Monday, 13 May 2013 09:15

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Sukkat Shalom in Kielce 2012

adam3_maleProject report – January 2013

Prepared by Avigail Moshe

General Background

ADAM le’ADAM: Israeli-Polish Education-Encounter aims to promote novel identity-forming encounters for young Israelis with Poland, Poles and Poland’s Jewish past and present life. ADAM le’ADAM’s main mission is to enable young Israelis, through these encounters, to supplement their self-concept as victims and their one-dimensional view of Poland and the Poles. They might, then, open up to the Polish discourse on the Holocaust. We believe that the more Israelis undergo this process, the better - for them, for Israeli society and for the remembrance of the Holocaust.

ADAM le’ADAM offers educational programs, seminars, events, study tours, and volunteering projects. These programs are all based on encounters of young Israelis and Poles as part of a significant stay in Poland. All the programs include intensive pre-travel preparation meetings and activities. These meetings provide participants with an environment to examine their assumptions and conceptions of Poland and Poles and the role the Holocaoust plays  in these attitudes. Avigail Moshe, Founder and Director of ADAM le’ADAM, has expertise in inter-cultural and inter-religious encounters and is  certificated to guide tours to Poland.

Project Description    

adam_le_adam_ 1_male“Sukkat Shalom in Kielce” is a 6-month volunteering project that took place in Israel and Poland between April and October 2012 (with subsequent follow-up activities, briefly described further below). The program was collaboration between ADAM le’ADAM and the Jan Karski Society of Kielce, Poland, and was made possible thanks to the generosity of Mr. Yaacov Kotlicki and the support of the Polish Institute in Israel.

The aim of this project was to introduce the memories of the past Jewish residents of pre-WWII Kielce, who now live in Israel, to the current community of the city. This was done via a series of long-term interviews with these residents, which were undertaken by trained Israeli volunteers in Israel. The stories of 8 former community members were documented by these volunteers and introduced to current Kielce residents during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Feast of Booths), in a special sukkah constructed at a mall in Kielce. This sukkah, the first built in Kielce since WWII, provided a space and opportunity for the local community in Kielce to encounter the memories of Kielce’s past Jewish community, the Jewish traditions of Sukkot, and the young Israeli volunteers. The volunteers also visited high schools in the city and conducted special educational workshops on topics of Judaism, Israel, the Jewish past of Poland and Kielce in particular, and the Israeli-Polish encounter.

Project Activities

Volunteer recruitment and training: April-May 2012

Through the course of April 2012, Four Israeli volunteers (aged 24-30) were selected out of some 15 applicants to take part in the project, based on their qualifications and experience as well as a personal interview. At the same time, suitable interviewees were located and approached about this initiative.

On May 24-25, 2012, the program held a 2-days training seminar for the Israeli volunteers, focusing on the history of Kielce and its Jewry (including an encounter with Mr. Bogdan Białek of the Jan Karski Society. Following a process of introspection and reflection, the volunteers raised ideas for workshops in Kielce and each selected a theme for his or her workshop. The participants additionally worked on developing their interviewing and documenting skills, honing them in the context of life stories and especially life stories of Holocaust survivors. Following this seminar, each Israeli volunteer was assigned two interviewees to work with.

adam7_maleInterviewing, documenting and preparing for Sukkat Shalom events: June-mid-September 2012

During the summer of 2012, the Israeli volunteers met with each interviewee individually in his or her own place of residence, for 4-6 sessions (of about 10 hours in total). During these encounters, the volunteers listened to the life stories of the elderly survivors and documented them. In particular, they encouraged the interviewees to talk about their lives in Kielce prior to the war. In parallel, each volunteer worked on further developing his or her Kielce workshop ideas.

Additionally, the volunteers met each month with program director Avigail Moshe, for half-day workshops that took place in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. The first part of each workshop was dedicated to sharing progress reports, listening to each other’s challenges and thinking about solutions together. The second part of each encounter was dedicated to a presentation by one of the volunteers (in turn), in which a workshop proposed and developed by a volunteer was enacted or demonstrated to the group, collecting important feedback and ideas for implementation in Kielce for a high school audience.

Sukkat Shalom events in Kielce: September 27-October 5, 2012

Having completed their interviews and prepared their workshops, the Israeli volunteers, accompanied by Avigail Moshe, arrived in Kielce on Thursday, September 27, 2012. The following Friday and Saturday were dedicated to orientation and to getting to know the local partners and the area. On Friday night, the Israeli volunteers were hosted by Bogdan Białek for a special evening with over 30 members of the local community, including a concert and a shared Shabbat meal. Mr. Białek also took the volunteers on two tours of the city, including a visit to the Jewish cemetery and the former Jewish neighborhood.

adam6_maleOn Sunday, September 30th, the eve of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, the Israeli volunteers, together with local volunteers, built and decorated a special sukkah on the top floor of Galeria Echo. On that afternoon, the sukkah first opened to the public. The opening event included a talk on the meaning and customs of Sukkot, including the ushpizin (sukkah guests). The Israelis each shared their thoughts and experiences with the Polish audience, telling them about themselves and about their motivations for taking part in the project. A special short film was screened, in which the former residents of Kielce who were interviewed in the project shared their childhood memories of Sukkot in Kielce.

The sukkah remained opened throughout the week of Sukkot (until October 5th). On each of these days, between 6-8pm, the local public visited the sukkah for a special presentation by Avigail Moshe about the daily “ushpiz” (traditional guest) and two presentations from the volunteers telling the life stories of their interviewees (including video clips of the interviewees in Polish and messages they sent the residents of Kielce). In between presentations, the volunteers and the audience enjoyed a sing-along of Jewish songs.

adam4_maleDuring the mornings of those days, the Israeli volunteers, accompanied by local volunteers, visited several high schools in the city and held workshops focused on Judaism, Israel and the Jewish history of Kielce. This also gave both sides a wonderful opportunity to encounter one another and to contemplate the meaning of Jewish-Polish relations in the present, in light of the past and in expectation of the future.

Visits to Krakow and Warsaw: October 5-8, 2012

After leaving Kielce, the Israeli volunteers spent four more days in Poland, two in Krakow and two in Warsaw, getting a better idea of Poland as a whole and enjoying the country as tourist, free of historical prejudice and fears. They enjoyed the hospitality of the local Jewish communities, which allowed them to experience the living Jewish communities in Poland today.

Post-project activities in Israel: October-December 2012

adam2_maleOn October 25, 2012, the Israeli volunteers met with together to discuss their experiences in the project and share their insights with one another. Here are some of their reflections:
-    “The fact that we had a significant stay in Kielce allowed us to meet local people and through them to experience today’s Poland and to be exposed to the Polish narrative.”
-    “We had a chance to meet with people of different ages and people working in different frameworks: teachers, students, local volunteers, local guests in the Sukkah. That what made this experience so unique.”
-    “For mw, to tell, in Kielce, the story of Pinchas, who was born there, survived the Holocaust, and build a new family in a state of his own, was a miracle.”
-    “The warm welcome by the people from Jan Karski Society and by people we met during that week, didn’t give us an opportunity to stay distant – we immediately engaged.”
-    “The first time I heard about Kielce was six months before I arrived there. I spent the summer listening to and documenting stories from Kielce – not all of them were pleasant. I had an impression that this is a tough place for a Jew to be in. I came to Kielce and found a beautiful city with beautiful, warm and welcoming people.”
-    “I came to Kielce with fear and anxiety; this is how I was raised as a young Jewish girl living in Israel. Meeting with the people of Kielce made me fear less.”
-    “I tried to avoid dealing with the Holocaust. The fact that I had the privilege of meeting two of the survivors, listening to and documenting their stories, helped me to understand it more. I would like to thank them for sharing with me their life stories.”
-    “The life stories I documented became my own stories. The people I met in Kielce were eager to hear these stories; they were interested to know all about the Jews of Kielce. Through me, these stories became their stories.

A special summative event with the volunteers, the interviewees and their family members took place on December 12, 2012. During this event, the interviewees, some meeting each other for the first time since their childhood in Kielce, shared their stories with everyone, and the volunteers shared with them and their families their experiences from modern Kielce and the Sukkat Shalom event.

Follow-up activities and future plans

adam_logoIn the past months, the volunteers have been working on preparing a special publication containing the life stories of the interviewees as well their own experiences from the Sukkat Shalom events in Kielce. The Hebrew version is due to be published in February 2013. The next cycle of the project is planned to start in April 2013.

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