Moishe House Reflection: Community and Transformation in Rural Poland

September 23, 2013

Martin Storrow is the Director of Leadership Development and Alumni Relations at Moishe House. Moishe House trains, supports and sponsors young Jewish leaders as they create vibrant home-based communities for themselves and their peers. Moishe House Ignite, a new leadership initiative combining weekend summits, virtual learning and a fellowship for Jewish adults in their twenties, launches this fall. 


In June, I had the good fortune of joining the Moishe House team and have been working ever since to launch our new leadership initiative, Moishe House Ignite. This project furthers our goal to support Moishe House residents, alumni and community members in their growth as leaders in their professional lives, in their communities and in their work in the world.


I am excited for what lies ahead, especially as I take this moment to reflect on what inspires me in the work that I do. I can't help but think of this past April when I traveled to Poland to teach at Moishe House’s first international Learning Retreat. It was there that I had one of the most powerful experiences of my Jewish life.



Roughly thirty young Jewish adults from nine countries gathered together in rural Brok at an old farmhouse just a few miles up the road from where the notorious Nazi death camp at Treblinka once stood. During the Holocaust, the woman who owned the farmhouse had actually risked her own life to shelter Jews there, and she has since been recognized as one of the ‘righteous gentiles’ who saved Jewish lives during the war. The property has remained in her family–her son and grandson run it now–and it was remarkable to me that less than two generations later, Jewish groups like ours now gather openly at this very spot to learn and celebrate together.


This particular gathering had been challenging at first. We all came from a variety of backgrounds, and it took time to adjust to the myriad languages, traditions and cultures in our group. Our leaders, Rabbi Dan Horwitz (Moishe House Rabbi & Director of Immersive Learning) and Joel Stanley (Director of International Programming), created a space where people could communicate openly and the mood soon went from tentative and insecure to warm and supportive.


But for me, the most powerful moment happened during Havdalah–the ceremony that marks the transition between Shabbat and the new week. One of the ritual items, the Havdalah candle, is composed of several intertwining wicks, all of which meet at the top and share a single flame. The wicks are meant to represent multiple sources of light, the “illuminations” referred to in the Havdalah blessing.


We gathered in a large circle in our meeting room and switched the lights off. The space was overcome by darkness, and, for a chilling moment, I could feel the heavy history that surrounded us.


But then someone lit the Havdalah candle and the room transformed. Looking around, I found warmth in the faces of our community; diverse people from around the world who share a unique heritage, who have inherited a beautiful and challenging history and who have been given the chance to intertwine yet again. It was a profound reminder that we are not simply participants in our Jewish lives, but rather the creators and the shapers of a new moment in history. We have the unique opportunity to decide how we will illuminate our time together.


As we continue to grow our vision of what this program can become, I remain in awe of the opportunity we have before us. For the first time in human history, we live in an era when people from around the globe can meet, share an experience, return home and use the technology we have to continue building community across oceans. The ability for us to realize our interconnectedness is greater than it has ever been, and the potential for us to work together to create a more connected, compassionate world is as limitless as our imaginations.


I look forward to what will undoubtedly be an inspiring journey, and I am grateful to take part at such a meaningful and exciting moment.


Read more about Martin in his interview!


The Schusterman Philanthropic Network is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.