Reflections on the PAS Women’s Trip to Poland

PAS Women’s Trip to Poland, October 21–26
If You Want To Go Fast, Go Alone; If You Want To Go Far, Go Together

By Jacqui Weidman, Patty Silvers and Suzi Stadler, Trip Co-chairs

On October 21, 72 PAS women arrived in Warsaw, ready to begin the journey of a lifetime. Together with our “dream team” of clergy and staff – Rabbi Zuckerman, Rabbi Savenor, Debbie Cosgrove, Cantor Brook, and Rachel Benichak – we had been planning this trip for a year. Many of our travelers had attended pre-trip programming prior to our departure. Our group included wives, daughters, granddaughters, and friends of survivors, ranging in age from 25 to 81. Some of us were traveling with friends and family, while some of us knew only one or two people on the trip.

We delved deep into the history of the Jews in Poland both pre- and post-Holocaust. We were awestruck when we visited the Warsaw Zoo, where Jan and Antonia Zabinska hid and saved hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust, as documented in the feature film The Zookeeper’s Wife. We mourned together as we visited cemeteries, ghettos, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Treblinka with moving memorial services led by our staff, clergy, and members of our trip. We learned about life in the camps and ghettos while especially trying to focus on issues unique to women’s experiences.

Our hearts leapt as we experienced the rebirth of Jewish life. During our five days in Poland, we met with many leaders of the Polish Jewish community, including Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland; Anna Azari, the Israeli Ambassador to Poland; Monika Elliot, Program Director of the JDC; Magda Dorosz, Director of Hillel Warsaw; Sabastian Rejac, PhD, Senior Program and Policy Officer of AJC Central Europe; and Jonathan Orenstein, Director of JCC Krakow. At JCC Krakow we saw the vibrancy of renewed Jewish life. Some of us who extended the trip over Shabbat met with non-Jewish Polish high school children who along with the Forum for Dialogue have committed to remember the former Jewish community of their small town.

As much as we learned from scholars, directors, tour guides and educators, we still have much more to learn about Jewish history in Poland and the state of Jewish-Polish relations today. Since our return, we have already met again with Forum for Dialogue on their recent visit to NYC. We look forward to attending future PAS programming as a group as well as to reunions of our group where we hope to further our learning and continue to process all the emotions and experiences we had on our unforgettable journey.