Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
I write almost every day. Sometimes the words reveal themselves in the form of free verse poetry, while other days it’s a messy, seemingly disconnected paragraph. Recently, as I was perusing old journals, I found some entries from a trip to Poland.
In the spring of 2015, I studied abroad in Jerusalem, and had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Poland for a Holocaust education trip with my peers. I wrote a lot while there. Discovering these powerful words almost three years later brought the memories back so strongly, and inspired me to share some excerpts from my journal:
Yesterday we visited Łódź. One of the moments that stood out to me was when we all sang Shalom Aleichem together in the only remaining synagogue in the city. Knowing that there are very few Jews still in Łódź is saddening, but a theme that has been constant [throughout this trip] is celebrating the fact that we are able to return here and we are able to walk away alive as well…And I do feel like I have a responsibility now more than ever to not only make sure something like this never happens again, but also to continue Judaism and help educate young Jews about the Jewish peoplehood. I see now why people have found it so difficult to believe in G-d since this time only 70 years ago. Even I find myself questioning how something this extensive and horrific and bone-chilling could have occurred to my people, and it hurts me to think about it.
– April 30th, 2015
“Ok?” Mikki [a friend] asked me.
“Mhm,” I responded, nodding my head up and down ever so slightly. But as I looked around me at the vast expanse of Majdanek, I didn’t understand how any of this could be ok.
The gas stained ceilings and walls of the gas chamber made me physically sick. The smell from each barrack seeped into my body, into my mouth that gaped open as I tried to take in air, as to not throw up.
As I stared at the seven tons of ashes and bone fragments of the 79,000 people (59,000 of my own), I felt sick and saddened. But I also felt responsible. These people aren’t here to carry on our tradition. But I am. We are.
As I walked away, the words, “it isn’t fair,” repeated in my head. Why them and not me? But more than that, as I slowly retreated from the freezing wind of the ashes into the warm, welcoming sun, I felt more alive than ever.
And I wanted to do everything I could to continue the Jewish peoplehood, so not only does this never happen again, but we can continue to thrive for all of those who were brutally humiliated, tortured, and murdered.
– May 1st, 2015
The clarity of these words (which I barely had a memory of writing, until I re-read them) surprised me. I immediately felt a renewed sense of responsibility to the Jewish people. I plan to use this fuel as I begin the final six months of my ISJL Education Fellowship.
From South Poland to the Southern United States, there are experiences in my life that I want to remember. Everything seems like it will stick with me, but again, I barely remembered my journal entry’s details until I found them. It’s a powerful reminder: Writing things down can help ensure that we “never forget.”
The good, the bad, the ugly—I’m going to continue my commitment to write down my thoughts, and I encourage you to find ways to capture memory, whether through writing, photography, or telling important stories over and over again.