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When traveling, it is best to do a little homework first – the more you know and prepare for a trip the more you will get out of it.
In addition to religious requirements, people going to Poland usually want to travel to the ‘Alter Heim – The Old Shtetl.’ Travel in Poland is pretty safe. The train system is up-to-date and reaches all corners of the country. In Warsaw there is a separate office for tourists where the clerks speak English and are very helpful. The regular ticket sellers will point you in their direction as soon as they see that Polish is not your native tongue. The bus system is not as easy to navigate but with a little effort it is possible to get around by bus. Taxis are a good alternative to the tram system in most cities. They are inexpensive and safe. The price per kilometer is posted on the window and can vary between different companies. Taxis are a good way to travel to small towns that are near train lines such as Gur near Warsaw, or Alexander near Lodz.
What people find when they get to the town, from which they or their ancestors came, varies greatly from place to place. In some places they will find little has changed. Some of the old buildings including homes, synagogues and schools might still be standing and the cemetery in pretty good shape. In other places there is no longer any physical remains to show that Jews were once an integral part of the landscape. While in others the buildings and cemeteries are in a state of ruin.
When planning your trip, from the comfort of your home, you’ll find that it’s not that hard to find information about the different locales throughout Poland. Besides general tour books, such as Insight Guide Poland, published by the Discovery Channel and found in bookstores, there are a number of detailed guidebooks, especially for the Jewish traveler, in Judaica stores. The three most popular are Poland’s Jewish Landmarks, Where the Tailor was a Poet and Jewish Heritage Travel.
Poland’s Jewish Landmarks, by Joram Kagan, published by Hippocrene Books, was one of the first detailed English language Jewish guidebooks to Poland, but since it was published in 2001, many things have to be updated.
WHERE THE TAILOR WAS A POET… Polish Jews and TheirCulture, by Adam Dylewski, published by Pascal, a more up-to-date guidebook, contains numerous color pictures and detailed information on many places not covered by Kagan. Mr. Dylewski’s book is organized by region, making it easier for readers to find sites of interest near the town that is their main focus. It is also easier to find lodging elsewhere in the neighborhood if nothing is available in your home base town.
Ruth Ellen Gruber’s book, Jewish Heritage Travel: A guide to East-Central Europe, published by Aronson, has just come out with a new updated edition with a lot of new information. Ms Gruber will introduce her new book at the upcoming Krakow Jewish Festival. As usual, her book is well researched and clearly written. The only drawback is that the book explores all of East-Central Europe, and due to space restrictions, much material had to be condensed.
There are also many books about specific towns and cities. The Yizkor Books published after the Shoah, often give histories of the towns, and some have detailed maps and descriptions of daily life. Warsaw and Lodz are just two of the larger towns and cities that have books detailing Jewish life before, during, and post Shoah.
There are also many books printed in Polish that contain a wealth of information even an English-only speaker can take advantage of. One such book is Zachowane Synagogi Domy Modlitwy W Polsce Katalog by Elenor Bergman and Jan Jagelski of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. This is a catalogue of all existing synagogue buildings throughout Poland. It lists almost 400 synagogues with black and white pictures. Even though it is written in Polish much information can be garnered from its pages. Each listing has an address, alternative spelling of the town name, percentage of Jews in the town at different points in time, and the date the synagogue was built. At the moment, the book is out-of-print, but there are plans for a new edition including an English version.
The Jewish community of Warsaw, with the Nozyk synagogue, kosher kitchen and store are located in the center of town at 6 Twarda. The Chabad House, synagogue and restaurant are located at 19 Slominskiego St.
The Jewish Community of Lodz with the hotel and restaurant are located at 18 Pomarska street.
The Jewish Community of Wroclaw Is located at 9 Wlodkwica Street.
The Jewish community of Krakow is centered around the Kazmerez area that includes the Rema Synagogue/Cemetery complex. It should be noted that the ‘Jewish-themed’ cafes and restaurants in the neighborhood are NOT KOSHER.
(To be continued)