Upperclassmen Explore the History of Resistance Movements on Jewish Heritage Trip

Upperclassmen+Explore+the+History+of+Resistance+Movements+on+Jewish+Heritage+Trip

Adena Goldberg

On Mar. 13, juniors and seniors of HBHA  set off on a journey to Poland and Israel on Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy’s biennial Jewish Heritage Trip.The students were lead and taught by historian Claire Simmons who focused much of her teaching on the resistance of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. Throughout history, the Jewish people have suffered persecution. From the Spanish Inquisition to the current animosity in the Middle East, being Jewish has always meant living a life of conflict and adversity. For years, Jews lived in persecution, ghettos, and under fire. When the Holocaust transpired, the kindling flame of anti-Semitism blew up– putting Jews at the highest risk. But, unlike in the past, Jews began to resist. From the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising to a smaller defiance like just acquiring dinner in the concentration camps, Jews began fighting back.

Senior Justin Pfau comments on the Warsaw ghetto, “In Poland it was crazy how these kids, all truly kids, were able to band together in such adversity and fight back against something that is so indomitable. That was the first time, really, in Jewish history, since the diaspora, that we see Jews fighting for themselves, rather than being passive. This was not spiritual rebellion, it was finally physical.”

At the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising monument, upperclassmen rejoiced in song with HBHA’s Head of Jewish Studies, Rabbi Avi Weinstein. While at first, students were a little reluctant to sing in a somewhat sobering place, they soon realized this reaction was necessary.

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HBHA students dance together in Poland. Photo by Alexis Davis.

“What we did there felt totally in the spirit of what the memorial’s purpose is: to be joyful of who we are and be unapologetically proud of our Jewish culture,” remarked junior Leah Sosland.

This same sense of pride for the resistors has been on the Jewish agenda since 1953, when the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) declared the national holiday of Yom Hashoah V’ Hagevurah (Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day) to be on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the 14th of Nissan. This date was later changed to be the week before Yom Haatzmaut (Israel Independence Day), but it still holds the title and includes the heros of the resistance.

Upperclassmen saw this same connection to heroism as they left Poland and traveled to Israel. Pfau added, “there were so many instances throughout our experience in Israel that related back to the heroism in the uprising. Our first day we went to the the Haghanah (unofficial pre-state army) Museum and those too were kids, showing the new Jew over the old Jew. The new Jew was overcoming adversity from both Germany and surrounding Arab countries.”

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The students proudly carried the Israeli flag with them while on the Jewish Heritage trip. Photo courtesy of Alexis Davis.

As they continued through Israel, students learned more and more, as the idea of resistance continued to appear. In the Golan Heights students learned about a battle versus Syria during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Again, they learned about teens, just like them, fighting for their country, losing their lives, but truly fighting to the end.  

Pfau was amazed by the courage of these people. “Since I’m a kid-and those were kids-I don’t have an excuse to say I can’t do this, I’m too young, as long as you have the spirit to do it, you can do anything. We as Jews have to fight back [against] xenophobia and stand up against discrimination. We can’t get behind anyone who attacks a person for their differences– we must fight to end hatred and bigotry.”

Simmons explained that often times people make claims that “because of the Holocaust, we have the state of Israel,” however this gives purpose to the senseless murder of the millions lost. Instead, she added, we see the creation of the state as recognition of the world seeing the need for a Jewish homeland and the fight to sustain it, is the strength of the new jew and the fight to protect themselves.

The students ended their trip with this same idea of strength by visiting an active IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) base where they meet soldiers and even watched them perform a  drill. Senior Lainie Kaseff remarked how “crazy it is how these soldiers are our age and are fighting to defend their country. It was so empowering to see.”

The two and a half week trip was emotionally draining and the students learned so much about medieval to modern Jewish history. They also learned, however, the importance to remain proud and strong in their Judaism, and that they must stand against injustice in the world in which we now live.