One twelfth-grade social studies elective, titled “Rebirth of Poland,” discusses the history of Poland and its recovery post-WWII, and it offers students the chance to travel to Poland over February break. In Poland, students confront the Holocaust at various concentration camps,explore Polish cities, and connect with Polish teenagers from a non-Jewish school. Below, senior Opal Zubery, a student who took the course, reflects on two features of the trip involving inter-faith discussions with Catholic Poles.
One of the most important aspects of the trip was connecting with the Polish kids. I definitely don’t think my experience would have been the same without them. Coming into this
trip, I thought I would be pretty isolated from the Polish kids; I didn’t think we would have much in common and didn’t expect them to understand American culture. However, I was very surprised by how quickly we connected with each other. We never had a dull moment together,
and it was very exciting to meet friends half way around the world. I was pleased to know that they had never visited any of the sites we went to because they were able to face the emotionally challenging journey together with us. I became very comfortable and confident around them, which is one of the reasons I’m very thankful for this trip.
I think the most enjoyable part for me with the Poles was to see how much they enjoyed the Shabbat service. At first, I thought it was rude to force others to go against their own religion for them to understand ours. But after they came to synagogue with us, it made me so happy to see and hear how much they loved it. They enjoyed the uplifting environment and the bond all the people in the synagogue had with each other just because they were Jewish. They got to see how Jews from different countries – us Americans and the Polish Jews – can come together and felt like a community in a foreign country. After hearing the Polish students’ commentary on their night, I felt so proud to be a Jew.
Meanwhile, I honestly did not expect to like or to feel comfortable when we visited the church on Shabbat. Initially, I was very surprised that Heschel would allow us to visit a church because I thought it was disrespectful to our religion, especially on Shabbat. I went, though, because I wanted to stay open-minded throughout this trip in order to have the full experience. When we entered the church, I was very surprised at what I saw. I never expected to be so captivated by a building that I had no religious connection to. The height of the room, the patterns on the ceiling, the pastel colors, and the pictures on the walls were so beautifully crafted that I couldn’t stop staring. The temptation to take a picture was hard to resist, so I tried absorbing all the artistic aspects I could remember. Despite my initial expectations, I was thrilled that I got to see such a structure. Not everyone is able to go on such experiences, and I am glad I didn’t miss out on an opportunity to see these historical structures.