Piotrków Trybunalski

Reconnecting Ties

Alan Silberstein’s Visit

October 2012

In October 2012, Friend of the Forum, Alan Silberstein visited Piotrków Trybunalski, where his father was born and grew up. During his visit, he met with the alumni of the School for Dialogue program, who showed him around the Jewish Piotrków. The tour, prepared by the students during the School for Dialogue workshops, included a visit to the house where Alan Silberstein’s father had lived. He was greatly impressed by the students’ dedication and enthusiasm.

The meeting was also an opportunity to share knowledge: the students presented what they learned about local Jewish history, while their guest shared his family history and personal stories. After the meeting, Alan Silberstein observed that the visit was eye-opening:: “Not only do I understand the history of the Polish-Jewish community better, but I better understand the goals of the School for Dialogue.”

Meeting with Shabbaton Participants

July 2012

In July 2012, alumni of the School of Dialogue from Piotrków Trybunalski had a unique opportunity to meet the descendants of Jews from their town. Local high school students spent the entire day accompanying participants of the Shabbaton, a meeting of Jews and descendants of Jews from Piotrków.

A joint tour of Piotrków was a very moving experience for all because the Jewish guests shared their personal stories as they passed buildings or places connected to their family history.. The four Holocaust Survivors from Piotrków, who were part of the group, recounted what life was like in the city before and during the Second World War.

These testimonies, delivered in fluent Polish, made history come alive for the School of Dialogue students who could know it only from books and documents. The tour included visit to the Jewish cemetery which for some members of the group was the first opportunity to visit their ancestors’ graves.

Having spent so much emotional time with the visitors, the students gladly accepted the invitation to join the Shabbat dinner organized for the Jewish visitors. Jacek Bykowski, representative of the Piotrków City Hall, expressed satisfaction about the outcome of the School of Dialogue program and hoped for further cooperation in this field.

July 12th, 2017

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Richard Weintraub, a descendant of Polish Jews and a participant of Forum’s 2014 Study Visit to Poland, came back to visit School of Dialogue students in Krempna. This was the second time Richard visited Poland to search for information about his family. In 2015 together with his family he visited School of Dialogue students in Maków Mazowiecki.

During the presentation of their findings, students and their guest established a deep connection. Later the students and Richard drove to Hałbowska mountain pass. At the site of a mass grave were over 1200 local Jews lost their lives during the war, the students lit candles in a gesture of respect and commemoration. After saying goodbye to the students, Richard went to another small town, Kotań, where he visited a small Orthodox church. When he explained to the keeper of the church that his family came from the area, the keeper of the church exclaimed: “You’re a local!”

It is extremely moving to see this type of interfaith and intercultural dialogue happen.

We encourage you to watch this short documentary featuring fragments from Richard Weintraub’s first roots visit to Poland in 2015.

June 27th, 2017

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We have finished the Polish Jewish Exchange Program visit to the U.S. organized in cooperation with the AJC. Our delegation went to Washington, D.C., Chicago and New York and had their week filled with meetings, site visits including United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., as well as home hospitality and cultural events. Among the highlights of the trip were meetings with AJC staff, regional and national board members, as well as Rabbi Andy Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs, and AJC CEO David Harris. The group also met with Polish Deputy Chief of Mission, Paweł Kotowski, and Lukas Fuksa, President of the Polish American Leadership Political Action Committee. The program offered ample opportunities for less formal conversations during lunches and dinners, including one with a Holocaust survivor, Aron Elster. In New York Polish delegates were welcomed to a Shabbat dinner hosted by AJC members, and could enjoy a jazz concert.

June 19th, 2017

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It is difficult to talk with teenagers about the Holocaust in a way that is both sensitive and frank. But George Elbaum, a Warsaw-born Holocaust Survivor, who has met with School of Dialogue alumni in Błonie, Mszczonów and Grójec, knows how to captivate his young audience.

The author of “Neither Yesterdays, Nor Tomorrows. Vignettes from the Holocaust,” published in Polish with the help of Forum for Dialogue, moved his audience and inspired a lively Q&A session afterwards. So lively, in fact, that the meeting in Mszczonów took an hour more than was planned! Students lined up to have their copy of the book signed.

After reading that he likes sweets, the students from Grójec baked their visitor a Polish cheesecake, which he mentions in his book. The students in Błonie offered him handmade ceramic cups filled to the brim with marzipan – his favorite.

George Elbaum was visiting Poland in the company of his wife and son, who took part in the Jewish tour of Grójec prepared by the students in the School of Dialogue program.

June 3rd, 2017

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5th Leaders of Dialogue Conference was inaugurated with an opening dinner and a keynote address by Marc Skvirsky, the Vice President and Chief Program Officer at Facing History and Ourselves. It was a welcomed opportunity to catch up with the amazing people that form our network of activists, artists, educators, local government officials and entrepreneurs dedicated to saving Polish/Jewish memory from oblivion. We were also honored to have George Elbaum, a Warsaw-born Holocaust Survivor join us for the opening night. Tomorrow we start the day with presentations by Leaders of Dialogue who are themselves experts in their respective fields.

The 5th Leaders of Dialogue Conference introduced changes to the way the event is organized. This year we have invited five Leaders to join our Program Board, so that the program truly reflected the needs of our network. We have also invited so-called “flying experts” who, though not presenting at the Conference, are available for consultation to any of the participants. Among the experts, we have Alicja Mroczkowska from the Jewish Historical Institute, Krzysztof Bielawski from the Museum of the History of Polish Jews Polin, and Barbara Engelking representing the Polish Center for Holocaust Research.

Attended by over 50 Leaders, including about 20 first-timers, it was, in our humble opinion, a great success. The Conference was a fantastic educational and networking opportunity. It was also a very moving meeting of close friends. We were really sad to let them go back to their homes, but we know that they return re-energized to do more of the amazing and humbling work that we appreciate them for.

Project co-financed by Ledor Wador Foundation and Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

May 28th, 2017

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Facing History and Ourselves Educators’ Visit

June 2013

In June 2013, in partnership with Facing History and Ourselves, one of the most important U.S. educational organizations, Forum for Dialogue organized a study tour of modern Poland for a  delegation of American Jewish educators . The visit’s highlight was a meeting between the program participants and School of Dialogue students from  Pińczów.

During a walking tour of Pinczów prepared as part of the School of Dialogue program, the students shared with the visitors their knowledge of the local Jewish history, which they gained through independent research as a result of Forum workshops. The route included stops at the site of the Jewish cemetery, and the renovated Pińczów synagogue surrounded by a wall made of fragments of recovered matzevot. The students also shared their personal stories regarding preservation and commemoration of Jewish life in Pińczów.

Visiting Pińczów and witnessing the dedication and knowledge exhibited by local teenagers had a huge impact on the study visit participants. They were particularly moved by the choice of words: the students used words such as “neighbor” when talking about the Jewish population, and referred to  “our history” when talking about Jewish history of Pinczów.. In their comments after the meeting, the study visit participants emphasized how much this visit changed their perception of Polish/Jewish relations and past. As one of the participants, Jack Lipinsky, wrote: “I will carry the conversations and what I’ve learned from this trip forward with me into my classroom in the fall, and for years to come. I will tell my students of the stories I heard, and the sights I saw, and my feelings.”

May 16th, 2017

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We are happy to report that the first round of workshops in all the 21 schools of the 2017 School of Dialogue spring semester has been completed. Though we’ve been running the School of Dialogue program since 2008, we keep on being positively surprised. This time it was the Junior High School in Starachowice, where the school authorities surprised the students and Forum’s educators with a special visit of local experts on Jewish history and tradition: Jerzy Miśkiewicz, Deputy Mayor of Starachowice, Agnieszka Malinowska, a doctoral student researching local Jewish history, and Dawid Szychowski, Starachowice-born rabbi from Łódź. The meeting was an opportunity for students to ask questions, and consult with the Deputy Mayor.

May 16th, 2017

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On Tuesday,  May 10, 2017 Forum’s educators met with Israeli students of the Oranim Academic College to share experiences and talk about the challenges involved in educating about dialogue and mutual understanding. The workshop was held at the Menora Info Punkt and focused on innovative methods of teaching about the past to create a more tolerant and open society of the future. This is the second time Forum’s delegates meet with the students, who are in awe of the work accomplished in Polish schools.

May 12th, 2017

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Study Visit

October 2015

In October 2015 Forum’s guests from the U.S, Canada and Australia explored Warsaw, and Cracow. Another important stop for the tour participants was a visit to Ożarów to meet students who had participated in our School of Dialogue program in 2014.

Read the memories of Carol Weir, the meeting participant, about that special meeting:

“This was a trip of coincidences – or was it?

I could hardly catch my breath as we drove past the sign for Ozarow and into the town. I am a teacher, and driving up to the school seemed very natural; but at the same time I knew this school was different. Not the school or the students exactly, but being at this school in the town where my Bubby (grandmother) had lived as a little girl. The students were delightful – so polite, so enthusiastic and just as curious about us. The first part of the program consisted of some ice breakers for all of us to get to know each other; and the first student I met was named Maya, a bright and articulate girl. Maya is also the name of my first granddaughter and the two girls had very similar personalities. When I shared this with the Maya in front of me her eyes lit up and we had an instant bond.

The students then continued with their formal video presentation, describing the Jewish history and including pictures of Jewish sites, some of which still exist. I had brought some pictures of my Bubby in Canada and was asked to share these with the students. I thought they might enjoy seeing pictures of someone who had actually lived here but left in 1920.

In doing my family research I had found what I believed to be the actual address of the house my great grandfather had lived in. With the help of Google maps, I had been able to locate those streets, which still exist today! One of the teachers looked at the address; and as she put her arm around me she said that the house he had lived in had actually been one of the houses in the presentation and that she would take me to the spot where this house had stood.

As part of their project the students had done research and prepared a walking tour of the Jewish sites in Ozarow. After stopping at the town square we continued to the cemetery. While there were no names of relatives (to my knowledge) on the headstones, I had an overwhelming sense of being with family as I stood there. That day was the actual yahrzeit (anniversary of my mother’s death) 4 years earlier.

My mother had never lived here but the power of reciting the memorial prayer for her, surrounded by my husband, the members of Forum for Dialogue mission and these young Polish students, in the cemetery in the town where her mother had been born and lived was truly an emotional experience I will cherish all of my life.

We continued our tour as the teacher guided me to the corner where my great grandfather’s house had been. Standing there I felt the presence of this ancestor I had never known, and whose name I had only recently learned. I gathered stones from the ground to bring back and share with my siblings and cousins at home.

Back in the town square it was time to say good-bye to the teachers and students. They had shared their town with us and yet we also were sharing with them.

I hugged my new ‘family’ as one student called out,  “don’t forget to say good bye to ‘your’ Maya.“

Carol Weir, a Jewish Canadian, had come on this mission, but was leaving as Carol Weir, a Jewish Canadian who had found her Polish roots.

Was it a coincidence that our mission went to my grandmother’s town? Was it a coincidence that the first student I met had the same name as my first grand-daughter? Was it a coincidence that my great grandfather’s house was shown in the video presentation? Was it a coincidence that we were able to stand on the corner where his house had been? Was it a coincidence that we were in Ozarow on the memorial anniversary for my mother?

I don’t think so. I believe it was all meant to be.”

May 12th, 2017

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Effects of School of Dialogue now in a PhD dissertation! We are very proud that our flagship educational program aimed at fighting prejudice and preserving Jewish heritage in Poland has been the basis for a thesis entitled “The influence of contact with a multicultural past on intergroup attitudes and civic engagement” defended by Anna Stefaniak at the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Warsaw yesterday. The dissertation shows how attitudes towards others change once students are exposed to information about the past multicultural environment of their town or village. The contemporary homogenous communities give little opportunity to encounter the other, which may foster xenophobic attitudes, but learning about the local Jewish heritage and the ethnic and cultural diversity of a given area makes these students more open to difference. Dr. Stefaniak received a distinction for the dissertation and defense.

May 8th, 2017

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