By Joel Schwartz
While we were on the Frank Family Leadership Mission in both Poland and Israel, we may have been lacking sleep, but we were never lacking a different perspective.
After touring the museum at Auschwitz, we had the quietest lunch that eleven people can possibly have – until one of us asked our tour guide, Basha, what schools in Poland teach about the Holocaust. She then told us that most of what students learn comes from everyday life, not in school.
The next perspective that we saw was that of both Jews and non-Jews working at the Krakow JCC. This JCC is only eight years old and serves the growing Jewish community of Krakow. The perspective that I found fascinating here was that of the non-Jews who came to the JCC to volunteer and/or work because they wanted to help this community thrive. As non-Jewish Poles grew up and learned about what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust, they finally found a way to learn more and to give back at the same time.
When we landed in Israel, the number of different perspectives became even more abundant. In the six jam-packed days that we were in Israel, we heard from Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Palestinians, Israelis and many different cross-sections of those groups.
On the political front, first we heard from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Senior Advisor, Jonathan Schachter. Later in the week, we met with a professor of political science, Reuven Hazan, who gave us the lay of the land of the Israeli political system. A few days after that, we went to the Knesset and met with leaders from the Yesh Atid, Zionist Camp, Kulanu and Joint List Parties. Between these meetings alone, we got the perspective of five different political parties.
On the religious front, we observed a panel on religious pluralism in Israel with individuals representing the secular, Reform/Progressive, Conservative/Masorti and Orthodox communities. After Shabbat ended, we met with Americans that were in Jerusalem as part of the Muslim Leadership Initiative. We met in small groups with these young Muslims and talked about how the Jewish and Muslim communities can work together to begin to build bridges between the communities.
The mission also took a day and went to the West Bank to hear a few more perspectives. Here, we first met with Oded Revivi, the mayor of Efrat, which is the urban center of Gush Etzion. He talked to us about what it is like to lead a Jewish town surrounded by Palestinian communities. Next, we learned from the leaders of Shorashim, a NGO promoting the co-existence of Jews and Arabs. One was a rabbi who was a Jewish settler and the other was a Palestinian pacifist and activist. Also on the topic of the West Bank, we heard from a business man who was building the first planned city for and by Palestinians: Rawabi.
The amount of knowledge that I gained on this trip can’t be quantified. It seemed that I left every meeting saying some variation of “Wow, that was amazing.” I never could have imagined how many perspectives and viewpoints that we would see and hear. These perspectives helped me gain that knowledge, and, when put together, tell the story of two wonderful places: Krakow, Poland and Israel.