After two days in Warsaw our group of 60 plus travelers is making its way to Krakow by bus, a ride of some three hours. Congregational trips are wonderful. Bonds are immediately formed, new friendships ignited and old relationships renewed. Together we learn and discover, understanding the past so that our sense of the present is altered. At the same time we deepen our own identities, developing a new sense of origin, of where we’ve come from, how far we’ve come, and how we were formed.

In Warsaw we came face to face with the destruction and despair of the Second World War. We explored the monuments that tell the story of the Warsaw Ghetto and its resistance. We visited the crowded Jewish cemetery, containing not only ancient matzeivot, but also a mass grave from the war, marked out by stark white standing stones. We saw the last remnants of the ghetto wall. I thought of the actual people who may have risked their lives to climb over that wall, desperate for food and also for freedom and dignity.

After Warsaw and it’s focus on the WW II period we are traveling back into the Middle Ages on our sleek bus. In Krakow we’ll see the Altshul, the oldest standing synagogue in Poland, originally built in the 1400s. We will also meet one of the greatest Jewish scholars of all time, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, known as the Rama. In the 1500s he was the most important halachist in the Ashkenazic world. We will visit his shul, that dates to the 1500s, where his מקום, his place of prayer, is maintained to this day.

Tomorrow will be the most spiritually demanding day of our trip as we head to Auschwitz, it’s horrors still lingering in the air and crying out from the ground. But then tomorrow evening a klezmer concert.

It might seem an odd juxtaposition, from a concentration camp’s grounds to the joyous music. But that also is symbolic, for even in the darkest times hope dwells in the Jewish heart. And the very presence of our group here speaks to prayers that have been answered and hopes that have been realized.

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