It’s Saturday, and Shabbat is now in full stride.
The previous night, a beautiful service was held beneath elegant ceilings patterned in red and gold, at the stunning Temple Shule in Krakow. Everyone was getting in the spirit of Shabbat, singing and dancing enthusiastically. The next day, the students were given two options - wake up early and head to the Izaak Synagogue (an old shule we had all visited the day before whilst touring the Jewish Quarter) for morning prayers at 8:30, or wake up later and go to the Izaak Shule at 9:45. I chose the latter, needing to sleep in after a mentally taxing and busy week.
After morning prayers, we all banded together and went to lunch at the Kosher Catering Restaurant around the corner from our hotel. Everyone was eager for the rest of the day - a walking tour of Krakow. I was especially excited, as my family has strong ties to Poland, and I wanted to see the streets that perhaps my ancestors once walked through.
The tour was incredible! While we only saw a few select sites due to the snow, Jonty Blackman was as engaging and educational as ever, illustrating small stories surrounding the old buildings. A particular site we visited was the Krakow ghetto wall. Built in the shape of arcs by the Jews, it struck me that the wall looked like tombstones, yet it also seemed representative of the 10 commandments, perhaps a symbol of rebellion by the Polish Jews forced to live behind it.
Another highlight of the tour was Oskar Schindler’s factory. Having studied him this year in Jewish History, seeing his factory up close and hearing his story again was even more inspiring. We debated Schindler’s morality, and I was touched especially by something Jonty said - from the 1200 lives Schindler saved, there stemmed many more, suspected to be around 8000 by now. How beautiful that the actions of one man not just saved 1200 lives, but also those people’s children and grandchildren, saving generations. We also saw a series of photographs of some of the Jews who worked at the factory, that Schindler saved.
Finally, IST gathered at a large snow covered square, where giant statues of chairs were neatly dispersed throughout it. These chairs were built to remember the furniture that belonged to the Jews, often thrown out of the windows of the surrounding buildings when the Nazis invaded Jewish homes. This was the Umschlagplatz, the place were the Nazis forced the Jews to gather before they were deported in cattle cars to death camps.
In the square, we held Havdala, saying goodbye to Shabbat, before gratefully clambering into the buses to get out of the cold and travel straight to dinner.
Our first Shabbat had been wonderful. Here in Poland, everyone had happily participated, bringing life back to Shules that still bore marks of destruction. Shabbat was cold but exhilarating, as we all proudly celebrated our Jewish heritage that the Nazis has been so determined to snuff out.