Dear Lev v'Nefesh Families,
Today was a day of varied experiences, as we visited what was once the most famous yeshiva in all of Poland followed by the Death Camp of Majdanek, both in Lublin, before driving to Warsaw for a meeting with Polish high school students, dinner, and check-in at our last hotel.
Our time at Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin began with shacharit followed by Gabi Schiller's senior drasha, delivered powerfully from the very spot where Talmud shiurim were delivered to many of Poland's most promising yeshiva students from the yeshiva's opening in 1930 until it was shut down by the Nazis when they began their operations to rid the city of Jews. Coming on the heels of the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium, we also reflected on the fact that the idea of studying Daf Yomi - a page of Talmud a day - had begun here in Lublin with the completion of the first cycle celebrated by a small group at the yeshiva. The most recent completion was celebrated by 93,000 people at MetLife Stadium, as well as other large venues around the world - all from a simple idea that hard started here. We studied an excerpt from today's Daf as we learned about the yeshiva and what had become of it during the war, and afterwards.
From the yeshiva, it was a short drive to the Majdanek Death Camp which is located within the city boundaries of Lublin. At Majdanek, touring in our three Poland groups, we were able to see many of the camp's original buildings and read survivor testimony about what had happened there. We were also able to see the thousands upon thousands of shoes, stolen from Jews who were imprisoned and murdered at Majdanek, and which were found when the Russian army liberated the camp in July of 1944. We closed our visit with a tekes near the mausoleum where the ashes of Majdanek's victims remain as a solemn memorial.
Our afternoon brought a relatively short bus ride to the city of Otwock, just outside Warsaw (only two and a half hours!). In Otwock, we met with local Polish high school students at their school for informal discussions in small groups. It was important for our students to meet young Poles, and particularly to do so in a town that is committed to keeping Jewish memory alive, plus it was a fun interaction and a nice change of pace given the difficult visits we have made over the last few days. Otwock is a truly unique place - this June there will be a ceremony in Otwock honoring a local priest who is being recognized by Yad Vashem as 'Righteous among the Nations' for his efforts to save Jews during the Shoah. While the priest passed away 25 years ago leaving no family, Otwock city leaders will accept the recognition on his behalf, bringing to 50 the number of Otwock citizens recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous.
From Otwock we drove the rest of the way into Warsaw for a hot dinner, check-in at our hotel, processing in subgroups, and another well-earned night's sleep. Tomorrow will be another busy day, so that will have to be all for now.
Layla Tov from Warsaw,