Wąchock

Reconnecting Ties

Israeli Rabbis Visit Wąchock

2011

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 middle 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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Sokołów Podlaski

May 2014

On May 12, 2014, students from Salesian Middle 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 US Ambassador Stephen Mull in Sokołów Podlaski

September 2013

On September 18, 2013 US Ambassador to Poland Stephen Mull met with student groups from Salesian Middle School and Henryk Sienkiewicz High School in Sokołów Podlaski who had participated in the School of Dialogue program. The meeting was also attended by representatives of local authorities and the Forum for Dialogue.

After the welcome session held at the school and a few short presentations, students invited ambassador Mull to join them for a walking tour through Jewish sites in Sokołów that they had developed in the course of School of Dialogue program. Among the sites visited by the group were the Jewish cemetery, buildings of former Jewish schools and the ghetto area from World War II era.

After the tour, all guests were invited for snacks and refreshments prepared by the students while listening to a presentation about the School of Dialogue workshops held in their town. This was also a moment for students and local media to conduct interviews, especially with the Ambassador. Before his departure, the Ambassador thanked individually every single student and left the following entry in the school’s memorial book: “After my visit in this wonderful school I leave extremely impressed. Congratulations on your hard in the field of Jewish history of Sokołów!”

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 Middle 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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Visit of a group of Facing History and Ourselves members

July 2014

In the summer of 2014, a group of US American educators affiliated with Facing History and Ourselves – an international organization bringing together teachers to combat racism, anti-Semitism and prejudice and to foster democratic values education – came to Poland on a study visit. On July 31, the group visited students from John Paul II Middle School in Pruszków, who had participated that year in School of Dialogue program.

The guests were welcomed by school’s principals and town mayor, while the meet&greet session was also attended by Mr.Marian Skwara, author of a number of historical books about Pruszków and its Jewish residents. After introductory workshops that helped students and their guests establish common ground, local youth took on the role of tour guides and led the US educators on a walking tour through Pruszków’s Jewish sites.

The tour had been prepared for the Spring edition of School of Dialogue program and led through a number of prewar Jewish sites in the town as well as presented local events from World War II-era. Two students would discuss the history behind each site, which was then supplemented by Mr.Skwara’s stories. The final stop on the tour was the Jewish cemetery. There, the group met with Mr.Eugeniusz Kuteń, a local volunteer who takes care of the site. Mr.Kuteń encouraged the guests to return to Pruszków and assured them he would be very happy to host them also in the future.

After the visit’s end, participants admitted that meeting school students in Pruszków was one of the highlights of their study trip to Poland. To quote one of the participants: “meeting Polish school students and seeing the town with their eyes was an eye-opening and empowering experience, my personal favorite on this whole trip.” A fragment of the article published on Facing History and Ourselves blog may be a good summary of the visit: “Perhaps more importantly than the history that the students are exploring in the present, is what aspect(s) of this experience they take with them into their future.”

August 17th, 2017

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Robert Potoker’s Visit to Międzyrzec Podlaski

July 2014

Robert Potoker became involved with Forum of Dialouge by sponsoring a 2012 School of Dialogue program in Międzyrzec Podlaski – a town his grandparents had been born in. In late 2012, Mr.Potoker participated in a Forum-organized study tour to Poland. In the summer of 2014, he returned, this time to visit Międzyrzec Podlaski with his wife. This was Mr.Potoker’s first visit in the town since 1995.

In Międzyrzec, the Potokers met with history teacher Artur Domański, who had assisted School of Dialogue students in their project work, and students from the local School Complex no.3 who shared their impressions from the School of Dialogue program. Guests were taken on a walking tour through the town by Mateusz Borysiuk, an expert on local Jewish history who also showed the Potokers Tykocin, Białystok and WWII-era fortifications that the guests were particularly interested in.

August 17th, 2017

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Margolis family’s visit to Łomża

October 2012

In the Fall of 2012, seven members of the Margolis family from Chicago visited Łomża, their ancestor’s hometown. Four years earlier, Samantha Margolis participated in a study tour to Poland organized by Forum for Dialogue. The first trip to Poland kindled Mrs.Margolis’ sense of affinity with family history that she wished to pass on to her relatives. In 2012, the family decided to pay a group visit to Łomża’s School of Dialogue participants.

Guests were received by participants of two Schools of Dialogue – from Economic High School Complex No. 6 in Łomża and Łomża District Home Army Soldiers High School No.3. Students from the latter school prepared snacks and a presentation on Łomża’s Jewish history in English. To prepare for the visit, they also paid a visit to the Municipal Archives, where they found prewar maps of the town and precious information about the Margolises that their Chicago guests had not known about before. With the assistance of an archivist, students were able to translate the documents from Russian to Polish and then to English. Students had the documents framed and presented them to guests as a souvenir of the visit. Already in the course of the meeting at the school, students immediately struck a rapport with the family.

After welcoming the Margolis family, students took their guests on walking tour through Jewish Łomża. The family received a city guide “Retracing Jewish History of Łomża” in the form of a booklet that was put together and printed by the students with the support of their teacher and local Leader of Dialogue, Mr.Marcin Mikołajczyk. Young guides pointed out the site of the former synagogue and the ruins of the Jewish cemetery where Sara Golding, one of the great grandmothers of the family, was most likely buried. Students were also able to locate and visit the site where the family’s grandfather, Saul Margolis, had lived prior to departing for the United States, as well as find the names of Łomża’s prewar shopkeepers – among them their guests’ great grandfather, Arjer Lejbe Margolis. In the course of the walk, the group encountered an Israeli couple on their own search for their roots, who joined them for the tour.

Reflecting on the visit, Samantha Margolis said: “It’s hard to put into words how important this day in Łomża was for us all. Not only did we experience the spirit of the former Jewish life our grandfather had lived, but we felt connected to Łomża’s and Poland’s future through the hope and warmth demonstrated by the students, who on that particular day became our teachers”.

August 17th, 2017

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Scott Saunders and rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand visit Ciechanów

April 2014

On April 9, 2014, students from School Complex no.2 in Ciechanów were visited by two guests from London – Scott Saunders, founder of March of the Living in the United Kingdom and rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand, director of JHub, an initiative launched by Pears Foundation. Rabbi Boyd Gelfand had visited Poland before to attend a study tour organized by Forum for Dialogue. She was greatly impressed with School of Dialogue participants from Sienna , whom she was then introduced to. After returning home, she decided to employ her experience in the March of the Living organization, so that it would truly provide a Polish-Jewish dialogue. Thus, she took Scott Saunders on a trip to Poland to meet School of Dialogue participants from Ciechanów.

The meeting began with an introductory workshop that led to a free-flowing conversation between participants in English. Students were asked about their experience with School of Dialogue program, what searching for information about prewar Jewish life in Ciechanów meant to them, and how other residents reacted when learning about students’ pursuits. The students, on the other hand, were interested in their guests’ personal stories. They asked about the guests’ professions, what it is like to be a female rabbi, and what life in Israel, New York and Hong Kong is like. After the meeting, students took their guests on a walking tour through Ciechanów sites connected with the life of Róża Robota and other Jewish residents – the route had  beencreated in December of the previous year for School of Dialogue program’s final project.

August 16th, 2017

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Meeting with US participants of study tour to Poland in Chęciny

November 2010

One of the items on the Poland study tour itinerary for US American Jewish community leaders in November 2010 was a meeting with School of Dialogue participants, the first of this kind organized by Forum of Dialogue. On November 19, study tour participants visited School Complex no.2 in Chęciny, where they met the students, school principal, Chęciny mayor and Kieleckie district head. For the students, this was part of the third School of Dialogue workshop and a unique opportunity to learn more about contemporary Jewish life in the diaspora.

After an introductory session at the school, foreign guests and the students headed out on a joint walk through Chęciny’s Jewish sites. Study tour participants also visited the synagogue, which is no longer in use. Reflecting on their trip to Poland upon return home, Jewish leaders emphasized how important they found experiencing School of Dialogue program in practice and establishing personal contacts with Chęciny’s school students.

August 16th, 2017

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Meeting with Mark Halpern and Michael Tobias

November 2013

In the course of School of Dialogue workshops, students take part in a meeting with an invited guest – a representative of the local government, local activist or Jewish history scholar. This time, in the course of their final workshop session, students from Stanisław Staszic Technical Integrated High School Complex in Białystok had the opportunity to meet three very special people.

On November 14, 2013, Mark Halpern and Michael Tobias from Jewish Records Indexing-Poland genealogical group. Mr. Halpern, whose roots are in Białystok, is also the founder of BIALYgen – Bialystok Region Jewish Genealogy Group. The meeting was also attended by a representative of Białystok’s Jewish community Łucja Lisowska, chairperson of Poland-Israel Center for Civic Education Poland Association (Stowarzyszenie Centrum Edukacji Obywatelskiej Polska-Izrael).

After mutual introductions, meeting participants discussed students’ impressions from School of Dialogue program. Guests also answered students’ questions about Jewish culture and traditions. The meeting made students realize the importance of their final project work for School of Dialogue program, seeing how it contributes to reestablishing ties with descendants of Białystok Jews scattered throughout the world.

August 16th, 2017

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A second visit to Sławatycze

September 2012

In September 2012, Alan Metnick returned to Sławatycze to again meet with 2011 School of Dialogue program participants. Coming back to students from the local School Complex, the guest was especially interested in learning how the School of Dialogue workshops and the experience gained from them impacted the youth involved. He was very impressed with the students and their teacher, Ms. Jolanta Buczek, who showed him student essays on difficult issues from the local history.

After the meeting, Mr. Metnick said: “Having heard students’ speak about their experience, it was clear to me that these young people understand the deep moral implications behind Forum’s workshops. Good, not evil, is being passed on to the new generations. It is happening here in Sławatycze.”

Alan Metnick’s visits to Sławatycze

September 2011

Alan Metnick, member of Sławatycze Landsmanshaft, met students from Sławatycze’s School Complex in September 2011 in the course of School of Dialogue workshops conducted at the school. Mr. Metnick had already been involved in commemorating local Jewish history through – among others – initiating the restoration of the local Jewish cemetery in 2009. After a meeting held in the school, the guest along with students and their teachers headed to the local Jewish cemetery. Mr. Metnick’s grandparents emigrated to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. The guest admitted regretting not having asked his ancestors more often about their life in Sławatycze.

For Mr. Metnick, who has been personally involved in preserving the memory of Jewish Sławatycze, meeting local youth engaged in learning about the town’s Jewish past was a memorable experience. “I hope that my presence here today has somehow contributed to the great work you are all doing here. I made some commitments to the students that I intend to make good on. This will help me stay very involved in matters pertaining to Poland and Sławatycze in the future” he stated after the visit.

August 16th, 2017

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