Jon Hanish, a rabbinical student at HUC-JIR, delivered his fifth-year sermon to the Los Angeles community discussing his October 2007 interfaith trip to Poland. Hanish was one of 50 seminary students from Poland, Germany, Israel, and the United States, including 45 Roman Catholic students, who traveled to Warsaw and Lublin for a conference on Jewish/Christian relations.
"My role," Hanish says, "was to help today's generation of Poles and Germans process their ancestors' role in the destruction of Polish Jewry." The group's first full day in Lublin consisted of touring Jewish Sites. Hanish says, "There were few Jewish sites remaining. Mostly markers. Yet, our Polish professors and the Polish participants kept talking about Jewish renewal; a cultural renaissance. I was befuddled. The leader of my discussion group, a Pole, spearheads the Lublin efforts to revive Jewish culture. How can you revive a culture when there is no Jewish citizenry?"
In his sermon, Hanish said, "The conference was about dialogue, about having Roman Catholics understand Jews, about Jews understanding Roman Catholics. We talked and talked until we couldn't talk anymore. As our time together was coming to a close, I realized that the Poles' current love affair with Judaism demonstrated how lost they were as a nation. They had suffered under the hands of the Nazis. Eighty-percent of Warsaw had been destroyed during World War II. After the war, they found themselves under the rule of Communism. It was only in 1989 that they found themselves free. Today, they search for their culture. But they don't have one. So they turn to the Jews who used to live in their country. The Jews whose culture thrived in their country. The Jews who have history and music and culture. And they try to make Jewish culture part of their culture. The biggest favor they can do for the Jews is to memorialize our suffering and heroism so that theneshamoat, the souls, of those who died on Polish soil can find some peace. This task cannot be completed solely by volunteers. Government involvement is necessary. Reparations need to be made. But the Poles I met – they were moving in the right direction."