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The strength of the Jewish people

Adena Goldberg, third from right, witnessing the spot where open fire pits once stood outside of the gas chambers — at Treblinka, just outside of Warsaw.

For 13 years I have been taught many aspects of Jewish life and Jewish history. Living a Jewish life and learning from Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, I became confident in my Jewish education. As I got older, Holocaust studies was integrated into our education. We read testimonials, the facts, the numbers. We even meet with survivors and heard their stories of triumph.

As my friend Ariel Brudoley said best, “We think we understand the Holocaust, but you only realize once you see everything that it is something you can’t understand.” 

This feeling carried HBHA upperclassmen through our recent two-and-a-half week Jewish Heritage trip to Poland and Israel.

The first portion of the trip took us through the Jewish history of Poland — from shtetls to modern-day Jewish life. During our time there, I was overcome with emotion as we davened Shacharit with our backs to Birkenau. The death camps were overwhelming. We found ourselves angry and confused over what we were witnessing. But like Ariel said, we began to understand how horrific and unfathomable this was ... the inhumanity, hatred and mindset that could make one group of humans destroy another. 

The knowledge we acquired during our Poland trip led us to another aspect we hadn’t yet considered: the idea of resistance. For the first time in the history of Jewish persecution, Jews began to take action — physical action — and fight for themselves and their people. 

This realization came to light at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument. There, we learned about teenagers — Jews the same age as us — who resisted the Nazis and took up arms to protect their people. During this monument visit, Rabbi Avi Weinstein taught us a nigun, a Jewish melody, that was triumphant and prideful. 

At first, I was a little reluctant to participate in the singing and dancing that ensued. We were in the middle of Warsaw, after a week of visiting death camps and lost villages ... why were we singing? But as each of my classmates joined in, I realized: We must be proud of our Judaism. We danced and sang for several minutes, ending with “Am Yisrael Chai (the nation of Israel lives). We sang loudly on that Friday afternoon, six days after we arrived in Poland. We sang and danced for the pride of our religion and heritage as we prepared for Shabbat in Poland.  

At the end of Shabbat, we left for Israel. It was interesting to see how the resistance we learned about in the camps and ghettos of Poland carried over to Israel. There, we witnessed first-hand the heroism of our Jewish people. We saw it in the Haganah (unofficial pre-state army) Museum, which spotlights the tenacity of the people who fought for Israel. Again, these were teenagers who left their homes to take up arms and defend the State of Israel.  

Throughout the trip we learned of many other young Jewish adults, fighting for their Judaism, fighting for purpose, and standing up for what was right. It made me think of my place and my role as the Jewish future. I too must stand proudly with my Judaism and not only fight back to those who oppose it, but also those who persecute others. 

I learned so much, but one theme holds fast: It is important to remain proud and strong in my Judaism; I must stand against any and all injustice in this world. Thanks to HBHA, I am confident in my understanding of Judaism. I am also confident as I stand with the Jewish people and the state of Israel.

Adena Goldberg is a senior at Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy. She has been at the school since kindergarten and will be graduating in May. She has been active in her school, youth group, and Jewish life with her family and looks forward to attending Tulane University in the fall.