15 March 2013
4 Nissan 5773
As I write this, I am sitting in what is, perhaps, the ultimate, Jewish, liminal space. I am on an airplane from Poland to Israel.
Gann’s Exploration Week officially begins today, but I began my “exploration” a few days earlier. I have the privilege of traveling with a group of lay leaders from the Boston Jewish community as part of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Acharai program, an 18-month leadership development program for which I am honored to serve as the scholar-in-residence. The highlight of the program is this mission to Poland and Israel.
This is my first time on a journey that no one wants to take but that every Jew, every human being, should at some point in his or her life. As anyone who has been to Auschwitz knows and as we all can probably imagine, there simply are no words. We stood, sang, and cried together in the middle of the monstrous, overwhelming wasteland that was Birkenau, in front of a cattle-car that served as the mechanism of dehumanization and the transport to hell of more than one million people. There are no words.
I know that it will take time for me to process this experience and that it will impact me in ways that I cannot yet understand. I plan to write and share more in the weeks and months to come, and, hopefully, difficult as they may be to express, I’ll find the words.
If you want to read more about the Acharai mission, our group is blogging at: www.acharai1314.wordpress.com.
As Passover preparation intensifies, let me share one thought. I understand now more than ever why it is not just enough for us to retell the Passover story. No, our rabbis tell us, we are not just storytellers. We are obligated to “see ourselves as if we ourselves went out of Egypt.” We need to feel, smell, taste, see, and know with more than just our minds what it felt like to be slaves. Only then can we begin to pass on this story, our story, to our children. And only then can we begin to feel and appreciate what it felt like, what it feels like, to be free. Just two generations after millions of our ancestors suffered and perished in Poland and throughout Europe, we must find the words.
Last night (Thursday night) our Acharai group rode a bus to the Warsaw airport, boarded a plane, and, God-willing, will land safely in Israel in a few hours. For this, too, I have no words. We are going home. I lived in Israel for years and have visited many times. But I know this time will feel different than it ever has before.
Rabbi Marc Baker