This week, I received a message from Dov Oliver, Executive Director of Hillel of Rockland. Hillel Rockland is one of the Jewish Federation & Foundation of Rockland County's beneficiary agencies. Dov had just returned from bringing a group of Jewish students to Poland on a heritage and educational program, which included not only visiting and learning about the Nazi extermination camps and the history of persecution, but also the long, storied history of the Jews in Poland, the flowering of scholarship and culture, and the legacy carried over from our ancestors there. The group also had an opportunity to interact with and provide assistance to Jewish refugees from Ukraine who are currently living in Poland. Dov told me about what a powerful experience he and the group had shared.
Earlier this year, I too traveled to Poland, albeit briefly, to meet with our partner agencies as they provided vital help to tens of thousands escaping the expanding war in Ukraine. It was my first time in Poland, the place my father was born, and where my ancestors lived for 600 years. I am a (very amateur) genealogist, and a (less amateur) historian, and I knew the places where my family had lived. On our way to the border with Ukraine, we drove through some of these places. We spent several hours in Przemysl.
All of these places fascinated me, and I wondered aloud what they might look like today if their Jewish populations hadn't been erased. But fascination and speculation isn't love or connection. And experience, no matter how powerful, necessary or instructive, demands context and care, like Dov provided for the students participating in the program. I felt that love, connection, context and care for the people we worked beside, for those we were helping, but not for the places where we stood. There's only one place where I feel that deep connection. That's where my brother and his family moved to when they made Aliyah six years ago this week. I don't see them as often as I'd wish, and just a few days ago my niece in Tel Aviv welcomed a son, another great-nephew for me. He's going to grow up knowing that his home is OUR home.
I hope that I have conveyed that while many places can be instructive, many experiences transformative, there's nothing like a place of our own. And there's no comparison to the empathy, compassion and responsibility we express for our brothers and sisters, especially when we are committed to helping them. That's what the Federation does through our funded agencies, both here in Rockland and in Israel, and through our emergency relief work overseas as well. There are efforts we all make, responsibilities we all take on ourselves, commitments we uphold. I've learned that there are efforts and responsibilities that the Federation is uniquely positioned to meet, be it security, emergency relief, or convening all elements of the community for collective action.
We welcome back Dov and his participants, and we are proud to support Hillel's important work.