Reconnecting Ties

Leo Wolinsky’s Visit

September 2017

Leo Wolinsky, a descendant of Polish Jews with roots in Gródek and a participant of Forum’s 2015 Study Visit to Poland, returned to his father’s town to meet with School of Dialogue students working on commemorating Gródek Jewish community. Leo Wolinsky is a veteran journalist who spent the first half of his career as a writer and reporter and the second as a news executive. That includes more than three decades at the Los Angeles Times, where he lead an editorial staff of more than 1,000 and directed coverage that won the paper two Pulitzer Prizes. On September 8th, 2017, when he visited Gródek, he said : “I came here because my father and two generations of his family were born here. I hope that pupils from Gródek’s school will help me in researching those roots, discovering my family’s history.”

His hopes were met, as the 2016 School of Dialogue alumni have become, during the program, real experts in local Jewish history. The effects of their work included in Places that are no more, a state-of-the-art compendium of knowledge about pre-war history and topography of Gródek, created by the Friends of Gródek Region Society and funded by the local authorities.

Leo Wolinsky’s visit begun with a meeting at the school, where students and their guest had a chance to get to know each other. He told them how his interest in his family’s history was sparked  by a detective who called him up one day and asked if he was that Leo Wolinsky. What followed would merit an international spy thriller!

He also shared his discoveries with the students. They, in turn, had a chance to ask many questions regarding contemporary Jewish life in the U.S. Afterwards, together they attended the unveiling ceremony of a plaque in honor of Lew Cukierman, a pre-war Jewish physician and a popular Gródek figure tragically murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

From the ceremony, the students took their guest, as well as other tour participants, including others students, local journalists, and a famous Polish painter and local activist, Leon Tarasewicz, on a tour of Jewish Gródek that they prepared themselves. The students were very well-prepared, and the tour featured a snack stop with challah at the site of a prewar kosher restaurant, and a mock photo studio and hair salon, next to the building in which they were once located. These representations were done sensitively and appealed to the younger members of the audience.

The students personalized the tour for their guest. The greatest surprise came when they showed him a photograph of his aunt who, as it turned out, was one of the most active members of the local Jewish drama group. The group specialized in Yiddish theater classics, and was so successful, it received official patronage of the local firefighters and recognition of the authorities. Another heart-warming moment was when the students helped Leo Wolinsky identify the house that belonged to his family’s friends.

The visit was an incredible example on how sharing stories lead to reconnecting ties. To get a glimpse of the tour check out the photos and watch a short TV material prepared by the local branch of Polish National Television (the material is available in Polish only, starts at 12:12 and ends on 15:00). “As I walked the dirt backstreets of this town, I felt the family’s presence,” said Leo Wolinsky after the tour. Read his account of the meeting at the Jewish Journal website.

January 12th, 2018

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A visit of the American University of Paris group

October 2017

In mid-October 2017, a group of students and professors from the American University of Paris came to Poland. Their visit was focused on Holocaust memory in Poland both on the national and local level. Monika Czub, a Leader of Dialogue from Otwock and Karczew, was a great help in regard to the latter. Why was the group interested by Otwock?

It started with a large article published by the New York Times about this town located near Warsaw. After reading it, the group leaders wanted to see for themselves how this once famous Jewish resort, a town with 70% of Jewish population before World War II, looks today.

photo: J.Szkarłat

The meeting with Monika Czub, a Leader of Dialogue from Otwock, began in the villa of the Museum of Otwock Area. After sharing stories and presenting the activities of local experts for commemoration of Jews from Otwock, the Leader of Dialogue took the group to the Jewish cemetery in the nearby Karczew. The cemetery made a huge impression on the participants who wanted to explore it on their own. The group was also shown the renowned Świdermajer buildings (a distinct Polish architectural style), as well as the most important sites connected to the Jewish past of the town.  The tour ended in the area of the ghetto from WWII, which now is the square commemorating the Jews of Otwock. Monika Czub presented there the newly erected local commemoration – a memorial boulder unveiled on the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Jews from Otwock.

The meeting in Otwock gave the AUP students an opportunity to learn about the practical effects of Holocaust memorialization in Poland. Thanks to Monika Czub and her expert knowledge they were able to get acquainted with the history of the place that until today lives on in memories.

January 11th, 2018

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A Visit of Study Trip Participants

October 2017

In the fall of 2017, a group of participants in a study trip to Poland organized by Forum for Dialogue visited students from Jan Kochanowski Junior High School in Grabów, alumni of the 2016 School of Dialogue Program. For some of the guests it wasn’t the first meeting with the School of Dialogue, therefore they were very pleased to have the opportunity to meet another group of young experts in the local Jewish history. Despite the difficult access to sources about the Jewish community of their town, the junior high students from Grabów rose to the challenge!

The meeting first took place in the school building where all the participants were able to meet each other. Starting with the icebreaker activities directed by the Forum educator, they were all able to realize how much they have in common. Afterwards the guests were invited to a walking tour around Grabów presenting the fate of the local Jewish community which before the WWII constituted half of the town population. The walking tour guided by the junior high students from Grabów included the kindergarten for Polish and Jewish children, the market square where the pre-war life was once concentrated with houses owned by the Jewish residents, and the site of former mikveh.

The most spectacular stop of the tour was the building of the synagogue that still stands in Grabów. After the war, this large building with typical synagogue features was used as a furniture warehouse for the local cooperative, and today it is closed because of the threat of the building’s collapse. The students managed to find photographs presenting polychromy on the inside of the synagogue. They showed these images in front of the building. With the help of Rabbi Wayne Franklin, who participated in the study trip, it was possible to read faded inscriptions on the interior walls. This was the last psalm from the Book of Psalms. This was the moment when the hosts could learn something from the guests – they were able to jointly discover a new part of the history of Jews from Grabów.

There was also a time for a break and refreshments prepared by the students in the school premises. The guests expressed their gratitude and hope that the meeting with junior high students from Grabów gave them. “Their enthusiasm and pride in their work brings great joy to us,” said one of the tour participants.

photo: M.Piekarska, J.Szkarłat

The meeting with junior high students from Grabów ended with a visit to the Jewish cemetery. Today, there is only a sign with wording Jewish cemetery. Area protected by law. Please respect the burial site of the dead that reminds of its former function. The guests and the students recited the prayer for the dead, honoring this place of eternal rest.

After the visit to Poland, the study trip participants recalled the meeting with students from Grabów and emphasized that the visit in Grabów was a highlight of their tour. In a letter sent to the school by one of the participants, she writes: „Since I have returned to Israel, I can’t stop telling my friends about my wonderful visit to Poland and about the unique and heartwarming visit we had at your school with you and the children.”

January 10th, 2018

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Shabbat in Chrzanów

October 2017

One of the events planned for the study trip organized by Forum for Dialogue in October 2017 was a Shabbat evening with Leaders of Dialogue from Chrzanów in the Lesser Poland Province. On Friday night, October 20, the participants of the study trip and the guests sat at one table to meet and connect.

Rabbi Wayne Franklin, who participated in the study trip, led the Shabbat prayers before the meal. Kamil Bogusz, a Leader of Dialogue in Chrzanów and the town’s mayor, thanked the guests for their visit and emphasized that this was the first Shabbat dinner organized in Chrzanów since World War II!

Leaders of Dialogue from other towns – Joanna and Michał Lorenc from Bieruń and Rymanów as well as Justyna Biernat from Tomaszów Mazowiecki – also came to the event.

The dinner proved that the world is a small place. It turned out that Joanna and Michał Lorenc have friends in common with the study trip participants – the descendants of Jews from Rymanów who come to Rymanów for the Days of Remembrance organized by Joanna and Michał. During the dinner every Leader received an unexpected gift, a mezuzah from Forgotten Judaica, a brand of Judaica products created by siblings participating in the study trip.

photo: M.Piekarska, J.Szkarłat

On Saturday, Kamil Bogusz, an expert in the local history, guided the guests around Jewish Chrzanów. The tour included such places as Estera Square and the memorial boulder on the site of the former synagogue, the market square, the house of Henryk Loewenthal, as well as houses with impressive Sukkahs that have been preserved until today. In the afternoon Kamil Bogusz took all comers to the Jewish cemetery in Chrzanów. The preserved and decorated mazevot made a huge impression on the guests.

When summarizing the experience of the visit in Chrzanów, one of the study trip participants said, “Shabbat returned to this wonderful town after a 70-year “nap” and we were pleased and gratified to bring it back. Kamil is an extra-special person whose pride and enthusiasm in the work he does and his contributions to preserving his town’s history are well-deserved and so sincerely appreciated.”

January 9th, 2018

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A Visit of the New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue Group

October 2017

The history of Brzesko is inextricably linked to the fate of its Jewish community; at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, the town’s mayor was Henoch Klopholz, one of its members. At the end of October 2017, a group from the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York came to Brzesko, a town in the Lesser Poland Province, to learn about its rich history. They were hosted by the alumni of the 2016 School of Dialogue program, the students from Mikołaj Kopernik High School No 1 in Brzesko.

The visit in school was an opportunity for an honest dialogue between the youth from Brzesko and their Jewish guests. First everyone participated in icebreakers led by Forum for Dialogue educator. Then the students prepared refreshments to enjoy while waiting for the walking tour.

photo: J.Machnowska

The meeting did not only take place in the school premises; despite the rain, the high school students from Brzesko invited their guests to a walking tour following the footsteps of the Jewish community of their town, which they translated into English. The guests were very impressed by the efforts the students had made for the School of Dialogue program. The students told the tour participants different local stories about the preserved houses of prayers, the mikveh, the market square and the Jewish cemetery; all presented on the spots where, before the WWII, the life of Jews from Brzesko had flourished.

The walk ended up at the Jewish cemetery, by the newly-erected monument commemorating a mass grave from the war. The students lit candles as it was right before the All Saints’ Day, whereas Rabbi Neil Zuckerman, participant in the trip, recited the prayer for the dead.

Although the group had to rush to Krakow to be there in time for Shabbat, the meeting will be long remembered by both the guests and the students.

January 4th, 2018

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U.S. Jewish Leaders’ Visit to Wieluń

November 2016

Participants of a Forum’s study visit to Poland for Jewish leaders from the U.S. travelled to Wieluń on November 17, 2016 to meet with the local School of Dialogue alumni. After getting to know each other, the students took our guests on a walking tour around Jewish sites of the town. Denise Reiss, one of the study visit participants, wrote a short testimony from the meeting:

“In November of 2016 I was fortunate to be among a select few that were invited to Poland by Forum for Dialogue for a week long full immersion study program.  As I look back at what has truly been one of the most enlightening experiences of my life I can’t help but to focus on one particular day, visiting a High School in Wieluń.

On that extraordinary day we met a group of students that had completed a project for the School of Dialogue on Polish/Jewish relations. We were so taken by these young people as they shared their experiences and projects with our group.  The students enthusiasm and passion was contagious and inspirational!

Their research uncovered details that would have been left unknown, but instead were revealed in such a way that became cathartic to both the person telling their stories and the students documenting them, resulting in an open dialogue between the two.  We walked away with a heavy heart as they touched each of us so deeply and were so sorry to see this amazing day come to an end.

My accolades to the School of Dialogue for bringing awareness to the past and present day issues affecting Polish/Jewish relations; and in doing so making this topic relevant to these young people in exposing them to the world it was and the world we all hope it to be!

It is my hope that this experience has made an impact in their lives as it has with mine and will continue to promote dialogue between the two.The students that participated in this program have truly left a mark in uncovering the past in the hopes to better our future.”

December 8th, 2017

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Visit of the Facing History Board Members and Senior Staff

May 2014

In May 2014 an international educational organization, Facing History and Ourselves, brought a delegation of its board members and senior staff to Poland. The Forum helped program their weeklong visit. During the trip, we could showcase the fruits of School of Dialogue’s activities by bringing the delegation to five towns where the School of Dialogue program had taken place.

See below how one of the participants recalls the meeting and tour that the School of Dialogue participants provided in Radzymin:

“Finally arriving at the school felt like a breath of fresh air. Students were everywhere welcoming us and one could feel their expectation for our arrival.

After the introductions by the educators from the Forum for Dialogue, we were welcomed by the head of school and many of the teachers could not be there since students were just starting their oral exams.

We quickly were led through a series of fun getting acquainted warm up activities. One of the more interesting that our small group participated in was creating a map of symbols for Poland and the students creating one of the US. The students map of the US included big letters spelling the word TOLERANCE. Of course this led us in a discussion of the issues of intolerance in our country and their own perceptions.

What a wonderful introduction these activities provided for our walk through their town and learning what they had uncovered about he Jews of Radzymin…

We began our walk and students each took part in telling what they had learned in their research about the Jewish Community.

For the rest of our time together we walked to several sites that gave evidence to the vibrant Jewish Community that that been in Radzymin since the 17th century. Of the 5,000 residents, 3,000 had been Jewish. On our walk we came to a spot that had been a cheder – a school for young boys who wanted to be rabbis. Then we came to an open meadow that had been a Jewish cemetery. There was a marking of a place where a famous beloved rabbi had been buried.

We then walked to Kilinskiego Street the main Jewish Street. We passed the house that Isac Bashieves Singer had lived in for two years.

We saw the last house inhabited by someone who had been Jewish and then we walked to an area that was the Ghetto where the Jews of Radzymin were rounded up. Most of the Jewish residents perished at Treblinka or were killed right at the train station as they were gathered there. Then the Nazis burned most of the town.

The students described how they discovered these things by researching the town’s archives, interviewing a historian  that had lived in the town. Grandparents did not offer much information when they tried to interview them. These students research gave us a picture of a vibrant Jewish Community that vanished during the Holocaust.

In the end, I was left  with the question – how will these students be changed by this experience?

How are they ‘custodians of memory’?

December 8th, 2017

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Israeli Rabbis Visit Wąchock


In 2011, two Israeli rabbis with family roots in Wąchock visited Poland. The two guests first met with Forum for Dialogue’s President Andrzej Folwarczny to learn about the foundation’s mission and educational activities. Next, they headed to Wąchock to explore their ancestry and meet with the local junior high school students who had participated in the School of Dialogue program in 2009.

In the course of the meeting, the rabbis told the youth about Wąchock’s former Jewish residents. They were then taken on a walking tour of the town by the students, who showed them the sites of the synagogue and mikveh as well the rabbi’s house. The tour ended in the town’s Jewish cemetery, where rabbis recited psalms and explained to students the significance of remembering the dead in Judaism. Students and teachers assured them that they would be taking care for the site.

On July 20, 2011 Israeli Hebrew-language newspaper Hamodia with readership among mostly the ultra-Orthodox published an article about Forum for Dialogue and School of Dialogue program under the title: “Poland: Polish youth care for Jewish cemeteries”. Writing about the meeting with School of Dialogue participants, the author stated: “This interest yields to hope that the new generations will set example for other towns and villages in Poland.”

August 18th, 2017

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Meeting with US study tour to Poland participants

December 2012

Among activities planned in the course of Forum for Dialogue-organized study tour to Poland for Jewish community leaders from the United States in December 2012 was a meeting with School of Dialogue participants. On December 6, study tour participants visited graduates of the School of Dialogue program from School Complex no.1 in Wadowice. The meeting was not only an opportunity for guests to see a School of Dialogue program in practice, but also a chance for local students to meet many interesting people participating in the study tour.

The meeting began with St.Nicholas Day sweet souvenirs, which surprised the guests, who learned about this December 6 tradition from the students. After introductory workshops, the group was joined by guests from the local authorities – a deputy district head and a representative from the district Superintendent of Schools Office. While  listening to their presentations, guests were served the famous Wadowice cream cake.

After the workshops, students took their guests on a walking tour of Jewish Wadowice. The group also visited the Jewish cemetery, where they met pro-bono caretakers of the site – volunteers conducting the necessary maintenance of the cemetery. This meeting had a great impact on study tour participants. Thanks to a kantor who was among the US study tour group, the cemetery visit ended with a kaddish prayer.

At the end of the study tour, its participants deemed the trip to Wadowice one of the highlights of their stay in Poland. To quote one of the guests: “This is what it’s all about. This was engagement. This was dialogue. This was exchange. This was at the very least, but I suspect much more, the beginning of understanding.”

August 18th, 2017

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Visit of the Facing History Board Members and Senior Staff

May 2014

On May 12, 2014, students from Salesian Junior High School and Henryk Sienkiewicz High School in Sokołów Podlaski once again had the opportunity to lead international guests through their town’s Jewish history. This time the students were paid a visit by board members and employees of Facing History and Ourselves – an international organization bringing together almost 30 thousand educators. Main mission of the organization is to combat racism, anti-Semitism and prejudice in favor of education in the democratic spirit.

The atmosphere of the meeting between Sokołów School of Dialogue graduates and their guests was extremely positive. The group of educators was curious to hear about students’ experience as regards the workshops they had participated in. Young guides led their guests on a tour through Sokołów’s Jewish sites – the informational route of which was prepared during School of Dialogue workshops. Enthusiasm on the side of the students, but also their guests, shined through the informal conversations struck also in the course of the walking tour.

Visit of guests from Australia

June 2013

In the summer of 2013 roku a 3-person group from Australia paid a study visit to Poland. One of the guests was Ms.Fay Sussman, a Jewish artist and activist born in Wałbrzych after World War II, who left Poland at the age of 4 to move to Israel and later Australia. For the past few years, Ms.Sussman has been working towards Polish-Jewish reconciliation, dialogue and improvement of mutual relations. The other two guests – Judy Menczel and Paul Green – are currently working on a documentary film about Ms.Sussman and her personal story.

The three Australian guests met with students from Henryk Sienkiewicz Salesian Junior High School and High School in Sokołów Podlaski, who had participated in the School of Dialogue program earlier that year. They joined the walking tour organized by the students for residents of Sokołów and the nearby area. As many people showed up for the walking tour, its participants were divided into two groups. Guests from Sydney joined one of the groups along with an interpreter. The tour route included visits to the site of the Jewish cemetery, rabbis’ houses, sites of the former synagogue and mikveh, ghetto area and the market square where many of Sokołów’s Jews had once lived.

Students also discussed the issue of Jewish headstones being reused for secular purposes. In the course of the tour, students were also able to find a house with a trace of the mezuzah still visible in its doorframe. The tour was preceded by a screening of a video poll conducted among students on their knowledge about and attitudes toward Jews.

The tour concluded in the school with snacks and a screening of the film documenting the whole School of Dialogue project. This was also the time to conduct interviews with the Australian guests. Students were surprised to hear Mrs.Sussman answer their questions in Polish. Here is what the artist had to say about her visit in Sokołów Podlaski: “The best part of the trip for me is anything that has to do with young people. So for me out of all my trip I have to say that this was the most special. And I’m not saying this to make you happy but because I really feel in my heart so happy with what you are doing.”

August 18th, 2017

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