While most college students went home for the holidays over winter break, one group of students instead took a trip through Jewish history in Poland.
A group of students, including a handful from the Baltimore area, from 17 colleges around the country traveled to Poland for a weeklong trip through the organization MEOR.
The six-day trips to Poland — which include visiting sites such as the Warsaw Ghetto, various cemeteries, cities such as Lublin and Krakow, as well as Auschwitz I and Birkenau, among other camps — were founded at MEOR Penn in spring of 2008 with a group of 33 students, according to Yael Seruya, assistant director of MEOR Poland.
It expanded in 2013 to include all campuses for students involved in their university’s MEOR program. And those who have done the trip call it one of the best trips a young Jewish person can take.
For Mark Kreynovich, a Baltimore native who is a freshman at Cornell University, the trip was an intense journey that left him feeling more connected than ever to his Jewish heritage.
“I thought it would be a very worthwhile and impactful experience,” he said. “And that definitely held true.”
For him, the trip was about not just the history of Jewish oppression, but the vibrancy of the Jewish present. The memory that really sticks out for him was the group’s Shabbat dinner in Krakow. In the hall next to them was a group of Hasidic Jews who invited him and the person he was with to join them.
Kreynovich never thought of himself as particularly religious, but listening to this group speak Yiddish to each other and sing traditional songs felt incredibly spiritual, he said.
“I really felt like God was in the room in a really ineffable sense,” he added. “I think it was a huge testament to the Jewish people.”
Rachel Orlinsky, another Baltimore native and a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, had heard from friends who had gone on the trip that it was life changing. Now having completed the trip herself, she knows they were right.
“The details of the trip and where we went were not what the trip was about,” she said. “It was about the stories we got to hear.”
For her, the most moving and memorable of those stories came from Leslie Kleinman, a Holocaust survivor originally from Romania who now lives in England.
He survived Auschwitz while his whole family was killed, and yet, Orlinsky said, he was one of the most vibrant people she had ever met. Going to all those concentration camps in the span of a week can be both sad and difficult, but it’s not just that, as the students found.
“The trip wasn’t just depressing,” Orlinsky said. “The point of the trip was — well, honestly, the point of the trip was life.”