Jewish Wroclaw, Poland

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Jewish Wroclaw, Poland

“All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die.” John Steinbeck

In 1933, 20,000 Jews lived in Wroclaw.  In November 1938, the New Synagogue was destroyed in a fire during the Kristalnacht pogroms.

Between 1941 and 1944, the majority of Jewish residents of Wrocław were transferred to death and concentration camps. A  group of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust settled in Wrocław after 1945. The communist authorities organized an assembly point for the Jews, in Wroclaw, who wanted to go to the USA or to Palestine. As a result, about 10,000 Jews were there in February 1946. The significant emigrations diminished the number of the Jews in the city. In 1968 it came to another wave of emigrations, which left only 500 Jews in the city. In the late Polish People’s Republic (PRL), the Jewish activity started disappearing. The White Stork Synagogue in Wrocław was the only synagogue in the city to survive the Holocaust.

In 1974 the Communist authorities took over the White Stork Synagogue. The Jews regained the White Stork Synagogue in 1994.

Restored in 2010 after a decade-long renovation, it now serves as a cultural center. Lauder Etz-Chaim School was established, as well as a kindergarten and the synagogue choir which is the only one in Poland. 

Chidusz is a Jewish magazine published by our Wroclaw guide Michai Bojanowski. I read it from cover to cover. There are stories about the present, the Holocaust and general news about Jewish life in Poland.

Michai is a wonderful guide who loves his country.  He is young and believes it is his responsibility to do the best for people who don’t have a voice in Poland anymore.  His passion reminds us not to forget them and not let it happen again. Young Poles today were not around during the Holocaust but many feel that they owe the truth in remembering the past to the victims.  Michai takes us through all of Wroclaw ending with the Jewish area.

Wroclaw is lucky to have such a fine representative of their city and we were lucky he was our guide.

Fly safe,

JAZ

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Jewish Krakow

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Jewish Krakow

“As the Nobel laureate, Elie Wiesel warned years ago, to forget a holocaust is to kill twice.”  Iris Chang

 Krakow was my first stop in Poland. I was there for a week.  It was a picturesque city with unseasonably hot sunny weather and friendly people. My hotel overlooked the stunning Vistula River and Wawei Castle. It was not the grey and gloomy city of the black and white World War Two or Communist photos.

Maciej Zabierowska from the Auschwitz Jewish  Center was our very knowledgeable, interesting guide in the Jewish quarter Kazimierz. We walked around the streets, decorated with colorful street art and set with trendy cafes, cool bars, art galleries, and boutiques.

Maciej’s stories of the history and the peeling, old, facades of the buildings, allowed me not to forget the terrible horrors which took place right there, not that long ago.

We start at the Old Synagogue which was badly looted during World War ll and is now a museum.

The museum shows the history and culture of the Jews of Krakow.

Dating from 1553, the Remuh Synagogue is Kraków’s smallest but most active synagogue, with Shabbat services once again taking place here each Friday.

The synagogue was established by the family of famous 16th century Polish Rabbi Moses Isserles – better known as ‘the Rema,’ The old Jewish Cemetery is next to it.

Kazimierz has many  Jewish-themed tourist restaurants. Its “Jewish” cafes present a nostalgic, literary image of prewar Jewish life — some with taste and sensitivity, others in a disturbing way.

I didn’t eat in them but it looked like they were going for old world shtetl chic. Some of the names of the restaurants are in Hebrew style letters.

I checked a few menus and there were things like Rabbi’s salad and Yiddish fish. There were Klezmer bands playing music (like Volare?)  it had a Jewish Disneyland feeling but without the  Jews.

There are many Lucky Jews. The Lucky Jew comes from Polish folk art. In many places, not a trace is left of the Jewish community that once lived there. That blank space is filled today with images of Jews––figurines, pictures, magnets, postcards, and more. The lucky Jews are negative stereotypical caricatures of the Jewish people.  They seem to reflect the preconception that Poles are antisemitic.  According to the Poles, it is an amulet or good luck charm, like a happy fat Buddha. Little Lucky Jews stand at cash registers holding bags of money or a coin for good luck.

There are also paintings and caricatures of them. It is based on centuries of living side by side and stereotypes. Their story is complicated and due to some protesting, there are less of them now. 

We stop in at the Pharmacy Museum.

It is five floors of all kinds of things used as pharmaceuticals but we are here to see the exhibit about Tadeusz Pankiewicz, who operated a pharmacy in the Kraków Ghetto during WWII.

He was the only Roman Catholic pharmacist in the area to decline the German’s offer to relocate outside the ghetto.

He helped with medication, often free, hair dyes for changing identities, tranquilizers for children during Nazi raids, smuggling food and messages etc. His story is on display here.

We continue on through the ghetto.

The Galicia Jewish Museum is home to the permanent photographic exhibitions, Traces of Memory: A contemporary look at the Jewish past in Poland, and An Unfinished Memory. The goals of the Museum are to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions typically associated with the Jewish past in Poland.

Oskar Schindler saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories.

  This incident was made famous by Stephen Spielberg’s film “Schindler’s List’.

Located on the site of Schindler’s Enamel Factory is the Historical Museum of Krakow which tells the story of Kraków and its inhabitants during the Second World War.

Visitors can explore artifacts,  photographs, eyewitness accounts, films and multimedia exhibitions, which show the history of life and tragedy during this time.

Gosia Fus,  our guide here and in the old city is visibly moved as she guides us through the exhibit. (memorial)

The Plaszow Concentration Camp was not far from the Schindler Factory and four kilometers from the Market Square.

Amon Goth the brutal camp commandant lived on the hill overlooking the camp. The Schindler workers walked back and forth every day. It is a mass cemetery of unmarked graves and pits filled with corpses.

it looks like a wide expanse of grass and stone. The camp was built on top of two cemeteries and the tombstones were used as pavers in the roads. It went from a forced labor cam to a mass execution site of the Jews from the emptying Krakow Ghetto.

There are no headsets, tour guides or multimedia displays and I walk the grounds to try to feel the past beneath my feet. 

We go to our first Shabbat at the Jewish Community Center of Krakow. It is run by a New Yorker, Jonathan Orenstein. Rabbi Amichai Lev Lurie who is traveling with us leads a beautiful, thoughtful service which puts everyone in a spiritual mood.  I am sitting next to a Holocaust survivor who had been hidden during the war. There is a school group from Israel, converted Jews who found out a grandparent or relative was Jewish, and some Polish Jews. The staff, volunteers, and community were warm and welcoming. We had a typical  Sabbath Dinner. The doors are open to all. Make it a point to stop in if you are there on a Friday night.  

I have to thank our guides in Kraków  Maciej and Gosia for their kindness, empathy, and knowledge. I did not know what kind of people i would find in Poland after all that history and the right-wing media publicity. I have traveled enough to know that there are always a few people in a country who will change your life for the better. You have to travel to open up a worldview that is almost impossible to comprehend without meeting the people in a country different from yours. Both Maciej and Gosia are those kinds of people.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Auschwitz (Oswiecim) Poland

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Auschwitz (Oawiecim) Poland

“At a mass meeting in Berlin, Adolf Hitler shrieked, “And who is responsible for all our troubles?” Ben Cohen shouted, “The bicycle riders and the Jews!” Hitler looked up, astonished. “Why the bicycle riders?” “Why the Jews?” replied Cohen.” Leo Rosten.

We start our day at the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim (Oshpitzim in Yiddish), a small town in southern Poland 31 miles west of Krakow .http://ajcf.pl/en/ The town went from anonymity to being known by its German name Auschwitz.The word Auschwitz has become synonymous with the worst things human beings can do to each other.

As with other parts of Poland, there is an old synagogue (that was returned to the Jewish community)  and a museum about Jewish life in Oscwecim over the last hundred years and no Jews.

The Center is used a lot by tourists and schools to promote dialogue about Polish Jewish life, xenophobia and the Holocaust. The Museum Of Jewish Heritage that I am traveling with was responsible for helping to create this Center. It does not have local community or government support.

Maciej Zabierowski our wonderful  guide for the Jewish quarter in Krakow works there. As with our other guides, Maciej’s quiet honorable manner makes you feel hopeful that there are more like him than the Nationalists in this country. Tomasz Knncewicz  tells us some of the history. We ask about the law passed earlier this year which criminalizes false attributions to Poland’s responsibility in the Holocaust. I have read that Auschwitz  guides have been accused of downplaying the fact that 74,000 Poles were also killed in Auschwitz. He mentions that there are pressures being exerted on Holocaust and Jewish Museum directors and Auschwitz guides due to the wave of hate.

I think about it on the short drive to the Auschwitz Birkenau Camp.  On one hand, the government is right. It is a distinction without a difference and a horrific thing. But, the Jews were killed because of racism. Many other victims were also deemed by the Nazi’s racial ideology  as unfit to live such as gypsies, homosexuals and the handicapped. The Poles and people from other German conquered countries were killed because of power.

The Holocaust happened at a time in the present to people like you and me. How did a civilized society do this? At what point does the Nationalism and hate rhetoric we are hearing in the world today, take a turn like this?

We pull into the very busy Auschwitz car park along with many buses and cars. There is train whistle in the distance.

Fly safe,

JAZ

The Temple Mount, Jerusalem

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The Temple Mount, Jerusalem

“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.” John Lennon

Jerusalem is a symbol of three great religions but is also a city filled with hatred. The conflicts are mostly between the Muslims and the Jews but also with the Ultra Orthodox.

The Temple Mount is in the South East corner of Jerusalem’s Old City surrounded by date palms and cypress trees. It is the most holy place in the city, with major significance to all three religions.

It is thought to be Mount Moriah, where Abraham offered to sacrifice his son Isaac to God.

For Jews, the Temple Mount was the location of the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BC to house the Ark of the Covenant (which held the Ten Commandments) It’s the most sacred site in Judaism.

For Christians, the Temple Mount is significant because the Jewish temple located here was where Jesus prayed daily and later preached with his disciples.

For Muslims, it is the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. The rock under the dome is where the Prophet Muhammad left Earth to visit heaven on a winged horse in the 7th Century.

The Temple Mount is a controversial and culturally significant place.

Israel took control of the Old City in 1967, but Muslims continue to manage the site.

However armed Israeli soldiers patrol inside. It’s a regular flash point for protests and violence between Jews and Arabs.

The entrance for non-Muslims is at the Mughrabi Bridge (an enclosed wooden ramp) near the Western Wall. Tourists can usually visit the Temple Mount, but there are restrictions.

It’s a religious site, so modest dress is required. (blue cover ups if you are not dressed correctly)

You must pass a security checkpoint with metal detectors, and certain religious artifacts are not allowed in (Bibles, crosses, Star of David, etc.)

There are only certain times that non-Muslims are allowed to visit.

It is quite different from the staircase in the wall that we used to go back and forth many years ago.

Tourists can walk around the plaza taking photos, but are currently not allowed inside the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque after a fire was set inside the mosque  by a Christian extremist many years ago. You are able to peek inside Al-Aqsa from a window on the side of the building.

Jews can visit the Temple Mount, but they can’t pray openly. Only Arabs are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount.

Some Orthodox Jews feel the site is too holy to even walk on while others believe they should be allowed to pray there. The chief rabbis have posted a sign forbidding Jews to pray there.

There is definitely tension in the air, but it didn’t feel dangerous.

The world is a big place and three religions are fighting over a plaza of stone. We are supposed to respect each other’s rights and freedoms.  None of this feels God like to me.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

Jerusalem, Old City

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Jerusalem Old City

“If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel’” Benjamin Netanyahu

My first trip to Jerusalem was in the seventies. My parents always paid for an Israel extension to my self financed Europe trips. I think they were hoping for an Israeli son-in-law. Our days started at the Jaffa Gate near our hostel. We would meander through the Old City in the heat of summer and end up at the Damascus Gate or the New Gate. You could wander back and forth through a stairway in the Western Wall. We walked in and out of the mosques, often just to cool off and enjoy the peaceful feeling inside.

When we got to the meat part which was deep in the market, I was always ready to turn back. It was the first time that I saw raw, dead animals hanging outside like that.There were a lot of flies. It was hot and smelled bad. We were allowed everywhere. One day, a young  Arab boy decided  to be our tour guide for free. He took us walking on the walls above the city. I remember that he said that they were the only red-headed Arab family in the market.

The Arab souq was our favorite huge shopping labyrinth to get lost in. They sold beautiful handmade backgammon sets, religious artifacts and boxes made from olive wood, interesting jewelry, worry beads, scarves, clothes and evil eyes. The bargaining was half the fun (even though we just got it down to the real price in the stores) “We dont hate the Jews,”said the people in the market. “It’s the Zionists we don’t like.”

On my first trip, I did not blame them. The Israeli boys we met were aggressive and the girls were mean to us. Cheap college day tours took us all over Israel from Jerusalem. We met a lot of Americans doing the same thing. The second summer I met nice Israelis. We truly believed that there would be a lasting peace.

I resisted coming back to Jerusalem for many years because I did not want to see what was happening. The Arabs and Israelis did not learn how to coexist. Now Israel the hero of my childhood, is seen by many as the oppressor. For some reason, they have more UN human rights violations than the most corrupt, brutal, sadistic, child army, third world nations. Israel wasn’t the attacker in the 48, 67 and 73 wars. They defended themselves and won. Isn’t that what happens in a war? Governments get land and young people die or get injured. The Palestinians like the American Indians had unfortunately lost the claim to their land from the British before Israel became a state. Israel built their country from nothing just like America did. It seems to be a hopeless situation now.

They call it apartheid by choice. There are Arab speaking schools and Hebrew speaking schools. The Arab schools are divided into Muslim and Christian schools.

The Hebrew Schools are divided into Orthodox and Secular Schools. There are divisions between the divisions. There are a few mixed schools.

I think those who call it South African apartheid have forgotten or never knew what South African apartheid really was. Yes there is prejudice on both sides  and many problems but it is not that.

The holiest city on earth is even more divided on my return many years later. It is still living as one but with a lot of new rules, security and boundaries.

This time, I am staying at the beautiful King David Hotel. As we enter the city from the nearby New Gate, Dvir, our tour guide, tells me that there is still only one red-headed Arab family in the market.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

 

 

Staying Sane In An Insane World

“The most insane things can become normal if you have them around you long enough. A mind can’t seem to hold anything too crazy for too long without finding a way to make it seem normal.” Deb Caletti

You can get used to anything. You think you can’t but you can. When I came home from New Zealand I had horrible anxiety every time I turned on the TV. There was another Presidential order that was always badly rolled out and more protests. There is way too much bad news bombarding us twenty-four hours a day.

A few weeks later, I just feel numb. I am becoming desensitized. Things were said today  that went almost unnoticed. A month ago they would have been front page news. What is going on in America is wrong and it takes all my sanity to get through the day. In the midst of all this I am trying to live a conscious life of kindness and intelligence. Just because America is going insane does not mean that I have to follow.

The cause of these external events have been a long time in the making. They did not just happen. There are no simple answers. Finding a scapegoat to blame sounds very fascist to me. It’s the Muslims. It’s the Feminists. It’s the Immigrants. It’s the Jews. It’s the NRA.  It’s the Whites. It’s the Blacks. It’s ISIS. It’s the Environmentalists. It’s the Left. It’s the RIght. It is so convenient to have someone to blame – especially when said in a confident, authoritative voice. It’s becoming really hard to separate the real threats from the manufactured ones.

Here are some real threats. There are 117 suicides in the U.S. each day compared to 43 murders. There are 129 deaths from accidental drug overdoses. Ninety six  people a day die  in automobile accidents (27 of whom aren’t wearing seat belts)There are 1,315 deaths each day due to smoking, and 890 related to obesity, and all the other preventable deaths from strokes, heart attacks and liver disease.

I need meditation and yoga in my life now.  I can’t exhale this out. Beaches and travel help. I allow a short time period to watch the news and take days off. It looks to me like all this fear mongering is illogical. We are the biggest threat to ourselves.

Fly safe,

JAZ