Tracing The Steps Of My Jewish Ancestors In Uggs: A Weeklong Journey Through Poland, Day 1

Tracing The Steps Of My Jewish Ancestors In Uggs: A Weeklong Journey Through Poland, Day 1

Through the cold.
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After a very, very long, self-prophesying red-eye, I finally arrived in Warsaw, Polski (Poland in Polish) with a group of about 30 students mainly from St. Louis and Texas. We jumped right into our afternoon plan (well, after 1 hour waiting for a singular passport checker) complete with Kosher meals and a super-cool tour guide named Rabbi Yitzhak Rubenstein.

We started the afternoon with a trip to a graveyard. There, the Rabbi explained that the Israeli word for Poland is Polanya, which translates to “here God dwells”. Thus, while we might think that Israel is the Holy Land, it really is Poland where God dwells. He then discussed the variety of gravestones there and the meaning behind them. With so many, vastly different gravestones packed into a yard with hundreds of thousands, it was evident that each person was so unique. For example, this gravestone illustrates a Kohen (Jew descended from the priests) because of the hands at the top.

As the sun set and night crept into the sky, the Rabbi began to describe how, during the Holocaust, Jews died so frequently and from so many causes, namely starvation, cold, and slaughter, that there were mass burials each morning. What was even more tragic was that the bodies were stripped naked by people who needed their clothes, and sometimes, dentists would even come at night and take their gold teeth out to sell the gold for food. Suffering engulfed the Jews in Poland and the graveyard, but people still trudged on through the cold of the endless night. Unlike us, who were shivering in the cold despite being bundled up, the Polish Jews didn't have a warm bus to return to or lives to live without the stench of naked death.

We then traveled through what was the Warsaw ghetto, we could peer through the darkness at its remnants. The Rabbi explained to us here some of the history of the Holocaust, citing lebensraum (living space) as the German motive to occupy Poland in 1939. Following WWI, the German morale was seriously depleted, and the opportunity to conquer the western two-thirds of Poland (the eastern third was overtaken by Russia and then returned to Poland) was incredibly appealing in Hitler’s Germany. The Jews, who commonly lived in groups of approximately 30 people per apartment in the ghetto, were fed scraps of bread each day, maybe 200 calories, which is about 1/10 of the 2000 calories that we eat on average today. And during Passover, they were required to eat less than 200 calories, for Matza is more compact than bread. From the cold to the starvation to not knowing how their stories would end, it’s easy to imagine the Jews giving up. I know that I would have. But the next places that the Rabbi took us to proved me wrong.

The Rabbi led us to a small monument in a different part of the Warsaw ghetto and told us about the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The Jews fought back, but their ghetto was gassed until there was nothing left but this.

Yet what also remained are their names. The Rabbi showed us another monument with the names of many of those who had died and asked us to yell out one name on the count of 3. SZOSZANA! I firmly stated, making it a point to never forget the name.

Many of these people lost their whole families, leaving nobody to remember them, so it is so important that I (and the others who visit) make it a point to remember those who perished in the Holocaust so that they will never be forgotten.

We finished our touring for the day with a visit to a granite monument. On one side, it showed the Jews resisting and fighting back, and on the other, it appeared as if the Jews were submitting to their fate.

A closer look at the second side, however, reveals that the Jews were not submissive at all. One man is holding a Torah, preserving the Jewish religion, and a woman is holding her child’s hand, preserving the family. The child is also not looking down, but rather is looking back as if to say that his story is not yet over. Sometimes, the Rabbi said, resistance isn't about fighting back. It's about preserving the culture and customs you already have.

Hitler requested that the granite be sent to Poland to create a monument to the Jews' death. But we can see today that it is doing quite the opposite, and with so many Jews traveling to Poland and vowing to keep telling the stories of those who died in the Holocaust, I know that Hitler’s wish will never come true.

Cover Image Credit: Personal

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To The Friends I Won't Talk To After High School

I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.
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Hey,

So, for the last four years I’ve seen you almost everyday. I’ve learned about your annoying little brother, your dogs and your crazy weekend stories. I’ve seen you rock the awful freshman year fashion, date, attend homecoming, study for AP tests, and get accepted into college.

Thank you for asking me about my day, filling me in on your boy drama and giving me the World History homework. Thank you for complimenting my outfits, laughing at me presenting in class and listening to me complain about my parents. Thank you for sending me your Quizlets and being excited for my accomplishments- every single one of them. I appreciate it all because I know that soon I won’t really see you again. And that makes me sad. I’ll no longer see your face every Monday morning, wave hello to you in the hallways or eat lunch with you ever again. We won't live in the same city and sooner or later you might even forget my name.

We didn’t hang out after school but none the less you impacted me in a huge way. You supported my passions, stood up for me and made me laugh. You gave me advice on life the way you saw it and you didn’t have to but you did. I think maybe in just the smallest way, you influenced me. You made me believe that there’s lots of good people in this world that are nice just because they can be. You were real with me and that's all I can really ask for. We were never in the same friend group or got together on the weekends but you were still a good friend to me. You saw me grow up before your eyes and watched me walk into class late with Starbucks every day. I think people like you don’t get enough credit because I might not talk to you after high school but you are still so important to me. So thanks.

With that said, I truly hope that our paths cross one day in the future. You can tell me about how your brothers doing or how you regret the college you picked. Or maybe one day I’ll see you in the grocery store with a ring on your finger and I’ll be so happy you finally got what you deserved so many guys ago.

And if we ever do cross paths, I sincerely hope you became everything you wanted to be. I hope you traveled to Italy, got your dream job and found the love of your life. I hope you have beautiful children and a fluffy dog named Charlie. I hope you found success in love before wealth and I hope you depended on yourself for happiness before anything else. I hope you visited your mom in college and I hope you hugged your little sister every chance you got. She’s in high school now and you always tell her how that was the time of your life. I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.

And hey, maybe I’ll see you at the reunion and maybe just maybe you’ll remember my face. If so, I’d like to catch up, coffee?

Sincerely,

Me

Cover Image Credit: High school Musical

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How Incorporating Organization In My Daily Routine Single-Handedly Changed My Life

And how it can structure yours.

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It would be a complete fabrication of the truth if I pretended that my life in any way has been picture perfect. Things are messy, life is messy, and my life becomes an endless cycle of self provoked destruction.

I've had short bursts of motivation as a last expedient to seize control of the downward spiral I have endured. But mostly they have diminished along with any motivation I have left.

None of these short term solutions have yet to salvage my mental, physical, and academic state. SO, as an attempt to overhaul my life, I decided the best way to strive for control, is to organize every aspect of my life.

Yes, this could become unhealthy if I used this tactic as a way to tear myself down or over analyze my accomplishments, or lack thereof. But I try to view my life as something I have a say in while considering that not everything will be perfect or completely satisfy my goals for myself.

To successfully enact this measure, I try to never go into a day unaware of what I must accomplish, what tasks/work I have to attend to, and stocked with a full calendar and set of alarms that prevent me from missing deadlines. Although mildly time-consuming to detail my life in advance, it is greatly beneficially outweighed through the amount of time this tactic saves me.

Recently, I have noticed how much happier I have been, and feel as if my life is back on track and it's future in my hands. This has allowed me to work an upwards of 50 something hours a week, see and manage friends, read and keep up with hobbies, as well as give me peace of mind and time to relax with loved ones.

I am grateful for the role that organization has played in my life and suggest that everyone incorporate some type of underlying structure in their lives, to realize that anything is achievable with proper organizational preparation.


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