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.”