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Connecting Past and Present: NOAL Youth Leaders Visit Poland Amid War

Just before Yom HaShoah and Passover, the HaNoar HaOved v’HaLomed (NOAL) youth movement took 200 of its young leadership on a trip to Poland. While it included traditional themes of heroism and resistance of the Zionist youth movements in the ghettos, these themes took on particular significance in light of the ongoing war. 

A NOAL gap year participant at the Treblinka memorial.

The five-day trip took place on May 15-20, and included members of NOAL’s gap year program. In light of the rise in antisemitism in Europe, the trip was provided with extra security and participants were discouraged from openly displaying their Jewish and Israeli identities. 

It wasn’t an easy decision to put on this year’s trip. While  NOAL is one of the country’s largest program providers for Poland trips for 11th graders, this year, because of the disruptions in routine caused by the war, the youth movement decided to send just its youth leaders. The trip was an opportunity for them to gain a deeper perspective into both Jewish persecution, and the fight for renewal and liberation, and included visits to concentration camps and extermination sites, as well as special tours focusing on the many uprisings in the ghettos and camps. 

Inbal Gal, regional coordinator of NOAL in the Mateh Asher regional council, explained how they had just started preparing for the trip when the war broke out, at which point it was completely forgotten amidst the chaos. However, as the gap year participants were swept into action working with evacuees in hotels across the country, comparisons were made to the emergency activation of the Zionist youth movements in Poland with the outbreak of World War 2. 

Participants from evacuated Kibbutz Mifalsim visit a memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

“During the preparation seminars, I suddenly understood the connection,” she said. “Everything we’ve been through in the past year and the decisions we’ve made during this war are all part of the Jewish Zionist chain of history. A journey that began on European soil, with the youth movements’ rebellions against the Nazis, continued with the founding of the state, and has continued with our present day choices to serve our country, and to be educators during war and pandemic, always and in any situation.” 

Gal continued that during the trip, the participants were constantly receiving news about fallen soldiers, killed captives and rockets falling around their homes. This drove home the discussions about October 7th as the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, and the need to defend the Jewish state and people. The Mateh Asher regional council, where Gal works, has received much direct rocketfire from Hezbollah in Lebanon. 

During the closing ceremony of the trip, Israeli ambassador to Poland Yaakov Livne spoke to the participants, saying: “You had the privilege of coming to connect with who we are and where we come from as the Jewish people. If you know where we came from, it is easier to know where we are going. Take care of yourselves and don't forget what you saw here.” 

Israeli ambassador to Poland, Yaakov Livne, addresses the group.

Ela Friedman, a service year participant also spoke at the ceremony, saying: “With each and every uprising, from their communes to their undergrounds in the Krakow Ghetto and the Warsaw Ghetto, the youth movement leaders wrote our history. They believed in humanity, they educated towards rebellion, and their actions resonate with us to this day.” 

“We are not so different from them,” she continued. “The faith remains, only the time is different. This time, we have a country, we have our own place that we need to protect and improve. We must make it a country worthy of all the prices paid and lives lost.” 

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