Aviva In Poland

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Special New Year with A Special Community

Shana Tova and Happy New Year
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. I must share with all of you what Rosh Hashanah in Warsaw was and what it meant to me. For me in really began when I returned to Sdborow for the last night that they had there. I was able to bring them Rosh Hashanah packages from the Lauder Morasha Day School which included a note about the holiday, apples, honey and challah. A fellow volunteer gave a talk about the meaning of the holiday and I made honey dishes with several of the seniors. It was wonderful to know that they were getting some things to sweeten and start their New Year.
The First Night, many people gathered at the Nozyk Synagouge where I attend(there is also a Chabad and another shul, Beit Warszawa) had a very nice service and similar to one I am used to. Afterwards, there is a community meal at a hall just beside the shul. I was amazed to see so many people gather and come to the meal. It was very nice to enjoy the first night with many members of the community that I am starting to get to know. The dinner was very long but nice and afterwards I went with some friends to PUSZ(Polish Union of Jewish Students) for a dinner they were having there. We got there late but it was nice to meet some youth. Shul shabbat morning was long-but again very much like a service at home. Afterwards I attended lunch at a family that is so wonderful, warm and welcoming. For that evening I went to another family-my supervisor which was another warm experience.
The Second day, I brought a woman who I have met through my work who is unbelievable. She has the most incredible story of survival and the way she helped in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, how she helped save over 2000 Jewish childern and how she survived 6 camps-not being a Jew. It was two years ago when she realized she was Jewish-so she joined me for services and lunch at my apartment. I will share more about her, the book she wrote and the movie that is being made about her another day.Buts shes Amazing!
Through the three weeks I have spent here the perspective I have been gaining about the Jewish community in Poland is so different then the perspective that most people have. Many of the tourists I meet regularly and the friends I have only know Poland to be somewhat of a graveyard. They do not have the privilege I have to understand the complexity, yet vibrancy of what is here.There is a community here. It is growing and changing and is composed of people who have had such a different experience with their understanding of their Jewish identity. Many many people who are middle aged did not always know they were Jewish and have discovered it at different points. But this holiday opened my eyes and reinforced what I am learning-there is a wonderful community in Warsaw and when to end my holiday, over 200 Jews from all the communites gathered and walked about 40 minutes-with Police stopping traffic at all intersections-to go to the River for Tashlich(a Jewish ritual which takes place during the 10 days of Repentence and is meant to throw away your sins) and saying the prayer together, one can not helped but feel moved and energized that not only is there a community here, but a community that cares and a community that is interesting and committed to being Jewish.
Please Continue to Read my thoughts about this as I continue to learn and discover more about Poland, the community and what it means to me. Nothing what make me happier then to read your thoughts, comments and what life is like for you.
I am attaching an amazing article that echoes some of what I have shared-someone sent it to me from the Washington Post and Jerusalem Post
Lots of Love

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Smile Really is the Universal Language-September 18

I just returned from a wonderful weekend filled with many great experiences. On Friday morning I took a bus to a small town outside of Warsaw called "Srodborow" where there is a 10 day retreat for Holocaust Survivors. There were 33 of them staying at a hotel like place that was on a beautiful property. After a somewhat nerveracking bus ride-I had no idea where the stop I needed to get off was and of course in true Poland fashion no one spoke English-I found my way. I spent the day visiting with the Seniors. We made candle sticks and decorated candles. My boss was in Warsaw so there was no one there to translate but somehow we understood eachother and had the most wonderful day. I was able to help them create things they were so proud of and they made me smile with their compliments, their attempt to teach me Polish and their energy. Many of them think I understood what they were saying because all I did was smile. Even though I really didn't I understand much I loved that they were full of life, enthusiasm and appreciated my company a lot. We had a very nice Shabbat dinner-I was able to light candles with them and listen to an old man proudly recite Kiddush. After dinner I sat and sang with some of them and then I listened to their stories. While again I could understand very little-someone there explained to me that they were telling the stories of their survival. I could see the tears and emotions, but also that they appreciated where they were. Saturday I spent more time with them and then I needed to catch a train to Krakow. The shabbat I spent with them was so special and wonderful. I really could understand very little of what they were saying but I could see how they felt and it made me so happy to know I got to spend time with them. Many of them live in Warsaw so I will be seeing them weekly and many of them live in other places that I will be visiting and doing programs at.
After my day with them I caught a train with my boss and ended up in Krakow late Saturday night. We were staying in the Jewish neighbourhood of Kashamish where we had dinner and even though it was super late-she took me to the downtown square which was beautiful and full of life. I need to say that where we were staying also had a wonderful square and there many "Jewish" bars and they were all very full and vibrant.
Sunday for my visit in Krakow I had the unique oppurtunity to attend and be a part of a symposium on the Jewish Community Centre which is being built and expected to be ready for Spring 2008. Unlike many who when they visit Krakow go right to the camps, I was able for my first time to be a part of a symposium about the present and the future of the very vibrant Jewish community of Krakow. The centre is being funded my many and there were representatives of the World Jewish Relif Fund, the JOINT, an Architect and of course the community(young and old leaders). Many people spoke about the plans and goals but most importantly the day was about engaging the 70ish members of the community who were in attendence about what they wanted to see the centre become and what they could contribute. There were open questions, small discussion groups and many different people sharing their hopes for the future of the community. It was energizing and inspiring to hear the excitement, fears, and hopes of the community for its future. I hope to return to Krakow for Sukkot to do a program with the youth and hopefully elderly. It was amazing to be a part of the beginnings of what they desciribed as their dream.
I returned late Sunday night and will be busy at work helping out and working on a program. I just returned from delivering Kosher lunches to two elderly couples. While of course I had the usual challenge of figuring out where they lived-I did and they so appreciated their food. With a smile we talked and now Im back at work.
Have a wonderful week
Love Aviva

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

So it Begins-Aviva In Poland-Septmeber 12

Dear Family and Friends
I think the time has come for me to start a blog. I will continue to remain in touch with all of you personally but this will be a nice way for people to hear what Im doing on a regular basis.
Ive been in Warsaw for about 10 tens and Im finally starting to feel more setteled in my new home. I have a great apartment in downtown Warsaw and right near the shul that I work in. I have everything I need and there are several markets near by.
Im starting to learn my way around the city and have found a great mall, the beautiful Old City, the downtown area and some great streets. Im starting to get into the work that I am doing which will be the best part about being in Warsaw. I work with the Social Welfare Commission and am assiting the elderly and will be putting programs in place to bridge the gap and have the youth volunteer with the elderly. I will hopefully not just be doing this is Warsaw but in a few other cities that are involved with the Welfare Commission.
This week there is a Senior's Retreat-for Holocaust Survivors in a place just outside of Warsaw called Srodborow. They will be there for 10 days. I went out yesterday to help get them setteled and I will be returning for shabbat to doing crafts with them before. We will make challah and make shabbat and havdallah candles. We will have shabbat together and Ill help them with the rituals-I cant wait.
I singed up for Polish classes-I really need them. I usually communicate with a smile and nod. I will add more pictures and keep updated as life progresses here.