Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Teen Trips to Poland: Ka-Ching! ?המסע לפולין: חיוני

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.


  1. Dear Yam,

    I agree with your claim that teen trips to Poland need to be reconsidered. Golan argues correctly, in my opinion, that the trip inflicts a traumatic experience on our youth for which they are unprepared, places an unfair and unequal financial burden on participants' families and provides those who partake in them with answers that are often excessive, context-devoid and misleading. As to Oz-Salzberger's call for a trip which incorporates the Sephardi narrative, I can add this personal note: while I was teaching in Beit Shean, many of my students, who came from north African or Arab cultures, refused to attend a showing of "Schindler's List" on Yom HaShoah, claiming that, "that's the Ashkenazis' story".

    In my own opinion, however, there is another, no less compelling reason to rethink this venture: the trip passes on to new generations of Israelis a legacy of victimhood which goes on to dominate the way we as Israelis see ourselves and interpret events around us. Every criticism, every demand that we take some responsibility for our current state of affairs is repelled as we draw the comforting cloak of victimhood tighter, comforting ourselves that our interlocutors are doubtless anti semities and therefore have no validity. There is nothing less Zionist in my eyes than this sloughing off of responsibility, that our actions as a nation have no relation to our current state of affairs because everyone hates us anyway. This attitude, which I bleieve the trip perpetuates, will only lead to further catstrophes, in memory of which future trips will doubtless be organized.

  2. Sara Cohen said:
    "I gotta disagree with you on this one—I think [my daughter] Yasmin had a really meaningful experience, a lot due to Shai Shweber [teacher], who ran the trip.

  3. Shai Schweber said:

    ים שלום
    אכן מעניין, אני יכול להציע לך חומר רב מאד בנוגע למסעות לפולין ולהוראת השואה וממליץ לך ללמוד את הנושא לפני שאת מכריעה בעניין. המאמר של אבירמה גולן מאד לא רציני ולא ממנו ניתן ללמוד. אני מאד מעריך את האישה אבל בכתבה זו היא לא יודעת על מה היא מדברת. לדוגמא כבר לא נוסעים לפרג בצמוד למסע לפולין (למרות שגם את זה לא הייתי פוסל על הסף) ואף בר דעת לא מדבר על המסע במקום ללמוד היסטוריה אלא בנוסף וכשיא של תהליך הלמידה.
    יש הרבה פסול בדרך שבה מתייחסים למסעות לפולין בחלק מבתי הספר וצריך לחשוב טוב טוב איך עושים זאת. אבל מכאן ועד לשלול את המסעות באופן גורף הדרך ארוכה. נסעתי כבר שלוש פעמים עם תלמידי מעלה שחרות לפולין ואני לא מרגיש שחינכתי לשנאה (של פולנים או אחרים) לא ללאומנות ולא גרמתי נזק. סיור ביד ושם הוא טראומתי לא פחות מסיור בפולין (חלק מהתלמידים אומרים שאף יותר!) לא נוסעים לפולין בשביל לזעזע תלמידים.

    המסע לא מתאים לכל אחד ומי שיש חשש שיחווה טראומה ונפשו תיפגע לא צריך לנסוע. אני חושב שעבור רוב מכריע של התלמידים זו חוויה מחזקת מעצימה, מעשירה ומלמדת על נפש האדם.