Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How come I am touring Poland?

I had started touring Poland in 2008, and have done so five times by the time this blog has been created. I have recorded my experiences from Poland in a Hebrew blog that I maintain. Lately, it occurred to me, that my experiences might interest some people who do not speak Hebrew. Comparing my recordings to those of other Israeli Jews who document their visits to Poland on the Internet, I've come to believe that my perspective is quite unique.
People often ask me if my interest in Poland is due to my family origins in Poland. Well, my mother's family originates in the territory that used to be Poland and is now part of the Ukraine. So it is not like I'm visiting Poland to rediscover the genealogy. My mother has not spoken Polish with me, or with anyone I know. Yes, I did start my acquaintance with Poland with a pilgrimage to the death camps. But it has not stopped there. Here is what happened.

When the iron curtain fell, and the new regime in Poland allowed for organized groups from Israel to visit the death camps in Poland, I was not all that excited. In my opinion, one could have learned all there is to learn about the holocaust from books, films, museums. I had my fair share of those, and have not felt that I would benefit from such a visit. Frankly, I could not see how anyone would. In just a few years, those visits became an industry. Many excursions to Poland have been offered by both private tourist agencies and public associations of all sorts, governmental and non-governmental. Schools and youth movements started to send young persons on these excursions. Soon enough, stories about inappropriate behavior of young Israeli persons in Poland started to spread. I thought that the whole thing was very nationalistic, and I was pretty much appalled by it.
Then, my wife at the time, who was a high school teacher, was asked to join a group of her pupils who went on the visit to the camps. She happily agreed to do so. I stayed home with our son, who was three or four years at the time. After her return, some of her dearest pupils came over, sat in our living room and shared stories about the visit. I sat there with them, feeling drawn to their adolescent enthusiasm and at the same time thriving not to be perceived as creepy by the female pupils. They were all very nice. Nothing about them was nationalistic or inappropriate. One of them, a bright attractive young woman, agreed to let me read the notes that she had taken during the visit. I was very much moved by these notes.
Years went by, my marriage fell apart, and my son became a high school student. Now, he wanted to go on a tour to Poland, with a group that was organized by the youth movement he has been with. These tours had evolved over the years, and now included time spent in Warsaw and in Cracow as well. They were now being preceded by a series of meetings in which the members of the group were prepared to the tour, both in terms of information and in in terms of emotional work. Again, I expressed my ideological reservations. Again, they were overlooked. He went on the tour. Upon his return, he told me stories about what he and his friends have been through, that I found quite amazing. I felt drawn to his adolescent enthusiasm, and this time, I did not need to worry about being perceived as creepy. I decided that I wish to go and find out myself what this was all about. And, I had my own group ready for that. And that is another story.
Two years after my divorce, I joined the Re-evaluation Co-counseling (RC) community. What had started as a way to break away from my solitude, has quickly become a major part of my life, right after family and work. It is a community that is based on the idea that people can help each other heal from emotional hurts that happened early in their lives. I became a devoted member, and then a teacher. The work I did was valuable in many areas, including keeping close relationships with my sons, and building a new relationship with Dafna, my current partner.
In the early 2000's, an international leader in the RC community initiated a by-yearly workshop in Poland, which was meant to deal with emotional hurts that seemed to originate from World War Two. At some point, they added an optional organized visit to the death camps right before the workshop, so as to allow the attendants to feel the emotional hurts right before they proceed to work on healing from them.
An elder Israeli RC teacher, to whom I was close at the time, decided that my personal growth would benefit greatly from my attending that workshop. I would not hear of it. She insisted. We have been fighting over this for a while. I still have filed somewhere that letter that I wrote to her, with some 8 reasons why I thought I should not go. Reason number 1 was my belief that most of the attendants will be "activists" with anti-Israeli attitudes, and that I would have to endure their attacks. Then, that dear teacher went through a domestic accident and had to put her RC leadership aside.
So, when I heard my son's stories and decided that I wanted to be where he was, opting for that RC workshop and the visit that precedes it was an obvious move. As for the anti-Israeli attacks, well, I decided that I could endure the pain for the promised gain. On May 2008, I flew to Cracow with a bunch of Israeli RCers, went on the visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau with a larger group of RCers from several countries, and then moved on with them to the workshop near Warsaw.
The visit was good, I actually learned some things that I have not known, and experienced more than I expected to. But the workshop afterwards was the real treat. We were 144 people from some 15 countries or so, and some amazing emotional healing work has been done. I decided that I will return for this workshop each time it is be offered. There actually were some anti-Israeli sentiments targeted at me. Three people offered them on three occasions. All three were diaspora Jewish "activists". Three out of 144 is not a lot, and not more than I could handle.
One of the Israeli RCers attended just the workshop, without attending the visit to the death camps. She told us that she had gotten to Warsaw on the previous day, after touring central Europe for several days. She said that she had stayed in the OkiDoky hostel in the center of Warsaw, which she thought was really cool. When 2010's workshop was declared, I decided I'd do what she had done. I flew to Warsaw, spent a day and a half walking in it, stayed in the OkiDoky hostel, which was indeed quite cool, and fell deeply in love with Warsaw and with Poland. I will write about this here.
Because of the increasing demand, the workshop became a yearly workshop. Then, there began to be two workshops per year. I've been to the workshop in each of the years to follow. One other RCer told me about the Couch Surfing, and I joined it. Hence, my next three travels to the workshop in Poland were accompanied by CS experiences in Warsaw, Cracow, Lublin and Torun. I will write about them too. Or rather, translate what I have already written in my native tongue. Yeah, English is not my native tongue, so please excuse any language mistakes I might have made. After all, the main point is to communicate a story, not to impress you with my language skills.

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