holiday
Lots and lots of love from Warsaw

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Spring is Coming.....

Dear Friends Family and Readers
I didn't realize how long it has been since I have posted some news from life in Warsaw. Time is flying here, a lot is going on and best of all the sun is starting to shine and the weather is getting warmer. Since the last time I wrote we managed to pull off wonderful Purim programs. For a holiday that is a day and half,, for me it went out for about 2 weeks with all the programming that took place around the holiday. My office, together with the community, the JDC Youth Club and the Lauder School put together wonderful Mishloach Monat for 200 seniors in the Warsaw area. The Youth Club kids contributed the cards, the school hamentashen, members of the community volunteered to help pacakge and deliever and my office and our volunteers did just about everything that needed to be done. In the end we had full beautiful packages, fufilled volunteers and happy seniors. I also organized a Purim Party in the Senior Club which was soooo much fun. Around 40 seniors came, the Rabbi's spoke about the holiday and we sang, danced, decorated masks and the seniors enjoyed Mishloach Manot. I also had a special program that weekend for some of our Families in Need prgoram-they came to my apartment for hamentashen baking and then joined the Youth Club for their Purim acitivies. There was also a special program for the parents, which my boss Ewa facilitated. All of these activites were amazing, so much happened and I know that the participants got a lot out of them. The different facets of the community also worked together and contributed so much to the programs. The week after Purim when I had finished sending out Thank You notes, cleaning up the mess and sorting out the receipts I joked that if I never see another hamentashen it won't be too soon. The truth is I know that I will never have another Purim like I have had here. The messages of survival, of taking care of one another and of celebrating were highlighted to me this year. Anyways Purim is no long gone and many other things are on the go.

I am working on big program for Pesach, together with the Lauder School Students and I hope some other young people I hope to have what I am calling a Pesach Circus in the Senior Club where the seniors and the young people work together on several small activities, share their different stories, questions and insights and create some art, thought provoking questions and stoires, that in which ever way people celebrat Pesach, these things can be shared.

With the nice weather, a lot of my old ladies have been very excited when I have and we have been able to go on walks together. For some of them, it is too hard to walk far alone so they are very happy for the air and a walk. I am so appreciative of their stories, advice and questions that they always have. There are so many things that I can not wait to share in person with so many of you. To write them here-does not do justice to how they are told.

This weekend I am attending another Madrichim(counselor) training seminar just outside of Warsaw. I have worked on a program to educate and model different Shabbat rituals and traditions. The hope is that this summer all of the madrichim will be able to not only participate in these rituals, but to lead them and to teach them at camp-well see how it goes.

With all of these things going my apartment problems have continued to the point that I am moving by the end of the month. I told my boss that I could write a book on apartment searching in Warsaw. I do believe I found something that will work well, hopefully by the next time I write I will have moved. It is funny how your standards totally change once you move to another part of the world and what was once important and essential no longer is. I will keep you updated.
So I have been busy and continue to amazed, challenged and inspired by my life here. It is also very weird, that I am more then halfway done my year, time is flying!
Lots of Love

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Snow Continues to Fall...

The snow continues to fall and life in Warsaw is continuing despite it all. Things in Warsaw are very busy with work, sorting out the washing machine saga and with starting to look into my future as I am realizing that my work in Warsaw will one day end.

I have been swamped preparing Purim programs. I am laughing again at the fact that a one day holiday has turned into a week of programs, but what I am working on is great. I will tell you briefly and next week share how it all turned out. My office(the Volunteer Centre) has mobilized the community and we are working with them, the school and the youth to organize the purchasing of products, packing and delivery of Mishloach Manot(Purim Packages) to over 200 Seniors who are community members and our clients. It is an incredible amount of work, organzing list of seniors and calling them, recruiting additional volunteers(including the Lauder school students), shopping for it all and making sure that it will be a nice experience for the volunteers and the seniors receiving the packages. My nightly shopping at Carefour(our local Walmart) has become a laughable experience and figuring out if it is wiser to include vitamins or pill boxes in the packages-it is for seniors, in addition to how many hamentashen can be baked. This project is emphasizing the community building work which is so important.

In addition to that I am planning the Senior Club Purim party-we will be decorating masks and those premade masks don't exist in Warsaw, so I am becoming a good mask cutter outer. And finally I am working on a new program idea-we have a group of people that we assist called our "Families in Need Program" and for Purim I have pushed a new idea, to bring the children who live in Warsaw and the area to the youth programming which they have not been exposed to, and before that, to come to a special hamentashen baking party at my apartment. So the parents and children will have a full day and I am hoping that programming like this can continue and happen in other cities as well.

Sooo it is very busy and in the middle of these days I am spending time taking lunch to an old woman who used to come by for English lessons but has gotten very sick. I am so happy to be seeing her and visiting with her for a bit. Winter here is hard, I have been gone for a long time and I am so busy. But spending half and hour (and the 1hour trek)with my Josephina amidst it all is a great refreshing breath and really warms my heart. She is the kindest wisest woman and the illness that her and her husband are dealing with is so sad. I will share with you the sweetest thing-despite what they are sick wtih she wanted to go for a short walk with me so she put on her shoes with a shoe horn and since she cant bend, he appeared there the moment she was ready and tied her shoes for her, it was the sweetest thing to see.

Next will be the test of our ability to accomplish big things and pull these programs that we have put so much into. I am looking forward to a weekend with my first visitor to Warsaw, my friend Mollie a fellow JSC volunteer who is spending the year in Kiev. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend and I will share at the end of it all how the programs went and maybe one day I will be able to also share that I have a working washing machine
Sending warm hugs from Warsaw

Monday, February 12, 2007

And You Want to Tell Me there are No Jews in Poland....

Dear Friends Family and Readers

I was surrounded by 200 of Polish Jews for Shabbat and another 300 for an incredible day on Sunday. This weekend marked the opening of the Yeshivah in Lublin, marking the first time that there was a Yeshivah there since before the war. The Yeshivah space was returned to Polish Jewsish Community in 1997 and has been recently renovated. All of these fun details are placed in varies news stories on the net which you really should read about. What is not found in the articles in the incredible spirit and energy that those of us there felt. Arriving Friday for Shabbat and participating in Kabalat Shabbat with over 150 in synagouge that hadn't seen that many Jews in that space for over 60 years is incredibly moving. Throughout Shabbat, my dear friends Tal and Osnat(2 volunteers from Israel) and I brought an abundance of energy singing and life to the group of Polish Jews who were so enthralled by the experience. There was singing, dancing learning, neighbourhood tours and eating during Shabbat. The media was all over the moving Havdallah Service which was followed by all of the women lighting big candles and filling all the rooms in the 3 story building, symbolizing the fact that the lights are back in the Yeshivah.

Sunday morning brought an additional 300 people for the official opening of the Yeshivah.It was very cool seeing the community leaders unveil the sign, the bringing of the Torah and people of all ages feeling very proud to be standing at the event. Everyone present felt the hope for continued growth and revival of Jewish life in Poland. Having been a part of this community for almost 6months, you appreciate the smallest things-a big group of people showing up for a senior club program, a new person wanting to volunteer in the community, a child learning the words to a song you taught them-and so seeing something so big and so important for the Polish Jewish Community is really incredible. No one knows the future of Jewish Communities anywhere but seeing an event like this and the pride, energy and hope which filled the Yeshivah, there is no denying that for Jews in Poland there is a future. I am so thankful that I was able to be at the event, to bring my joy and energy to it and to see history and a future taking place.

Have a wonderful week
Love from Warsaw

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Almond Tree Is Blooming...

Dear Friends Family and Readers

The Almond Tree Is Blooming..while not quit yet but I certainly did celebrate TuBishvat and sang the song "Hashkaidiah Porachat" which means the Almond tree is blooming several times in the past week and half marking how I have celebrated TuBishvat in Poland. For a place where the sun doesn't shine very often, unless of course you are willing to make your own and share(think about how you would do that) I certainly sang about sun, new growth and talked about the history of the holiday a lot.
At the Sarvasz follow up that I wrote about last time, we had a lovely TuBishavt Sedar filled with all the different kinds of fruits and wine and gave a group of 14-16 year olds an oppurtunity to celebrate TuBishvat in a way that they have never done before.
Fast Forward one week and come you will come to this past Friday night where we had a group of University Students gather together in our New Youth Club for a Shabbat Dinner and of course a TuBishvat Sedar. We enjoyed the addition of Rabbi Goldberg who added his thoughts and with this group we had some more singing which was really very nice.
For my last TuBishvat celebration I organized a special program in the Senior Club. We spoke and shared thoughts on TuBishvat, ate dried fruits, I taught them the song "Hashkediah Porachat" which they loved and then the 15 of us all planting seeds together. We did not venture outside in the snow but we did plant flower seeds in cups which we will all take of and water regularly in the senior club, bringing new life into a place with older souls. There is something very special about planting seeds and celebrating new growth with a group of very old, yet very new and curious people. So as I am laughing that I have never celebrated TuBishvat more often then I did here but in all seriousness it was really wonderful to bring new ideas, some new life and some more hope to a community that is in the process of reviving.

Sending warmth and hopes for continued growth in communities all over the World

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Winter in Warsaw

Dear Family Friends and Readers

It is finally winter in Warsaw. As soon as I landed from Israel last week it started to snow and it got super cold-that is ok because I have all my warmest winter clothes and my apartment could even be said to be too warm.

Things have been pretty busy since I have landed, I am working on a lot of TuBishvat Programs, taught a cooking class and helped out at a Sarvasz(International Jewish Summer Camp) weekend retreat. The retreat brought young teenagers from all over Poland together for a long weekend of Jewish Programs, Dance Parties and the oppurunity to for all the campers to reconnect!

In addition to the work I have been struggling to maintain my sanity amidst the insanity of my apartment. You may remember reading a while back about th fuse blowing and the broken washing machine. While...this week brought even more apartment adventures. I went to put just 4 dishtowels in the machine and could not focus on the Friends episode I was watching because of the horrible sounds the machine was making. When I went to investiagate I found a very overheated machine(why I have no idea) that was also stuck. In my attempt to unstick the machine I got my fingers caught, I did get them out but my hands are not a pretty sight-I hope you are not laughing too hard cause this gets more insane. I called my dear friend over to help and we attempted one more time to start the machine, this time when we did that it started smoking-dont worry we unplugged it fast and we are fine. At this point the landlady is called and her very Polish mother came over to investigate. Amidst her investigation she turned the machine on-even though I really tried to explain to her not to, but there is that whole language problem, soo she did and it started flooding everywhere. The machine will be repaired soon I hope and in the meantime I will be using my friends washing machine. If this story is not enough for one week, I have more. I woke up this morning and there was no water, apprently in several apartments on my street this is the case and no one knows when it will return, my dad hopes by his visit in April and I hope by the time I get home from work!

I hope you are all doing well and starying warm
I will write all about the Seniors planting seeds for TuBishvat next week-Im sure it will be fun
Warm Hugs from Warsaw