I am the program coordinator for the Union of Jewish Progressive Communities in Poland, Beit Polska. It is hard to remember how and why I got involved. Perhaps, it’s the need for improving and developing both myself and the Jewish world around me. I joined Beit Polska as a friend of the community, wishing to learn. The warmth of people and friendly relations I observed encouraged me to become a member and soon after, a teacher for children’s classes and summer day camp. A few years later, I began teaching adults in the Step by Step class. Today, I combine teaching with being the general coordinator of programs. Working both with children and adults in the community is a unique experience and it has given me an important perspective that influenced by doctoral work in sociology. The practical every day work allows me to work on rebuilding something that was once vibrant and active and suddenly lost. The process of discovering, discussing, and negotiating with others and oneself has inspired me.
As Jewish communities in Poland are quite tiny compared to United States, there is nothing like studies or even courses preparing for being a community coordinator, manager or program director. Last summer I had a chance to visit Los Angeles. During the trip and in between a fantastic trip to Lake Tahoe and the wine country, I met lots of wonderful people from different Jewish communities, participated in various Shabbat services and visited Introduction to Judaism classes. It gave me lots of great ideas and inspiration for what and how we could develop in Poland. My hope is that some of the ideas will be achievable in the next year. I have contemplated taking a masters degree in communal studies at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles after I finish my doctorate.
A big step forward for me is receiving the Roswell Klal Yisrael Fellowship for Global Leadership in November 2017 and now I am starting a several-month long process of developing the projects ideas and implementing them for the community under the support and supervision of and experienced mentors. Wish me and Beit Polska good luck!
I work as a lecturer at the Pedagogical University in Warsaw in the Janusz Korczak UNESCO Chair, leading classes for students and carrying out intercultural research projects. The majority of my students are future teachers and psychologists.
I am also working on my doctoral thesis, entitled “Life satisfaction and prejudice among students from Poland and Israel”. The idea for it came from over eight years of work as a coordinator for educational projects in a non-governmental organization, Living Bridge Foundation developing conversations about Polish-Jewish and Polish-Israeli dialog. The Living Bridge Foundation’s main goal is to facilitate contact and development for mutual cooperation between various social and professional groups from Poland and Israel. Observing the participants of the groups, I started to wonder what is the influence of different cultural and national narratives on the participants’ perceptions of both Israel and Poland?
The initial research on this subject was for my MA thesis among high school students. The initial finds showed that there are indeed, mutual prejudices on a similar level but differently motivated. On the Polish side, negative attitudes towards Jews and Israelis mostly came from the lack of knowledge, while among Israeli respondents, the dominant source for negative attitudes was emotional.
In the doctoral research, I luckily had the possibility to add an important variable relating to the kind of mutual contact or lack of it. The results point quite clearly to a difference resuling from longer or a shorter contact. Getting to know each other in a more sustained situation or planning the future events, lowered the level of prejudice. Subsequent meetings were then able to concentrate on more successful discussions about the past (including Second World War and the Holocaust), and overcoming mutual reluctances. What is interesting, when the contact was well planned through get-to-know-you sessions that built mutual trust, through learning together, to discussing and planning common projects over longer (1-2 weeks of training), the biggest opportunity for success in fighting stereotypes and prejudice in both groups was apparent.
So, rich with this knowledge I continue to show to Israeli educators the land of their ancestors and help them regain the knowledge of their heritage. In the last few years I have also planned and led private tours and heritage trips for visitors from the United Stated and Canada. With each encounter, I put all my heart into personalizing the experience, providing support in searching family documents and designing the trips in a unique way for each family or person. It’s very moving to see people, who after years can reconnect with their roots. The discoveries are mixed — sometimes happy, sometimes very difficult. I have been moved by meeting Righteous people who saved somebody’s ancestors bringing both – the memory of the tragic past and the faith in humanity of those who responded in heroic ways. For those who risked their lives or for their children it’s priceless to see the outcome – happy, successful people having children and grandchildren. Once I met and old Polish lady whose family helped hide Jewish friends during the war, she asked me if they finally made it to get to Israel. I am still searching.