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A New Itinerary: Focus on Life, not Death

July 16, 2012 - Maia Lazar - News Briefs

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On July 7th 2012, New Eastern Europe and the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow along with the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture hosted a discussion titled A New Itinerary: A panel discussion on Jewish Heritage Tours to Poland.

Panellists included Shana Penn, Executive Director of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, Helise E. Lieberman, Director of the Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Poland, Magda Matuszewska from the Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Poland and Karen Underhill from the Department of Baltic and Slavic Languages and Literature, University of Illinois at Chicago

The event was hosted at the Galicia Jewish Museum, a large open space complete with a bookstore and cafe that has a spacious photographic exhibit on Jewish landmarks and sites throughout Poland and Ukraine. Some of the photos feature frozen or wide open landscapes that imply “this is where a Jewish community once was.”

Shana Penn, who authored a text in a previous issue of New Eastern Europe, commented on the lack of alternatives available to American and Israeli Jews besides the death camps when visiting Poland. Most young Jews who come to Poland have less of a chance to learn about Jewish cultural heritage in this region before the Second World War as well as the revival taking place after the fall of communism.

Israeli soldiers, for example, were thought to be traumatized from coming to Poland and being led on a whirlwind multiple day itinerary of death camp after death camp. More often than not, they do not get to experience what Jewish life might have been like, but rather focus on death.

The Taube Foundation has started a series of tours which aim to highlight the cultural heritage of the Jewish people in this part of the world. The tours generally include meetings with Jewish leaders, historians, cultural events and can be customised for the participants. A guidebook, which the Foundation just published, aims to help participants explore their Jewish past and present and will be available soon.

For Jewish sites in Poland, alternatives to the grand death camp experience are becoming more available and popular. There is the Galicia Jewish Museum and the Jewish Community Centre (in Krakow), which provide a visual peek into the past as well as a living example of the present. More museums and sites are in the making with works currently under way to open up a new Jewish museum in Warsaw, which will specifically focus on the life and cultural heritage in this region.

Through the establishments of cultural heritage tours which aim to ask participants what they expect to learn from their experience, these alternatives may grow even more.

Pictures from the event can be seen below. Photos by Wojciech Koźmic. 

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