Tent for march of the living participators erected by chabad, April 11, 2018.
(photo credit: MENACHEM SHLOMO)
WARSAW – Smack in the middle of what was once the Warsaw Ghetto, right outside the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and a short walk from the infamous Umschlagplatz, where hundreds of thousands of Jews were collected and forced onto trains leading to death camps, a large white tent invites people to come in, have a snack and get a glimpse at the way that Judaism still lives in Poland and around the world today.
The tent was inaugurated this week in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day and amid tensions between Jerusalem and Warsaw regarding a new Polish law that prohibits implying any complicity by the country in the Holocaust.
Throughout the week, the tent is hosting numerous events, with speakers including American Holocaust survivor, author and scholar Rabbi Nissen Mangel, who will be attending on Friday; chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel Marc Zell, who spoke on Tuesday; the director of the POLIN museum Dariusz Stola; and various other Polish dignitaries.
“Students who travel [with the March of the Living]
are often tired – physically, mentally and spiritually,” said the tent’s organizer, Rabbi Mayer Stambler, the head of Chabad in Poland.
“Like Abraham did in his tent, we invite them in to eat and give them also a chance to learn about Judaism.”
The tent is air conditioned, offers free Wi-Fi, kosher food and drinks, and couches to lounge on while waiting to enter the museum or before embarking onto buses after the visit.
To provide a contrast to the experience of people and groups coming from around the world to learn about the atrocities that occurred on Polish soil and to become acquainted with so much Jewish death, the tent houses an exhibit of current Jewish art and customs. It allows visitors to the Jewish museum a chance to step outside and see the ways in which Judaism is still alive and practiced today, in Poland and throughout the world.
“We are near the museum of POLIN, [but] we are a kind of living museum of a real living Jew,” Stambler said, adding: “Before the war, Poland was a center – the world’s biggest center – of Torah life and Torah scholars around the world.
I think it is time for us to strengthen again, and open classical Jewish education – even if we start with one, two or three children – each of them is a whole world.”
The tent will host a stream of weekly events for Jewish locals, including Jewish movie and music nights, and Talmud classes taught in Polish. Stambler hopes the tent will provide Jewish visitors and locals a chance to meet one another and become acquainted with their rich shared cultural heritage.
Referencing the location and the proximity to the first night of Passover when the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began in 1943, Stambler stressed his hope that the tent be used as an “uprising” against the philosophy of the Nazis – a tool to strengthen the Jewish community from the exact spot where hundreds of thousands of Jews were humiliated and sent to their deaths for being Jews.
The tent houses a Jewish scribe instructing people on how sacred scrolls are made, and an exhibition by Israeli artist Orit Martin, who describes her vibrant digital creations as “a journey of the soul searching for spiritual light.”
The tent also has numerous screens depicting Torah classes, popular Jewish and Israeli music, and Jewish films.
“This place, Poland, was the home of Jewish culture for 1,000 years,” said Zell.
“In Jewish history that is an amazingly long time for us to have a continuing connection to one place. There were many, many things accomplished in this country over those 1,000 years. It came – it’s true – to a terrible end, but the other part of it is what is happening here today.”