Sunday, May 29, 2016

Paths to Spirituality in Poland

looking upward
We started the day with a short tram ride to a neighborhood cathedral for Sunday Mass.  The church had a beautiful interior, and we intrigued by the display of rosaries hung around two paintings of Mary.  A clanging bell started the prayers, which were entirely in Polish.  Much of the hour-long service consisted of a sermon, hymns sung by the congregants, and communion.  On the side was an area for the kids to play, and so their laughter was juxtaposed by the somber voice of the priest.  
sublime arts
For those who find transcendence through the arts, Sunday also provided an opportunity with a noon time Chopin piano recital in a nearby park. The turn-out was a lot larger and younger than at the church.  Before the concert started, LeeAnn taught us about Chopin’s life.  We were particularly interested in figuring out how, after Chopin’s death in Paris, his sister extracted his heart in order to smuggle it into Poland where it currently resides in the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw.

looking down
Hopping on a tram, we went to the northern side of town for a quick lunch and a visit to the Nozyk Synagogue, the only Warsaw synagogue to survive World War II (partly because the Germans used it as a horse stable).  It was built in 1902 by a successful merchant named Zalman Nozyk who felt that none of the 400 synagogues then present in the city fit his needs: most were small rooms in houses and businesses and the one big synagogue was affiliated with Progressive Judaism.  Nozyk wanted a free-standing Orthodox synagogue (in such synagogues, men and women sit separately during prayer).    Nozyk hired the architect of the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall to design his synagogue, so the result was quite pretty.  Within a few years he donated his synagogue to the Warsaw Jewish community with the proviso that it keep his name and 
looking inside
always include prayers on his family’s behalf.  We toured the upstairs gallery that is reserved for women attendees (men are on the first floor).  In the large adjoining room there were several new miniature period houses, intricately furnished. Those of us who find a state of grace in dollhouses were fulfilled.

under our feet on the sidewalks
Others with a more scholarly bent were stimulated by Kasia Gucio, an English translator who joined us at the synagogue.   Kasia has attended each of CSUN’s trips to Poland as a guide for the Jewish memorial sites and past culture.   She told us about her work translating Polish documents saved in the Ringelblum Archive.  The historian Emanuel Ringelblum encouraged Warsaw Ghetto Jews to write their stories, poetry, history, etc.  All these were stored in metal milk cans and boxes before the Ghetto was destroyed, and the Jews buried the containers to preserve their lives and culture for future generations.  The last milk can is believed to be buried in the spot where later the Chinese Embassy was built!     

After our tour of the synagogue, our group dispersed for free time and eating.  The biggest fan of Polish food among our group is Shant.  His description of a new kind of Polish street food, shawarma, demonstrates his deep reverence for the food:
awe and wonder
        "Kabob stands are like taco stands in southern California.  These kebab stands are primarily operated by Poles, Turks, or Egyptians.  The latter two groups are Muslims who came to Poland during the post-1989 era (but not under the current Polish government, which is not permitting much immigration).  Each stand has its own personality along with different types of home-made spice mixes and sauces to complement the dishes.  Every time I stopped at one for food, it felt like the first time.  Shawarma is the absolute best of the food at kebab stands.  There is nothing quite like walking down a street while burying your face in a massive lamb shawarma.  Poland is a gorgeous country and exploring it with phenomenal authentic street food is truly a vital part of the whole European experience.   Clearly, Poles love this food.  Judging from the many Polish customers at these kebab stands, we are in a new era of multicultural Poland cuisine."

As you can see, so far our experiences on this trip have given us much food for thought and reflection.  Plus, we are having a great time!
in Old Town Warsaw

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