Po Żydowsku: Telling our Story of Jewish Poland 1991-2001

Here we are back in Warsaw after 13 years. We returned to to participate in events marking the 25th anniversary of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in Poland. Thanks to Ambassador Lauder, the foundation that he built, his rabbi, and the naive idealism that we shared, Rachel and I spent nearly all of the first years of our marriage, from 1996-2001 in the complex, paradoxical, humorous, tragic, hopeful, ironic, and ultimately lovable universe of post-communist Jewish Poland.

Our lives were so inextricably tied to the future of Polish Jewry that we even celebrated our honeymoon in a Polish Carpathian village so that we would be able to work the rest of the summer at Oboz Laudera, the Jewish Summer retreat where the future of Polish Jewry was rekindled – or as our dear friend Kostek Gebert said – resuscitated by defibulator.

We don’t know how long it will take us to tell our story on Po Żydowsku, a blog that will dedicated to this oral history. I suppose that doesn’t even matter. We are opening the pandora’s box of memories for ourselves and for our children, for the Jewish Polish world of today and for you the reader. Everything is from our perspective, and others might remember things differently. It’s ok. We are not seeking to retell the entire story of Jewish life in Poland. We are offering what we know and our expe


I remember when I asked Prof. Ezra Mendelsohn, who was in Oxford lecturing about American Jewry, why after such amazing work on the history of interwar Poland he stopped writing about Poland altogether. He replied, “I couldn’t take one more meeting where a Polish Jew would get up in the room emphatically waving their hand and saying – I’m from Poland at it wasn’t like that!”

If you feel compelled to wave your hand and say, “it wasn’t like that, I know, because I was there.” Please remember that we were there too.

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Countering This Darkness With Light: Responding to the Jerusalem Synagogue Massacre

I spent too long on Twitter trying to get CBC News to apologize over the “Jerusalem Police fatally shoot 2 after apparent synagogue attack” headline on their website. Looking back, that time could have been spent much more productively by being a first and foremost a Jewish first responder.

We all have a responsibility to be vigilant about media blunder, bias, and sensationalizing. However, I am afraid that I became so preoccupied on how this horrific tragedy was portrayed in the media that I neglected the Jewish response. I got into this “Honest Reporting Sheriff” mentality and forgot what God wants now that I am faced with his unbearable tragedy.

While my first response at that moment was to mourn — I let is pass by quickly as my emotions turned to anger and frustration. I “got up in the face” of CBC and CNN and who knows else on Twitter. I called them out for what they are.

When I realized that this anger was taking me nowhere fast, I returned to mourning. I cried over the loss of precious life, and to screamed out to God in frustration. I organized prayers for the dead and for the injured at our synagogue, and reached out to comfort students at USC who were in mourning. I hugged my children tightly to calm their sorrow.

Having helped to stem the bleeding of from our hearts, I turn my time to help bring light to the world that was filled with darkness and chaos. It’s time to make the world a more blessed place and tie myself to efforts around the world that are seeking healing.

So I joined a worldwide psalm recitation website to increase the time I am committing to prayer. I organized a new weekly Talmud study partner (chevruta) and a new Torah learning event, Leil Shishi, at Pico Shul. I committed myself to helping someone who can’t pay their rent this month and a young couple that need help making a wedding. I have added psalms to be said at Shul every week for peace in Israel.

Next time tragedy strikes I will only be checking twitter to get updates on what’s happening. I am done being a “Media Watchdog.” I’ll leave that to others.

I am going to be busy organizing a Jewish response to tragedy helping to repair the tear in the heart of the Jewish people and countering the darkness with light.

We mourn the loss of Rabbi Moshe Twerskis, Rabbi Calman Levine, Rabbi Aryeh Kopinsky, and Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg Zayig Sayif.

And we pray for the complete and speedy recovery of Eitan ben Sarah, Shmuel Yeruchem ben Baila, Yitzchok ben Chaya, Chaim Yechiel ben Malka And those who need healing.

May God comfort the mourners and bring healing to those injured, and may we see the redemption soon, quickly, in our days. Amen.