– An interview with Avigail Moshe by Thilo Schöne –
Today I had the opportunity to interview Avigail Moshe, Director of Youth and Young Adult Programs for ICCI, who spoke with me about her experiences in Jewish-Polish dialogue. The trigger for this interview was her recent trip to Poland with a group of participants in an ICCI course on the subject of Polish-Jewish Relations Today, which took place from July 22th until August 2nd.
Avigail studied Islam and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has much experience in Jewish-Polish relations. She has been working for several years as an educator and coordinator for trips to Poland for young Israeli students and has attended many programs which deal with Jewish-Polish relations. Although the roots of her family are in Ukraine, she developed a huge interest in Poland and studied about it on an academic level.
The participants in the course she has been coordinating during the last year for ICCI were mixed in age, personal background, gender, and religious attitudes. Some participants had a professional background in the field and already knew a lot about the topic but wanted to discover the new realities in Poland and get to know the subject better. Others wanted to get a deeper insight into their personal roots and to learn more about their heritage.
When asked what she thought about the program of the course, a collaboration between ICCI and the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv, and about the changes in the group she observed, she made many fascinating statements. One could see Avigail’s fascination with Poland in her eyes. It was really important to her that the participants of this program had come to realize that Poland has changed, and that some of them started acknowledging that the Polish people also suffered during World War II.
Avigail is always impressed on her trips to Poland – especially so during this most recent trip – with the fact how the Polish Catholic church has changed in recent years. Most priests do not accuse Jews of killing Jesus anymore and appear to have a better understanding of the Jewish elements in Christianity, leading to a better, more positive appreciation of Judaism. Many Polish priests are also engaged in activities revolving around the Jewish heritage of Poland and in preserving the memory of Jewish life in Poland and of course of the Shoah. Avigail was really touched by the story of a Polish priest who prays once a month in Treblinka, and by the other priests who regularly visit concentration camp sites to pray for the souls of Jewish victims. In contrast to conventional public opinion, she has not discovered anti-Semitism in modern Poland. She feels strongly that programs like the recent seminar in Poland contribute to changes in public opinion.
On her recent visit to Poland, Avigail had the unique opportunity to attend the ceremony on August 1st of the national commemoration day of the Polish Warsaw Uprising of 1944. She was very surprised when she heard a siren at 5 p.m., similar to the one everyone in Israel can hear on the Holocaust Memorial Day. However, despite some similarities between the commemoration in Israel and the one in Poland, the meaning of the day for Polish citizens on the street appeared to be different. Furthermore, the timing of the Memorial Day in Poland falls outside the framework of formal education (since it is during summer break). Thus, unlike in Israel, schools do not appear to be involved in maintaining and passing along this legacy of collective memory.
Upon entering a Polish Catholic graveyard, Avigail was touched to hear the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, read Psalms in Hebrew. Such an experience, she thought, could only happen in Poland. Getting to know modern Poland and its Jewish heritage is an experience Avigail believes no Israeli should miss out on. She is determined to promote further progress in Jewish-Polish relations and hopes that more people will attend programs such as the course offered by ICCI and the Polish Institute.
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