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Elul - I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine  

Elul - I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine
These days, the days of Elul, I decided to write to you lovers of Hebrew language and contemporary Israeli culture, following a 10-day trip to Warsaw and Krakow, Poland.
During the trip, my tour partner and I met with various people, including Anna from Warsaw, and with her friends who live in Warsaw and Krakow.
I should point out that the article you are reading now is not a tourist guide - I warn you in advance that while reading your thoughts will wander from topic to topic. You may not understand the order of things and experience frustration, anger, surprise, sympathy, empathy and who knows what else.
Everything that happened to me there, here it is.
Planning for the trip, I debated on what to focus - should I see the Poland of the times of the Nazi occupation, and ignore the Poland of today, or vice versa? Leave the horrors that took place in Poland during the occupation, and concentrate on the bustling Poland of today? It was clear that we wouldn’t forgo visiting the Jewish Musuem in Warsaw named “Polin,”, nor the extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In actuality, immediately after getting off the plane, my Israeli friend told me,  “Auschwitz is a place to bring young Israelis to help make them more right wing, and get them motivated to serve in the Army.”  "Wow, where did that come now?" I whispered to myself.
She wondered whether she must go to the concentration camps, maybe being obliged by virtue of being a second-generation survivor. The document in her hand, (indicating that her father's father was murdered in one of the death camps in Poland) is the evidence that she and her family paid a heavy personal price. She would wave this document at any person who would lecture her about her obligation to visit Auschwitz.
 "Did you go to Auschwitz?" my tour partner questioned every other Israeli she met. Answers received were varied: "I went here as a tourist, not to suffer”... ”Forget about Auschwitz"... “Been there once, more than enough."
Even my tour partner’s colleagues who live in Warsaw did not ease the dilemma of whether she should visit Auschwitz. They all met at a restaurant in Warsaw, discussed various issues, including the fate of Polish Jewry in World War 2. One woman snapped at my friend, "We Poles suffered, not only you Jews." No doubt the blatant anger directed towards her contributed to her decision. Two days after the incident at the restaurant, she decided that she would visit Auschwitz on one condition - that she would be accompanied by an Israeli or a Jewish guide, definitely not a Polish one.
My answer to everything I heard from my tour partner and others was, "I am visiting Auschwitz, not giving up. I have to see with my own eyes, I want to hear anyone with real knowledge. Indeed, I want to hear other people talk to me, listen to what they feel there. If I wanted to go with an Israeli guide, I would choose to go with a group of Israelis. Instead, I choose an open mind, I choose to hear things from other nations’ perspectives. "
So my friend and I parted that day.
Six in the morning, at the bus stop in Krakow, waiting for my student who studies Hebrew at the school that I established and am running, she is originally from Poland, a Christian who loves Israel. When we arrived at the Auschwitz State Museum, at seven thirty in the morning, there was already a long line of people from all nations, all languages, all cultures.
"Auschwitz does not exclusively belong to the Jewish people, but is for mankind," I thought to myself. Each group had a head guide who spoke softly into their microphone, to allow all the groups to be in the same place at the same time. Guides appointed by the Museum spoke many different languages, and were properly trained in the subject. Multitudes of people were walking their various groups through the rooms of the blocks - I somehow remembered my mother's sad expression when she told me about the events she experienced as a young girl during the Nazi occupation of France. Her suffering and subsequent rescue by Christians are a worthy separate conversation.
My eyes deceived me but not my ears - after three-four hours in the strong August sun, my eyes dulled, their state of shock ending. The train crossing Birkenau marked the edge of my ability to see. I felt that my presence there among all the living people, is the answer to those who wanted to destroy the Jewish nation. I will return to Auschwitz. Ultimately, I was so happy about the generosity of Anna, who even after visiting many times, accompanied me to this place - sharing all her thoughts, and patiently listening to mine.
Here are some of my thoughts: I concluded that Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps are evidence of the hard fact of the destruction of Europe by Europeans. Europe experienced the two World Wars, losing 80 million of its people, killed or severely injured. The loss of Jewish sons of Europe was the climax of a cruel culture that destroyed itself. A war, a crisis, another war - a mix of death and destruction which fell on the disabled, the homosexuals, the communists and socialists, the intellectuals and academics, Europe emptying itself of millions of citizens who were supposed to be the pillars of the European economy.
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Even after returning to the hotel, my thoughts would not let me rest.
Given that two days earlier, one of her friends hung out with Anna, who accompanied us to a Chopin concert in a Warsaw park, then to dinner at the restaurant of a great chef. Suddenly all the pleasures had become the other side of the same coin. I realized that a culture that has a delightful, tender side, coexisting with its other incredibly cruel side, seems to me even more brutal. Europeans of all the continent’s nations had a hand in the self-destruction. Friday night, when I woke up early, and went to pray in the Old Synagogue on Kopa Street, Europe looked to me as a continent of suicide.
In every village we came to, we asked what happened to the Jews there. Poles know very well about the workings of the Nazi war machine, which came to each village, asking for the names of the Jews, and getting them. That day all the Jews of the village were taken to the main square and from there to a nearby forest where they were murdered. In a book there was a plan of one of the synagogues. You can see from the plan, it was a large and wealthy community.

Another small lesson: on one of the tours around Warsaw, I learned that the Jewish community in Warsaw expanded with the arrival of the Jews from Spain, following their expulsion from there.  When I got home I looked at Wikipedia and found that, "The Sephardic Jews found in Poland a tolerant government, which recognized them for their skills in trade and mercantilism, and encouraged them to settle there. Their knowledge of banking and economics was especially needed following the rise in importance of the routes between southern Poland and the Ottoman Empire. The beginning of the Sephardic Jewish tradition in Poland is visible, as scholars and religious leaders came from Spain, Portugal and Ashkenaz, and set up large yeshivas, excelling in methods of debate.”
These facts affected me strongly - I realized that the Jews of Spain had scattered in all directions with the expulsion from Spain, coming to Poland, and further, to Syria and Lebanon, the latter area being the birthplace of my family. When Poles told me that I looked Polish, (just as Israelis had told my mother when she arrived in Israel), it is now clear to me why they thought so. I hadn’t had these realizations or known about these historical processes until now.

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The day before the trip to Krakow, we visited the new museum, "Polin - a museum of the 1,000-year history of Jews in Poland," which focused extensively on the history of Polish Jewry. I listened to the Hebrew-language program containing a description of historical events over these thousand years. I wandered for three hours through the rooms in the museum, visited the library, and still didn’t feel the Jewish soul of the place. When I left the museum, I had a feeling that the special story of the Polish Jews was actually not told there.
How was the museum "Polin," Anna asked, in a conversation we had at the train station in Warsaw. We told her the name of the museum, "Polin" (as everybody calls it) seemed a little odd, that word is the name of Poland in Hebrew. At the sound of disappointment from the group, she replied, "The museum only brings history, not Jewish culture, and aims to demonstrate that Jews are an integral part of the history of Poland. "
At the Schindler Museum, my sense of confusion only increased, I was in a fog. Did I say Schindler Museum? The museum itself has a different focus - its opening exhibition focuses on Poland during World War II. A screening room for the movie “Schindler” presents the movie only in Polish, as well as a single interview with a Polish-Israeli Jew. Where is the story of Schindler, and saving 1,000 Jews who lived in the ghetto of Krakow, where the Jewish bodies were collected every day? The story is hiding somewhere in the rooms of the museum. Anyway, the statue of the Polish pope who became a saint I certainly found in the Schindler Museum.
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One Friday evening, we participated in a seminar for White Russian Jews, who for the first time carefully revealed their Jewish origins. I spoke about Israel, and at the end of the conversation we continued and talked about studying Hebrew and the Jewish people. We went back to the hotel in the car of a theologian who after being in Israel for about six months, had married a Jewish woman from Ukraine. We became sort of a family in a moment.
Another Friday night, we took part in prayer with the woman rabbi of a progressive community in Krakow, a small but significant community - it was clear that with care and commitment, slowly and safely, they are building a new Jewish identity.
Krakow now has some 500 Jewish residents, including Israelis and those planning to become Jews. Time was frozen there for me in Jewish Krakow, I shivered at the spectacle of Jewish houses and street names. The hotel where we stayed, in the heart of Kazimierz, the old Jewish neighborhood, is near the synagogue of Ha`Rama (Rabbi Moshe Ben Israel Aisralis), and also behind the old Jewish cemetery. A morning walk around the old Jewish town, teaches more than anything about the rich Jewish life in that city.

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At the end of a visit to the salt mines near Krakow,  we had an afternoon meeting with Anna and Viola ( who speaks Hebrew fluently). We decided to visit the Jagiellonian University, founded in 1364, which today is the second oldest university in Central Europe, one of the world's oldest. We listened to the two women of the history of the place. We stopped near the library building to hear what happened during the Nazi occupation. Anna's voice trembled when she brought us the following story:
Shortly after the German invasion of Poland, the German commander called the University Rector to gather all the academic staff and employees and their families for a lecture about the Germans' plans for education in occupied Poland. It was November 1939, 105 professors came, and then were told they could not start the school year due to the hostile attitude towards Germany. The professors were arrested the same day and sent to prison and then deported to concentration camps.

I was overwhelmed with feelings at what had happened at the university. Anna talked further about the Nazis' desire to break the spirit of the Polish people to resist the Nazi occupation. On the tragic events that created an atmosphere of fear and terror at universities in Poland, one can read further: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonderaktion_Krakau
I was left with a dense mix of confusion, questions, insights and emotions, which continue to accompany me after my return to Israel.
Two voices echoed for me in Poland:
One of the voices might be summarized as:  We suffered, not only you Jews.
The second voice has a different emphasis, expressing regret: There is sorrow in our hearts that Poland was left without its Jewish citizens, an integral part of Polish society.
Which of these two voices will dominate in the coming years? What ultimate shape will the memory of that time have? I don’t know. There is a prayer in my heart that Isaiah’s Vision for the End of Days will be accurate - a vision of a common future, a vision of past memories and past suffering being forgotten, and replaced by the feeling of the brotherhood of nations. There in Poland I saw the glow of the future, I traveled to Auschwitz with a Polish woman who loves Israel with all her heart, full of her concern for Israel. We sat around the table with Anna and her friends, ate meals together, talked, questioned, debated. We walked and explored together, and heard detailed stories and explanations of the history of Poland.
In Krakow when I saw long lines at the Schindler Museum, I felt that everyone of all nations wants to learn the lessons of the Holocaust.
Back to the days of Elul - I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine. May mutual responsibility between nations strengthen Israel, and strengthen the common destiny of all nations. In Poland, I realized that our role as Israelis is to embrace our role to listen, giving an opportunity for anyone who wants, to tell their story - an opportunity for everyone to listen and learn. Through the Holocaust, to connect us Israelis to more good people of all nations.

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