Wednesday, March 07, 2018

By Dnalor 01 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 at (], via Wikimedia Commons

This year, when it came time for my son, the youngest of 12 children, to register for the class trip for Poland, I was ready. I sat Asher down for a talk and explained that he wasn’t going, that even if we had the money for such a trip, even if the school were to give him a full scholarship, he wasn’t going. I wasn’t going to allow my son to become a source of income for a country of antisemites.

And that was that.

Asher understood. More than that, he agreed. At 17, he is politically “woke.” He gets it.

This was before the whole business with Poland’s new legislation became big news. I didn’t need Poland to pass a law to understand which end was up. They don’t want us to connect Poland with the Holocaust? So fine, let us not send our children there to see the remnants of Auschwitz and the Warsaw Ghetto.

So what if the Holocaust couldn’t have happened without Germany, without the Nazis?

Does that whitewash the long history of Polish Jew hatred, the pogroms?

Does it make Poland pure and innocent compared to Bulgaria and Denmark, that did so much to help the Jews?

So what if Poles were killed, too. This too, does not erase the antisemitism that Poles imbibe with their mothers’ milk.

Moreover, why, of all countries, should the Jewish State be propping up Poland’s economy with these trips that have become a rite of passage for Israeli high school students? We’re talking some 30,000 children, spending at the very least, a few thousand shekels each for this “privilege.”

To my mind, this is one thing we can do: not support people who hate us. Just as we shouldn’t be using Israeli tax money to help the PA pay stipends to terrorists who have spilled Jewish blood.

It is exactly the same thing. No reason to reward such people or even give them a living. The latest expressions of Polish antisemitism (see for instance: Antisemitic Images, Cartoons, Flood Polish Press as Holocaust Law Dispute Festers, Polish Jews Reel from Wave of Antisemitism Following Furur Over Country’s New Holocaust Law, Top Polish Educator Blames Jews for Communist Atrocities in Antisemitic Facebook Rant, Polish PM: There Were Jewish Perpetrators of the Holocaust) only serve to reinforce what I already knew in my marrow.

What of the people who say the experience of visiting Poland is moving, and a good way to teach the Holocaust?

I say hogwash. I never traveled there and I have an acute understanding of the Holocaust and so do my children. In fact, I’d say that boycotting the place is every bit as powerful a teacher as going there.

Which is why I was raised to check labels, to not buy items from Germany or Spain or from companies that are known to be owned by antisemites. I was proud to express my heritage in this manner. Always was. Even from a young age.

We are lucky enough to have survivors still among us. Let us bring them into the schools to give testimony to our Israeli children. Let us teach the children about the horrors through books and museums. It was enough for me, and it is enough for them.

A friend very involved in Holocaust education told me that my attitude only reinforces the antisemitic trope that Jews turn everything into a matter of money. My response? Do I really care if by refusing to spend money in their country, I look “Jewy” to the Poles??

I couldn’t care less.

Let me tell you a little story: some years ago, I studied my family tree. Politics were off-topic for all the genealogy forums so I started a little yahoo group for this purpose, for people who wanted to speak about Lithuanian politics, in particular as they pertain to the Jewish people. We weren’t a huge group but we had some really interesting members, for instance, the late Prof. Dov Levin, who was a partisan in Kaunas (Kovno) during the war, and who wrote hundreds of articles and at least 16 books on the subject of the Holocaust.

At the same time, I remained active in various genealogy groups, including one for those researching my ancestral shtetl of Wasiliski (Vashilishok), Belarus, in what used to be Lithuania. Our Vashilishok group was approached to clean up the centuries’ old cemetery, which was in a deplorable condition. It wouldn’t cost very much, we were told, since the locals could be hired dirt cheap to do the job. It would take a few weeks at most to get it done.
My maternal paternal great grandfather Haiman Kopelman in Egypt in 1914. He was born in Wasiliski Belarus.
One of our group was going out there anyway for a roots trip, so he took a look and reported back to us. It seems the locals had plowed under the Jewish cemetery, claiming they were preparing to build a strip mall there. But years had gone by, and nothing had been built. Instead, the residents were grazing their cattle in this spot.

Our landsman looked, but could not find a single legible fragment of stone, so thorough had been the destruction of our ancestors’ final resting place, now a place for cows to eat and crap.

We were essentially being asked to build a fence around the area, using local labor, to keep the cattle out, and to put up a sign marking the site as a Jewish cemetery.

As we discussed this issue in our forum, I found myself really not wanting to do this thing. I knew that more Lithuanian Jews had been murdered by Lithuanians than Nazis during the war. Why would I want to support their descendants? Not to mention, I’d seen recent photos of what used to be the Jewish matzoh factory and was now a school. Covered with antisemitic graffiti.

Nothing had changed.

I sought counsel from a local rabbi on behalf of our group. The rabbi saw nothing wrong with fencing off the cemetery. Nor did he find it to be something we must do. The ball was back in our court.

I was going to see Prof. Levin in his Jerusalem home on a different matter. I figured I might as well ask him what he thought. Prof. Levin’s entire family had been murdered in the Holocaust, including his twin sister. He was from the same country as my ancestors, and like me, had made Aliyah. I figured that if anyone could give us an informed opinion, a response touched with the pain of having lived through the Holocaust, it would be Prof. Levin.

I put my question to him. Prof. Levin said (with some vehemence), “Your ancestors would not want you to spend a single shekel on restoring that cemetery! Save your money and spend it in Israel on a suitable project, where it helps the Jewish people. This is what your ancestors would want you to do.”

I felt relieved and comforted to hear Prof. Levin say this. I knew that our collective conscience could now rest easy not doing this thing. We didn’t have to do it. Moreover, we should NOT do it.

We all of us contributed, instead, to a local project that spoke to us.

And that was the last of that subject.

Now you should know that a lot of pressure was brought to bear on us by the local Belarussian Jewish community to do this thing. But we said no.

And that is as it should be.

The trips to Poland by Israeli high school students must stop. Instead, let us invest our money in their education here in Israel. Because our ancestors would not have wanted us to be sending our youth to Poland. They would want us to be building our own country, the Jewish State, with all our might and resources.

One more small story: back in the 1970’s, it was the fad for Jews to bring blue jeans and matzoh to the Jews of Russia. The refuseniks, in dire straits, could sell the jeans on the black market and have money to live on. The matzoh was for them to eat on Pesach, something unobtainable in that black hole of repression. One couple came back from Russia to tell my youth group about their trip, how they knew their hotel room had been bugged, and how dangerous it had been.

I told my late great uncle, Morris A. Paul, all about it. Uncle Morris was president of the Pittsburgh ZOA for years on end, honorary vice president of the national Executive Committee of the ZOA, and on the national budget and finance committee of the ZOA. He also served on the national Executive Board of State of Israel Bonds. Hearing about this couple’s trip to Russia, Uncle Morris commented, “I don’t know why anyone would go to Russia. I was glad to leave.”

Uncle Morris sent all my cousins to Israel for their 16th summers. He knew where he wanted to put his consumer dollars. Right in the hands of the State of Israel.

Morris A. Paul, or “Map” as he liked to be called, would never have financed a high school student’s trip to Poland, and he sure as shooting would have been downright irritated to hear about Israeli high school students traipsing off to Auschwitz.

This is something our children do not need. And it is something we should not do.

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