Tuesday, May 31, 2016

From Warsaw to Galicia, to the Past and to the Afterlife

Kazimierz Dolny market
We left Warsaw on our comfy motor coach
rooster bread
driven by our Polish driver named Derek.  Ninety-one miles southeast and almost three hours of napping later, we woke up in the charming hilly town of Kazimierz Dolny.  Because it was raining, we found shelter under the roof that covered the well in the middle of the town square.   In the past, market day had been moved from Saturday to Tuesday out of respect for the local Jews who would not buy and sell on their Sabbath.  Despite the absence of Jews, market day is still Tuesday so we found ourselves in the midst of stalls and sellers.  There is a distinctive rooster-shaped bread that some of us purchased.  We visited the synagogue (it is now a little Jewish museum), and a few of us trekked up to the highest point in town to explore the remains of the local castle.  

After a number of wrong turns, we finally arrived at the town of Chodel, the first home of Avital’s maternal great-grandfather Sol.
Church Street in Chodel
He was one of 13 children, 5 of whom emigrated to the U.S. during the 1920s.  Avital explained his history and how she learned about it from relatives.  The rest of the family and the remaining Jews in the town perished in the Holocaust.  Because the synagogue and cemetery had been destroyed partially by the Nazis and then fully destroyed in the post-war era, we didn’t expect to find material remains.  We parked outside the town church.  Both the synagogue and Sol’s home had been on this street, and Sol’s family used to sell freshly baked bread to the townspeople who were going home from the Sunday Mass.  Although the visit to Chodel was Avital’s personal quest, our whole group gained much from joining her on the journey.

people leave pieces of paper
with their prayers and names
Driving further south to the region called Galicia, we nibbled on rooster bread and our snack food until we arrived in Lezajsk (the Yiddish pronunciation is Lizhensk – that may not be any easier to say).  This is a town known for its brewery and for its important Jewish pilgrimage site.  Guess which one we visited?  Our goal was to find the mausoleum housing the remains of one of the founders of Hasidism.  Hasidism  is a kind of Orthodox Judaism in which a charismatic spiritual leader known as a tzadik (Hebrew for “righteous one”) leads his followers in Jewish worship, rituals, and religious singing and dancing.  The tzadik’s devotees believe in his power while he is alive and even after death.  Hasidic Jews from all over the world travel to pray at the grave of Elimelech of Lizhensk.  We visited the tomb, where a man was praying, and then went to the home of the caretakers, who are Hasidic Jews from Israel.  They house and feed the many pilgrims, so they gave us coffee, cookies, and cake to eat while our professors taught us more about the town’s history.

Back on our bus, we travelled to Rzeszow (sheh shef, sort of).  We were so glad when we walked into our hotel and were told that a full dinner was awaiting us!  The food was good and we ate heartily.  Afterwards, a few of our group (and our driver Darik) walked into Rzeszow’s Old Town rynek (square) and had a great time with laughing and sharing stories.  Everybody else washed up and got a good night’s sleep.  
LeeAnn, Avital, Donna, Darik,
Miri, and Donal in Rzeszow

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