This past July, some forty participants of an Orthodox Union (OU) mission to Poland toured the infamous death camps and once-illustrious centers of Torah life. The first of its kind, the week-long mission was modeled after NCSY’s highly successful JOLT (Jewish Overseas Leadership Training) summer camp, where young adults volunteer at a day camp for underprivileged Jewish youth as well as relive the destruction of Eastern Europe through a series of life-changing tours.
Targeted initially to parents of teens who took the JOLT trip in years past, the mission attracted a broad cross-section of participants from North America, Israel and as far away as Australia. “For years, we received requests from parents, asking us to arrange a similar experience to the one offered to teens,” says OU President Stephen J. Savitsky.
Led by Mr. Savitsky and OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Steven Weil, the mission was timed to coincide with the Nine Days, the traditional days of mourning leading up to the commemoration of the Churban, the Destruction of the Temple.
“We relived 600 years of Ashkenazic Jewish history in Poland on the trip and the mesorah [tradition] that has shaped and defined the very life breath of Judaism in America and Israel,” says Rabbi Weil. “Poland played a central role in the Jewish people’s spiritual, religious and intellectual life prior to the Holocaust. The trip enabled us to visualize and re-experience our history.”
Scholar-in-residence Rabbi Mordechai Smolarcik, rabbi of Boca Raton Synagogue West in Florida and a former NCSY regional director, also participated in the mission. The trip included visits to Krakow, Lizensk and Lublin. Additionally, the group visited the first Bais Yaakov school and the gravesites of renowned Torah scholars such as Rema, Sefat Emet, Rabbi Chaim Brisker and the Tosafot Yom Tov.