I do not like stop-overs on a flight itinerary. At a nearly 6″5 height, flying on an airplane is distressing enough. Sitting in the aisle seat becomes paramount. If I get the coveted aisle seat, my seatmate can awake me apologizing to make way to the aisle; I will be thrilled.
Stopping over translates to waiting endlessly on line to get onto the plane (somehow I’m always situated it zone 3), hassling again to get my carry-on into the overhead bin, inevitable delays, & possibly losing my aisle seat.
On a trip in Poland traveling with 35 people on a bus, I’m realizing its possible to be just as bad on the ground. Constant interruptions along roadsides for rest stops do bring short reprieves from the bumps and swerves of our oversized bus, but come at a price. Schedules out of sync, rude looks from locals, and lines for the ‘water closet’ make even Laguardia Airport seem enjoyable.
Our most recent stop though was at Majdanek. A concentration/death camp almost fully intact that neither words or even vision can lend any understanding to the magnitude of horror that occured there. As a group unified together, we approached the sight.
We remained at the entrance. Due to the Polish government celebrating their holidays, we were barred entry to Majdanek.
Tens of thousands Jews were forced into that place.
We were locked out.
Last night we were in Treblinka. Where 870,000 people were gassed and burned to ashes. Those ashes were scattered around, covered by snow and soil. Treading on the ground meant walking on those holy ashes. I hope to think that the victims would approve of our walk there. A walk to remember, learn, and inspire. A continuation of the journey that those Jews were on- our steps that night werent those of the past. They were silhouettes of the future. They were brought to a rest at that spot. We picked up the path from there.
There are no remains of Treblinka. Throughout Poland there are forests with mass graves of over one million Jews, shot dead because they were Jews.
Yes, Poland is full of such rest stops.
Standing outside of a barbed wore fence looking in to the face of death at Majdanek, I felt the most Jewish I ever had in my life. Imagining the little children, men and women and how they stood amidst death and looked out, with hopes, dreams and aspirations never to come to fruition. Yet they refused our group entry. Not to the gas chambers, not to the crematorium, nor to the pile of human ash and bone the rests there.
As Jews, we will improvise. We will call an audible and move on. Take the cirumstances and rise. Yet this rest stop will cause unrest. Unrest to the apathetic nature of day to day life. Unrest to the comfort of living privatley in serenity. A stop that will transform into a go- passion, purpose, and meaning.
We lit the Chanukah Menorah there. The flame was caught in a battering wind, but remained aflame.
The lights were left on at the rest stop.
By Moshe Schonbrun
Moshe Schonbrun was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He spent 12 years learning in some of the most prominent Talmudic centers of the world. He is currently Rabbi at Jewish Arizonans on Campus at The University of Arizona, where he directs weekly programming, learning sessions, Shabbat meals, and trips for Jewish students in Tucson.