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April 20, 1990 - Image 29

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-04-20

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Strength in numbers: students and adult chaperones make the trek along the railroad tracks at Auschwitz.

groups to Poland for the
past three summers. "Until
you get to Poland, you can-
not understand how impor-
tant it is to spread the mes-
sage that the Holocaust real-
ly happened. When the
children come back from
Poland, they can say, 'I
touched 800,000 pairs of
shoes in Maidanek. I saw
where it happened.' "
In 1984 and 1985, USY
joined other Jewish youth
organizations around the
world in sending two dele-
gates to a World Zionist Or-

ganization sponsored
weeklong journey to Poland.
When USY decided to orga-
nize its own Poland pro-
gram, the decision was made
early on to combine it with a
five-week trip to Israel.
"We felt that a week in
Poland would be powerful,
but very negative," Gutin
said. "There would be no
opportunity afterwards to
absorb the experience in a
slow, deliberate fashion."
Most Diaspora groups fol-
low the Poland experience
with a visit to Israel, where

rebirth and strength offer
suitable contrast to the
themes of powerlessness and
destruction that dominate
any Jewish-oriented trip to
The contrast was clear to
Charles Savenor, 20, of
Needham, Mass., who par-
ticipated in the first USY
trip in 1986. "As I got off
the plane in Warsaw, I saw a
soldier about my own age,"
he said. "I was trying to be
friendly, so I said, 'Hello,
how are you?' in Polish. He
didn't answer. He just used

of Poland," he asserted. "To
come to Israel from
Highland Park, Illinois,
Shaker Heights, Ohio, or
Beverly Hills, is like meet-
ing a person in middle age
and attempting to develop a
relationship without know-
ing anything about his prior
Rabbi Poupko brings
young people to Poland not
so much to study the Holo-
caust as to acquaint them
with the Jewish civilization
that it destroyed.
"If all you know about
Polish Jews is that they
were marched to the gas
chambers," he said, "then
you don't know anything
about them. You need to
know who they were."
The message becomes
clear. "People are con-
fronted with the imperative
of the mitzvah of rebuilding
a strong and rich Jewish civ-
ilization," Rabbi Poupko

The message is
clear: We are here,
they want to tell
the Poles.

The emphasis on Jewish
history crosses national and
religious outlook. Israel's
Ministry of Education and
Culture, which a year ago
launched the most am-
bitious program to bring
Jewish youths to Poland,
gives each participant two
study guides. One, "Journey
to Poland: In Search of a
Vanished Jewish World,"
uses essays, historical pho-
tographs, maps and poetry
to paint a picture of the Jew-
ish civilization that thrived
in Poland for nearly ten cen-
turies prior to the outbreak
of World War II. The word
"holocaust" does not appear
in the book because its pur-
pose is to educate the chil-
dren about what existed be-
fore the destruction.
Ely Razin, 22, a business
student at York University
in Toronto, organizer' a stu-
dent trip to Poland and Is-
rael in July. His group tried
to focus on the pre-war
history but, he said,
"Unfortunately, there just
isn't much left from before
the Holocaust."
The Canadian group
brought a Holocaust survi-
vor who lives in Canada. In
addition to helping translate
between Polish and English,
the survivor provided a cru-
cial link to the past for the




his gun to point me in a cer-
tain direction.
"When I got to Israel a
week later, we saw another
soldier who looked my age,"
Savenor said. "I said,
'Shalom.' He smiled and
said, 'Shalom.' At that
point, I knew I had come to
a place where Judaism isn't
a thing of the past, where
it's a living thing."
For Israeli teens, most of
whom were born in the Jew-
ish state, the journey to
Poland jolts them into con-
sidering the significance of
their homeland. Many
young sabras take for
granted the fact that they
live in an independent Jew-
ish state, and few have real-
ly thought about the fact
that their country is a direct
outgrowth of the Holocaust.
Yet while a trip to Poland
gives them new perspectives
on the intrinsic importance
of their living in Israel, it
does not necessarily create
some momentous change in
their lives.
Ella Gutman, scientific ed-
itor at Yad Vashem in Jeru-
salem, led a group of kibbutz
students to Poland in July.
She believes a goal of such a
trip should be to give stu-
dents a greater sense of per-
She listed three themes
she says should apply to any
trip to Poland: up-close
study of the Holocaust;
grasping the fact that
Poland was the center of
Jewish life and learning un-
til World War II; and
developing an understan-
ding of the Polish people and
their role in the murder of
The purpose of these trips
is not to foster Jewish-
Polish understanding.
Americans leading trips to
Poland also emphasize the
vital role the trips take in
educating Jewish youths.
Rabbi Yehiel Poupko, direc-
tor of Judaica at the Jewish
Community Centers of Chi-
cago, has been travelling to
Poland since 1972. For the
last three years, he has led
groups of Jewish teenagers
on a four-day journey to
Poland as the first compo-
nent of the Chicago Com-
munity Project Poland-
Israel Summer Program. He
believes Jews must under-
stand the Jewish experience
in Poland in order to under-
stand the current Jewish
"The only way the aver-
age American Jew can enter
Israel is through the doors

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