Triumph and Tragedy, by Rabbi Joel Padowitz is a book that takes the reader on an amazing journey of 1,000 years, in the life of Poland and its Jewish communities.
The book might seem like a travel guide to some, but let me tell you, it is much more than that, and it is a compelling read. Beginning with the year 966 through the Holocaust, the reader is taken down the road of antisemitism at its worst, and individuals at their best. The Jewish communities in Poland have always had antisemitism as their burden in life, and have been blamed for much of what happened in Poland, throughout the years.
The Black Death (the Plague), for instance, is one prime example of blaming Jews for the epidemic of deaths that rampaged through the country, and all of Europe. Due to the fact that the healers of the time did not understand the medical reasons for the plague, they put the blame on Jews, and said that they intentionally poisoned the wells. Therefore, tens of thousands of Jewish people were massacred. Life was literally lived on the edge for the Jewish survivors.
The Golden age brought a bit of acceptance to the Jews, with Sigismund I on the throne, which lasted for forty years. Although he protected the Jews and they were accepted in Polish society, the underlying faction of antisemitism still festered. Kabbalah became a mystical force, which the outside world could not comprehend. The mysticism aspect frightened Christians and other non-Jews. This fear continued through the 18th century with the rise of the Hassidic communities in Poland, and their unique traditions, mannerisms, and foundation of learning.
Eventually Russia took over the Polish-Lithuania Commonwealth, and the Jewish population were under Russian rule. The Jews were forced to live in the Pale of Settlement, involving almost five million Jews. There were restrictions, and of course, antisemitism was prevalent. Pogroms existed, Jews were beaten, killed, and atrocious living conditions were forced upon them. Yet, life continued, and with it, so did hope.
The pre-war events leading up to the Holocaust made life almost impossible for the Jewish communities. Wearing of a yellow star became mandatory for Jews, along with less than ideal living conditions, animal treatment of Jews, loss of homes and businesses, being forced into ghetto situations, and so much more. And, of course, there was the dreadful and horrific Holocaust, and its gruesomeness, repercussions and horrendous outcomes. But, Rabbi Padowitz does not want the reader to dwell only on that aspect, within Triumph and Tragedy.
Within the pages are photographs, artistic works, writings, documents, graphs, etc., that underscore the rich Jewish culture that was thriving in Jewish Poland. That is what Rabbi Padowitz wants the reader to be aware of. Throughout the antisemitism, the Jews managed to produce artistic culture within their communities. They managed to be able to keep their traditions alive within the walls of life. Although some assimilated into the non-Jewish environment in their daily living, their contributions were strong.
Throughout the history of Jewish antisemitism, the life flame flickered, life went on, businesses were built, shops catered to everyone, cultural traditions continued, and the Jews led their lives with hope. During the Holocaust they were a force, an underground force. There were also individuals (both Jewish and non-Jewish) who did their best to save the Jews. The Jews were a life force that would not let the fires of their lives burn out.
The book is so well organized, and for me that was an example of Rabbi Padowitz’s desire to incorporate the years in a readable format for all readers. Various segments include the most visited Polish sites, and also articles on specific individuals who endeavored to change the face of atrocity. What began as a guide for the Jews traveling to Poland, through the JRoots organization (Jewish Journeys Connecting Generations), became a book of Jewish culture, filled with historic importance. This reader was fascinated with the knowledge contained throughout the book, and its educational importance can not be emphasized enough. Jewish readers will be transported back in time, and come to the present with a deeper understanding of the Polish Jewish population. Some might be inspired to visit Poland, in search of not only their ancestral background, but their own Jewish identity.
I highly recommend Triumph and Tragedy: Journeying Through 1,000 Years of Jewish Life in Poland, by Rabbi Joel Padowitz. It is not only filled with educational and Jewish importance, but also a book that is filled with hope, with the voice of Jewish life, and inspiring on so many levels.
Thank you to Stuart Schnee, PR, and to JRoots, for my complimentary copy. I feel privileged to have received it.
April 28, 2013 – 28 Nisan, 5773
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