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Poland Blog Trip November 2008



Epi(Blog)ue... - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:24pm

We finished dinner and headed back to the hotel lobby where we hung out for a few more hours, not willing to let the trip end. Everyone brought their cameras and I brough my laptop and we downloaded most of the pics to my laptop so I can combine the data and distribute it to everyone. There are a few people that need to give me pics plus Shmuel took video that he's going to give me and audio on a dictation machine. I'll try to combine everything together onto a single DVD that can be delivered to everyone - compatible for both MAC and PC.

I have lots of pics to post that are not totally related to information in the blogs and I have may have some video and audio clips to post later. Pics that are controversial will not be posted without prior consent of those in it and if anyone thinks a pic needs to come down, just let me know and I will take it down. Other than that, I will post them time and space permitting (in addition to the DVD to be sent to all participants). I'm in the process of sorting the pictures by day of event. I've done all except Dallas' so far and have combined all the others. Dallas' will be combined too. Right now, I'm sitting on the plane heading back to the U.S. I'm very excited to see my family but very sad about leaving my Nowa Radzina behind. I have been blogging straight for 8 hours non stop. You've all meant very much to me and I know we've all meant a lot to each other.

I didn't include the PICS now in the blogs I just uploaded because I'm sitting in JFK uploading them before heading to Florida. I just wanted to get them up there so people can start reading them. When I have some time, maybe over the weekend, I'll upload the accompanying the pics. In the meantime, just add comments as you see fit and feel free to add to my blog. That's what it's there for.

Much love.....avi

Saturday Night Goodbye Dinner - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:22pm

After shopping, we all met up at the hotel lobby (there's a shocker) to head out for dinner. Gail and Betsy snuck the gifts. Betsy had gotten the one for Andrzej. Gail brought the one for Agnieszka, and I brought the card. We headed over to the Grodek Hotel where they have a very fine restaurant on the ground floor. We had food and drinks. Andrzej asked us to evaluate the trip and boy did he start us going. Shlomit was already gone by this time. She had taken a flight out after lunch. The next one who had to go early was Jeff, so he took the floor first. Everyone had a bunch to say. Since I don't like to negatively blog, I'll leave some of the detail out, but there was a little bit of hostility from Jeff. Nevertheless, he said his piece and then passed the floor. Next came Betsy. She spoke for a while very nicely and then presented Andrzej with the gift. Next came Samantha who spke so nicely. Then came Nina and "The Jordo"...what more can I say. We then headed to, I believe, Dallas, Amy, Gail, John, and Dov. The last two were me and Shmuel. By then, Jeff had already headed out, he had to catch his flight. He actually headed out during Gail summary. When it was my turn, I spoke for a while about what the trip meant to me and what the people meant to me. I then presented Agnieszka with the iPod gift. I'm not 100% sure why everyone let me be the one to deliver the gift to her, but I'm appreciative of it because the entire trip really affected me. Agnieszka, especially effected me so.

Saturday Trip #5 - Shopping - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:22pm

I bought a hat and shorts for the gym. Shmuel bought some stuff for Meryl I won't mention because it may be a surprise. I also bought earrings for Sarina and a large poster map of Poland for Hersh because I know how much he loves maps. I also bought a thank you card to accompany our gifts to Agnieska and Andrzej. We then headed back to the hotel to get ready for our last meal together, the goodbye dinner. Earlier in the day, Gail and John went out and picked up a new iPod Nano for Agnieska as a gift that we had all agreed upon earlier to get for her as a thank you. I'm not sure which day we agreed, but I hadn't mentioned up until now so that the surprise wouldn't be ruined. Nothing sadder than someone who blogs about a surprise gift. One of the days that we were travelling Agnieszka mentioned that she had an iPod that got ruined because it went into the wash. Gail, who is just brilliant on may levels, immediately realized that if were to get her a thank you gift, a replacement iPod would be perfect. When Agnieszka wasn't around we plotted the gift and all agreed to chip in and get it. What was really special was that when Gail mentioned the idea of the gift, that we should get one and what it should be, there wasn't a single person who didn't think we should get one or who thought we should get something else. What's amazing is that everyone in the group completely agreed that we should get it and nobody asked how much. Every single person just simply said "count me in". I guess that's a testament to the affect that Agnieszka (and the Forum for Dialog) had on us. I don't know about you, but in hindsight it sure was amazing to get 13 people from different walks of life to agree on a gift without so much as a peep from anyone in the negative.

So Gail and John picked it up and packaged it. I wrote a very touching card about how much she means to us (I don't have a copy of the text) and how we are now her "Nowa Radzina" - her new family. She knows that when she makes it to the states, she will always have a place a place to stay in any city where we are...Los Angeles, San Fransisco, New York, Ft. Lauderdale, Chicago, and Boston.

Saturday Trip #4 - Galicia Jewish Museum - Tuesday, December 2, 2008

After lunch, we headed to the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow where there was an exhibition on Righteous Gentiles with photos and their stories. Very interesting stuff. There were also pictures and more stories about what ad happened to the Jews in Krakow. After a short visit, we headed back to the main square where we had a chance to walk through the streets and look at the vendors' wares. Chassidic statues with coins were abundant. If I didnt say anything about this yet, I'll mention it now. It is very common to find status of Chassic Jews doing different things. Playing music intruments, reading a book, holding a book, etc. There is a resurgence (or a surge) in Jewish statues and paraphinalia. However, one of the more common things to find is a status of a Chassidic Jew hold a coin or bag of coins. In the hotel where we stayed in Plock, we found a painting of a Jew counting money in front of a menorah. This was on the wall in the bar (pics to follow). Apparently, Jew-coin statues and paintings are considered good luck. Unfortunately, these statues propogate a stereotype that Jews are connected to money. In theory, it shouldn't be such a big deal, but because it's pushing a negative steretype, many people, Jews and Poles, see it as an insult. On the other hand, many Poles see it as nothing more than a good luck charm and don't understand how it could be negatively stereotypical when it brings good luck. Anyway, judge for yourself. By this time, Shabbos was over (darkness arrives at like 4:30pm in Krakow), so Shmuel and I went shopping for some stuff for the family. We grabbed our money bags and went shopping....I mean we grabbed our large gold coin and went shopping....I mean we went shopping like everyone else.

Saturday Trip #2 & #3 - Castle & Ghetto Heroes Monument and Lunch - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:21pm

For the first event of Saturday after shul, we went for a sightseeing tour in Krakow. We did a walking tour of a nearby castle and the grounds which housed multiple churches and a massive courtyard. We walked around and viewed the Vistula river and heard stories about how it helped protect the Poles during wars. We walked over to a part of the castle and looked out across the street. There, 4 houses down, was the home of Oscar Schindler. We then headed over to the Kazimierez Jewish quarter. For me and Shmu, we had already been there earlier, but it was interesting to take a walking tour of the Jewish area (or what WAS the Jewish area). We walked over to the "Old Synagogue" and took a tour inside. It is now a Jewish Museum. If I have pictures from someone, I'll post them. I didn't take any picture on shabbos, but others did. We then headed out and went by some of the houses with mezuzahs that had been talked about earlier. Next, we headed over to a part of Krakow where there is the Ghetto Heroes Monument which is a artistic memorial in memory of those Jews who were gathered up and shipped off from Krakow. Not much had been known about this event until the memoirs of a pharmacist were reviewed which documented what had happened right outside his pharmacy. He was not Jewish and was a Righteous Gentile for helping the Jews. Right outsidehis pharmacy was the train station where Jews were deported. The monument is actually a bunch of empty chairs all facing the same way except for two which fac the directions that the Jews were taken for extermination. After we viewed the monument, we then went to have lunch Klezmer Hojs at a Kosher Style restaurant in Krakow where we got to sit and meet the architect of the memorial and talk with him about the memorial and his different feelings and ideas about what happened to the Jews (and the Poles) during WWII.

Saturday Morning Trip #1 - Remu Synagogue - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:20pm

Saturday morning I got up and met Shmuel at breakfast in the lobby area. It would take about 45 minutes to walk to the synagogue, based on the time it took to get back Friday night, but I knew it would take a little less time since it was just the two of us and we could hustle. We ate breakfast and headed out, talysim (prayer shauls) and siddurim (prayer books) in hand. Dallas had made it down by then and wanted to walk with us a little. The three of us left the hotel and headed into the under-street tunnel and out the other side. Dallas headed off in a direction where he could take some good pictures and Shmu and I headed towards the synagogue. We back-tracked our path, except for a slight error. We asked a police officer where the Remu synagogue was and he didn't know which one we were talking about but told us there are 7 synagogues in the area and pointed us in the general direction. We headed in the right direction and found the path to take. We then found ourselves only 3 blocks from the shul with time to spare so we walked around a little and found houses with mezuzah inserts. There were three of those houses in the area that our guide knew about (we found out later that day) and we had found two of them. Also, there are a few unussed synagogues around the area, so we investigated them a little and then headed on our way. We were now in the Kazmierez area, which used to be the Jewish district. There were a few synagogues on the main street and some Jewish named stores. We looked at those and met up with a non-Jewish tourist taking pictures. He came with us to the Remu synagogue. We went inside (with time to spare for the 9am minyan). What an interesting place. The Remu synagogue was built in 1558 and had been updated a few times since then. It was the Synagogue of the Remu (Rav Moshe Isserlis) who is essentially the founder of modern orthodox minhagim (customs).

The shul is really interesting. It's very very small. Seats about 50 men. I don't know how many women. That section was in the back. The shul had similar characteristics as the "old synagogue" down the block which I think I have pictures of. Before entering the shul, there is a fence yougo through and you're in a courtyard. Off to one side and through another gate is the cemetery of the shul where the Remu is buried. On the walls of the courtyard are plaques put up by people in memory of lost memebers of their family from Kazmierez. One of the plaques was donated by a person in memory of the 88 family memebers killed in the Holocaust. There is a separate men's and women's entrance. Once inside, there's a small sink on the right, a picnic-like table in front and a doorway to the left which brings you in to the sanctuary. The table had challah and cookies on it. I headed into the shul behind Shmuel and looked around. How amazingly different and yet similar at the same time to contemporary orthodox synagogues in the U.S. When you walk through the doorway, on the left, built into the wall, is a tzeddakah (charity) box. There were old wooden bench seats all around with built in shtenders (book holders) in front of the seats. Some of the benches were seating four on a bench and some seating two. Shmuel and I put our coats on one of the benches behind us and sat behind the bimah (reading table) and to the right.

The shul had a 20 foot high ceiling. with long but small chandeliers. There were light fixtures on the wall. All the lights looked like electric candle sticks. One of the wall sconces had a Polish eagle on it. I thought that was interesting. The bimah was made of concrete and rease with one step above the ground floor. The most striking aspect was that it was completely surrounded with steel fencing, the kind of thick steel that might be used around a school or building. The steel was half-inch thick black square metal that went all around. It had some bent components to give it some design, but it looked a little like a fancy prison cell. On each side of the bimah was a pair of door in the fencing to allow people to go on and go off the bimak from either side. The doors were old looking, but they looked more like they were intended to look old than they were actually old. The shul was very cold. Heat was brought through pipes that were mounted to the walls. There were two pipes that moved hot water (I assume). The hot contents would cause the pipes to heat and radiate the room. It didn't do a very good job. I had to stand against the pipes to stay warm, but then...I'm a Floridian. The Rabbi of the shul was the Lubavitch rabbi and the room filled with about 13 people made up of a couple of local youths, a couple of local elders, an Israeli, a middle aged fellow, and a couple of Lubavitchers. The inside had been redone a few times since the shul was built in 1558, but one of the original plaques was kept and mounted on the wall. There were a couple of memorial plaques too, where names of deceased are placed with light bulbs. You can see how they retrofitted the building with electrical functionality. It has a certain primitive look to the electrical stuff. The Aron Kodesh (where the Torahs are kept) is up about 6 very narrow stairs and is very narrow itself. The Old Synagogue down the block was built the same way. To the right of the stairs is the front shulchan (table) where the chazzan (prayer leader) start the prayers. The with of the shulchan plus the width of the stairs is the width of the Aaron Kodesh, maybe 5 ft. across. On each side, the left of the stairs and the right of the shulchan is a small wall with no handrails, so, if you can imagine it, you walk up stone narrow stairs just beside the prayer leaders table (everything here is made of stone) and you pull aside the covering of the Aaron Kodesh. You open the Aron, remove the Torah and very very carefully turn around and go back down the narrow stairs. I don't know how someone hasn't killed themselves falling down the narrow stairs. That's the prupose of the retaining walls, but they're not that good. Anyway, to the left of the Aron Kodesh is a book case with some seforim and to the right is seating which is where the Rabbi sat.

Shmuel and I put on our prayer shauls joined in with the serices. The acoustics of the room were horrific. We couldn't hear the first leader, a older gentleman. When he finished the first section (brachot), a new leader came (the Israeli) and we could hear him a little better. Towards the end of the morning services, it was time for Torah reading. They took out the torah and brought it to the reading table on the bimah. Since we had told the Rabbi that we were both obligated to special requirements because of the recent death of our father, we were each given a honor. Shmuel was called up to the Torah as Levi and I was given the honor of raising it at the end of reading, known as Hagbah. After the honors, because of the lateness of the hour and speed (or lack thereof) of the young feloow who read the haftorah (post Torah reading), we had to go. We packed up our prayer shauls and put on our coats. Shmuel had previously told the Rabbi we might need to head out early, so there were no worries. As I sat there packing up I realized that the Synagogue could probably use another Siddur (prayer book). I had brought a small hard-cover one with me for the trip. I had originally bought it when my father passed away. I wanted two, one for sabbath and one for weekdays where I could mark the pages, using a highlighter, where the passages were for the mourner's prayers. This was to help me while I learned to say them since I wasn't familiar with where they were in the prayers. As time went on, I had become familiar with the prayer and where it was, so I didn't really need the second siddur. I remember thinking to myself at the time that it was a waste that I spent the money on two of them but only needed one. I remember thinking that I had no use for two. Well....or did I. You know the idea that some things ere meant to be? So I picked up my coat, grabbed my prayer shaul and headed to the bookcase. I kissed my siddur and placed it on the shelf thinking, hoping, that someday it will serve someone well. It had all mourner's passages highlighted which was an interesting twist on the whole idea of leaving it for someone in a place where there had been so much sorrow and death....and possibly rebirth. Anyway, I placed it on the shelf, took a moment for myself, and realized that there was a reason I had bought two of them and that this was it and I had not known it. There was a reason I bought two after all. With that, I turned around and quietly exited the shul. Shmu and I then hightailed it back to the hotel where we changed and met up with everyone else who was getting ready to head out.

Friday Trip #2 - JCC for Dinner - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:20pm

We headed over to the JCC to have dinner with the Krakow Jews. The place is run a Lubavitch Rabbi. We arrived and went upstairs. We filed in, checked our coats, and went to the big table in the center that was left for us. We were about 30 minutes late because the whole Auschwitz trip took longer than expected. We asked the tour guide not to rush Auschwitz and that meant that we were a little behind schedule. Anyway, so we got there and took seats. I then asked if we can mix seats around and they said yes, so a few of us got up and moved to other seats to sit with the other people there. There must have been around 30 people there, not including us. A whole mix of people. Interesting crowd. I chose a seat that was available at another table and sat in front of two very nice young ladies Ana and Ana (who were friends). Others in the group thought I had picked that seat because of them but that isn't true. Had I looked more carefully, I would have chosen the seat anyway, but I really did just pick the first one I saw with an available place setting. When we got there, they had mostly finished their meal, so we came for some zmirot (songs) and ate a little and heard a couple of Divray Torah (words or lessons of Torah). They were given in Polish and then translated into English. Shmuel made Kiddush (blessing over wine) for us and Jeff made Hamotzei (blessing over bread). We ate challah, a small salad, and a blintz that was burnt (though probably our fault for being so late). I spoke with Ana and Ana a little bit. Ana sitting opposite me and in a white sweater was not a Jew but had strong Jewish feelings and wanted to convert and become Jewish. She had done her graduate studies in Jewish topics and had been to ISrael. She loved the culture and faith and this was the first time she had been to a shabbos meal. Ana, who was sitting next to her, was Jewish. She had no experience with being Jewish and had never had a shabbos meal and had only come to be a good friend to Ana in the white. She wasn't very interested in any of this and simply tolerated it so her friend, Ana in White, could pursue the event. That was very sweet of her. Afterwards, we benched (grace after meals) with Shmuel leading the benching. I assisted Ana and Ana in following along in the bencher (grace book). The bencher had Hebrew, English, and Polish. I would help turn the pages for them and would point out where we were since there was some skipping going on (some things weren't said because it wasn't a holiday) and it was hard for them to follow.

At the end, we got our coats on and headed back to the hotel. The whole lot of us walked back to the hotel and took the path of going past the Remu synagogue. It's the only synagogue still holding services on Shabbat and was where Shmuel and I planned to go for Shabbat services. We walked past and I tracked the path from there to the hotel. There, we hung out for a while in the lobby before going to bed. After a while, we left (or, at least, I did). HAd to get up bright and early the next morning.

Friday Morning Trip #1 - Auschwitz - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:19pm

Friday. The big day. I say the big day because this is when we are supposed to go to Auschwitz in the town of Oswiecim. We gathered in the lobby of the Andel's hotel - now that's new....well a different hotel is what made it new...and we boarded the bus for Auschwitz. I made a mental note of the irony that we were taking a Mercedes to Auschwitz. I'm not sure whether that creeped me out or made me feel invigorated. Nothing better than riding a Nazi vehicle to see the concentration camp where Hitler attempted to anhilate the Jews. Instead, he's gone, his people are gone, the Nazis are gone, and I, a Jew, get a chance to go to Auschwitz in his car. I think the irony permits me to savor the victory (so to speak). I don't plan to get gruesome in any of this blog but going to Auschwitz requires one to discuss some horrible details. In the meantime, we got to Oswiecim and to the Auschwitz visitors center. We picked up our guide, Ana, and headed towards Auschwitz-Birkenau (a.k.a. Auschwitz II). There, we got off the bus and went to the entrance where Ana gave us a little history of the camp and told us what we needed to know before going in. At this time, a few of us took a break and headed to the bathrooms, which is located in the main entrance building to the camp, located right next to where the tracks entered with Jews, Poles, and others. The bathroom was standard, with urinals, toilets, sinks, etc. Somethng about it felt surreal or out of place. It felt as though I was standing in Disney World with props instead of real buildings and places. Finished in the bathroom and headed to the bus. Here was my first real difficult thought....I'm not sure how to explain it.....but I couldn't lift my head to look. I mean I COULDN'T lift my eyes to look. Have you've ever been in an uncomfortable position, where something is going on that you know you should'nt see, and you automatically turn your eyes down and away from it? Think of any time you've accidentally walked in on someone in the bathroom or undressing and instead of looking at them or, worse, staring at them, you turn your eyes away and excuse yourself. This is what it was like. I felt subservient. I felt like I was in a (un)holy place. Kind of like when Indiana Jones, at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, turns his eyes away from the case carrying the ten commandments. As the spirits whip around and kill everyone around him, he has to fight with all his might to keep his eyes turned away and shut. It felt something like that to me. I COULDN'T look. Not that I didn't want to, I COULDN'T. At the same time, it also felt like I didn't want to cheat and look before I was supposed if to ruin the surprise when we all enter Auschwitz together.

I returned to the group and we headed off to the entrance. First stop was to the children's area. There, a few building still stood that housed the children. In there, bunks 3 levels deep and maybe 10-15 wide held the inhabitants who were children. Mostly these were Polish children since Jewish children were generally killed right away. We learned many things in minor detail that, with all the Holocaust classes and books and movies you just don't get. It was freezing outside. That meant it was freezing inside too. These children didn't have heaters, blankets, or anything else. They had just some clothes. Children as young as 1 and 2 years old were housed here. Maybe 100 children in a single room with 2 female adult inmates to act as den mothers. They had to help the children up and down, tuck them in, keep them company, keep them warm, try to feed them, and in the process, not die themselves. I could go on forever with just this building, but I won't. Agnieszka soon had to excuse herself to step outside because it was affecting her too greatly and I was looking for an excuse to step out because I was very bothered by it too. I joined her outside and we spoke and calmed each other.

Considering what the movie "Spring 1941" had done to me on Tuesday night, I thought I was going to be an absolute wreck, but I was not. Actually, I was very composed and I'll tell you why. When I watched the movie I became one of the characters suffering and trying to keep my children alive, yet watching them die in my arms and in fron tof my face. I was that person in the movie. Auschwitz, however, was to cleansed for me. It looked more like ancient ruins or something you see on the history channel or in Disney World. It was unreal, but unreal in the literal sense. It's possible that had I gone straight there on day one I would have felt differently, but on this day, the sixth day of the trip, I think I was numb. I think the movie and the events of the last five days and the information swirling in my head made me feel distant or disengaged. What also really bothered me is that they wanted to keep the remaining building in their original condition and untouched. That would have been fine except that some assholes, over time, who had come to see the camps, thought they should leave their marks on history and wrote, painted, or etched their initials and names all over the place. What it meant was that the inside walls of the first hut, the children's building, looked like the graffiti walls in New York or Miami. It was horrible - absolute disrespect for a holy place. It made the whole thing feel very contrived.

We finished with the children's building and went to see the sinks and bathrooms. Can you imagine what this must have been like. In my wildest nightmares I can't imagine what these people - women, men, children - had to go through. The sinks were just 2 long troughs, the length of the room. Hundreds and hundreds (maybe thousands) of children would wash up in water shared by all of them. How they didn't all die of disease in the first month I'll never understand. Next came the bathroom. I use that word lightly. Imagine 50 holes in a wooden plank. Two rows of 25 holes the size of a basketball cut into the wood and open to a large pit at the bottom. There was no flushing, no toilet seats, no toilet paper, no privacy, no nothing. There was nothing. Just 50 holes in a long wooden plank. You'd have to wonder what it smelled like. Ana, our guide, told us that when she went through the tour with a Holocaust survivior one time, the survivor told her that the smel wasn't the issue. They actually liked the bathroom, even without the privacy or anything else. Why? Because it was the only time they were given 2 minutes to sit. They savored, litterally savored those 2 minutes of peace. Unfathomable.

We left the bathroom and started through the fields to the street. Barbed wire as far as you can see. For most of the buildings, all that remained were the brick chimneys. The children's buildings were made of brick, so they have survived, but when it became to costly and too slow to build them out of brick, they started being made of wood. That meant that over time, they would not survive, except for the brick chimneys. We walked along the road, around, and towards the end of the train tracks. The whole time, Ana talked with us and told us what the building were, what had happened, and things that you would not have thought or known about in mainstream media. She showed us the food preparation houses. At the back of the camp, we cam to a memorial created by the russians to commemorate the place. The Russians, having taken over Poland after WWII and keep it communist until 1968, were able to rewrite history as much as they wanted. They made the memorial to all the people that had come to Auschwitz and the mention of the Jews was rather incidental. Since the Polish for Jew starts with the letter Zed ('Z'), it was listed last in the list of people affecte by the Holocaust. Some time later, the memorial was modified (post soviet era) and the memorial is now a little more fair to the people who were most affected by the camp.

After that, we headed to the side of the camp and off to the registration building and to the remnants of the Canada houses. These were building built to store the belongings of the newcomers. Here, those who were selected for work (instead of immediate death) were shaved, cleansed, disinfected, humiliated, tatooed and clothed. From there, they were sent to their buildings to exist (I can't seem to use the word live). These were all people select NOT to be killed (just yet). The Nazis had plans for them. Had a person arrived and been selected for immediate death, they went straight to the showers and crematoria. We passed those on the way to the registration building. In the registration building they have a big display of hundreds and hundreds of photos that had survived the war. Apparently, in one of the suitcases in a Canada building someone who had been sorting the belongings was throwing all (or many) of the pictures that people brought with them into a single suitcase. That suitcase survived, as did the pictures. You see, people brought pictures, belongings, cjewelry, whatever because they believed they were just being relocated. I can only imagine these people thinking that this was just a relocation program. On the one hand, they must have known what was going on, but who could believe such a thing. It would be like listening to those crazy people who yell that the world is coming to an end. Those crazy people, right? Well, if you were one of those crazy people saying that mass extermination of people was going on, and in the 20th century, no less, would you have been thought of as a nut? probably. After all, this isn't the mideval period. These are enlightened Germans with art, music, the theater, science and technology. Truth is, the Germans were so successful with their plan to annhilate the Jews because of their technology. They turned mass murder into a business process, a wirkflow, if you will.

We left the registration area and headed back towards the front of the camp. In the process, we headed past the crematoria, which were knocked down, and all that remained were the crumbled remains of an unrecognizable building. Behind it was a small pond or swamp. Here, endless amounts of human ash were deposited to be absorbed by the ground underneath. The ponds and swamps remain. There are a few of them. In front of them is a memorial to those that had perished and had been cremated and disposed of in the ponds. There was the most recognizable tribute memorial to the dead. There was where we all stood in silence. There is where we said Kaddish, all of us together, as we mourned the millions of Jews and members of our families (known or unknown) that were affected by this tragedy. Then, in act of sheer defiance, we sang Hatikvah loudly and slowly savoring the feeling that nothing was better than showing our martyrs that the Nazis did not win. They did not prevail. They did not accomplish their goal. In fact, the opposite had happened. They are gone and we are singing the national anthem of the Jewish Homeland. We sang it with an air solmenity and victory at the same time. We will prevail. We always have. We always will. Let that be a lesson to history. Throughout time there have been those that have tried to murder us, kill us, gas us, torture us, and convert us. To make the Jewish people, as a culture AND as a faith disappear. Ultimately, we have stood to watch them disappear into history books as nothing more than a brief mention (if they're lucky).

From there, we headed back to the bus. Before leaving, we had passed a monument that we were told was in honor of the many women in a neaby camp that had been tortured and slaughtered, butchered to be precise. We left Auschwitz-Birkenau for the bus and had lunch. This is why the whole thing was surreal and had a limited affect on me. Flushing toilets, urinals, banana and apple and sandwich for lunch, other people just walking around, monuments. It felt like an exhibition not a bloody death camp. I'm not suggesting anyone change anything. I'm in no position to say that there's a better way to do it. I'm just saying that I felt very little wile in the camp and I think it had to do with the unreal feeling of death in the camp. Maybe my expectations were too high. I don't know exactly, but one thing is for sure, I was more deeply moved by the movie that Auschwitz-Birkenau. I focus on this for one reason alone. It bothers me most that it didn't bother me enough.

From there we boarded the bus and headed to Auschwitz I. There's a restaurant in the front of the building. How am I supposed to care about this place when there's a restaurant. Someone with us, I don't remember who said that it was nice that there wasn't more than one restaurant, so that it didn't feel commercialized. Hunh?!? I mean, I guess, yeah, sure, but even one (and all the book stores) was too much for me. I'm not saying that it felt like a business...but....OK, I guess I am saying that. You walk in and you're in something like a "visitor's center", as if I went to the Museum of Natural History to look at an exhibit on dinosaurs. With cameras and video cameras in hand, we went through the visitor's center and past a bookstore, heading towards the entrance of Auschwitz. Arbeit Macht Frei. We walked under the entrance and stood where the Nazis used to have the Jewish musicians play concerts while the Jews left to and returned from the work fields. They believed that it was a nice touch to play beautiful classical music while people were imprisoned and doing slave work. From there, we started going into some of the buildings. Auschwitz I is very small compared to Auschwitz-Birkenau and is all brick because it was an army baracks of sorts before it got taken over by Germany and they decided to use it for a concentration camp.

We went building to building looking at the displays. Pictures, maps, hair, shoes, brushes, tallaysim (prayer shauls), shoe polish, and many other artifacts are housed here. We saw the different buildings and then went to the "wall" where people, when tried by the local Nazi camp court and had been found guilty, were summarily shot. We saw the different methods of torture that were applied. They would put 5 or 6 people in a closet like space made of brick. No light, no door, no heat, no place to sit. They would have to stand side by side all night with just a bucket in the middle of them for bathroom use. The whole closet was maybe 3 ft. square, maybe 4 ft. They would stand all night and then in the morning be let out to work. At night, they would return and have to stand again. The story is told that most people would die after the 3rd or 4th night in a row of standing. Imagine, if you can, being forced to stand in a room with 5 or 6 other people, like an elevator or much much smaller for 10 or more hours. You don't have enough room to move. Now imagine that you're doing this in the cold, hungry, exhausted, tortured. Now imagine that as you stand shoulder to shoulder with the others, one of you dies and for the next 6, 8, or 10 hours, you are pressed against this dead person. Can you imagine that? because I can't fathom it. Again, this leads to my feeling that this whole thing is surreal. According to Ana, there was a Nazi assigned to the camp whose sole job was to try to come up with new methods of torture. That was his whole job there. To just sit and think of new ways to torture people.

From there, we headed down the path through the camp, around the side, and to one of the crematoria. There, hundreds of people would be crammed into a small room where they would be gassed and then cremated in the next room.

We left that crematoria and headed back to the main visitor's center. On the way, I stopped off in the bookstore and bought a book. I was just looking for an excuse to buy a book and donate some money to the Auschwitz center. I don't like the way they developed the whole thing, but I still believe in supporting what it is. So I bought a book and headed out. Took some last photos and headed to the restaurant, another establishment I loathe that exists on the grounds of Auschwitz, and sat and had some tea with my compatriots. It was so cold and I needed some hot tea. How the hell did these people survive in that weather with no protection from the cold. I can only imagine how many people dies from freezing and illness related to it. Many of them must have welcomed death as a reprieve from the torture. If I were there, I don't know what I would have done. Would I have tried to live or would I have given up? I couldn't judge anyone. I don't care what a person has become after being in a death camp or what they believe. I am humbled before them. I don't think I could have made it. I just don't see how. The weather also made the whole thing unreal. It just didn't seem possible. After tea, we boarded the bus and headed back to the hotel for a really quick change and then off to the next stop, the JCC in Krakow for Friday night dinner. We spent the entire busride back singing all kinds of songs. This was our defiance and our linkage. We sang shabbos zmirot (songs), Israeli songs, Hebrew songs, Jewish Songs, anything and everything we could think of to show our defiance. To show that Judaism, Jews and Israel had lived and prospered.

Thursday Lunch & Train to Krakow - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:18pm

After that, we boarded the bus and headed for lunch at the Radio Cafe, a nice quaint little restaurant where we could quickly order some serious Pierogis. Since we all decided to get them in advance in order to get a quick start on our next trip which was to Krakow, Agnieszka placed the order while we were on our way and when we got there, the food came pretty quickly. We ate, we talked, we laughed (that's the whole theme in general for this trip). I sat with Dallas, Sam and Betsy. We got "Pierogi wild" and then headed to the train station where we got ready to board a train to Krakow. We had a little wait in the train station, so we hung out for about 30 minutes. During this time, The Jordo, Dallas and I people watched and had some fun making inappropriate comments. I took a little walk and found a whole art display on sexy body parts (pics to follow). Dallas needed to use the mens room, so he took The Jordo with him - that had us all giggling for a minute. The station was a little nasty and creepy, so I don't blame him though - but it was kind of funny nonetheless.

This was a great trip. It was a three hour ride on a classic train car - like the kind you see in James Bond movies. There were separate partitions or rooms. Each room had six seats. We had three rooms next to each other and like a bunch of college kids hanging out in dorm rooms, we moved around room to room. This was a lot of fun. We broke out our laptops, showed pictures, took naps (though I don't know how some of them napped through the noise) and laughed a hell of a lot. We looked at photos from the night out at the bard and laughed so loud I though we'd get thrown off the train (or at least the James Bond theme music would start). Agnieszka sat with me and translated, word for word, the birth certificate of my grandmother, Tyla Rivka Kirstein (which I had brough with me for this purpose).

One quick funny note. When we were at the station getting ready to board, a fellow came up to Shmu to ask him something. Since Shmu doesn't speak Polish yet (for shame, his mother-tongue), he tapped Agnieszka and asked for her assistance. When the man saw Agnieszka they recognized each other and laughed and chatted a little. Turns out that he is a Jew who is a member of Beit Warszawa, the progressive (reform) synagogue in Warsaw. Shmu asked Agnieszka what that was about and she told him that he was a Jew who they know each other from Beit Warszawa. At this point, Shmuel couldn't contain himself. So excited to meet a hidden Jew (I think he thinks they're all hidden Jews - because he can't recognize or find them on his own) that he starts saying out loud how amazing it is that he met a hidden Jew right there at the train station. How amazing it was that of all the people roaming around and only a limited number of Jews that we should see a hidden Jew. Of course he said this so loudly that if the person WAS a hidden Jew he certainly was hidden no more. Essentially, Shmuel just outed the Jew. Nice job, Shmu!

Anyway, lots of discussions occured on the train, some lame, some about religion, some about the whole Polish -Jewish issue and the narratives, some off-color discussions, etc. In the end, a great time was had by all on this trip. What a fun and exciting experience to travel that way. Much better than 5 hours on a bus. Yeeesh. We arrived at Krakow station and walked from the station to Andel's Hotel, right near the train station. We arrived, checked in, and went to our rooms. The rooms are very nice. It's a new hotel. Real funky place. Lots of colors, wierd shapes, lights, etc. The rooms themselves where very cute. Built in furniture, stall shower with big head, fluffy bed spread, dark wood and orange glass coloring. It felt like a retro 60's attempt at color and theme with a modern twist to the layout, furniture, etc. We then changed and got ready to go out to dinner. We went to Szara Restaurant on Main Square by walking. We walked out the door of the hotel, to the right, under the road through a walkway (with some street shopping booths with newspapers and hats and bagel-like things) and down the main street. There we were treated to a surprise traditional Thankgiving meal, turkey and all, which was a little challenge for the restaurant since I don't think they knew what a turkey was. We spent a nice time together. I sat with Amy, Betsy, Jeff and Dov. After dinner, we then headed back to the hotel.

Thursday Lunch & Train to Krakow - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:18pm

After that, we boarded the bus and headed for lunch at the Radio Cafe, a nice quaint little restaurant where we could quickly order some serious Pierogis. Since we all decided to get them in advance in order to get a quick start on our next trip which was to Krakow, Agnieszka placed the order while we were on our way and when we got there, the food came pretty quickly. We ate, we talked, we laughed (that's the whole theme in general for this trip). I sat with Dallas, Sam and Betsy. We got "Pierogi wild" and then headed to the train station where we got ready to board a train to Krakow. We had a little wait in the train station, so we hung out for about 30 minutes. During this time, The Jordo, Dallas and I people watched and had some fun making inappropriate comments. I took a little walk and found a whole art display on sexy body parts (pics to follow). Dallas needed to use the mens room, so he took The Jordo with him - that had us all giggling for a minute. The station was a little nasty and creepy, so I don't blame him though - but it was kind of funny nonetheless.

This was a great trip. It was a three hour ride on a classic train car - like the kind you see in James Bond movies. There were separate partitions or rooms. Each room had six seats. We had three rooms next to each other and like a bunch of college kids hanging out in dorm rooms, we moved around room to room. This was a lot of fun. We broke out our laptops, showed pictures, took naps (though I don't know how some of them napped through the noise) and laughed a hell of a lot. We looked at photos from the night out at the bard and laughed so loud I though we'd get thrown off the train (or at least the James Bond theme music would start). Agnieszka sat with me and translated, word for word, the birth certificate of my grandmother, Tyla Rivka Kirstein (which I had brough with me for this purpose).

One quick funny note. When we were at the station getting ready to board, a fellow came up to Shmu to ask him something. Since Shmu doesn't speak Polish yet (for shame, his mother-tongue), he tapped Agnieszka and asked for her assistance. When the man saw Agnieszka they recognized each other and laughed and chatted a little. Turns out that he is a Jew who is a member of Beit Warszawa, the progressive (reform) synagogue in Warsaw. Shmu asked Agnieszka what that was about and she told him that he was a Jew who they know each other from Beit Warszawa. At this point, Shmuel couldn't contain himself. So excited to meet a hidden Jew (I think he thinks they're all hidden Jews - because he can't recognize or find them on his own) that he starts saying out loud how amazing it is that he met a hidden Jew right there at the train station. How amazing it was that of all the people roaming around and only a limited number of Jews that we should see a hidden Jew. Of course he said this so loudly that if the person WAS a hidden Jew he certainly was hidden no more. Essentially, Shmuel just outed the Jew. Nice job, Shmu!

Anyway, lots of discussions occured on the train, some lame, some about religion, some about the whole Polish -Jewish issue and the narratives, some off-color discussions, etc. In the end, a great time was had by all on this trip. What a fun and exciting experience to travel that way. Much better than 5 hours on a bus. Yeeesh. We arrived at Krakow station and walked from the station to Andel's Hotel, right near the train station. We arrived, checked in, and went to our rooms. The rooms are very nice. It's a new hotel. Real funky place. Lots of colors, wierd shapes, lights, etc. The rooms themselves where very cute. Built in furniture, stall shower with big head, fluffy bed spread, dark wood and orange glass coloring. It felt like a retro 60's attempt at color and theme with a modern twist to the layout, furniture, etc. We then changed and got ready to go out to dinner. We went to Szara Restaurant on Main Square by walking. We walked out the door of the hotel, to the right, under the road through a walkway (with some street shopping booths with newspapers and hats and bagel-like things) and down the main street. There we were treated to a surprise traditional Thankgiving meal, turkey and all, which was a little challenge for the restaurant since I don't think they knew what a turkey was. We spent a nice time together. I sat with Amy, Betsy, Jeff and Dov. After dinner, we then headed back to the hotel.

Thursday Trip #2 - Bartosz Weglarczyk & Gazea Wyborcza - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:18pm

We drove to the Polish daily, Gazeta Wyborcza. There we met a man who also made a very powerful impression on us for his insight, knowledge of politics, experience, candid nature, and personal history. We met with Bartosz Weglarczyk, editor of the foreign policy section of the newspaper, the biggest in Poland. He sat with us and talked about the different narratives of the Poles and Jews but then went on to answer all kinds of questions about his opinion on the Missile Defense plan of the US to place defense missiles on the border of Poland, the Barack Obama win for president, Israeli-Polish armed service cooperation and how there's Polish technology in every tank in Israel, Jedwabne masacre and the effect it had on attitude changes in Poland, Hillary Clinton as foreign secretary (or is that state secretary?), Iran and Ahmidanejad, the ability for Poland to protect the US with the missile defense shield, and more. After all of that, which was extremely interesting, he went on to tell us his personal story (after being pushed by Agnieszka). Here's his story....

He is a hidden Jew. There are an estimated 5000 Jews in Poland and maybe as many as another 30,000-40,000 hidden Jews. Jews who may or may not know they have Jewish roots. Jews that hid their religion and heritage from everyone to hide from the Nazis and Russians and had never passed this information to their children. He is one of them. As an adult, he was with his mother when a thank you letter arrived from Steven Spielberg addressed to his grandmother. Not understanding what this was about (after reading it because it was in English and his family didn't speak english), he brought it to his grandmother to ask what it was about. The text had to do with thanking her for her story and wanting to use her story for some production. His grandmother denied any knowledge whatsoever about this letter or Steven Spielberg. He pressed her and she denied any knowledge every time. As time went on, he continued to press and there was only denial. Eventually, he took the info to a friend of his at some museum (or something) to ask what this was all about. The friend found a folder containing information that was sealed and not to be opened by family members. Bartosz went to on to convince his friend to let him have a look and what he saw amazed him. It was the history of his grandmother, written by his grandmother. It went something like this....when his grandmother was young and in the Warsaw ghetto, the family had found a local priest who, for a fee, would smuggle in some documents to help you escape, such as false identification papers. The fee was high and the parents had very little money (they used to be wealthy). They calculated that they could only afford enough to send two people. They had to decide who would be sent out with the hopes of survival. They knew that it was only going to get worse. After working it out, they decided they needed to send the sturdiest male and female so that the family could live on. The decision was that his grandmother and her sister's husband (her brother-in-law) would be sent out as a couple to try to live out the war and continue the Jewish family. This is what happened. The two of them fled the ghetto and went on to create a family and have children...this woman and her brother-in-law. The rest of the family perished. How crazy is that? Imagine being the sister and having to agree to send your husband and sister off to live and have children. Makes me want to cry just thinking about it. Anyway, he brought this information to his grandmother for confirmation but she refused to confess to it. Maybe she just refused or maybe she no longer remembered or maybe she blocked it from memory. Regardless, she eventually passed away and he hadn't gotten an answer as to whether or not she had written it (though all proof was that she had, she vehemently denied it to the very end and claimed it must have been a mistake). Eventually, he had an opportunity to contact Steven Spielberg, so he did and met with him. While there, he took the opportunity to speak to Steven and confirm the story. Bartosz was able to confirm the truth of the story and that the story was, in fact, about his grandmother. This being the case, he now found himself to be one of the many hidden Jews of Poland (pics to follow). Bartosz was defitely one of the highlights of the trip. His experience, knowledge, and personality were all top notch. He was exciting to listen to. We could have spoken to him all day. What a highlight! I hope I have the chance to meet him again one day.

Thursday Morning Trip #1 - Mr. Nosowski, editor of Wiez - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:17pm

Thursday morning. I can't believe how fast this trip is going. I'm going to be very sad when it's over. We met up in the hotel lobby (oh how unusual) and boarded the bus with our tour guide (don't remember her name). We drove through Warsaw as she pointed out to us different landmarks and buildings, such as some built during the communist era and the such. This wasn't just a tour of Jewish places, but of Warsaw in general. We got out and went for a walk through the town center as our guide gave us info about it. We then headed over to meet with Zbigniew Nosowski, editor of Wiez, a catholic monthly magazine. This was an interesting meeting. He gave us the dual perspectives on the Jewish and Polish experience, but we wanted to push him on the issue of Radio Maria. Shmuel and Jeff and Gail pushed with lots of questions, but ultimately, he was very evasive and would go into strange historical statements that were really just lame excuses. Radio Maria is the radio station that, while not overtly anti-semitic, clearly pushes the limits by allowing callers on their show to "express their opinions" that are usually rather anti-semitic. They are not interested in dialog with other groups, only to stoke the fire of anti-semitism and to use pronouns rather than say "Jews" so that they don't get in trouble, since outright anti-semitic rhetoric like that would not be tolerated. Anyway, so we pressed him on these issues and he would say things like, the cardinal in charge of this area doesnt speak Polish and is uncomfortable taking a strong stance against Radio Maria because he hasn't heard it himself. Other lame answers were things like since the catholic church is not very organized in control, there's noone who can really stop them. When pressed to explain why the Pope himself couldn't put out an edict to shut it down, his answer was that the Pope hasn't heard the broadcasts, so he doesn't know what it is. Yet, if the station were catholic and espousing abortion or birth control, we're pretty sure we know what would happen. We came to the realization that the issue is this. Radio Maria serves about a million people of the older generation. People who feel disenfranchised by all the technology changes and post-soviet occupation changes. They have not adapted and are fans of some of the classic anti-semitic rhetoric. Additionally, this station has many other programs that are not anti-semitic. Therefore, this station serves the church well in the capacity of reaching a million listeners who might otherwise not have any connection. The fact that there is some anti-semitism thrown in is just an unfortunate side effect. It's the collateral damage of having the station and, quite frankly, that collateral damage isn't so big to the church. They reach millions of people with good prayers and sermons and, if in the process there is a little anti-semitism, then that's just a shame. It's just not important enough to get anyone to step in and shut it down. We finished out meeting with Zbigniew and headed out to our next meeting.

Wednesday Night.... - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:17pm

After dinner we sat around and laughed about how ridiculous some of the meeting was and what a shame the situation is. I'm sorry if I offend anyone in this blog, but I think that this was the prevailing thought/feeling. We took some nice photos. and headed out. By the way, the Jordo is friggin hilarious. I had some fun making him close the door every time it was left open during dinner. He was my bee-atch. Amy had on a beautiful large pearl necTklace. I think he really likes pearl necklaces. After we sat around a little in the restaurant, we headed back to the hotel.

Wednesday Trip #5 - Dinner with the Israeli Ambassador - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:16pm

We met in the hotel lobby, dressed to the nines, and headed out to the restaurant. The Ambassador was outside waiting for us with his security personnel. We went inside and had dinner. I must say, this was not the most exciting conversation I've ever seen or been involved with. He spoke very very slowly and did not seem very exciting about anything. We pushed him with some important questions, such as whether he can help get the Israeli armed forces and Poland together in a way that will allow the Israelis to meet normal Poles. Right now, they come to see Holocaust memorials and concentration/death camps but don't spend any time looking at the life of Poland and the positive Jewish history. They only see death and more death and destruction. This causes a real negative impression to be had by the Israelis. Shmuel and others pushed to get some committment from him on this and other issues, but he's sort of a lame duck. He will be retiring in a year and really doesn't appear to have much power or even care to make a difference. Generally, if you've been reading my blogs, you know that I am not a negative writer. I don't subscribe to what I call "hate blogging" just to stir up trouble, but I must say, in this case, that I had no choice. I hope for Poland, Israel, and the Poles'/Jew's sake, the next Ambassador from Poland is not like David Peleg, the current Ambassador. They need someone with power and passion. Someone who believes in making a difference, bringing not only the contries together but the people, and someone who will effect change and foster dialog. A powerful Israeli ambassador has the potential to do amazing things and I hope that wehn Peleg is done with his term, Poland (we) get that person.

Wednesday Lunch & Trip #4 to Uprising Museum - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:15pm

We then went to the Atrio Restaurant for lunch. No speaker, but it was nice having Andrzej with us again. We sat around and talked about oh, I don't know, everything and anything. I sat next to Jeff, Amy, Shlomit and Dallas. Had some nice discussions about religion, orthodoxy, my views, etc. When I was done boring them to death, we finished lunch and headed out to our next stop....a visit to the Warsaw Uprising Museum (which they constantly refer to as Warsaw Rising). Very interesting museum dedicated to the members of the Polish underground who resisted the Nazis and Russians and died trying. Eventually, they lost and Warsaw was taken by the Germans. In the process, Germany essentially leveled the entire city. They destroyed everything. Of all the building and culture of Poland from pre-WWII, everything, including information and documents, was totally destroyed. The city of Warsaw, as is seen today, was completely rebuilt in the 1950's, by the communists, as an insult to the Germans. They used pictures and other information to reconstruct all the building almost exactly as they had been prior to the war. Anyway, in the museum is lots of information and artifacts (as I guess one would expect in a museum) pertaining to the uprising of the Poles against the Nazis. One of the interesting things in the museum is a brick tunnel, which feels just like a sewer tunnel of the era, that you can walk through in complete darkness. It is a little bit of a maze and when you make your way out, your back where you started. The purpose it to emulate what it was like to be an underground Polish fighter crawling through the sewers during WWII only we did it for 2 minutes. They would do it for hours - like half a day (see pics). When we finished looking at the exhibits (and movie) in the museum, we eaded back to our hotel to change into fancy clothing in preparation for meeting the Israeli Ambassador to Poland for Dinner. We also had a little free time, so I hit the gym. Free weights and treadmill is all I used. There wasn't much more. They had one weight machine and some stationery bikes. That's it, but it did the job.

Wednesday Trip #3 - Professor Dariusz Stola - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:15pm

These blog notes to be added later......

Wednesday Trip #2 - High School - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:14pm

We then went on to do what I think is one of the COOLEST parts of the whole program, possibly the best! We all went to a high school, a standard, slightly above average high school, where we got to meet a class of students with a specialty in linguistics. We sat at the front and placed nametags on ourselves. Jeff put his name in Hebrew (he's such a super Jew). I put MY name in Polish (Awi). The students had their names on name tags too. I thought it nice and interestng that most of their names were the same as ours (for the most part). Many names similar to american names like Anna, Filip, etc. We sat at the front of the class and a leader from the Forum had us introduce ourselves to the students, tlling them who we are, what we did for a living, etc. I also told them that I am of Polish decent and my name is Szymczak (which is not an uncommon Polish name). After that, the leader had us organize ourselves in chronological order by birthdate in a long winding, snaking line (because the room was too small). This first project was fun as it caused everyone to integrate regardless of friends, relations, and comfort zone. I always like to do stuff like that because it automatically breaks down all walls and barriers. After we assembled ourselves, the leader used that line to divide us into groups, by placing Jan-April in one, May-Aug in a second, and Sept-Dec in a third. Then, because there wasn't enough diversity in a group, a few modifications were made. Once in the group, we had a few tasks.

After pulling our chairs around to sit in the group, we were given the task of looking at a bunch of pictures created by the leader and handed out to each group. We spread the pics on the floor so that they could all be seen. We then had two people pick 2 pictures from the group so that we may discuss them. The pictures consisted of Jewish items, such as a Kippah, The Western Wall, a Menorah, etc. They also consisted of uniquey Polish items such as the Guardian Mermaid of Warsaw (long story, don't ask), A palm tree that exists on Jerusalem Street in Warsaw (it's fake, of course - but snow on a palm tree did catch my attention), a child in traditional Polish clothing, etc. and a few pictures of things that could have been both, such as a soccer player. One of the pictures that was chosen and discussed was a kippah. It had a menorah and start of david on it. It looked very stereotypical of a kippah, so I decided to take mine out of my pocket and put it on. They found it interesting. The leader noticed me wearing it and asked me to speak about it a little bit, which I did. Shmuel then took his out too for everyone to see. I don't think Jeff did but only because he probably didn't have it with him. He wore it at many other opportunities, so I assume he would have had he had it (but that's just conjecture). We then were given another task. We were given huge sheets of paper and had to come up with lists of things tha we could think of that represented Polish and Jewish culture that had NOT been included in the pictures. Items like Tel-Aviv, Pope John Paul II, and other items were discussed. We posted the items up on the blackboard and each team discussed their decisions. When this was over, about an hour had passed and it was time to go. It would have been nice to spend more time with them. They were a really really nice group of kids. I had a great time with them talking about other things too, like our names and where my family is from. We then said our goodbyes and filed out talking about what a nice experience it was with them.

Wednesday Morning..Museum of History - Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 6:13pm

Good Wednesday Morning. We met in the hotel in the morning after breakfast, like always, and started out. Since the museum was not too far from the hotel, we decided to walk. Luckily, it was only about 10 degrees below zero. Of course, I'm kidding. It couldn't have been more than 5. We walked together to our first stop, the Museum of History of Polish Jews. This meeting was mostly about introducing us to the new museum that they are raising funds to build. They have already been granted a plot of land by Poland in the Warsaw area right next to the Momument for the uprising and the deportation. See pics for details. We sat through a powerpoint presentation where where the person giving the presentation (I forgot her name) showed us the look of the planned building. Very interesting. It is an all glass skin with a huge cutout in the middle in the shape of a wave (sort of). The reason is to show the splitting of the sear through which Moses and the Jews had passed. I'm not one to ask why the splitting of the sea, since it idn't happen in Poland, but...whatever. Anyway, we sat through the meeting, asked some questions about it and also got to see the slides about the design for the inside. The concept is that the inside goes through a circular layout with different periods of time represented in different places. Turn of the first mellenium (when Jews were arriving in Poland), the mideval times, 19th century, 20th century, war time and ghettos, etc. Overall, it looked very nice and is planned to be completed in 2011. We'll see if that happens. See pics below for detail.

Pics for the trip from others.... - Monday, December 1, 2008 at 6:22pm

Does anyone else have to send me any pics? I already have from....

Amy, Betsy, Dalas, myself, Shmuel, and John

I think I need from Sam and Shlomit.

I spoke with Nina who will be seding them to me.

If need to get them from you, please message and let me know to wait for them. I'll send you my mailing address and you can send me your pics via CD or on a memory stick (thumbdrive). I'll send it back with your disk.

I'll be putting the pics on DVD and sending them out to everyone because there are too many to fit on a CD. Also, I'll clean up the garbage shots and order them chronologically and, in a seperate folder, randomly for slideshow purposes. I'll also rotate them and red eye them. It will take a little while, but I'll try to get it out as soon as I can. There are only 2000 to go through, so it shouldn't take more than a few hours (not).

Love to my Nowe Radzina !

NOWE RADZINA ! Wooooooooooo !
(Back Row L to R) Dallas, Nina, Jeff, Shlomit, Gail, Dov, Agnieszka, Jordan
(Front Row L to R) Betsy, John, Amy, Avi, Sam, Shmuel

Note that's out of synch.... - Monday, December 1, 2008 at 6:07pm

Hey all. Sorry this note is out of chronological order, but I had to get it off before I forget what happened. I'll continue with the Wednesday and on notes from the Forum trip when I'm on the plane and post them when I land. I'll need hours to write and I just haven't had time. In the meantime, here's what happened today and yesterday (Sam and Avilicious Genealogical Tour 2008, ak.a. Jeans, Genealogy & Genetics Tour 2008, a.k.a Drobin There Done That Tour 2008)....

Shmu and I got picked up yesterday at the Krakow hotel by Tomascz, our genealogical researcher and guide. The drive from Krakow to Plock (Pwotsk) is 7 hrs. Therefore, we spent the day driving and sightseeing. We had to pass through Warsaw to get to Plock, so we first stopped off at a few Shtetls along the way. Well, old Shtetls anway. Now, they're just towns. When you look at the countryside, you see town after town after town. They are about 50 km apart from each other. Tomascz is very well educated in the history of Jews on Poland and is going for his PhD at the University of Krakow. His research has been on Jews and Poland and Israel, etc. He is extremely knowledgable in customs, law, rules, language, really - everything. He gave us great history lessons during the drive and took us on some side trips through the towns to show us the old synagogues. I'll upload pictures another time. We saw almost unrecognizable buildings and, when looking further, and with Tomascz's help, spent time looking at wat used to be synagogues. Some large, some small, but all in a state of disrepair.

On the way, we passed an old abondoned Jewish cemetery. Tomascz taught us a lot. Most cemeteries, certainly the ones in small towns, are gone (for the most part). The Nazis used the cemeteries as places to execute people. I guess this was some sort of sick joke on their part. They would march people out of town to the cemeteries (assuming they were women, children, or elderly). The younger men were used for slave labor or sent to the extermination camps. This was the case, as we saw and learned, over and over and over. The recurring theme of how the Nazis treated the Jews really stood out to me as we visited these Shtetls. They were all set up similarly in the square in the middle, church and synagogue nearby, lots of little homes, cemetery outside the city limits. It's what was done everywhere. Nazis took control and did the same horrible things at every location. Burned/destroyed the synagogue, executed people, shipped them off, etc. What a sick bunch of animals. The Jews had about 900 beautiful years of history in Poland (not including some periodic anti-semitic flare-ups - which happened everywhere) but now it's all gone. The cemetery we drove past was on the side of the highway. We just puled over and walked in. Headstones (matzayvot) piled in the corner of the cemetery that had been dug up during road construction or other times. The headstones had been removed and used for paving roads and sidewalks whenever possible, by the Germans. Later, when they were found by Poles, they were returned to the cemetery, if possible.

One of the synagogues, without a roof, looked more like 4 brick walls surrounding a small field. The inside of the synagogue was completely overgrown with grass, weeds, bushes, etc. It was as if there had never been a roof at all. It used to be a synagogue. Then, during the war, it was used for grain storage and other kinds of storage. I took pictures of the building, the grass inside, and the cut out in the wall where the Aron Kodesh used to be. Without Tomascz's help, we would never had even known it was a synagogue.

In another one, we saw where the roof was almost, but not completely, caved in. The inside had been spray painted and it was essentially a garbage dump for empty beer and vodka bottles. Hundreds of bottles littered the inside. We couldn't see much of the inside except through windows because the doors had been cemented shut. In Plock, we saw the synagogue. It sits next to a small shopping area and simply ooks like an abandoned building.

We finished touring the old Shtetls and headed into Plock to our destination, a quaint little inn called Hotel Czardasz. It's a new, beautifully remodeled little hotel in the middle of an oil refinery town. The reason we stayed here was so that we could be close to the main archival office for the Plock district. The Plock district includes the towns that my father's side of the family comes from. It includes Drobin, Sierpc (Sherps), and Raciaz (Rahchoinz). The majority of our Solomon side of the Family (including Solomon (Szymczak) and Kirstein come from Drobin.

We went to bed and got up nice and early. The three of us (me, Shmu, and Tomasz) headed out nice and early (after a quick breakfast) and went to the archival building (pics to follow). In there, Tomasz filled out a bunch of forms and, with the help of some research both he and I did on JRI Poland (a genealogical Poland search database from the LDS), we ordered the ORIGINAL copies of the registration books of birth, marriage, and death. The registration books dated back from 1826 until 1890. We didn't look for more recent data than that (for now). We spent about 6 hours pouring over the books, finding original records of Szymczak and Kirstein and making copies of the data (pics to follow from the original books). We found some amazing books. We have added dozens and dozens of pieces of data to our database including records of one of our great-great-great-grandfathers dating back to the mid 1700's. It was all quite amazing. When I have a chance to scan the document(s), I'll post them too.

After we were done and got all our data, there was one piece of data we needed from another town. The record books in Plock store info only that is over 100 years. If it is less than 100 years, then it is stored in the local districts. This means that if we want any data more recent than about 1908, we need to go to the towns of Sierpc, Drobin, and Raciaz. With the information we had and knowing what we needed and how valuable robin is, we headed in that direction. The archives close at 3pm, and we got there with only 3 minutes to spare. Tomasc went straight to the records room and spoke with a person there. She pulled out the books we found the record we needed. We paid the copy fee for the page (5 zloty - about $1.75) and ran out to do a quick tour of Drobin. We asked some locals where the local Jewish cemetery was and they pointed it right out. It was EMPTY. I mean empty. Grass, weeds, that's it. The only way you know it was a cemetery is because there's a memorial headstone placed in the middle that states what it is and that it is to memorialize the murders (pics to follow).

We then found out (from that older couple) that there was another cemetery too. The first one we saw was the "new" cemetery. So we went to the old one. It is a soccer field in the back of a school. Obviously, no headstones there either. The coupld told us that in the corner of the plot, on the corner towards the school is where the synagogue of Drobin used to stand. Of course, there's nothing there now. Also, in front of the synagogue area was a house which still stands and is used as a house. It used to be the Mikveh.

We then drove to the town square and took some photos and looked at old buildings. There, we found an old disintegrating building right off the town square that was off limits. On close examination, I found the markings of where a mezuzah USED to be (pics to follow).

After that, it was late (4:30pm), so we discussed our plans for the next day. We headed back to the Hotel Czardasz and checked in. The three of us then met in the restaurant downstairs for dinner and to analyze the data we had gathered. Tomascz was able to reconstruct most of our information. We're just missing a few pieces. Once we get those pieces, hopefully tomorrow, we'll be able to present some pretty amazing detail. If not, I now have a good relationship with a knowledgable and experienced researcher who I can hire, from the states, to find some last bits of information for me when I need it.

PLUG FOR TOMASCZ: If anyone needs a really good researcher for genealogical information, drop me a line so I can hook you up with him. He speaks English and Polish perfectly and can read and decipher Russian too. He also speaks French, but that doesn't help me. We analyzed the data for about 5 hours and headed off to bed (or to blog).

That's it. I'll let you know how it goes tomorrow. I believe our goal is to hit the archives in Sierpc for some info and then to go to Raciaz for some more info. In the meantime, we're putting a call in to the archivist in Plock so that he can look up the one or two pieces of info that we're missing from earlier today.

Shout out to my Nowe Radzina !
Do widzenia.

Day 2 - night event. went partying - Thursday, November 27, 2008 at 7:12pm

After the movie, we started heading back to the bus. On the way, we stopped at a stand to get some food. Some of us were still hungry. Jordan and Dov went to get a food called.....Zapiekanka. It's a long roll, like an Italian bread, sliced in half and filled with god knows what. We got ne regular and a few vegetarian ones. It's like barbecue sauce, cheese and cabbage. I know that doesn't sound appetizing, but how can you say no to a Zapiekanka, know what I mean? Anyway, wile Jordan and Dov were ordering it, Gail (I believe) had the idea to sing happy birthday to Jordan since he turned 30. Well, I can't take a dare sitting down, so I ran out of the bus and headed for them at the stand. Everyone followed me shortly thereafter at which point, at the top of our lungs, at 12:15am, we sang Jordan a happy birthday song, took pictures, and made him blush (or maybe his cheeks were red from the cold or maybe someone was pinching his other cheeks) anyway, that was fun.

We then bussed over to Cinnamon (as talked about previously) and partied hardy. We had lots of Vodka and other strange colored drinks. I put my camera away for the night because my camera is used for the blogs and we all know the famous saying....."What hHappens in Warsaw stays in Warsaw" or as the Poles might say "What Happens in Warszawa stays in Warszawa". Anyway, we danced a lot, we drank a lot....did I say we drank a lot?...and had a really nice time (except for Dallas who lost his coat - JK, he had a great time. I know, I watched him wobble back to his room - hehe). With all the name dropping that's going on here, I think it's time to name the people (or out them) who are on the trip.....

You've got:
1,2 - Me (Avi) and Shmu (Brothers)
3,4 - Shlomit and Dov (Mother/Son)
5,6 - Betsy and Amy (Mother/Daughter)
7 - Dallas
8,9 - Gail and John (Husband/Wife)
10 - Nina
11 - Jeff
12 - Jordan ("The Jordo")
13 - Sam
plus our fearless leader, Agnieszka, from the Forum
and, occasionally, Andrzej, also from the Forum who sort of pops in and out unexpectedly (for me).

So, at this point, I want to talk a little bit about us. By us, I mean the group of 13 of us who are on this trip. I must say that if I had to do a trip with other people, there aren't any other 12 people I could think of that I would rather be with than the 12 I'm with on this trip. It is absolutely amazing (or maybe destiny) that all 13 of us are so compatible or homogenous. The group is a very cohesive group. Everyone seems to be very special. Eventhough we all come from very different backgrounds and have made different choices in our lives, we seem to be extremely compatible and get along great. We have Jew and Non-Jew, Married couples, Parents with Children, Siblings, Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Single, Married, with and without Children, The Jordo (just in his own class), Lawyers, Business Men, Representatives of Jewish Agencies, such as ADL and others, etc. We have such a wide variety of people, such a dynamic mix and yet we all play really well together. We are all very lucky that we are together in this group. We all went drinking together...everyone of us...and danced together. We just had a smashing time and I know I feel, and I believe I speak for all of the others on the trip, that we have known each other forever and intend to, for the most part, stay in touch. This whole experience has been just one fantastic revelation after the next. I feel so very blessed to have been given this opportunity and don't know how I could have existed without it. That being said....

I feel I owe an enormous gratitude to a bunch of people, so I'll spill it now....To Shlomit and Dov, whose son/brother recommended Shmu to the Forum, to my brother Shmu for sponsoring me on this trip and taking the time to do some brotherly bonding that we've never had such an opportunity to experience together. To Heidi, Shmu's assistant, who helped organize our schedules and get us off without a hitch, To the Forum for Dialog Among Nations and especially Andrzej for making me feel welcome and bringing me to Poland. Without question, Agnieszka, who has taught me, inspired me, educated me, and who has been patient with me while I practice my Polish and has taken the time to really make this trip fantastic through her efforts at delivering a top notch program and executing it to perfection. There isn't enough I can say about her and the value she brings to the program on a thousand levels. Last, I also want to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland for supporting the trip, the Forum, and Jewish-Polish causes. This has been just a fantastic trip and a fantastic experience.

I've been typing for two hours, so I think I'll go to bed now. Considering what I went through on Tuesday night with the movie, I'm a little worried (ok, maybe more than a little worried) about what will happen to me at Auschwitz (Oswiecim). I had no ability to control myself in front of a movie screen. What will happen to me when I go to Auschwitz? How will I handle it? I just don't know what to expect and feel nervous about it. Speak to you later......Tomorrow, I'll start to add Wednesday's and Thursdays blogs. Probably won't add Friday's until Saturday night...actually, now that I think about it, Saturday night we might be busy "drinking Pole-juice" - which could be anything.....until your blood-alcohol level says otherwise. 'Night.

That's one friggin awesome Zapiekanka. Remember John - "Is that a Zapiakanka in your pocket or are you just happy to see me." Hehe. The Jordo and Dallas enjoying a 'kanka. I have a nickname for it already. Cool. These sandwiches and I are on a first name basis. We're informal like that.

Gail, Agnieszka, and Dov 'kankaing - as in the verb "to 'kanka"

Day 2 - second event - the movie. - Thursday, November 27, 2008 at 6:23pm

We only had an opportunity to do two things on Tuesday because of the amount of time of travel to Lodz. 2.5 Hrs each way by bus plus all the things we saw. It was now time for the premier of the film Spring 1941.

The reason I hadn't written about it until now is two-fold. First, I have had limited time to write because we've been so busy. Second, and more importantly, I haven't been able to bring myself to do it until now.

With a deep sigh and a look into the mirror, I know I must. The problem is, I don't know that I can do it justice. The move Spring 1941 is the first Israeli-Polish collaborated film released to the general public. Directed by Uri Barbash, it is based on the stories of Ida Fink and tells the story of a world famous cellist, Clara Plank, who returns to Poland, her country of birth, for the first time since WWII (excerpted from the Forum's Itinerary).

This was the Polish premiere of the film, so the stars of the film were in the audience with us. The movie is cinematographically very well executed. The use of lighting, fades, and other effects made it very pleasent to watch. The actors/actresses were amazing.

The detail of the movie is what got me. Clara, a mother of two children, had to run from the Nazis along with her physician husband. In so doing, she witnessed the execution of one of her children as they tried to climb a fence out of town. After that, they went into hiding by going to a farm town and enlisting the help of their maid, a single woman. They hide in her attic. Soon after, Clara's husband starts to live in the house while Clara and their remaining child live in the attic. I don't want to go into too much detail because you NEED to see the movie. However, the story does not end happily, though you might have thought it would. The director almost tricks you into thinking that there will be a happy ending to this story, but instead, you are not. Nothing about the story ends well and while it is a fiction because it addresses no one true story, it is actually a true story millions of times over. This suffering was the fate of the Jews of Poland during the Holocaust. It was also the suffering of the Poles, the Priests, the collaborators, and all righteous gentiles that got caught, along with their neighbors. The Nazis were sick bastards.

This may all just seem like a depressing movie, but instead of just watching it, I apparently fell into it. I became a part of the movie which, if you ask actors, they will tell you that that is the ultimate goal. The suspension of disbelief. It was as if I was watching a documentary or historical movie. As the movie came to a close, the saddest parts were revealed and the movie rolled to credits. At this point, I lost it. I mean I really lost it. While watching the credits roll my eyes filled with tears and I began sobbing uncontrollably. I don't know if it was the movie or the fact that this movie culminated 2 and a half days of deep introspection and self discovery. Maybe I am somewhat hyper-sensitive right now or maybe my nerves and emotions are raw because of what I have been experiencing. Either way, I was unable to control myself. For maybe 10 minutes (or 2 or an eternity, I don't really know), I just sat in my seat and sobbed into my hands. I was about 10 rows in and in the center of the row. Shmu was sitting next to me and just put his hand on my back as a gesture of support. Eventually Agnieszka came and sat with me too. For the longest time, I just cried and heaved and cried. I couldn't catch my breath and I could contain my feelings. What I had seen (or when I had seen it) caused me to feel a deep, deep sadness that I have never felt at a movie before. I have never cried so close to my soul from watching a show.

After I was able to regain my composure, which I don't really know how long that was, I picked up my coat and headed out of the theater. In the lobby there was food and drinks set up for a celebration of the premiere. I went to the drink table and got a grapefruit juice thinking the juice or sugar might help me. I was in a daze. I'm having trouble explaining it, really. I was unable to focus. I was emotionally drained. I felt like I had truly witnessed people I know being murdered, along with their children, and felt their intense parental pain. The drink didn't help, so I got a second one. Halfway through, I didn't think I could stand any longer as I was chilled, shaking uncontrollably, and my knees felt weak. I put the glass down and walked over to a bench and sat for a while trying to regain my composure. After a few minutes, I got up and walked over to Uri, the producer, and instead of shaking his hands like everyone else just hugged him and sobbed. He was very gracious and hugged me back, twice. I apologized for my inability to control myself for what I had just witnessed and thanked him for getting me to that very special, and painful, place. I guess it sounds a little odd to thank someone for the pain, but I didn't know what else to say. What he did affected me so deeply that I was no longer in control of myself.

I then went over to the actors who starred in the film, Joseph Fiennes and Neve McIntosh and thanked them personally for bringing me into their film.

Even now, when I think about what I felt and try to feel it, it makes my heart skip a beat. It was an unbelievably deep feeling of sorrow - as if the story was being told about me and it were true and I had been through the ghetto life, running from the Nazis, and watching them murder my children (G-d forbid).

It took me about an hour to fully regain my composure.

And again, after typing all of this above in a single motion, my chest is heavy and I sigh, reliving the emotional charge I had that night watching the film.

To see an excerpt on it and read a little more, go to:

I know that it had not gotten great reviews in the press, but it really got a hold of me in a life changing way.

picture of the actors/actresses and others involved in the production of the film

And 2 begins. - Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 9:28pm

We wake up and meet at some ungodly (for a drunk) hour in the lobby of the hotel after breakfast. Breakfast is included and we eat in the main dining area off the bar area. I've generally eaten my protein shakes, a bowl of healthy cereal, and a fruit. Then I took 3 for the road. Did this the previous morning too. Some of us eat breakfast together. We meet up in the lobby and head for the bus. We got a new, bigger bus now because we're going to Lodz and the drive is about 2.5 hours each way. The first bus was smaller and cramped. The new one has a little more room for us to stretch out. While heading to Lodz, Agnieszka starts giving us some info on Lozd history from the front of the bus. When a question was asked that she didn't know the answer, Shmu googled it on his blackberry. At this point, he offered to just read the article, so he took the mic. We drove through some real suburban and country looking areas. We noticed that the land looked like it would if you were driving through corn country USA (except for the snow and the dang freezing weather). See pictures attached.

We spoke about all kinds of politically charged stuff from Radio Mario, a radio station that permits indirect anti-semitic rhetoric to social policies and norms based on the fact that Poland is 95% catholic. We asked Agnieszka some questions such as the legality of birth control devices or abortion. We spoke further about how the Nazis killed the Aristocracy or Intelligencia, mostly made of Jews, doctors, lawyers, etc. The purpose of this was to leave Poland with nothing more than peasants. I learned here, and again since, that the Germans wanted to kill the Jews but enslave the Poles. They did everything they could to leave Poland with no education, no aristocracy, no hope of being anything more than a slave or surf class of citizen just barely higher on the scale than Jews.

When we arrived at Lodz, we went straight (after going in circles and getting lost, so much for GPS) to the Radegast train station. This was a main station for the deportation of Jews. There is very detailed recordings of the Jews who were deported. The train station has a train car (authenticaly made at that time), and many monuments to the Holocaust. See pics below. Lodz was the second largest urban center in Poland and obtained rights in the 15th century. It was very accommodating to Jews and one of the richest (if not the richest) inhabitant of the city was Poznanski who ran a huge textile factory employing 12,000 people in an area so large that it has since been converted to a shopping center and has hundreds of stores, restaurants, and the such. it is HUGE. I believe I have pictures...I'll check. Lodz was the second largest jewish community in Europe with approxiamtely 233,000 Jewish residents. Lodz was made up of Poles, Jews, Germans, and others. When the Nazis came, the Germans allied immediately and all hope was lost. Jews couldn't hide because the Germans would rat them out. Before that, there were 17 political parties that were Jewish (aside from the others). The city was home to outstanding Jewish authors, poets, and musicians. On the way to Lodz, we found some anti-semitic graffiti. Anti Semitic Grafiti in Lodz is put there not because of any strong anti-semitic feelings but as a tease that soccer teams use to poke fun at each other. There are two soccer teams in Lodz and they are very competitive. Both were primarily made of Jews years ago, but now, there are none. Nevertheless, it became a custom to use anti-semitic graffiti for teasing each other. The graffiti is really innocuous. A star of David painted on a wall is not much of an anti-semitic statement. It's not like they're drawing swatstikas.

At the train station we met Jaroslaw Nowak, Senior Advisor to the Mayor of the City of Lodz. Lodz had its name changed during the war to Litzmannstadt and the ghetto at Lodz was known as the Litzmannstadt Ghetto. After the tour of the train station, we went with Jaroslaw to the Lodz cemetery, the largest in Europe. There, we saw many gravestones (since the cemetery is mostly intact). We saw very exotic/expensive ones. We then went to an area known as the ghetto burial where thousands of people who died in the ghetto (for many reasons) were buried. Israel has a joint program between Poland and the Israeli Army where they come every year to fix up and place markers at the burial site for the bodies that are buried. After leaving the cemetery, we went to Poznanski's textile factory. Within walking distance of the factory is one of Poznanski's 5 palaces. We toured the palace and then went to one of the restaurants in the factory area with Jaroslaw and had lunch. The restaurant was Bella Napoli Restaurant.

After this, we gathered back on the bus and headed back to Survivors Park. This is a park that was put together to commemorate the survivors of the Holocaust. It was an unused and filthy plot of land that was cleaned up and designated as a park for commemoration of what happened. There are steps on the ground with names and walls with names. The walls are in the shape of a star of david but that is hard to see unless you go up on the viewing mountain they built. It's a small hill that has a winding walking path to the top. From there, if you look out at the memorial, you can see the shape. I tried to capture that in my photo, but it came out a bit dark. After that, we got back on the bus and headed to Warsaw. I have lots of pics of this trip, so take a look.

Next came a return to the hotel for a short time to relax and get dressed and then on to the next event which was the Premiere Opening of a new, and for the first time, israeli-polish film called "Spring1941" or "Wiosna1941". I will end here because it is 3:27am and I must get to sleep. What I have to say about this film and my feeling afterwards is, to me, positively unimaginable in ways I could never have thought. I'm really looking forward to blogging about this film because it changed me profoundly. I am a different person now because of it. You must stay tuned for the next update to the bog regarding this film and the rest of the evening. Then I'll go on to Wednesday. Really! stay tuned for what I have to say about the film. It was un(real).

This is Agnieszka, our leader from the Forum. She is one of the sweetest people I've ever met. I wish her luck with everything and am very sad that we'll be leaving her company next week.

Another pic of Agnieszka.

Shmu reading about Lodz into the microphone from his blackberry after googling Lodz.

A view of a farm from the areas we drove through to get to Lodz.

Our group on the bus to Lodz

A street sign we passed from Warsaw to Lodz

anti-semitic graffiti. you can see the star of david, if you look closely.

Monument at Radegast Train Station

Entrance to the monument itself

wall portion of the monument

transport train to the concentration camps from Radegast Station

List of names of people transported to the concentration camps. This list, and many displays, are in the train station itself.

Entrance to Jewish Cemetary

The cemetery

Poznanski's tomb

buriel plaques of those who died in the ghetto and an israeli group having a ceremony where they just just placed anoth 1000 markers.

one of the rooms in the Poznanski palace

Lunch with Jaroslaw

Another pic from lunch

Me, Jaroslaw, and Shmu

This is Sam at lunch

This is Dov. Dov and his mom, Shlomit are on te trip with us. Dov's broter is the reason Shmu and I are on the trip. Dov's brother had gone before and recommended to them that Shmu be invited to come.

Survivor's Park

This is Amy at Survivors Park. She's a sweetheart. Incredibly smart/knowledgable too.

The end of day 1 - Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 8:18pm

So that was the end of day 1. You can just imagine how crazy that was. We had 6 long meetings, meals, and travel.and that was just day 1 (assuming you don't really count the day we arrived which was just introductions and dinner).

So what were my thoughts after these meetings? What did I learn? What was the point of all this?

I must say, when my brother invited me on this trip, my interest was in the Forum to some extent, but also the opportunity to do some genealogical research. At the end of the day, my life was changed forever. If that sounds prety intense, don't take it lightly. I'm serious. I will never be the same. Here's why....

There are just some fundamental things that I now know to be true. Things that I'd never even give a second thought in the past. I'm writing here at the end of day one about the change, but it was solidified for me after day 3 without a doubt. But by the end of day 1, I was already thinking in a new direction, about things I had never given a thought before.

I had grown up thinking that Poland was a horrible place. The Poles hate the Jews and either helped the Nazis directly or were indifferent to the plight of the Jews, thereby helping the Nazis indirectly. Poland was a disgusting place. The world's largest Jewish cemetery. Nothing mattered but preserving the Holocaust artifacts and places. This is what I had been taught by the generations before me and others. If there is a Holocause survivor out there reading this that believes that this is still the case, I would not dare have the chutzpah to argue. However, for those who have inherited these feelings like I did, there is much mich more you need to know. Mind you, I'm talking about Poland, not WWII/Holocaust in other countries like Russia, Germany, Lithuania, and so on.

There are a few things I now know and I'll summarize them here in a list and explain afterwards:
1 - Poles were victims of the Nazis too
2 - Many many Poles helped Jews. Probably many more than we'll ever know and many more than will ever be discovered as rightous gentiles.
3 - There were Poles that willingly collaborated with the Nazis in the persecution of the Jews. There' no denying that. It was horribly wrong and the Poles know it.
4 - The amount of anti-semitism in Poland is probably about the same as anywhere else in the world.
5 - Poland is a huge supporter of the state of Israel.
6 - The Nazis are the perpetrators of evil, not the Poles. Blame for the holocaust should be placed squarely on the Germans. The Poles were horribly victimized both by the Germans and the Russians.
7 - Poalnd today is a free trade democracy that is desperately searching for and embracing its lost Jewish culture. Poand feels that without the Jews and Jewish culture, something very special is missing.

The list can go on.....but you get the point. Poland today is not the Poland post WWII (when it was communist) and not the Poland during WWII either. True, horrible things had happened, but Poland is trying to right itself. Since Jews and Poles have been intertwined for 1000 years, Poland is suffering a great loss with the loss of the a person who loses a limb. What Poland wants is an opportunity to reconnect it's parts and to be appreciated as a country that suffered a great tragedy on many levels, all without denying the crimes of the past and the suffering of the Jews.

This has all truly changed my opinion of Poland. My ancestry is Polish. My grandparents and their parents came from Poland (though the land changed ownersip numerous times with Russia and Belarussia and Germany, etc.) I have spoken to many caring Poles who feel the loss of the missing Jews and are trying to make reparations today like the Germans did long ago. The reason Poland has waited until after 1989 is because of the communist regime that was in the way. We are at a very interesting crossroad now. Poland is in the position to really right the wrongs and bring its fractured culture back together. I wish I knew a way to convey my feeling more solidly. My family was Polish. My family IS Polish. We are Polish Jews and I'm excited by that revelation.

I no longer see Poland as that horrible country that hates Jews but a NEW country eager to be a part of the Jewish culture once again.

My hotel at night

Morning picture of the city from my hotel window

A view of the street from the front seat of the bus.

A view of some of the building. Warsaw has many different styles but most all of the buildings had been destroyed in WWII and they've rebuilt to look the same.

Day 1 - 5th stop - Dinner with Michal - Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 7:25pm

For dinner, we went to a very nice restaurant called Restaurant Cafe l'Europe on Ul. Krolewska. The restaurant was very charming ('ll hear that a lot). Very lovely when you enter. We were then escorted (after checking our coats....that happens a lot too) upstairs to a private meeting room. We were joined by Michal Bilewicz. Stanislaw Krajewski was supposed to join too, but he was unable to make it. Michal is the VP of the Forum (our sponsors)and has a PhD in Social Psychology. He's a former newspaper editor, Fullbright scholar, Visiting Scholar, co-editor of one of the Forum's books, and on and on and on. For more info, see his bio in the agenda later.

I didn't take a lot of notes at this dinner. I was hungry. Nevertheless, there was much that was gotten out of it. He mostly answered our questions which revolved around the same general sets of information...namely, hidden jews, anti-semitism, Polish culture and more around the University of Warsaw (do they have a logo or UoW?). He spoke about the sociology and psychology of the Poles, the Jews, and abbout ociological studies of anti-semitism and more. He was very funny and very engaging too. Additionally, you were able to simply sense or intuit his natural brilliance. He may have gotten his PhD while still in the womb (but that's just my idea). We had some more great food and great service. The Forum really needs to be commended on an excellent program. I know I sound like I'm plugging them all the time, but it's because they pay me per, it's because I'm a big fan of their work.

Dinner with Michal

More dinner with Michal (because Shmu's in the picture)

Me, Michal, and Shmu. My shirt still steals the show.

Day 1 - day 1 - 4th stop - Beit Warszawa Progressive Synagogue - Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 7:10pm

I must say.....I went in with a lot of trepidation. I'm generally not a big fan of the reform movement (for my own personal reasons that can't be justified) so I was very skeptical about what this meeting was going to be. Rabbi Schuman greeted us outside the synagogue and kindly escorted in to an upstairs presentation room. There, he proceeded to start with a bracha (blessing) to welcome us for the first time. He had us join him in singing a Shehechiyanu bracha (for firsts) and I was really starting to think this was going to go downhill in a strange way. Boy was I wrong! Rabbi Schuman showed us a DVD of interviews with Jews from Poland. He then went on to talk to us about the population of his synagogue, the events, some background on himself (he's from Pennsylvania originally), what drove him to go to Poland and to be a Rabbi, and more. He was extremely engaging. Most importantly, I found him extremely knowledgeable.

He recommended a book by Ronit Kressner (not sure the spelling) called "The Secret". I had a little trouble hearing, so I may have to dig and find out what it really was really called and by whom. I asked him if I could contact him about genealogical research and he said he has members of his congregation that are affiliated with historical societies/museums that can assist, so if anyone out there needs to make a connection and get some research done, let me know. He had 145 people for Passover. He believes that we are currently seeing, in Poland, the biggest resurgence revival of Jews from hiding since the 17th century Conversos. He gets calls every day from people looking to find out more about their Jewish heritage or convert to Judaism. His congregation has grown in the last year to where he has consistent Hebrew classes, Tefillah classes, and about 17 people on a shabbos for a minyan.

He had a table set up with some cookies, coffee and tea. He took many questions from us in regard to the Jews, anti-semitism (his experiences with it) and his hopes and dreams for the future. Anything we asked him he had not just an answer, but a very nice answer. I walked out of the meeting feeling enriched by that experience on many levels. I put some tzedakah in the charity box and we headed out.

If you're ever in Warsaw, Poland, I recommend making a visit to his synagogue which is at 113 Wiertnicza Street. Ph: 22 885 26 38. Website:

Sign at entrance to Beit Warszawa. Rather unassuming.

Rabbi Schuman

Shmu, Rabbi Schuman, me, and Jeff. Notice my loud shirt.

day 1 - lunch with Jaroslaw - Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 6:48pm

Can't believe that all we'd done was only that morning. Reading my blog, you'd think we already partied, but let's keep it all in perspective. Meetings first. Drinking second. Puking third. Got it? Just kidding. Anyway....we went to a restaurant called Jazz Bistro Zen which is an asian restaurant on Jasna street. Unfortunately, it was really dark (and romantic), so I didn't fire off any photos. I didn't let that happen again, so I apologize.

We had lunch with Jaroslaw Janecki, Chief Economist of the Societe General Bank. He brought with him some powerpoint presentation on paper (I guess you can call that powerlesspoint - or powerpointless. I'm going to register those names). Shmu and some of the others kept him engaged, like Jeff, our resident Attorney. Other than that, I was going to throw myself off the roof just listening to the endless discussion of macroeconomics. Fact is, the fault is his (those economists are not known for their sense of humor....."is that a calculator in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" See? that doesn't work.

We had some good food, lots of coffee, etc. There's no alcohol served during the program because it's against their policy, but a few people ordered drinks on their own dime. The Forum (our sponsor) was very gracious and provided us with our requests. I don't recall any that were unreasonable, but on other occassions with other sponsors, I've seen the sponsors require that you stick to their pre-paid program don't eat. The Forum wasn't ike this and it certainly added to the atmosphere.

After lunch we headed to the Progressive (Reform) Synagogue

sorry to make you wait, but.... - Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 9:08pm

Due to today's events, my blog will have to continue in the morning. Suffice it to say, it's 3am and I've more vodka than I care to talk about. That being said, keep your eyes open because I'll be blogging about the end of Monday which had its epiphanous moment and Tuesday, which is absolutely beyond belief. What I experienced on Tuesday I expect to never experience the same way again. It was fictional (yet it wasn't) and I was absolutely dumbstruck. More to come....

We drank and danced at a club called Cinnamon. We danced a lot. We drank a HELL of a lot. I really don't like Vodka and I don't give in to peer pressure...., so I only had 4 (and a kamikaze).

You'll notice that my photos are rather innocuous here. Yeah, that's not by accident. Let's just say that it stayed in pocket (yes, that's a camera in my pocket) until the damaging photo opportunities had passed. Others took those photos, so if they send them to me, Ill upload them if they are not too bad.

the players blog - Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 3:46am

I got my hands on an updated itinerary. Here are the players and places for this trip. These people and places were listed in prior blogs and will be referenced later.


1) Sunday night dinner was at Tradycja Polska Restaurant on Belwedreska Street

2) Andrzej Folwarczny spoke at dinner. He is the President and Founder of the Forum

3) Agnieszka Chrabalowska is the Program Director of the Forum.


4) Our first meeting was with Maciej Kozlowski, Former Ambassador of Poland to Israel.

5) Next was with Piotr Kadlcik (at the orthodox shul in Warsaw), President of the Union of the Jewish Communities in Poland.

6) After the presentation by Andrzej, we went to lunch at Jazz Bistro Zen on Jasna street.

7) At lunch, we met with Jaroslaw Janecki, Chief Economist of the Societe General Bank.

8) After lunch, we met with Rabbi Burt Schuman of Beit Warszawa, the Progressive Synagogue and Jewish Cultural Association.

9) Later, we had dinner at Restaurant Cafe l'Europe Krolewska.

10) At dinner, we sat with Michal Bilewicz.

I will post the itinerary in it's entirety when I have a chance. Also, I will post the other days and places later. I did this posting while on my blackberry on the bus travelling to Lodz.

An important blog about my brother... - Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 3:07am

Shmuel deserves his own blog note for two reasons. First and foremost, shmu sponsored my trip and brought it to me. I'm very appreciative of that. Second, he is very smart and very handsome. Pictures will be attached.

Sitting in anticipation, at the edge of his seat, on the bus. JK.

a note about yesterday morning. - Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 3:02am

One thing I left off of yesterday morning's blog was Shmuel and my walk to the palace next to our hotel for the "Changing of the Guard." At 7am on the button, a group of soldiers, from different parts of the armed services, march from the Polish Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to the presidential palace and go through a ceremony of gun handling and bugling. They then march off into the palace compound. What's amazing is that the Polish palace is literally next door to my hotel.

Changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace

Completion of the Changing of the Guard

View of the Presidential Palace from my hotel room next door.

day 1 - 3rd stop - Forum for Dialog Among Nations - Monday, November 24, 2008 at 8:25pm

after the trip to the shul, we headed back to the headquarters of the Dialog Among Nations...Andrzej and Agnieszca organization for a short presentation and discussion. The presentation, given by Andrzej, was not very different than the other one I had heard from him. It was a discussion that was about the purpose of his organization and their focus. HOWEVER, this is where I had the largest epiphanous moments. Thoughtd clicked and have changed my entire day in ways that have made me just spend every free moment contemplating. I can't help it - just amazing thoughts/enlightenments.

The thought is that we are cousins to the Poles. Even though our history dates back further and has very different practices. Eventhough our people had kept themselves separate in many (but not all) places, we are cousins. Our peoples have been connected for almost 1000 years. In context, that means that if you calcualte about 20 years as a generation (give or take) our peoples have been intimately connected or depenedent for almost 50 generations. That's huge. That's bigger than huge. You could maybe name a few generation of family members and may have met only 2 or 3 at best. This is 50 ! That's enormous. I had this chilled feeling come over me as I realized how similar it was to family issues. Think of it this way. Have you ever had a set of relatives who didn't talk to each other for 20 years. Sisters or brother that had been together for many years and then for one reason or another are no longer talking? Is it poossible they don't even remember exactly why they are fighting or if it's worth it or that one thinks the other has wronged him/her? I know I've had that in my family with aunts and cousins. How dumb. You don't have to love each other every minute, but to hate the other one so much. Anyway....that's what we have here.

Did the Poles do things they shouldn't have? yes. Nobody is denying that now. It was denied but the wounds are being torn open by the freedoms they have to write and speak which they didn't have before. Did the Poles do things they aren't proud of? Sure. But let's keep this in context. There was anti-semitism, sure - where isn't there. The Nazis came in and started the trouble. Everything blew up. If you read the books I'm reading, you'll read about some of the injustices committed by the Poles to the Jews in cities like Kielce. You'll read about the horrors after the war. There's no question that that existed. However, that's an older generation. In the meantime, there has been remorse and a feeling of a piece of the Polish culture ripped away. The Jews were a related subculture and our relationship was completely intertwined on many many levels. There were many Poles that did incredibly important things to help save Jews. There were some that didn't. You mostly hear about the destruction and only a little about the righteous gentiles. You have many righteous gentiles in hiding or afraid to speak about the sacrifices they made. What you also have is a Poland that wants Jews to return and be a part of its life. Poland invited the Jews into the country almost 1000 years ago when they were thrown out of every other country. They came, they settled and they prospered. There were more Jews in Poland than anywhere else in the world. Poland and the Jews were an inseparable pair. They were, in my opinion, like cousins. Some bad (very bad) things happened and it's as if there cannot be forgiveness. The Jews constantly remind themselves of the horrible decisions that a small minority of Poles carried out. Yet, one would think that nothing else happened except this. It's just not the complete truth. What Poland is saying today, and what Andrzej and Angieszka and the Forum for Dialog Among Nations is trying to convey is that mistakes (I use that term poorly) were made and that Poland would like to bring its sibling back. Poland would like to revitalize the Jewish component of its history and culture. A piece of Poland is lost without the Jewish component, like a broken family. I hope I'm not understating this. I know that some people would argue that all of the injustices can't be forgotten. I'm not suggesting that they be forgotten. I'm suggesting that we face this demon, this horrible event perpetrated against us (first by the Nazis and secondarily by some Poles), face it, accept it, understand it, and begin to allow ourselves to heal. With that healing comes an understanding that the Jews of Poland and the Poles have 1000 years of intertwined history that is MORE than just two people living next door to each other. more than just simply neigbors. After a 1000 years, we are family. Even with our cultural and religious differences, we are brothers. This, I believe, is the core purpose behind the Forum for Dialog Among Nations. To bring to our collective conscience, Jew and Pole, throug dialog and understanding, that we are brothers, seperated by pain and anger. Seperated by hurt and contempt. Seperated now, but should no more. We need to work together to heal the wounds and come back to each other. It may never be "the same" but it can definitely be more than it is now. It should be. It must be. It needs to be.

This is what I've spent my time thinking about. I always like to walk away from a day of meetings or seminars with at least one good contact or one good idea. This is my philosophy when I go on business trips to seminars and the such. Today, I've had many of great meetings, ideas, and contacts, but this one stands alone as absolutely earth shattering to me. It flew in the face of everything I had read and everything I had learned and everything my parent's generation tried to instill in us. The Poles really got shafted. The Nazis attacked us, attacked them, caused a chain reaction of bringing the lingering anti-semitism to the surface, and when it exploded, the Poles took a large part of the blame. Those that committed the atrocities deserve the blame, but today? A lot of the burial of facts and modification of history was caused by the communist goverment set up in poland post WWII. After the fall of communism and the democratic set up of Poland and the new generation of Poles, many of whom have never met a Jew, should we still bear that anger? and to whom do we direct it? Also, what's interesting is that while we Jews often point the finger at the Nazis and blame "them" (the German people as a whole only being blamed in the periphery), the Poles who committed atrocities where just Poles, unafiliated with any group that could be pointed at and blamed, causing the blame to befall the entire Polish nation. We've learned to demonize the Nazis (a group) and the Poles (an entire people). In the process, we've mostly let the Germans off the hook, though we know that anything the Poles did was similarly done by the German populace or worse. It's time to heal the wounds.

After some intense discussion about the purpose and role of the Forum and what it can and can't do (and what it should and shouldn't do), we left the Forum office and headed to lunch. It was now about 3pm.

I'm typing this at 2:30am and need to leave for my trip in 5 hours, so I must get to bed. I will contuneu with the lunch info, economist speaker, reform rabbi, dinner with the fellow from the jewish history museum, the other voda bar, and the evening in the lobby typing till my ands fell off. 'night. Ill upload pics tomorrow.

day 1 - 2nd stop, Nozyk Synagogue (Orthodox) - Monday, November 24, 2008 at 7:22pm

We arrived at the synagogue. small looking place. only noticeable if you're looking. We pulled in to the driveway and got out. the driveway has an mechanical fence to prevent unwanted vehicles. We walked in and there was a security station. Supposedly, that station is for protection, but there doesn't seem to be any anti-semitism to be concerned about. Just beyond the security booth is a small kosher store built into the ground (or sub-ground) floor of the shul. We walked around to the front of the shul and up the stairs into the building. It has a very non-descript front. In truth, it's completely bland and uninspiring. Looks somewhat like a warehouse. Here's where my emotions come in. I just can't help but to think of what Polish Jewry once was here. The pictures you see in Shtetl books and history books. The movies on TV (documentaries on the history channel). There were 3.5 million Jews in Poland before the Holocaust and now? maybe 4,000 registered Jews. I couldn't help but to feel an immense feeling of loss. Not just some crazy historical thing that happened "over there" but my people, my family, wiped off the face of the earth. How much time and energy and money went into building palacial shuls. Ornamental, beautiful building gleaming with pride. All of this reduced to nothing more than something looking like a sad version of a YMCA.

In the basement of the shul is the only Mikveh in Warsaw. We went inside and were brought through the sanctuary to the beis medresh (study hall). We sat in the study hall and were supposed to meet with Rabbi Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland but had to meet with one of the leaders of the Shul, the President of the Jewish Community, instead because the Rabbi was out on a trip to the U.S. He spoke about the Jews of Poland, the membership and makeup of the shul, the events that occur. Many questions were asked about anti-semitism towards him and the shul in general. The shul is growing, but very slowly. Some weddings, some circumcisions, some births. Circumcisions might have to wait a couple of months because the only mohel that comes is from another country and can only visit periodically. How sad is that. Where we were as Jews in Poland. Where we are now. Jewish boys have to wait months before a bris. There is a kosher butcher. Their library had some nice seforim and many I recognized from the US. Some were in english/hebrew and others in polish/hebrew. Shmu and I tried to put together a minyan so we could say kaddish. Unfortunately, we couldn't even get 3 males together for a minyan. The President shared with us an interesting story and and unfortunate piece of information. The story was in regard to the question that has been asked many times while we've been here by memebers of our group - namely, what is the status and familiarity with Polands "hidden" Jews. Jews who are unknown (so to speak), hiding, secretive, etc. The story he told us was that there are many priests with whom he has a relationship. On many, many occasions, they have told him that they have sat and listened to confessional by women who have confessed to the sin of lying to their spouses, families, and/or children about the fact that they are a Jew. They didn't ask forgiveness for being a Jew but for lying about their Jewish heritage (their Jewishness). The second item was interesting because of its timing, but sad. While speaking to us, he had to take an urgent call. While he was on the phone, the group started a group discussion. When finished, he returned to tell us about the call. It was from the Shul's attorney. He had called to say that the shul's case had been dismissed. The case was against Radio Mario, an anti-semitic radio station financed, in part, by the church. The radio station had a personality on who had made some anti-semitic references, which is illegal in Poland. The shul filed suit (and will do whatever they can to shut down the anti-semitic radio station) but the suit was ultimately thrown out. This was the call he got while talking to us. We went back into the sanctuary, looked around and took some pictures. At least the sanctuary was pretty. I noticed that the covering on the aron kodesh (the ark) had an inscription on the bottom. All shuls I have seen where there's an inscription on the covering have one that was donated by someone in memory of a loved one and the name of the loved one is inscribed. While I'm sure this may exist elsewhere, I have never seen what they had, which was an inscription in memory of the 6 million jews killed by the nazis. I peeked behind the ark covering and the aron kodesh had steel doors and they were locked. I wanted to kiss the torah, but could not, so I left it at that. I spent a little more time looking around at the detail of the shul and then left it at that. We started to head out. On the way out, I saw the tzedakah (charity) box. I had been given a lot of charity money by friends and colleagues in the U.S. to give in the Warsaw shul as a shaliach mitzvah (a emmissary of charity). I put the money in the tzedakah box and headed out. We all got in the van and headed off to the next place. We had been there for a couple of hours.

Meeting with Piotr Kadlcik. Sorry for the poor lighting. This is one of the few pics were I just couldn't get a decent shot.

The kosher store at the base of the Nozyk Synagogue

Name plate for entrance of the Nozyk Synagogue

Nameplate for the Mikvah that exists under the synagogue

Inside the Nozyk Synagogue facing the Aron Kodesh

Inscription on the cover of the Aron Kodesh in memory of the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust.

day 1 - 1st stop, ministry of foreign affairs - Monday, November 24, 2008 at 7:00pm

WOW! Where the heck do I even begin. You'll be hearing that a lot. At first, I thought I'd blog from the road....and I can...but typing this much on a blackberry won't be comfortable, so I took some quick notes on the road and will blog at night. So how did day 1 go?, you ask. Amazing. I was a little tired through some of the meetings but they have been so inspiring and so meaningful I feel like I've been here for a month. I've learned an amazing amount about the Poles and the reason why I'm on this trip. Over the last couple of weeks, people have asked me why I'm on this trip and I thought I knew....but now I really know. Let's get he chronology down first, and with it, the narrative. Woke up at around 6:30am (for a 9:15am departure). Met up with one of the other participants, Shlomit, to help her get her cell phone working. She was having the same problem I was, so I met her at the bar and we skyped to Verizon but they couldn't help us on a Sunday night because their systems are under maintenance on sunday nights and they couldn't make any changes to her account. After that, I went downstairs to the gym and lifted weights. Afterwards, I went back to my room, showered, and got dressed for the day. Met everyone in the lobby at 9:00am and headed out.

We first went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This building was the headquarters for the Gestapo when the Nazis invaded Poland. We met with Maciej Koslowski, Former Ambassador of Poland to Israel (and many other titles). His knowledge of Poland's history, Israel's history, and the relationship between the two is obviously amazing, as I'm sure you can imagine. We went through a metal detector to get into the building, hung our coats in the coatroom, and went upstairs to the meeting room. We talked about the history, the beginning of Israel, how Israel's political system is based on the multi-party small system used on Poland, how Poland moved weapons underground to Israel for the war of independence, and how Poland is a huge supporter of Israel. He told us about the formation of Israel and the role that oland played in all of it along with the ongoing role Poland plays in the EU and the upcoming meetings he's hosting with EU contries and Israel and the discussion to get them included. The room was very bland. There were some minor decorations. A huge carpet hung on the wall. The walls were made up of what looked like 2 ft by 4 ft cement blocks. It struck me as being very Russian looking. However, between the blocks were small columns embedded in the walls and wrapped on those columns were gold painted strips, as if someone had wrapped the small columns for the holidays. Big table in the middle, big chairs, coffee served, and soda and water. We had microphones in front of us. When he was done talking we had an opportunity to ask questions and most everyone did. Everyone in the group is very interested and interesting. We gathered ourselves up, thanked the former foreign ambassador, and departed. Headed to our next stop.....

Shmu and Avi with Maciej Kozlowski, Former Ambassador of Poland to Israel and Deputy Director of the Middle East Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. More on Dr. Kozlowski in the Itinerrary (to be blogged at a different time)

Meeting with the Former Ambassador

The meeting room

The painting on the wall in the meeting room.

to continue with our first night.... - Monday, November 24, 2008 at 6:39pm

We went for a quick walk. Walked over to the University of Warsaw. Didn't ask. Just walked in. Walked around and found some interesting plaques on the walls memorializing the destruction of the university. I can't understand polish, so it could have been that or a recipe for borscht. Anyway....we walked around and found the department of archeology. Went inside and walked around. looked at artifacts for a little while and then left because it was technically closed and they were kind enough to let us in anyway. We walked back to the hotel and it was so cold and the wind so powerful that it felt like we were trying to walk against the wind of a hurricane. It must have been in the low teens. Even with a hood, sweatshirt, scarf, gloves, and leather coat, I was chilled to the bones. We arrived back at the hotel and met up with the group for dinner. We met in the lobby of the hotel at 7:00pm and departed on a van to the restaurant. I'll put the name of it in another note because I'm sitting in the lobby of the hotel now writing this and am too friggin lazy to go upstairs and get my notes. There are 13 of us on the trip...mothers and daughters, brothers, spouses, singles, and even one who isn't jewish. We went to the restaurant and it was beautiful. very charming. I think you're going to hear that a lot. I'll upload some pics. You walk in and you are greeted by a coatroom check person (all of the restaurants seem to have them) and you check your coat, get a number, and go upstairs. It had a wooden spiral staircase that led to a private room. Table set for 15 - 13 of us, Agnieszka and Andrzej. Agnieska is the director and Andrzej is the founder of the forum and the leader of the group, though Agnieska seems to really be the main lead. We had soup, salad, bread, pancake-like things and the room and atmosphere was very warm (and charming). candle lit on the table and around the window sills. Snow falling in the background. Somewhat dim lighting to set the mood and a room full of eager people just waiting to leanr and talk and listen. We all took turns introducing ourselves. We have teachers, lawyers, IT people, students, entreprenuers, and people who work for Jewish causes like AJC (American Jewish Committee) and ADL. Just a room full of interestingly different people - young, old (not very old) and middle. Male and female. Orthodox, conservative, and reform. If you think about it, a really well rounded group. We spoke about our thoughts and feelings about why we came and what we hoped to get out of the program. A piano player sat outside our room playing music for the restaurant (a little too loudly) and it was nice listening to the Polish version of Africa by Toto and some Billy Joel and other recognizable tunes. We sat for a couple of hours, had desert, retrieved our coats, and headed back to the hotel. A bunch of us decided to go out for some Vodka and there is a bar across the street so we went to the bar(pictures to follow). After they had a few drinks (I say they because I had 3 sips and felt like puking from the taste - I much prefer girlie drinks, like sea breeze). I gave what was left of my drink to the others and just hung out. Eventually, we left. At that time, our first night was done and we were on our own. My brother headed to his room and, since the gym was closed for the evening (closes at 10pm on Sunday), I decided to get my blackberry fixed (ooooohhhh, exciting stuff). There is free wireless in the hotel lobby and bar area but not in the rooms. In the rooms, you have to pay for it. It's 25 zlotys for 24 hours. Yeah, I know, you think that's a great deal, but zloty for zloty, it's kind of expensive. I was getting ready to go down, but the executive suite is on my floor (6th) and as I passed by I struck up a conversation with the host (a trainee) named Kasha (probably spelled something like Kasze). Anyway, after a little schmoozing, she slipped me the wifi password for the wifi in the executive suite area and I could log on. Unfortunately, my room is about 2 feet further than the signal carries. Most normal people would just go downstairs to the free wireless, but not me. Nooooooo. I dragged my round coffee table from the room to the hallway, plugged in my laptop, and sat in the hallway and started up skype. I skype called Verizon and got them to activate my blackberry because the verizon store in Hollwyood was apparently manned by total morons who messed up my plan and configuration. 30 minutes later, my blackberry was up and running. With that, I answered some emails, shut down my stuff and headed for bed. I was sooooo tired (since I had not slept on the plane). I passed out.


the view from the van on our way from the airport to the hotel

view of snow covered building and the presidential palace from my hotel window. From that view perspective, the presidential palace is to the right. I will include pics later.

Le Meridian Bristol Hotel bar area

Our meeting at the first night's dinner at the restaurant

the lobby of the restaurant from the first night.

drinking at the bar across the street from the hotel with Shlomit, Dov, Shmu, Amy, and Dallas

front of my hotel lit up at night as viewed from the bar across the street.

first night follow up from warsaw, poland - Monday, November 24, 2008 at 1:59am

So...where was I.....ok. We arrived in Poland and met up with Andrzej and others who were supposed to be on our tour. A handful of us arrived at the warsaw airport either on the same flight or on other flights arriving at the same time. We met up, got our luggage and hooked up with the car service that was supposed to take us to our hotel. I must say, driving through Warsaw in the winter is not much different than driving through NY in the winter. It's snowy, cold and bleak looking. Very gray and somewhat depressing (sorry to disappoint any NYers reading this, but it's true). The signs look foreign (to me anyway) but are what you'd expect if you've ever watched the travel channel on cable. We got to our hotel , the Le Miridian Bristol in Warsaw and it's a beautiful hotel. Constructed around 1900, it has a lot of nice old-world charm, but not stuffy. 20 ft. ceiling lots of yellowish light bulbs, leather chairs, marble floors. It's just very charming. The elevator is a golden little set of elevators (or lifts) in the middle of the building, with lots of glass. Just pretty. We checked inot our hotel rooms. Shmu got room 625 and I got 623. I asked to be next to him. The room itself is very nice too. Simple but with all the ammenities. There's a queen size bed, work table, and a 40 inch plasma TV (with a few channels in english). The bathroom has a bidet and towel warmer on the wall. The bathtub has a normal shower and a handle shower connected to the bath fixture on a long metal hose, like a classic telephone that sits on a cradle and the tub is nice and deep. After checking in, Shmu and I went on a quick walk around town and through the hotel. First of all, it's friggin cold. When I say friggin cold I mean bone chilling. It's 30 degrees (or zero as they call it) farenheit not including the wind chill which must have brough it down to the teens. to be continued.....

Sugar and creamer serving utensils in the lounge of the Le Meridian Bristol

View from the plane when landed

Me and Shmu after we landed and taxiing to the gate.

first note from poland - Sunday, November 23, 2008 at 11:59am

Sorry it took so long to write. Damn Verizon. They got everything wrong. I finally skyped them and got them to fix my account. Now I've got data flowing to my BB and email too. That being said, on to the flight. When it comes to business class travel, all I can say is damn. For those of you who do regularly, sorry to bore you. I never have. Pretty cool. Hot towels, hot food, real silverware, blankets, and a seat that is fully computerized to every position and posture you could need at the touch of a button. For me, the flight rocked. They also gave me a handheld computer with a dozen or so dvds preloaded. I watched Iron Man and. What Happens in Vegas. Good movies. Also, I've been reading the book Fear which is required for this trip. They gave me a cute little bag of toiletries. Anything I wanted. I have a 6pm meeting, so I have to go. I'll add about arriving to Poland, the hotel, the snow, the cold, and dinner in my next blog. Love to all. I called rebecca via Skype too. That was really nice.

last blog before takeoff - Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 10:55pm

Gosh diggidy. I'm sitting in business class. This is the life. Shmu spotted me business class and I appreciate it. We're sitting in row 2. Plush seats, electrical outlets, reading light, 50 different seat adjustments. A guy came up and took my coat to be hung up. I thought he was attacking me. I got enough legroom to put a small jetblue flight to ft lauderdale under the seat in front of me. This is some wicked stuff. Met up with Andrzej at the airport. Real nice fellow. He's the founder of the Forum sponsoring this trip. I've heard that Polish women are very beautiful. So far, not very different than us women. Florida breeds 'em pretty anyway. Getting set to fly. Shutting down phone and getting comfy. I'll add the perks I get up here in business class later. I'm thinking maybe I shouldn't fall asleep. I want to savor every moment.

sitting in the airport lounge - Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 9:36pm

This is one fancy place, I tell you. Shmu's reading the NY Times and I'm prepping my blackberry for easy note taking. We're sitting in the airport lounge at JFK. You know the place - where the not-so-regular folks go to have a drink and snack. It's all free here. Had a banana and coffe. They only have sweet n low. What's with that? Can't afford splenda? Lots of alcohol - not my style. Would mix badly with my pepto/gasx/xanax. I have a healthy mix of stuff. They go nice leather seats, fancy silverware, ugly wallpaper. I guess you can't buy taste. Hehe.

Check out the hotels where we're going to be.... - Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 7:40pm

From Sunday to Wednesday....

From Thursday on....

Looking forward to my trip - Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 5:52pm

Shmu and I are getting ready for our trip to Poland. Heading to JFK at 8:00 for an 11:00pm flight. Flight time is about 9 hrs. We'll be on the flight with Andrzej, the founder of the Forum for Dialog Among Nations, the sponsor of the group which is hosting us in Poland. I have skype activated (aviesolomon) and will Facebook as often as I can. This is going to be great. For all of you following the story, just log in to facebook to ofloow our travels. I will blog nightly at a minimum and hopefully more through the day if time permits. See you all here later. This will be a 2 week blog. It'll be amazing. Love to all.


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