Monday, November 29, 2010

To go or not to go…

Having an Israeli teenager at home means dealing with the question of the trip to Poland (i.e. the Masa Polin, for the Hebraically-oriented among you).

Here in TRLEOOB*, it’s an issue which has come up before, but like other parenting questions, the answer may be different for different children.

And so, once again, YZG and I find ourselves discussing this topic. We’re not the only ones, of course, and I’ve even had the privilege of comparing notes with fellow bloggers Jameel and Baila.

<brief interjection> An added fringe benefit of blogging is that it enables one to become an obnoxious, shameless namedropper… :-) </interjection>

The arguments for and against the trip haven’t really changed since it first became an accepted rite of passage for Israeli teens some 15-20 years ago.


  • Strengthens the participants’ Jewish, religious, and Zionist identities.
  • Forges an experiential bond to our history and to the ancient and once-vibrant Jewish communities, Chassidic courts, shuls, and yeshivot which were destroyed by the Nazis and their willing accomplices.


  • Raises numerous halachic, philosophical and ideological questions about leaving Eretz Yisrael, supporting our enemies, and so on.
  • Cost. (At one school, the total price for this year’s weeklong trip is a whopping 6500-7000 NIS!)

Due to these concerns, many parents wonder why the schools – especially the national-religious ones – can’t figure out a way to accomplish these same goals here in Israel.

And in fact, many schools have now started to offer local alternatives to the trip.

For instance, one school recently announced that this year, for the first time, they’ll have a three-day seminar for the kids who aren’t going to Poland. (The price will be about 700-1000 NIS.)

Although the students are skeptical and have dismissed it as a mere “consolation prize,” the school insists that they’re making every effort to ensure that it’ll be a viable option.

Your thoughts on the subject?


*TRLEOOB=the real life equivalent of our blog


  1. Here, we have March of the Living - same idea: trip to Poland, then Israel. All very expensive, and I don't know if teenagers are capable of feeling everything that adults expect them to feel, or if they just see it as a big fun trip.

    My mother was just on a tour of Jewish sites of Eastern Europe, so we talked over the supporting-enemies thing quite a bit.

    For her, however, seeing Poland made it far more real. We here (and perhaps you there) often fall into thinking of it as a grey, horrible place, and wondering how our ancestors could have been so dumb as to live there for 1000 years.

    Seeing it in person, in living colour, she said it actually felt a lot like home (Canada), with many of the same trees and flowers, and non-monstrous people living ordinary lives.

    However, she also attended one of the "Jewish culture" festivals that have sprung up there, often featuring non-Jews performing klezmer and the like - in a nauseating display of misplaced nostalgia (in my humble opinion!).

    If I may speak for her, I'd say that though they'd invited many actual Jews to perform, I think the whole thing - like the Jew-tourism business over there - felt forced, artificial and perhaps a bit desperate.

    Obviously, she weighed the pros and cons and decided to go. I don't know if I would.

  2. I am curious to read what other parents have to say on the issue.
    I am a bit reluctant and would probably favor meeting Holocaust survivors, visiting Yad Vashem and reading books on the topic.
    I visited Mittelbau-Dora (a labor camp) last summer and found that it hardly conveyed what being an inmate there must have been like.
    I have very mixed feelings on this issue.

  3. Too many "Is" in my answer!

  4. My sons are cohanim. My oldest didn't go, 2nd son was in a school that didn't go. My daughter's school will go next year. I'm not sure what to do. Maybe I'll go with her? Let us know how the seminar works out.

  5. All my kids (so far) went and had a very positive experience, although I can't say it changed their lives. Although I understand the cons-especially the cost-I do think the Israeli version is not the same. It's not just seeing the sites per se that make the experience so valuable, it's the whole "chavaya". Obviously a lot depends on who takes them, but the local option is excellent.

  6. Luckily this question has not come up since my 2 oldest learnt at schools where they did not have the trip to Poland.

    Lucky, cos a. the question did not have to be discussed so
    b. we did not have to discuss about whether we could afford it, (which we could not really)

    I think no 3's school (11th grader)also does not do it, but I am not sure as his homeroom tutor in 9th day was a madrich for these trips.

    In religious areas where people have 4-6 and more children and high schools are so expensive (and boarding schools more so), the price and the issue of have and have-nots would be a major issue.

    I also heard that a replacement program is fomulated (a trip through Israel including kibbutz lohamei hagetaot and ending up with illegal immigration), but did not have experience of this.

    If we had to decide whether a child of ours would go, I belive that the cost would be the only reason why not

  7. We've already discussed what drives me crazy about this. At Liat's school they seem to be ideologically opposed to the trip and yet they are doing it anyway. This wishy-washiness makes the alternative trip in Israel a "consolation prize". It sounds like an excellent program, but I don't believe it can compete with actually seeing the camps and the places where Jews lived. If they only had the Israeli version it would be amazing, but having the actual Poland trip, where most of the kids won't be going because of the cost factor (not, imho, bec. of the ideological factor) does create a have/have not issue.

    We are still undecided.

  8. Ilana-Davita - Interestingly, in some of the national-religious schools, the emphasis is less on the events of the Holocaust itself (although the kids DO, of course, visit Auschwitz and other camps) and more on what came before the war.

    Mother in Israel - I never thought about what kohanim do on such trips. I assume they make special arrangements?

    Malke - it's the whole "chavaya".
    That make sense. Hopefully, the organizers of the local alternative will be able to make it just as meaningful - albeit in a different way.

    Keren - I think that for many people, it boils down to the cost. Because if money wasn't an issue, I think many parents would agree that the pros outweigh the cons.

    Baila - IMHO, the schools themselves are often very much to blame for the "have/have not" issue. After all, in previous years, some of the schools made a very big deal about their "Shluchah" ("delegation"). For instance, when those kids got back from Poland, they were always asked to make a presentation to their classmates and share their impressions, and they're the ones who always got to lead the Yom HaShoah and Asarah B'Tevet ceremonies. I hope that the schools which are now offering a local alternative have learned from their mistakes and will ensure that the kids who go to Poland aren't the only ones to get all the glory.

  9. I vaguely remember that my cousin's daughter went. And I remember my friend with high school age kids objecting (not for monetary reasons), and they did not go. Can't remember the specifics.

  10. I remember that in my niece's school, the kids raised money plus parents who could agreed to pay a little more so that no child would be unable to go solely because of cost.

  11. Leora - I think that there are actually two separate "monetary issues":
    1) Can you afford the high cost of the trip?
    2) Assuming that you have the money, do you think the trip is worth it?
    I believe that both issues need to be considered when making this decision.

    Malke - It sounds like your niece's school felt that the trip was one of their flagship programs. But as Baila noted above, in some schools, the trip is just something which they offer for those that want it (and can afford it), but they don't consider it to be one of their primary values.

  12. My eldest son was went with one of the first (although not the very first)groups. That was about 18 years ago, if I remember correctly. I was very oppose to it and had a very long discussion with his Rabbi (who was one of the moving forces behind the program and who is still very much involved in organizing and promoting it) which didn't really change his mind or mine. On the financial side, my son was given a scholarship for 1/2 the cost and we cashed an Israel bond for the other half. I was not convinced though.
    The experience was educational. They visited many places not connected with the shoah and got a good picture of the rich Jewish life there was there before. They were traumatized by the concentration camps and awed by the survivor witness who accompanied them. My son gave some lectures accompanied by slides (this was before porwerpoint in every home) to his elementary school. All in all, it had the effect that his teacher intended.
    I am still against.
    One week can not make up for an inadequate syllabus. The fostering of strong Jewish identity and connection to our history should be built up over many years of education. The Poland trips are an attempt to make a Disney world version. Sure it gets the point across but it's a cheap thrill. There is no substitute for hard work and that is not what's happening.

  13. my husband and i both see both sides and let our sons decide, and they both gave it alot of thought and went to poland. they both volunteer in mada so i wasnt worried that it would be too traumatic for them. the yr my oldest went was the first yr the school offered a program in israel. 2 yrs later when his brother went (to poland) the program in israel was very successful. my 3rd sons school doesnt go to poland, which is good bc im not sure it would be good for him. my daughter is in 8th grade, and i hear the program in israel is extremely well thought of, i would definetly encourage her to do that. it will be interesting to see what the options are when my younger ones are in 12th grade.
    as one who grew up around many surviviors, most who are no longer with us, i am very concerned that the holocaust will see much more historicaly distant then it really is. not that that means that the trip to poland is the answer, but that we should be asking the question.

  14. Risa - The fostering of strong Jewish identity and connection to our history should be built up over many years of education.
    Well said! I agree and continue to wonder why so many national-religious schools feel that they can't accomplish this in Israel.

    Faith/Emuna - we should be asking the question.
    Very true, and I think that the program in Israel is a good first step towards addressing this issue.

  15. Jennifer in MamaLand - (For some reason, your comment got marked as "spam".) Thanks for sharing your mother's perspective.

    many of the same trees and flowers, and non-monstrous people living ordinary lives.
    Interesting point. I suppose that this is one thing that one can't get out of the Israel option.

    Chodesh tov and happy Chanukah!


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