The most unexpected joy I had on my recent 4 day trip to find my Polish roots, is one I was, sadly, unable to photograph.
On Thursday morning, my son Darion who lives in London with his pregnant wife and children, took the wheel of a cute white Renault in Warsaw. A visit to the new Museum of 1000 years of Jewish history left us engaged interactively for hours with its many surprising displays. My camera was happy.
We spent another day in Warsaw before departure. This was also duly recorded. A Chopin festival was underway, peacocks spread their tails for show, and we enjoyed the June sunshine walking through luxurious green and historically restored palatial architecture in the park where all of Warsaw seemed to be whiling away their day. This was not a Warsaw of ghettos; it was possibly the Warsaw our ancestors once enjoyed more than a century earlier.
Our plan was to race to see Blaszki and Kalisz on Friday, and be back in Warsaw to depart for London on Sunday night. This meant hours behind the wheel, eating on the run, and some impulsive actions. Friday and Saturday nights we slept in Lodz. The driving was like a trip from Melbourne to Sydney via Canberra. Out of town the highways are wide and well-connected.
Friday morning we took the scenic route to Blaszki, past many little farmlets and modern windmills. It was hard to fill an hour in my namesake town. Kalisz was incredible, as we had a Jewish guide who researched my family. I will write about that one day. We made a kiddush on Friday night at the Blaszki park as we passed it again on our way back to Lodz.
But what to do on shabbat? The massive cemetary was shut and we were walking the borders of the Lodz ghetto, called Littmanstadt, when we realised that there might be a shule service somewhere. After lots of wrong detours we arrived to find the ‘shabbos goy’ outside.
In our bedraggled jeans, but with Darion wearing his kippah, we entered a hall where zemirot had just finished. In our best High school Hebrew, we were thrilled to be invited to the table. We were given wine, challah, and with hands washed, fresh cholent was… Delicious!! The twenty or so who had previously eaten, waited patiently. We spoke no Polish and only one woman spoke English. She whispered to me that on the previous Monday, our host the Lodz Rabbi Simcha Keller — formerly Krzysztof Skowronski – had married.
They did not have the numbers for the ‘Sheva Brachot’ , seven blessings for the days following the marriage, until Darion walked in to make up the tenth man. The feeling that we were able to participate in these blessings is indescribable. It was like we all had a better validated hope for a revitalized community in the place where so many had perished.
Darion was honoured to be given one of the blessings to say in Hebrew. Afterwards we danced with joy in our separate men’s and women’s circles. I wasn’t spoiling the occasion by taking photos in shule on Shabbat. But I have taken an unforgettable video in my head instead!
I wish Rabbi and Rebbetzin Keller a long, happy and productive life, and note that a Jewish kindergarten is being planned. May they fill it with hopes for the future.