Sunday, May 10, 2009

Visiting Poland and other Fun Places

In recent years, it has become fashionable for students to travel during their year in Israel (either before Pesach or at the end of the year) to Poland, to visit some of the more notorious sites of the Holocaust where the Nazis perpetrated their horrible, evil plans. On some level, this is a good thing. After all, shouldn't our children see firsthand the terrible suffering that Jews endured not so long ago? In addition, I feel that programs like "March of the Living" can be very important for unaffiliated or disenfranchised Jewish kids who need something tangible to wake them up and get them involved in Jewish life. If the Holocaust can't do it, then what can?
On the other hand, what about for frum kids? I state at the outset that I have never been on a heritage-type trip, so I have no personal knowledge of these types of experiences.

But I can't help feeling that many of these Holocaust Poland trips fall into the growing list of edu-tainment experiences that have become part of the process of growing up in America. For the kids, it's less about learning and feeling the Holocaust and growing in some way, than having the experience. They relate to Poland as some type of morbid theme park - a great big Death Adventure. Of course it's serious and directled and properly led. But it's about having been there and seen it in person.
This post was prompted by a comment next to a YouTube video of the ending of Sha'alvim's recent trip to Poland. (As an alumnus, I'm on their email list, which sent me the link to the video.) The video is of the kids who, having just returned from Poland meet Yonatan Razel (well-known musician) who sings with them at 4am in the airport. Which is fine. But what got me is the comment on the side of the video.
As R' Hendler שליט"א said on Shobbos, "You Never Know." We were waiting and waiting for that special thing to happen to wrap up our trip in poland, and סוף כל סוף it did. We had the most amazing ku...
Let me understand. You just spent the last few days in Poland traveling from town to town learning about destroyed comunities. You walked through death camps and gas chambers, and the most amazing "special thing" that happened on the trip was the kumzitz that you had in the airport as you returned to Israel? Am I missing something?
These trips also point to the fact that education has begun to focus far more on experience than knowlege or skills. Schools have become academies of fun, first and foremost. How many schools now offer "color war"? Didn't that used to happen only in camp? How many periods a week are students out of class for "special programs?" How many Shabbatonim, ski trips, skill-building and other non-classically educational experiences do our students now have?
We want our children to have good memories, enjoy their time, and of course learn something. But we have come to place more stock in the educational value of "experience" (which can be powerful, but fleeting) than we have in the business of hard work; poring over books and struggling with challenges.
And I'm not sure that our children have become better Jews for it.
I wonder: how many students who went on a trip to Poland attended a Yom Hashoah event the next year?