ט״ו באלול ה׳תשע״ט (September 15, 2019) Three Moments on our Poland Journey by Isaac Levy (April 2019)
Poland is a beautiful country. Driving through the countryside I was faced with view after view of green farms, lush forests, and flat untouched swathes of land. This rural beauty was interrupted only by the occasional city — either sprawling and modern, or old and breathtaking. I did not expect this beauty, yet neither did I expect to see the true horror wrought against the Jewish community of Poland. Where does one even begin to describe this type of annihilation? Words seem too flimsy to encapsulate the brutality perpetrated against the Jewish people by others, some their neighbors.
Three of many impactful moments in Poland:
A baby’s foot — a thing so soft, so innocent. How could one ever look down at a creature so cute and irreproachable with anything other than love? What type of sickness must exist within an individual to allow them to harm a thing so blameless? The shoes I gazed upon were not adult shoes, not beat-up workers boots, but rather the soft tiny shoes of an infant — an individual who had truly never committed a crime, let alone caused another harm. This is the moment when I was struck by the true evil that was carried out during the Shoah and realized I would never have an answer to my questions about what could drive a person to take the life of a child so young and helpless.
1, 100,000 is a number so massive and unfathomable. Yet it is only a fraction of the total number of Jews who were killed at the hands of the Nazis. Before me, lay the remnants of these individuals’ lives: their brushes, their siddurs, all the items most precious to them. The Jews at Auschwitz had come from places far and wide, from families observant and secular, from Sephardi and Ashkenazi descent. Each individual killed was a unique spark that this world will never see again. The Nazis did not see us as individuals. They did not care who was a Reform Jew, or an Orthodox Jew, or a black Jew, or a white Jew. The Nazis did something I am ashamed to say we have never been able to do on our own: they looked past our differences and divisions and saw us a singular entity. Walking on the train tracks at Birkenau, I felt shame that the Nazis could see a truth so few of us see — that the bonds that unite us as Jews are stronger than those which separate us.
“Israel is your home.” If I had a penny for each time I have heard this statement, I would have many pennies. Hearing this statement, however, doesn’t make it true. Home is much more than an idea — a place of safety and security, and above all a place of family. Stepping onto the floor of Ben Gurion Airport upon our return, I was struck by an immediate, overpowering wave of relief: I felt my shoulders relax, my neck loosen, my heart rate drop. Why you ask? Because I had returned home. For the first time in my life, I understood what Israel really is and what it means for Israel to be the Jewish homeland. In Israel, I can feel safe and secure in my Judaism, and I do not fear another Holocaust. The individuals around me in Israel are my brothers and sisters — an extended family that will continue to create, grow, love, and ensure the survival of the Jewish people.
Poland was difficult, and it was the beginning of a journey of inner growth. Never again will I look at a child’s foot the same way, take for granted all the opportunities and blessings I have been granted, or doubt the importance of supporting Israel.