Much of my experience in Poland was filled with mixed emotions.
No place was this made more clear to me than our four-day stay in Krakow. Krakow was, to me, the coolest city in Poland, and like so many other Polish cities and villages, it used to be filled with Jews. It boasts a Jewish Quarter of town, with old cobblestones lining the roads. In the Jewish Quarter, there were tours being offered for tourists to go explore the Jewish Quarter- old synagogues and other aspects of Jewish life. There were non-kosher restaurants with Hebrew names that served Jewish foods like chulent and matzah ball soup.
There was a bar called the Hevre Bar that used to be a synagogue- but now functioned as a trendy place to grab drinks with friends.
People paid money to tour this old Jewish section of town. I couldn’t help but be reminded of something I heard growing up. I was told that Hitler wanted a Jewish museum to exist— to acknowledge the fact that a people used to exist formerly referred to as “Jews,” but now, they are no more, so there is a museum about them.
I couldn’t help but wonder what these tourists thought of us, a group of openly proud Jews touring the same streets.
And then, on Shabbos afternoon, something incredible happened. Our tour guide taught the group another niggun— a beautiful soulful Jewish tune, and our group of 27 strong started dancing in the streets of Krakow. Groups of tourists began convening around us, phones out— eager to record real-life Jews! Residents peeked out from their balconies and marveled at the site below. Never in my life have I felt like more of a rockstar than in that moment.
It was an odd feeling. It was weird being recorded by so many cellphones on our holy Sabbath. It kind of felt like we were putting on a performance for the tourists like any other street performer.
But it also felt like we were triumphantly exclaiming to the entire city of Krakow that we are back.
That we are an eternal People, and though we get knocked around, we are defined by our resilience—and will endure forever, just as G-d promised.