Students Return from Poland Trip Empowered and Inspired

A record number of Jewish students have just returned from the Chabad on Campus International LivingLinks trip to Poland. This trip was the largest trip to date, and true to form, it resulted in an outsized impact.

A record number of Jewish students have just returned from the Chabad on Campus International LivingLinks trip to Poland. This trip was the largest trip to date, and true to form, it resulted in an outsized impact.

Close to 80 university students from across North America joined the trip. For seven days, these young men and women explored one thousand years of Jewish history, a hub of Chassidic life, and of course, the devastation that was wrought in this part of the world.

These trips make a large imprint on the hearts and minds of those participating vis a vis their commitment to Judaism. Speaking from the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw, Rabbi Yossi Witkes, Trips Director at Chabad on Campus International, elaborated, “For example, standing here in this massive Jewish cemetery featuring the headstones of so many Rebbes, tzadikim, and other Jews, we ask students a simple question: why is this sacred place so neglected? After various hypotheses, the obvious answer is that there aren’t any children or grandchildren to tend to it! Hearing that, the realization sinks in that they are those grandchildren. If they aren’t going to carry on their Jewish identity and pride, it will be lost. This is a radically mobilizing feeling—and you see it happening right in front of your eyes.”

Indeed, as students cry their way through the horror of the remains of Auschwitz, initial feelings of shock and anger give way to a firm resolution: We must be the ones to carry our Judaism forward. “When we sing and dance together in an old shul that hasn’t seen a minyan for eighty years, the joy and Jewish pride can make the heart burst.”

With anti-Semitism increasingly seeping into the mainstream, Jewish university students are particularly getting the jitters. When celebrities and other influential people traffic in classic anti-Semitic tropes, it is the college students who are immediately targeted, with taunting and other not-so-subtle hostilities hurled their way. It’s no wonder that Jewish students are feeling just a bit nervous and confused.

It is within such a climate that trips like the one just completed are so critical.  

“Our approach, as taught by the Rebbe, explains Witkes, is never to directly engage with darkness but to increase light and positivity and see the darkness organically dissipate. In the specific scenario of these trips, it couldn’t be clearer: students with a relatively thin Jewish identity feel challenged and rattled. After all, what’s the appropriate answer? How should they respond?

“But when a young Jewish student’s Jewish identity is bolstered, and their commitment strengthened, the baseless attacks fall to the side. Traveling to Poland and seeing the depth and breadth of Jewish life that was and how much there is left for us to carry one breathes tremendous life into their Judaism, empowering them to return strong, loud, and proud.”

The trip is a well-rounded experience, as students get to see major highlights of Jewish life that were in this one-time epicenter of Judaism. From the famous Chachmei Lublin Yeshivah in Lublin, to the bastion of Chassidus in Lizhensk, to the visibly robust Jewish infrastructure in Krakow from the times of the Rama, they are exposed to a vibrant picture of Judaism that was.

“We are increasingly seeing just how critical these trips are becoming for Jewish students,” said Rabbi Yossy Gordon, CEO of Chabad on Campus International. “There’s something uniquely powerful about the inspiration and feeling that these students bring back with them; a palpable urgency to make their Yiddishkeit personal and enduring, as well as arming them with the necessary Jewish pride to wear their Judaism without hesitation. Credit goes to the Shluchim, Shluchos, and the team escorting the students along who bring them this passion and drive”.

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