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‘This time it was real’. ‘MinYaNim’ seminar in Warsaw.

Estera Schreibmann Poland

March 20, 2012 | 3:25 pm

About 50 people - youngsters, activists, leaders, students and on top of that Jewish, gathered for five days in Warsaw. What for? To discuss, to bond, to see bigger picture. Why? An answer is simple - its all about Jewish continuity. Once again Sochnut (Jewish Agency for Israel) is there for us. This time to strengthen the Diaspora in Central Eastern Europe. And as it appeared there are many things to be done to achieve it. What happened during these couple of days? What made us laugh and what made us cry? Why we are so different and similar all together?

First of all as participant of project called ‘MinYaNim’ I must say - I loved it. Many unexpected things happened during the seminar, the meeting itself was very intensive and rich in information, discussions and activities which were led using different methodologies - most of it according to my beloved “learning by doing” rule. Food was also fine. Weather was not.

- I am here with you guys about two days by now and I feel like it would be two weeks - said one of participants during reflection session. Half way till the end of project we were all tired, stimulated intellectually (meaning also: full of concerns, raising questions all the time - pretty much our job was to avoid silence as much as we could) and having a lot of fun. Together.

Bulgarians, Serbians, Israelis, Poles, Hungarians, Ukrainians and one Bosnian speaking same language. Language of friendship.  - All in all, my impressions of the seminar are overwhelming. I would have never thought I would meet so many lovely and open people. Also I have never thought that I could grow attached to many of them in such a short period of time – said after seminar Kristof, 25 years old, student from Hungary.

Take of the mask, put on the mask
The part of our program leaded by specialists from Makom and Israeli Cultural Institute in Budapest partially focused on Purim holiday which we had an opportunity to celebrate together. We were at synagogue, we had our party, we made pretty cool masks or make-ups. Everything according to the tradition and for those who lead orthodox way of life - also religion. But actually we did more than that.

- We can interpret a story of Esther’s life in many ways. During our seminar we tried more secular ways of interpretation. Esther took responsibility for her nation, she did anything to preserve her people and in the same time she was hiding her identity. This duality was, aside of discussion about collective responsibility, a reason to ask ourselves two questions:
How Jewish I feel? How we are connected to our Jewish community and what can we do to make it better?– said Jan, 25 years old, an orthodox Jew from Poland during our conversation held after Warsaw meeting.

I am a Jew
It was amazing for me to answer those questions. Actually I did understand exactly where am I in my identity journey. A while ago I ceased to move forward. I was sure I am able to avoid to choose between my Polish life and my Jewish life.I have stopped just before a place where I would be able to make public statement about me being a Jew, in a place where we would have the very uncomfortable talk among my family members.

I took off the mask and understood it is all actually about them. And I was not alone with my impression.  That was other incredible thing.

Here the same
- I am taking part in Jewish life in Poland since always, so it was not first time, when I met other young Jews. New thing for me was they were from countries I do not know at all.
Even If we look different, we have a lot in common. I found out, the thing I called “Jewish thing” exists not only in Poland but everywhere. It means when you meet someone who is Jewish too, rapidly both of you feel how similar you are. After two days I already knew I found friendships that will last longer than till our last seminar planned to be in Israel – said Patrycja from my group when I asked what surprised her most during the seminar.

- Honestly, my knowledge was very little about the European Jewish communities outside Hungary. Of course, by knowing the facts and the common history of the region, it is not so shocking that our stories are similar. Deriving from this, it is understandable, but for me it was surprising how similar we are in how we think, how we look at life – wrote to me Kristof.

Actually I was always suspicious about this idea of “Jewish thing”. By my experience in Warsaw Jewish community after some incidents I started to think totally opposite. I have nothing in common with those people – I was pretty sure about it. We have same heritage and very similar stories of what happened to us during Second World War or in 1968. But that is it. Is it?

I was so shocked how quickly I have changed my mind – from small details like setting waking up alarm at the same exact time (7.35 – what are the odds?) through talking about same things in our own languages and than finding out about it to an actual mind reading, saying things in the same time, even liking the same things from the same reasons. I have met people who are not only like me in the matter of favorite colors or music. I have met people who think and feel exactly like I do and I am sure of it.

- The similarity of the stories was surprising. For me, this proves, that a universal human intellect exists, which drives us to react to certain things (in this case mostly trauma) in the same way, regardless to where we live – said precisely what I was thinking about the seminar one of Hungarian MinYanim group members. Only I add up one word: ‘universal Jewish intellect’.

Story one of its kind yet one of many others
My friend Patrycja who is also participating project with found something very unexpected during Warsaw seminar. First of all I feel it is important to mention that we also went together for Birthright Taglit. We were together in a small group where we spoke about our identity. Night before our very first visit in Yad Vashem. I was hearing to Patrycja’s story about her grandfather who was eager to talk to her about Jewish identity. But back than Patrycja was not interested. And with other silent in that matter members of family she has no one to talk to. Just like me.

So imagine dear reader, that in an exercise where we have to choose random person and tell our Jewish story Patrycja have chosen to speak to Emil from Bulgaria.  During the conversation they will mention their grandfathers…

-The most surprising for me was that I found someone who has at home video tape called “Survivors of the Shoah”. Mine and his grandfather was interviewed there. It would not be that surprising if not the fact, we both have not seen the recording yet. We promised each other we will watch them together next time –  said my friend who thanks to that has made another step in her identity journey.

All the problems we have
But let’s talk what are we here for. The score is to strengthen the Diaspora. To solve problems we have. But how am I supposed to change the situation? Only eight people from my country (Poland is taking part in MinYanim second time in its third edition) have any power to change the Jewish life in here?

I felt it is overwhelming task. That we may be able to change some small parts and than one should pray that it will last longer than one year. I was so worried I did not notice that changes were done since the very first meeting of Polish group. I found myself in a group with people to whom, I am referring to most of them, I would never speak on my own. And once I started I just could not shut up.

Third generation problem? Division among organizations? Siege mentality?  So called wall for newcomers in Jewish society? Those are only few issues that slower as down in rebuilding Jewish life in Poland - and thanks to Warsaw meeting we started to see how we can help it. And I mean it.

In the other hand it was again shocking to understand that Bulgaria and Serbia have same problems. What I knew about Jews is Bosnia or Serbia before? Nothing. And now they are my brothers who share same struggle. I understood that Hungary is step ahead of us in rebuilding community after war but Jews are still coping with division issues.

And that Israel also needs us.I will answer those needs – I will help my Israeli friends to implement “Picking up – neighbor project” in southern parts of Eretz. Something I did in my country and it works.

Fast forward to May
This is only a glimpse of what happened in early days of March in Warsaw. Fifty people - their stories, thoughts and energy. Positive energy. I miss them all. The truth is that I just cannot wait to meet my new friends.

So with high hopes in my heart and still little bit in shocked after what happened during Warsaw seminar I say: please fast forward to 8 of May, where we all are going to meet again in Budapest.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Jews visiting Central & Eastern Europe frequently come with stereotypes and prejudices about the region.  In particular, group heritage and education tours for young Jews...

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