Our first stop today was Yeshivat Chachmai in Lublin. Rabbi Meir Schapira built this yeshiva in 1924. This yeshiva represented the model of modern Yeshivat in America. Yeshivot in the early 1900s were expensive and only about one or two kids per family were able to go to Yeshiva because it was so expensive. And so Rabbi Schapira created this Yeshiva that was cheaper so that everyone would be able to go. Because so many people would be going, Rabbi Schapira understood that not everyone would become rabbis, but he did know that everyone coming out of his Yeshiva would have a new appreciation for Rabbis. After World War II this yeshiva was used as a dental school. Only about ten years ago was it restored and is now used as a site visited by many Jewish tourists. Today this Yeshiva is owned the Jewish community in Warsaw.

After hearing about the history of the old yeshiva, we decided to bring the yeshiva back to life. We began by reading and discussing “Ramban’s: Letter for the Ages”, then doing קריאת התורה in the Beit HaMikdash.

Afterwards, we traveled to Majdanek . This concentration camp took up a vast piece of land in the middle of the city. It was burned by the Russians in August 1944, but much of the camp was rebuilt. Then we traveled through Majdanek camp hearing the testimonies from different survivors. First we went into the showers where the men and women would go in naked and be cleaned from disease. This was where the able-bodied people were cleaned. Then we entered where they cleaned their clothing to later be used and sold by the Nazis.  Adjacent to the showers were the gas chambers where the old, young, and sick were gassed to death.

This camp held 35,000 people. Most of the victims here were not Jews; they were the people they viewed as a threat. This concentration camp is famous for the cruel suffering they imposed on their victims.

After the gas chambers, we visited the 430,000 pairs of shoes left behind. These shoes were the last pairs of shoes hundreds of people wore before walking in. This was one of the most important places we visited because as soon as we walked in we smelled the mix of rotting wood, burnt leather, and a hint of death. This smell was so pungent no one could ignore it.

Then we entered the barracks surrounded by electric fence and barbed wire. We saw where the inmates slept and worked. At the end of our tour we visited the crematorium. Here we saw the actual furnaces, walls, and chimney where thousands of innocent people burned. Finally, we had time for reflection. We all took out our journals and sat throughout the crematorium writing.

After the crematorium, we went to the memorial where we stood and remembered all those who perished.

After a two hour bus ride we finally arrived at the tomb of Reb Elimelech Lezansk. Here we all took a couple moments of solitude to pray at this holiest of holy sites. Then we danced and rejoiced until it was finally time to go.

 

Today we stopped by the kever of Rav Elimelech of Lezhensk also known as the Noam Elimelech due to his well known sefer called the Noam Elimelech . He was one of the first chassidim ever. Chassidus started with the Baal Shem Tov who brought a new feel to Judaism and Torah. In his time the Judaism was very dry and stale. People were davening and learning Torah out of habit; they weren’t really excited about what they were doing. Also due to the fact that Torah was only available to the top learners, Torah didn’t really spread to the common man. The Baal Shem Tov then decided that a change needed to be made, not to the Torah but to how people were connecting to it. The Baal Shem Tov made Torah lively and available to everyone; his main point was bringing the deep secrets of Torah down for the average person to understand. He also preached the importance of Tefila, love of every Jew, and that Hashem can be found everywhere, including the workplace. The Baal Shem Tov’s successor was the Maagid from Mezrich. His greatness came from understanding the lofty but simple teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and then spreading them to the rest of the world. Next came the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lezhenskthe, third in the chain of chassidishe rebbes. He is know for his amazing sefer, the Noam Elimelech which talks about what it means to be a Tzadik and the role of a Tzadik in every persons life. The Tzadik needs to be the connector between the student and Hashem. The student needs to know that the Tzaddik knows what’s best for him and whatever he says is correct.

We arrived at this holy Rebbe’s grave and davend Mincha outside on the grass. Since it was Moshe Rabenu’s yahrzeit, we skipped Tachanun. After Mincha we talked about chassidus and what it means. Then we started singing the Baal Shem Tov’s niggun. Towards the end of the song a group of Israelis came over to our circle and right away we broke out in Mishe Nichnas Adar Marbin Besimcha. We all felt so comfortable with our brothers that we’ve never met before. We then went into the kever of the holy Rebbe, Reb Elimelech. We all sat down and poured out our hearts to the rebbe who was our messenger to Hashem, Some in Tehillim, some in song and some in their own personal language but we all connected in some way. After about 15 minutes, Rabbi Sam Taylor gave us a talk about the importance of bringing happiness into our lives so in the spirit of happiness and to end off the day we again started dancing in the kever of the holy Rebbe.
After a day filled with learning, remembering, and singing we all arrived at our hotel on one of the most special of spiritual highs I have ever experienced.