Idan Raichel Concert and Cinema City in Jerusalem

Last week was full of great entertainment for me here in Jerusalem- woohoo!

Here is a quick recap of the highlights:

1) The Idan Raichel Project Concert at the Jerusalem International Convention Center

Idan Raichel is an Israeli musician who’s been somewhat of a cultural/national icon for many years. He performs with a group called the Idan Raichel project, and the music is a blend of Middle Eastern sounds. The Jerusalem International Convention Center is in the north of the city near to the Central Bus Station, and it was a huge building with lots of interesting artwork that I hope to have more time to look at in the future. People streaming in for the concert:

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The concert was awesome. Something that I liked was that Idan Raichel wasn’t at all centerstage the whole time – primarily he sat to the side of the stage on the piano and other members of the group took a central focus:

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If you have the opportunity, I would definitely recommend seeing the Idan Raichel Project in concert! (if you want to check out some of his most famous songs, look here, here, or here!)

2) Hosting “balls” Shabbat!

On Friday night, Noah and I had a group of people we play basketball with over for Shabbat dinner. Since we are united by basketball, it seemed appropriate to give the dinner a ‘balls’ theme – ie, food in the shape of balls! It was a lot of fun and – needless to say – hilarious. The menu included lentil balls, meatballs, cherry tomatoes, small potatoes, and rice with peas:

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3) Cinema City in Jerusalem

Imagine if Disney World and Times Square had a baby…okay, got it?!

That’s Cinema City in Jerusalem! Noah and I had heard about this movie theater/mall/phenomenon since coming to Israel, and it is truly quite an experience. We decided to go there for a movie and dinner this past Motzei Shabbat (after the end of Shabbat on Saturday night), and it was pretty impressive! In these pictures, the place is just coming alive because Shabbat recently ended:

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Something you don’t see everyday…

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When you walk in, the upper level is where you can buy tickets and there is a mall of sorts with lots of shops and restaurants. Then, there is a lower level with theaters and an impressive concessions stand (serving Ben and Jerry’s ice cream!):

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We saw the movie American Sniper (in English, Hebrew subtitles):

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I thought the movie was very good, although the intense content of the film left me feeling somewhat on edge afterwards. If you want to see something lighter, they are also showing 50 Shades currently…

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4) Days of Togetherness!!

‘Days of Togetherness’ is super cheesy but also amazingly fun. I first read about the idea on Carrots ‘N’ Cake, and I thought it sounded super cute/nice. Noah and I did it last year, and we decided to do it again this year! Carrot does it for 24 days leading up to Christmas, but we’ve done it pretty much whenever seems like a good time! Here’s how it works…

– choose a number of days (we’re doing 28 this year) and think of that number of activities that you would like to do with your partner
– write each activity on a separate slip of paper
– put all of the papers in a container of sorts
– every day, draw and activity and do it!
super easy. super fun.

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So far, we have drawn the following activities: write a note, send a snapchat of a mystery item, play Dominion, play a game (unspecified), and find a recipe for the other person to make for dinner this week.

And…I’m actually just about to go on a walk for today’s activity so, bye. 🙂

 

You know it’s a Middle Eastern snowstorm when…

About a month ago, there were 3 “snow” days in Jerusalem. School was cancelled, many shops closed, but there was essentially no snow. It was a little disappointing from the play-in-the-snow perspective, but nice from the I-have-a-free-day perspective. This week, when I heard there was going to be snow (after a couple of weeks with weather in the 60s and 70s!), I was quite skeptical that there would much out of the ordinary.

BUT, this morning when I woke up…

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SNOW OUTSIDE MY WINDOW!

Much surprise. 🙂

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After a quick breakfast of eggs in a hole…

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It was time to explore!!!

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On our adventures, I learned the following:

You know it’s a Middle Eastern snow storm when…

The roads are completely deserted of cars when confronted with the fluffy white stuff:

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People try to go sledding with their surf boards:

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Plastic bags are considered a reasonable alternative for snow boots:

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Plastic bags are a reasonable alternative for a snow brush:

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Construction vehicles are used as plows:

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People shake the snow from trees on top of them because…hey, it’s a novelty!

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The roads have no drainage and become lakes after the mid-day melt:

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Even bell-hops at fancy hotels can’t resist playing with the snow:

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And you know you’re in a Jerusalem Middle Eastern snow storm when the haredim bust out the plastic bag hat covers…

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And the only place to open in the morning is the neighborhood bakery because – OF COURSE – people need their challah and Shabbat waits for no snow storm. ❤

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All and all, a fun and enlightening day. The city of gold, covered in white:

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Eucalyptus and the International Book Fair

Last week, Noah and I celebrated Valentine’s Day by going out to a fancy dinner at The Eucalyptus. Eucalyptus is a restaurant in Jerusalem located within the artist’s row on the outskirts of the Old City. I had read about Eucalyptus a few times since being in Jerusalem, and it was often listed as among the best restaurants in the city.

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Eucalyptus is a kosher meat restaurant, and I saw online that they did a few different tasting menus. Noah and I were excited at the prospect of ordering a tasting menu since in the U.S. we usually can’t do that sort of thing since the tasting menu typically includes some sort of trefe (non-kosher) food. It’s sooo nice not having to worry about that sort of thing here in Israel! 🙂

We settled on ordering the Shir HaShirim feast which was the mid-level tasting menu, including assorted appetizers, three entrees, and a dessert platter.

This was one extravagant meal – definitely an experience for a special occasion!
Side note: the lighting in the restaurant was dim (ooooh, how romantic) so the photos aren’t very high quality

The meal started with some breads and dips as well as a wild kale dish:

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The next round of dishes included roasted eggplant and roasted cauliflower with tehina:

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The last round of the ‘appetizers’ course was a trio of soups, including lentil, tomato, and artichoke soup as well as figs stuffed with chicken and something that vaguely resembled an egg roll (unpictured):

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The entrees were roasted duck with mashed potatoes, lamb neck in a stew with a pastry top, and a chicken and rice dish (which was served upside down in a pot and the waitress told Noah to make a wish on it before we ate!). This is the lamb stew:

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The meal ended with a dessert platter that included sorbet, chocolate souffle, something that vaguely resembled flan with a berry sauce, tiramisu, and roasted pears:

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Wow! What a meal. 🙂

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On our way home, we stopped by the International Book Fair which was a cultural event happening all of last week in Jerusalem. The event was hosted at the Tahana Rishona, and the book spread was even larger than I had anticipated.

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The fair was held indoors in an extremely large tent, and the book displays were divided up according to country or topic:

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In addition to books, there were also some stands selling various types of art, posters, etc. Unfortunately, we were there shortly before closing time, so there wasn’t much of an opportunity to look around and find something to buy. Nonetheless, I’m glad we went! I love that Jerusalem has so many cultural festivals and activities year round (and that so many of them are nearby to my neighborhood!).

 

Visiting Sachne Hot Springs and Gan Garoo

First of all, I am excited to announce the publication of my new TRAVEL PAGE! It took a while to go back through previous posts, but all of my travel posts from both within and outside the United States are now collected and organized in one travel page – linked to from the Treasure Your Being home page. The full pages devoted exclusively to Minnesota and Israel, of course, still exist.

Second of all, a pop quiz! What tickles and gives you a pedicure at the same time?

Answer: FLESH EATING FISH!

But actually, if you visit the Sachne hot springs, be prepared to either keep your legs moving the whole time or get some gentle nibbles from small toothless fish that like to eat dead skin off feet (have you ever seen them in the buckets used for pedicures? it’s pretty nuts!).

After our morning at Mt. Gilboa, the group I was traveling with this past weekend went to Sachne.

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Gorgeous, right?!

Sachne is a collection of natural pools fed by thermal springs that keep the water warm year round.

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Swimming here was a lot of fun – and I’m not even much of a swimmer! We stayed for about 30 minutes and then headed to the nearby Gan Garoo.

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Gan Garoo was – you guessed it – a kangaroo park and petting zoo extraordinaire. When we got there, we walked quickly past a lizard, bird, and a koala bear exhibit, and made a beeline to the kangaroo park.

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I can’t verify, but one of the people who worked at Gan Garoo told us that this is the only place outside of Australia where you can pet a kangaroo.

At first, we approached with trepidation…

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But things quickly warmed up between us:

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The kangaroos were super soft and very friendly…especially when we bought some of the kangaroo food to feed them:

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After leaving the kangaroos, we checked out the rest of the animal exhibits. This included a visit to a goat petting zoo:

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And a visit with some parrots:

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We were extremely surprised/terrified when the birds started swooping onto us as soon as we walked inside the parrot exhibit. I was expecting to feed them while they remained firmly in a tree!

Noah wasn’t such a fan of the bird contact…

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He was, however, a very big fan of this miniature construction vehicle. 10 shekels bought him an electrically-powered and joyous 5 minutes of moving dirt with this bad boy:

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Visiting Tzfat in the fog and lunch on Mt. Gilboa

This past weekend I went on a trip with some friends to Tzfat and the Lower Galilee. We started our trip bright and early on Friday morning by picking up a rental car in Jerusalem and cramming everyone/everything inside. Surprisingly, the car didn’t have much trunk space, so it was a little tight:

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Nonetheless, we got to our first stop – Tzfat – after a little more than two hours. Tzfat is one of the four holy cities in Judaism, and it is associated with the element of air (the other holy cities are Jerusalem:fire, Hebron:earth, and Tiberias:water). This was a particularly appropriate day to visit Tzfat since the weather gave us a definite taste of its airy quality!

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My friend Sasha went for a private lesson with glass artist Sheva Chaya.
(you can learn about Sasha’s super cool glassworks here!)

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…and the rest of us wandered around the city for a bit:

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Since the weather was a bit cold and rainy, before too long we ended up inside a falafel shop eating lots of delicious fried food:

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Once regaining Sasha, we headed to a grocery store for some snacking essentials and then checked into the Karei Deshe Guest House where we were staying for the night to get ready for Shabbat:

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The next day, we had a full day of activities that started with a hike on Mt. Gilboa. Mt. Gilboa is located in the Lower Galilee region and is particularly known for the wildflowers that grow abundant in the spring. We went for about an hour hike and (although we lost the trail and were mainly just forging through the brush!) had a lot of fun:

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After the hike, we went for lunch at a restaurant called The Gilboa Herb Farm

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The restaurant was adorable with amazing views looking out from the mountaintop. There were so many delicious things on the menu! We ended up ordering focaccia and some mushroom/sweet potato falafel to share as appetizers, and I got gnocchi as a main dish – Noah got a lamb sausage something with mashed potatoes:

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We also ordered a few desserts as a table to share afterwards and everything was delicious! If you are going to Mt. Gilboa, I would highly recommend visiting this restaurant.

Check back soon for a post on the rest of the trip’s adventures including a trip to the Sachne hot springs and a visit to Gan Garoo (can you guess what that is? Hint: it is related to an animal that rhymes in gangaroo!).

Mishpatim: Who’s in my window?

I wrote the following post for the Pardes student blog about this week’s parasha (section of the Torah designated for this week). So…enjoy some Torah learning. 🙂
(previous blog post on parashat Vayera here)

This week’s parasha, Mishpatim, is essentially a long list of laws laid out for the Jewish people following the revelation at Sinai. Often, the laws seem understandable (if a man leaves their animal with a neighbor for safekeeping and the animal is killed/hurt/disappears, the neighbor must make an oath that he had no hand in the damage done, v. 22:9). Sometimes, the laws are not only understandable but, also, feel comfortable and positive from a modern mindset (if you lend money to a poor person, do not act as a demanding creditor, v. 22:24). Sometimes, the laws are a bit uncomfortable (if a pregnant woman is hit and miscarries, she should receive monetary payment for the worth of the lost child, v. 21:22). Side note: What made me uncomfortable here was the notion of assigning monetary worth as recompense for a lost child. Yet, my Chumash teacher, Meir Schweiger pointed out that insurance companies assign monetary worth to lost life as a general practice.

By and large, I read the laws outlined in this parasha as positive measures to protect those who are disadvantaged, vulnerable, or likely to be mistreated. This notion is explicitly stated in a Rashi commentary on pasuk 22:21 – “you must not mistreat any widow or orphan.” On this pasuk, Rashi states, “the same applies to any person, but the Torah speaks of what is usual, for they are weak and are frequently mistreated.”

One scenario, however, stood out to me from this lengthy account of laws as particularly worthy of additional thought. The scenario is as follows: a thief is found breaking in [to an unspecified location]. After being caught, the thief is struck and killed (v. 22:1).

The Torah continues on to evaluate the appropriateness of the thief’s death. If the situation aligns with the baseline narrative that the thief breaks in, is caught, stuck and killed, then the person who kills the thief has no liability. Rashi’s commentary states that the killing of the thief should not be considered murder, and it is from here we derive the legitimacy of killing as a form of self-defense.

YET, the Torah states, “if the sun shone on him, there is liability for his blood.”

What does that mean?!?!

Back to my favorite French commentator on the Tanakh…

Rashi says that “if the sun shone on him” is an allegory. The phrase is ultimately saying that we must determine if the thief has come with the intention of taking a life. The sun represents peace, and perhaps the thief has come with peace on him (ie, he just wants to steal something – he doesn’t really want to hurt you!).

So now, as if often the case, doing what is ‘right’ stops being something we can determine by following a guidebook and can only be done by using our powers of intuition and rationale. On the one hand, heaven forbid the thief be given the benefit of the doubt and the person being robbed is murdered. On the other hand, how can we justly assume that someone wants to kill us just because we see them sneaking in our window? Maybe they are like Jean Valjean and are simply trying to steal some bread to feed a starving child! (Les Miserables reference for those not up on the Broadway scene.)

This philosophical merry-go-round called to mind an NPR story I heard several years ago (story online here). The story goes that a social worker in New York City was heading to his favorite diner when a teenage boy approached him with a knife and demanded his wallet. The man handed over his wallet…and also his coat. Saying, “if you’re going to be out here all night, you might as well be warm.” The man then proceeded to invite the teen to join him at the diner for a bite to eat. Although shocked, the teen agreed. At the end of the meal, the teen returned the wallet and also (on the man’s request) handed over his knife.

Maybe the teen got a new knife the next day. Maybe he robbed someone right after he left the diner. Maybe someone killed him in an act of self-defense.

Or, maybe the social worker was the first person to ever treat that kid with respect. Maybe the teen still remembers that meal at the diner – remembers how it turned his life around. Maybe he started an organization to help disadvantaged youth in New York City find ways to make ends meet without theft and violence.

Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

And maybe that’s the point. The point is that we don’t know. We don’t know if that person climbing in the window wants to kill someone…or if they really need something and don’t know any other way to get it. Yes, the Torah says, you can defend yourself. Of course, you can defend yourself. But you better be pretty darn sure that you are actually in danger! This creates a burden of certainly that is hard to determine and even harder to prove, indicating to me that our mandate here is to be careful: careful of our assumptions, careful of our actions, careful of how we treat other people. Yes, all people. And hey, maybe you can swing it to just give the guy a loan (but, don’t forget, if he’s still poor when he’s supposed to pay you back, don’t embarrass him by asking for the money back, v. 22.24).

*all pasukim references refer to the book of Shemot

Visiting Auschwitz with Heritage Seminars

The last day of my trip in Poland with Heritage Seminars was spent at Auschwitz/Birkenau. We visited the camp about two weeks ahead of Auschwitz’s 70th anniversary of liberation, and there were lots of signs of the upcoming celebration (you may have seen it mentioned in the recent news). Some of the buildings were undergoing restorations, and I saw multiple film crews getting shots of the camp during my group’s visit.

The camp operated for about 4 years, and during that time 1.3 million people were killed – 1.1 million of them Jews. Auschwitz has become the most infamous of the Nazi concentration camps, and the name itself has become a symbol for killing and horror. I have to say, after spending a day there, it’s really not hard to see why.

The camp actually has three sections: Auschwitz I (the original camp used initially for political prison), Auschwitz II (often called Birkenau), and Auschwitz III (the smallest section of the camp, and it also generally had the most ‘livable’ conditions). Most of the people who survived Auschwitz were from Auschwitz III.

In the morning, my group spend about 3 hours at Birkenau – Auschwitz II. This camp was comprised primarily of large fields and barracks:

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About 90,000-100,000 slave laborers were working here at a given time. The turnover, however, was extremely high because prisoners died quickly due to starvation, illness, and disease. The average lifespan of a prisoner was only 3 months.

Auschwitz was placed in this location due to its proximity to a railway juncture, thus making it easy to ship prisoners here (this was a key railroad crossing because of coal industry in the area). The train tracks used for shipping prisoners to the camp go right to Birkenau, and thus, most of the crematoriums were also built in this section of the camp:

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In the last year of the war, the Nazis increased their ‘production’ at killing Jews from some of the conquered areas outside of Poland and Germany. For example, 400,000 Hungarian Jews were brought to Auschwitz in a period of 3 months during 1944. At the end of the war, the Nazis started to destroy many of the crematoriums and gas chambers. This is what remains from one of the crematoriums at Birkenau:

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The structure was built beneath ground in order to insulate the sound, making it more difficult to hear the screams of the dying. The gas chamber rooms themselves were very small, meaning that people would be crammed in together very tightly. The gas chambers at Auschwitz used the chemical Zyklon B. Zyklon B is crystalized at room temperature, and it disperses into a gas after being heated. The chemical would be dropped in solid form into the gas chamber, and the body heat from so many people pushed together would release the gas – people would generally be dead in about 5 minutes. Thus, the gassing part of the operation was quite fast – the burning of the bodies was by far the slowest part of the process (the reason why accounts from the Holocaust describe the crematoriums as burning all through the night).

This is what the Zyklon B gas looked like in solid form as well as a display of empty containers found at the camp:

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Many of the buildings were open and preserved for visitors to see, including this room which served as a sorting area for new prisoners to the camp. Prisoners would enter this room, be stripped of their belongings (including clothes), have their hair cut, and continue on to be showered/disinfected and then receive camp clothes:

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These are the areas in which prisoners would receive camp clothes and their old clothes were placed to be disinfected (and then sold for profit by the Nazis back in Germany or repurposed for German military use):

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Most of those who arrived to Auschwitz never saw these areas; about 80% of those brought to the camp were taken directly to the gas chambers.

We were able to enter one of the buildings with barracks and to see where prisoners slept. Prisoners were crammed into these barracks, making sleep difficult and enabling the spread of disease. Something we learned in the barracks building that stood out to me was the connection between relationships and survival. Of course, to a large extent, surviving came down to luck. Yet, beyond this, having someone else with you (a family member or close friend) was an extremely significant factor for many who survived. The other components of camp life that most aided survival were: access to food beyond the rationed amount, having a work assignment under a roof, and speaking German (ie, being able to understand the SS and orders given). 22 different languages were spoken at the camp, and prisoners who spoke the same language often supported each other in small groups.

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If someone died in the barracks overnight, the other prisoners of the bunk were expected to carry that person to roll call in the morning. If anyone was absent from roll call (even if that missing person was dead), all of the prisoners would be expected to stand until the person was accounted for. The longest roll call at Auschwitz lasted 19 hours – I can’t imagine standing that long in any circumstance, much less when I am literally starving.

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After a rough morning at Birkenau, my group headed to Auschwitz I for a tour with one of the camp’s official guides, Dakota Jak. Dakota was amazing – she had an incredible knowledge base and relayed the information in a very engaging and challenging way.

Auschwitz I is the area with the infamous Albeit Macht Frei sign (although other camps also had this sign):

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The look of Auschwitz I was very different from Birkenau – Auschwitz I was defined primarily by brick buildings, small courtyards, and relatively narrow walkways:

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There were two things that were particularly interesting to me that came up during the tour with Dakota. The first was about a commonly voiced question, “why was there not more revolt from the Jews?” Dakota highlighted a few things to answer this question. First, families often tried to stay together, attempting to comply with orders in hopes of being kept together. What’s more, there are almost no Holocaust survivors who were woman during that time period – the reason being that when families were separated, children were sent with the women. Mothers would not leave their children (even if they were technically strong enough to have been selected for work), causing essentially all of the women to go with their children to the gas chambers. Also, Dakota noted that 15,000 POWs were sent to Auschwitz – trained Soviet soldiers. Only 96 of them survived. This was to highlight the horrible conditions and true helplessness of the prisoners; if trained soldiers were unable to help themselves, how much more so would it be essentially impossible for regular civilians.

The second point of great interest to me is the disturbing reality that the Allied forces didn’t do anything to stop what was happening at the concentration camps. Aerial photos from the wartime period as well as accounts from escapees prove that what was happening at the concentration camps was not a secret from the Allies. Why, then, would they not do something? Bombing the train tracks, for example, that were bringing thousands of prisoners to their deaths every day could have potentially saved hundreds of thousands of lives. The historical answer is, disturbingly, not very satisfying. Essentially, it seems that initially the thought was that what was happening in the camps “wasn’t their problem.” Casualties were accepted as a part of war, and what was going on internally in Germany didn’t register as part of the Allied agenda. Second, the priority of the Allied forces was winning the military war. Bombing the tracks or focusing efforts on liberating the camps was considered as a diversion away from the primary objective. The goal was to win a war – not help the Jews.

At Auschwitz I, the buildings were a combination of preserved rooms and exhibits. Most of the exhibits were relatively brief: a few signs with basic information, a few pictures, and displays with physical remnants from the camp. In this case, the displays were able to relay information without needing a lot of printed information as accompaniment. For example, here is a room full of suitcases that prisoners brought with them to the camp. These suitcases would have been immediately taken upon arrival and then sorted through to look for valuables or anything that could be resold by the Germans:

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This is a walkway lined on both sides by shoes (also taken from prisoners, many shoes were repaired by prisoners and then sold by the Germans):

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One of the most memorable buildings we visited at Auschwitz I was Block 11 – the building that was used as the camp prison. Being in the prison involved being subjected to various conditions and treatments that would certainly qualify as torture. The first experiment using Zyklon B took place in Block 11. Next to Block 11 was an area called the Black Wall:

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The wall was used as a site for the public executions of prisoners, and it’s in a particularly ominous location because it’s sandwiched in a courtyard between Block 11 on one side and the ‘medical’ center (ie, where experiments were conducted on live subjects) on the other.

The last building we visited at Auschwitz I was the crematorium – the only standing crematorium left at the camp.

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The crematorium building was set up with a doorway that led into a small indoor foyer that fed directly into a gas chamber room (at this particular crematorium, prisoners were generally made to take off their clothes before even entering the building):

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After being gassed, prisoners were carted (by other prisoners) into the attached crematorium room with ovens:

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While some prisoners who had this job did survive the Holocaust, accounts from their personal experiences are almost nonexistent – most likely, understandably, due to the extreme trauma and guilt associated with their particular role at the camp. An interesting anecdote, however, is that some information about the camp was found in canisters hidden within the ashes by the prisoners who worked in the crematoriums. The canisters often contained secretly-taken photographs and notes about the horrors happening at the camp.

After a long day at Auschwitz, our group went to another facility for a quick processing session and then headed to the airport:

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Goodbye, Poland. Part of me wants to come back, but part of me never wants to subject myself to seeing these sorts of things again. I feel very strongly after this trip, however, that visiting Poland and seeing these sites to gain a better understanding of the Holocaust was overall a very positive experience and one that I would suggest to almost anyone. After this trip, I felt as though I could experience my life in a more aware, grateful, and appreciative way. I think this sort of trip also has an impact on building a positive relationship with Israel. The existence and legitimacy of Israel is in no way solely tied to the Holocaust, but I do believe that understanding the Holocaust on a deep level can make someone more thoughtful and appreciative of the essential role that Israel plays in the world today and for the Jewish people.

In closing, I will say that flying from Poland back ‘home’ to Jerusalem was an amazing feeling – perhaps some small piece of hope and optimism in a week that was often tragic.

Other Poland posts:

Warsaw
Tikocyn and Lupachowa Forest
Lublin and Majdanek
Tarnow, Zbilatowska Gora, and Krakow