In September 2016, the Study Trip participants from the U.S. had the opportunity to meet with students from High School Complex in Chęciny, alumni of the School of Dialogue 2016. The students presented the local Jewish history, proving involvement of the local community in bringing back the memory of the former Jewish neighbors. The students shared their knowledge during a walking tour around Chęciny, during which they used testimonies from the elderly members of their familes who remember the prewar times.
The tour included the buildings of the synagogue, mikveh, prayer house, rabbi’s house, butcher’s house, a doorframe with empty mezuzah space, and the cemetery located outside the town.
This meeting with students in Chęciny was the highlight of the group’s stay in Poland. Rabbi Wayne Franklin describes his experience:
“The pathway to the old cemetery in Chęciny was long overgrown. An alternate path led us to the crest of the hill near the ancient castle, which dominates the town’s skyline. The only way to reach the weathered tombstones was down a steep cliff, which no one in our group of visitors dared to attempt alone. The nimble, sturdy young people from the school we visited in Chęciny, however, supported us down the hill so that we could pay our respects to the people who lay beneath these long abandoned monuments. And they spirited us back up the hill again, where we stood and recited memorial prayers for our Jewish kinsman, whom none of us knew personally. Our visit to the cemetery capped a remarkable day with these charming young people, whose town was once home to a vibrant Jewish community. The students guided us through their town, showing us the places where Jewish life flourished. There was the tanner’s workshop on the town square; the slot in its doorpost where the mezuzah parchment had been placed was clearly visible. They showed us the public pump, which stands opposite the abandoned mikveh, where the local Jews used to wash and purify themselves.”
“They showed us the old synagogue, now in disrepair. The two-story building has been used over the years as a theater and gathering place. The mayor has secured funds to restore the building and create a Museum to tell the story of the Jewish community that once existed in Chęciny. As we visitors experienced a steep climb – down to the cemetery and back up again, the young people in Chęciny experienced their own steep climb, as they gained an understanding of the Jews who once lived in their town, through the guidance of the Forum’s educators. The young people in Chęciny now have many visible reminders of the vanished Jews, in their town and in the secluded Jewish cemetery. They are ready to share their respect for Jewish life, as they help to shape a Poland, which cherishes the heritage of its Jewish past, as it builds the future.”
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.