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Finding the Lost Tribe of Judah…in Poland

This past weekend I somehow managed to end up in a Catholic church in Grosse Pointe, Michigan—not once, but two times. I had happily agreed to travel home with a girlfriend for the weekend to hang out with her family. … Read More

By / April 11, 2007

This past weekend I somehow managed to end up in a Catholic church in Grosse Pointe, Michigan—not once, but two times. I had happily agreed to travel home with a girlfriend for the weekend to hang out with her family. I just didn’t realize I would be expected to attend two Catholic services with the family: a bread-blessing service and an Easter mass. 

And is if it weren’t awkward enough that I—a Midrash-loving Jew by choice who spends her days cornering rabbis, studying the Holocaust, and figuring out if there is a Jewish novel she hasn’t yet read—found myself in the cathedral of the allegedly risen one on the most holiest of Christian holidays, it turns out that this was a community comprised mostly of Polish people. This was particularly unnerving for me, and though it will sound terrible to say, I’m going to say it anyway:

 I am uncomfortable around large groups of Poles or Ukrainians.  

There—it’s all out in the open now. I know it isn’t right, nor is it politically correct. Maybe I’ve watched Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah and read Jan Gross’s Neighbors one too many times to pretend that the big fat elephant in the room—that is, Polish citizens’ overwhelming contribution to the Holocaust and countless anti-Semitic acts of violence against Jews even after WWII; and the inability of many Poles (and Poland) to take responsibility for the parts they individually played in the greatest atrocity of the twentieth century—is not there. I mean, let’s face it—Germany has done a hell of a lot more than Poland when it comes to acknowledging national, collective guilt. Now, I know of course that the Polish community I found myself in was also a community of Americans, and probably good people at that. I am also aware that there are countless Polish individuals who are counted among the righteous gentiles. And, I also happen to know, and am friends with, many Polish people who abhor anti-Semitism and make a conscious effort to speak out against it.

But still . . . on Saturday night as we ate dinner in one of those hole-in-the-wall Polish restaurants—I am uncomfortable with Polish history but I don’t mind Polish food, especially dill pickle soup and potato pierogis, which remind me of Yonah Schimmel knishes—I couldn’t help but pick out the ones who looked like they could’ve been guards at death camps, or cruel Polish peasants at Jedwabne. There was one little old Jewish man in the Polish restaurant, sitting in a corner, who befriended me when he overheard me use the term “midrash.” We quickly banded together. 

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