21 November 2019
A Reflection by Lauren Racoosin, participant of the 2019 Women’s Philanthropy Mission to Poland and Israel
Eight engaging days. Twenty terrific, caring, compassionate women. Countless meaningful experiences and infinite memories.
From our first Shabbat in Krakow to Havdalah in Tel Aviv, we met so many exceptional individuals over our eight days, each sharing their stories, each inspiring us with their strength, courage, resilience, and dedication to Jewish life.We left with a deeper knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of not only who they are, but who we are, and of the role we play in building and sustaining Jewish communities at home and around the world.
A 1000 Year History of Polish Jews
In Poland, we visited historic cemeteries and the sites of some of the darkest days in Jewish history—the Umchlagplatz (deportation platforms), Auschwitz/Birkenau death camps, and the remains of the Warsaw Ghetto. Yet even at the depth of our sadness, we were comforted by the presence of scores of Israeli teens wrapped in flags of the State of Israel. Simultaneously, we felt the pain of our people’s past, and the hope for our people’s future.
The Righteous Among the Nations: An Extraordinary Moment
We had a private meeting with Miroslawa Gruszczynska, a Righteous Gentile, who shared her story through an interpreter of how her mother saved a Jewish family during the Holocaust. Countless times, we met with young adults newly discovering their Jewish roots and working to rebuild Jewish life in Poland. We visited the vibrant JCCs in Krakow and Warsaw, the hubs of Jewish life—from preschool to caring for the elderly. And, to our surprise, we encountered many non-Jewish staff and volunteers who feel strongly about the importance of the Polish Jewish community.
Honoring the Memory in Israel
Immediately upon our arrival in Tel Aviv, our journey continued as we met members of intentional communities—all working to make a difference. We were inspired by the visionary, Adi Altshuler, who saw how Holocaust Memorial Day ceremonies had little emotional resonance, so she created Zikaron BaSalon, intimate gatherings, to spark interest for those who have no direct connection to the Holocaust. We were in awe of the magnificent Achinoam (Noa) Nini, whose incredible voice and beauty are matched by her passion for Israel and her commitment to peace. We were captivated by the poetry and graciousness of the Tarbut performers as they invited us to share their stage. And, our dinner and conversation with members of Israel Gay Youth and Moishe House gave us unique insight into their communities.
Hope in Israel
We also met with vulnerable communities in South Tel Aviv. Young women who grew up in the Hatikvah neighborhood and now work to give back to their community and help underserved youth there. We met with the amazing Julie Fisher and the incredible women of the Kuchinate movement—refugees working to support and sustain their families. Despite language barriers, we wove baskets and shared stories, laughs, and tears.
These are but a few of the incredible stops along our journey. Each visit was unique, impactful, and inspiring.