Tracing The Steps Of My Jewish Ancestors In Uggs: A Weeklong Journey Through Poland, Day 5

Tracing The Steps Of My Jewish Ancestors In Uggs: A Weeklong Journey Through Poland, Day 5

Into the light.

I made it my mission not to do too much journaling on Shabbat because it’s the Jewish day of rest. And I did rest! For approximately 5 hours! But it was nice to take a small break from writing about the horrors of the Holocaust.

Don’t worry, though, I’m back now and ready to write! Here we go!

On the car drive to the Chicago airport (from where we flew to Poland), Rabbi Lazarus—the Jewish Learning Experience Washington University Rabbi—and I had a quality discussion about what was to come on the trip. He told me that on the Friday night, our group would be having an oneg where drinks would be provided. Knowing that I don’t drink, he told me not to worry, and said that drinking is actually beneficial to the group dynamic on the trip because it helps people open up about their emotions. I was skeptical, but of course, the wise Rabbi that he is, Rabbi Lazarus was completely correct.

Friday night, at the oneg, when we were all requested to give a little speech about our thoughts on the trip so far, I saw people really share their feelings. People discussed everything from their personal lives and why they decided to go to Poland to specific sites that made them cry to blessings for the group.

Something changed that night. Our separate lives seemed to blend into one story and all of our different ways of processing Poland combined into one, shared Poland Experience.

So the next morning, when we woke up for a small breakfast and then another breakfast?, I could feel people talking to each other more freely, for we had all forged a bond the previous night from visiting tragic Holocaust sites in Poland and discussing the meaning of our experiences together.

After our breakfasts, we went on a wongle (Rabbi Yitzhak’s term for a walk; he’s from South Africa and also a little crazy) to various synagogues in Krakow. They were all very close together, but each told a different story. One had a ceiling with astrological symbols, and I learned that Zodiac signs can correlate with a person’s characteristics but these aren't the only influence on who a person is. For example, someone whose sign is Mars, related to blood, could be a murderer or a surgeon; the Zodiac sign isn't the only thing that affects his/her life.

Another had a women’s section (balconies exclusively for women because they were not allowed on the main floor with men in Orthodox tradition) that was built after the synagogue was constructed. The evidence for this was in the fact that it bisected some of the windows and Hebrew writing on the walls of the synagogue, and Rabbi Yitzhak told us that it was built later because initially, women didn’t go to synagogue. Still a third synagogue offered a different take on Judaism. It was reform (which actually just meant less Orthodox because nearly all of the synagogues in the Jewish neighborhood in Krakow were Orthodox), and a non-Jew would play music in it on Shabbat (Jews cannot do “work” on Shabbat, which includes playing music).

After our wongle, we had Shabbos lunch, a small break, another meal that I feel obligated to call dinner (but it really wasn’t; it was more like lunch part 2), and then a nighttime tour of the Krakow ghetto.

The small ghetto, which was a very temporary and incredibly uncomfortable (to say the least) home for 20,000 Jews, housed 20 people per room and a whole lot of resilience.

With all of the tragedies that were befalling the Jews during the Holocaust, they fought back. Rabbi Yitzhak told us stories. One old man, whose kippah fell off when he was pushed down by an SS guard, put his kippah back on and stood up, only to have the incident repeat itself, for the guard did not want him to be wearing a kippah. Another man lied about his job, saying that he was a metal presser instead of an English teacher, so that he could be allowed to live. And the whole Jewish community banded together to continue to make and eat matza on Passover, keep Shabbat alive and their beloved cholent warm, house people in the synagogue in the ghetto, and disguise themselves as German soldiers, helping each other and Judaism survive.

It’s crazy to think that the Jews have been through so much as a people and have been so incredibly resilient against all odds. I left the ghetto feeling proud of my people, but I no sooner left the ghetto than saw this spray-painted onto a wall we walked past.

How does anti-semitism still exist? Who did this and for what purpose was this done? Why can’t the Jews just catch a break? I had so many questions.

As I stepped into the dim light of rows of lit chairs, the graffiti faded into the darkness in the background. I walked up to my group, and joined the circle we were making around one chair. The chair, a material possession, was alone and empty, for there was no Jew during the Holocaust to sit in it.

We lit two Havdalah candles and sang Jewish songs around the chair and the glowing light. Our voices mixed with the violin music of one of our madrichot (a woman who helped chaperone and add meaning to our trip) and we slowly watched the candles become smaller and smaller. Then, when they were almost burnt out, they were thrown into a bin with charcoal, and we danced around the glowing embers until we were tired and happy and they were no more.
Cover Image Credit: Personal

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17 Empowering Bible Verses For Women

You go, girl.

We all have those days where we let the negative thoughts that we're "not good enough," "not pretty enough" or "not smart enough" invade our minds. It's easy to lose hope in these situations and to feel like it would be easier to just give up. However, the Bible reminds us that these things that we tell ourselves are not true and it gives us the affirmations that we need. Let these verses give you the power and motivation that you're lacking.

1. Proverbs 31:25

"She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future."

2. Psalm 46:5

"God is within her, she will not fall."

3. Luke 1:45

"Blessed is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her."

4. Proverbs 31:17

"She is energetic and strong, a hard worker."

5. Psalm 28:7

"The Lord is my strength and my shield."

6. Proverbs 11:16

"A gracious woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth."

7. Joshua 1:9

"Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

8. Proverbs 31:30

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised."

9. 1 Corinthians 15:10

"By the grace of God, I am what I am."

10. Proverbs 31:26

"When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness."

11. Psalm 139:14

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

12. 1 Peter 3:3-4

"Don't be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God."

13. Colossians 2:10

"And in Christ you have been brought to fullness."

14. 2 Timothy 1:7

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."

15. Jeremiah 29:11

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'"

16. Exodus 14:14

"The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm."

17. Song of Songs 4:7

"You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way."

Next time you're feeling discouraged or weak, come back to these verses and use them to give you the strength and power that you need to conquer your battles.

Cover Image Credit: Julia Waterbury

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

And how it can structure yours.


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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