Tzofia Leibtag co-written it with Noa Brasch
We woke up in Dabrowa Tarnowska and headed to a beautiful shul covered in artwork and quotes from davening. One thing that I’ve seen in many of the shuls are the Hebrew astrological signs based on your Hebrew birthday. Before this trip I had not even known that Hebrew astrological signs existed.
We then headed to Zbilitovska Gura: a cemetery in the middle of a forest. The cemetery includes multiple mass graves of Jewish and Polish victims. 800 Jewish orphans were killed and buried here along with 10,000 poles and Jews. This was a symbol of the joint suffering that the Jews and Poles faced in these terrible times.
We were each handed a story about 1 child to represent the 1.5 million total children that died in the Holocaust. I read a story about Lia Borak who was born in Lvov (Lemberg), Poland in 1929. She had a twin, Mia, and the theory is that twin experiments were done on them. I couldn’t help but think of how painful it would be to watch this occur to my own sister. The part that hit me the hardest was that no one knows the ending to either of their stories.
We then had a Tekes (ceremony comprised of poems, songs, and excerpts from either Tanach or books) next to one of the graves to honor all the children who were brutally murdered in the Holocaust. The most inspirational part to me, was a young victim’s poem asking to be buried not with a tombstone but rather an apple tree that would give its fruits and shade to those in need. His death at the young age of thirteen was even more tragic knowing all the beautiful poetry he might have written had he been allowed to live.
The inspiration continued beyond the program when at a rest stop, we talked to people who had just come back from volunteering at the Ukrainian border.
As we have done several other days, we then volunteered at a local Ukrainian refugee center. The children’s smiles continue to affect me each time they open one of the bags we have gifted them. In the midst of learning about Jewish history in Poland, these acts of kindness restore my hope in the goodness of humanity.
Included in the bags were Israeli flags that the children immediately hung by their beds.
To think that less than a hundred years ago this interaction would never have happened brings me immense pride in not only Am Yisrael but the world as a whole.
We then went to Rav Moshe Isserles's shul which was much smaller than the others we have visited but equally beautiful. Behind the shul were the graves of many influential and important Rabbis from Krakow. We heard stories from classmates about Rabbi Neta Natan (the author of Megaleh Amukot), Tosefot Yom Tov, and the Bach. It’s a truly meaningful experience to walk through Krakow as these great Rabbis once did.
We ended the program with a Tekes to fade into Shabbat. The Tekes included survivor testimonies of their experience with prayer during the Holocaust. I feel prepared and inspired to daven Kabbalat Shabbat tonight.