By Rina Haller
It’s hard for me to imagine a world that is not in the shadow of the Holocaust. But with the coming generation, that impossibility is reality. With denial on the rise and survivors dying, never forgetting while moving forward is increasingly more significant. These thoughts are what motivate me as I am about to embark on my school’s annual trip to Poland.
A week off of from learning from the best teachers in Yerushalayim to trek off to a desolate, former metropolis of Jewish life seems odd. And yet, even when not mandatory in a seminary, students choose to go. Why? While I cannot enter another’s brain and relay their emotions and thoughts, these are mine.
In October and November of my senior year in high school, amidst the seminary quest, my friend pointed out that the school that I was choosing included a Poland trip. Poland is a life experience, shanah bet girls say. Few people I know have gone. These are places I have only learned and read about. Do I truly understand Auschwitz before I have been there?
However, this trip is not depressing, I am told. I believe this, as we do not just visit places of the Shoah. I will pay homage to gedolim who shaped my world today, such as Rav Meir Shapiro, institutor of daf yomi, which my father learns daily; and Sara Schenirer, without whom there would be no Bais Yakov movement for me to learn in today. In essence, the trip is about the world that was before the war as much as it is about the Europe during the war.
To enter into that world requires preparation. My teacher has commented how we have coats. In Poland, with temperatures usually freezing, I will have every winter amenity. The Jews had “pajamas,” if they can be called that. The slight frigidness I feel in the air is but a taste of what they experienced.
Besides the weather, I will, G‑d willing, disconnect from the world. After six months of living in Eretz Yisrael, my ties to my family are daily phone calls, e-mails, and Skype. For this week, I will not talk to anyone outside my school, and I will not be checking my e-mail. I will immerse myself in the world that was.
All my classes over the years will have only touched the tip of the iceberg. Here I will confront G‑d hanging on the gallows. As a mere (nearly) nineteen-year-old, this takes every ounce of my hope and faith. I understand survivors as much as I can. For myself, my foundation will be firmly cemented once I can process it all. At this moment, my brain is in denial. I do not cognitively believe the Holocaust happened, not yet. I have yet to fully process where I will be in the upcoming days. But I know I believe.
I believe that just as Hashem saved us by Purim, which we celebrate the day before my trip, He saved us in the Shoah. All this time before we leave, we are learning Torah, continuing the nation. I am only here because someone survived. Even though I am not directly descended from survivors, and half my grandparents are American, I still feel. I was recently taught that Rav Wasserman, in his speech before he was murdered, mentioned the Americans—how he and his talmidim hopefully could save their American brothers. Even though I do not have family stories from the Holocaust, the girl sitting next to me might. These girls, my friends, their families could have saved mine. This is my part in the story.
Each day is a miracle. A blessing that I was born, a blessing for my particular life. I need to remember this as I journey around the concentration camps. All the destruction came from G‑d himself. Today, I was raised in a beautiful frum community paved from that destruction.
Thank you, Hashem, for allowing us to rebuild. Now when I journey to Poland, I go with the intention of returning to Eretz Yisrael. I leave with a return ticket and a desire to feel and understand. This is what I carry with me, as I journey to Poland. v
Rina Haller, the 5TJT Israel Bureau intern, will record her thoughts for the 5TJT after her return from Poland.