Friday, June 20, 2008

Poland Day 1 - Arrival

May 25, 2008
כ אייר תשס"ח

I don’t want to be awake at this hour. In fact, I don’t want to be going to my destination at all. It is 1:45 am I am overtired and I don’t want to go. But I am going because that is what we do. Baruch and I stand on the corner waiting for our Nesher to pick us up. Our professor calls and says the driver doesn't see us. "Look for the two Jews standing on the corner at the stoplight with the suitcases," I reply...

I wake up with a start as the plane does not really touch down in Warsaw as much as pounds down on the tarmac at Frederick Chopin International Airport. Brand new, or very recently renovated, Chopin is not a warm place – it is grey and glass and cold – or perhaps that is just how I feel on this morning. Despite my reluctance, we are off to Warsaw.

I have not seen a park like this in a very long time. Everything is so green and lush, with a lot of old growth. Around a small, man-made lake, people sit politely, waiting for a concert of piano pieces by Chopin. Perhaps I would feel differently were I not wearing a kippah, but I feel so very out of place, as though the entire park is looking at the back of my head trying to figure out what in the world I am doing there…what we are doing there.

At some point, we check into our hotel and then go to dinner at a restaurant that defrosts the kosher food sent for us from Israel. Walking back through downtown Warsaw, I again feel very self-conscious. For years, I refrained from wearing my kippah in Europe. On this trip, however, I insist on wearing it sans baseball cap, proudly and openly. In any event, I look at the grim faces looking at us. I don’t feel so safe outside, but the kippah stays on. Some members of our group choose to go out to pubs. I just want to get back to the room. My pace gets faster as I walk through the pedestrian tunnel.

I enter the hotel and suddenly feel safe. The lobby is filled with police officers dressed in light blue shirts and dark blue pants like police officers from anywhere in the world. These police officers, however, speak Hebrew. They are mishteret Yisrael – the Israeli Police – here on a memorial mission just as we are. I am among my own. I am not powerless. I am safe.

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