University Students Make Commitment to Jewish Life on Poland Trip
Jewish students from universities across North America found inspiration and a renewed commitment to live a Jewish life on a recent heritage trip to Poland.
The six-day Chabad on Campus International LivingLinks trip, directed by Rabbi Yossi Witkes, brought the 60 students to visit the sites of a once-thriving Jewish community in Poland and the Nazi death camps and ghettos that brought its end.
Among the many items on the itinerary, the students visited Warsaw, Krakow, Lublin, Lizhensk and Lancut, where they paid homage at the sites of Jewish cemeteries, ghettos, mass graves, and the Majdanek and Auschwitz death camps where millions of Jews were murdered.
The students, led by Rabbi Zalman and Yehudis Bluming, Shluchim to University of North Carolina and Duke University, and Rabbi Avi Weinstein of Chabad on Campus International, also visited yeshivot and shuls decimated by the Nazis, as well as the graves of tzaddikim which included a visit to Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk during the week of his yahrtzeit.
The students, describing the deeply emotional experience, pledged to live a stronger Jewish life as a result of the trip. “Auschwitz was bleak, as if something big had happened right before we walked in, but quickly disappeared,” said Isabella Perello, a student at the University of South Florida. “I couldn't hold back the tears. It was that exact moment, when I realized why I was in Poland along with 50 other Jews: to relive.”
Perello also described the Shabbos experience the students participated in during the trip. “During Shabbat we celebrated our identity, our religion and our culture that could not be defeated. There we rejoiced on the land of Poland, a land where 73 years ago Hitler attempted to erase Jewish life. But there we were singing songs that the Jews have been singing for 3,000 years, sharing our stories, dancing, praying, learning, laughing, being proud of who we are. We are not here to ask for pity, we are here as a reminder that the Jewish People will live on."
The trip’s Friday night farbrengen helped ignite the fervor of the students. During the farbrengen, the students made hachlatot, many of them being resolutions to marry fellow Jews.
Nicole Nowogrodzki, a student and descendant of Polish survivors, said about the trip: “I chose to go on this trip because my whole family descends from Poland. I wanted to mourn my loved ones that died and celebrate my Jewish life for those who were unable to.”
Morgan Savell, another student, related the horror she felt visiting the sites of her people’s genocide and how it inspired her to live on as a Jewess. “It was horrifying and harrowing to walk through the gas chambers and hear how the Nazis would inspect each and every person for their last bit of dignity. We live for those who perished and we keep their memories alive as we go about our daily lives. Am Yisrael Chai.”
“It was deeply inspiring to experience how exploring the tragic and painful history of our People serves as a launchpad for a new generation of Jewish students to strengthen their Jewish identity, pride and observance,” Avi Weinstein, Director of Administration at Chabad on Campus International, who accompanied the students on the trip, reflected. “This trip touched every participant at the core in a way few other experiences do.”