Brian Schreiber on August 9, 2017
This week the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and Buncher Foundation gathered to celebrate 25 years of investing in an international leadership program for professionals and lay leadership through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) that was launched in partnership with the Federation. In the past quarter century, hundreds of Buncher graduates in dozens of countries have helped build Jewish community. One of the emerging communities is in Warsaw, where a JCC was created four years ago in a community that had been almost completely annihilated during the Holocaust.
Recently I had the privilege to meet Agata Rakowieck, the Director of the Jewish Community Center of Warsaw and take her around our JCC for an hour. Her passion and drive to rebuild a JCC in Warsaw was contagious and she was so eager to adapt some of the things she saw in our JCC to her emerging community. We immediately connected.
At the end of our visit, I asked Agata for a favor. A few years ago, I was given a copy of my grandmother’s high school diploma from an ORT vocational school in Warsaw. I had no idea what it said since the diploma was in Polish. Agata translated this for me and helped me unlock a mystery. My grandmother had studied to be a seamstress and graduated with the highest honors in 1927. Two years later she immigrated to America with her remaining brothers and sisters and never again saw family members she left behind in Poland – nearly all of whom were killed during the Holocaust. In 1987, I had the opportunity to see the historical remnants of the Warsaw ghetto, the Jewish cemetery and the transport station where Jews were sent to the death camps.
What a meaningful chance it was, 90 years after my grandmother’s graduation and 30 years after my experience in Poland, to see a new JCC open and the dynamism of young talent to make a difference. As you look at the picture, you can see that we both left the meeting with something special. For Agata it was an AgeWell packet and the chance for her to bring back our model to the Polish Jewish community. For me, it was the ability to reconnect to a piece of my roots and the Jewish “sparks” she inspired in me during my childhood.
Two community professionals, each driven to serve and give back to make our community better.
Wishing you and your families a Shabbat Shalom,