Besides Avirama Golan’s excellent arguments against teen trips to Poland עברית and Fani Oz-Salzberger’s excellent response, I’d like to add that besides the obvious obscenity inherent in pouring thousands of dollars into the Polish economy, essentially rewarding the Poles for “having hosted the party” we recall as the Holocaust, I have another, more subtle problem with the teen trips.
I get the sense that they’ve become a vehicle for a last-ditch, mainline history lesson similar in kind to what my congregation growing up did for its confirmation classes: Rabbi Margolies, who was quite learned and charismatic, basically used the confirmation year to take the class on a journey through Jewish history. He knew that it was the last time many, if not most of us, would sit in a room with our Jewish peers and learn about our tribe. It was if he was saying, “OK. Enough with the model Seders and Purim costumes. We’re not fooling around now.” He knew that it was his last chance to fight our impending assimilation, and he pulled out all the stops. Valiant effort though it was, it was also sad; it was an admission of failure of seven years of Hebrew school.
In the same way, the teen trips to Poland seem to me to be an admission of failure of 12 years of Israeli schooling. It’s having the kids wrap themselves in our flag and calling it patriotism. It’s admitting that most non-Orthodox kids have a weak connection, at best, to their Jewish past, and hoping that a mainline injection of death camps will give it to them. The problem is that while a mainline injection has immediate knockout effect, the effect wears off just as quickly. You just can’t ring the little crystal bell* and “make Zionism appear” like it’s some pancake mix where you “just add water and serve”.
I’m inclined to agree with Oz-Salzberger, and am in fact enchanted by the idea of a Muslim-Jewish teen trip to Spain. The fact is that nothing, really --not even marching through the death camps themselves -- can substitute for hearing the live testimony of Holocaust survivors. We’re just going to have to accept that fact, and move on to a new era in Holocaust education.