Written by Fray Hochstein, on behalf of Team ROI
Like many Polish Jews, Magda did not grow up knowing she was Jewish. Born and raised in Wroclaw, it was not until she was a teen that she had any inkling that her grandfather, her father’s father, had been a Jew. As she tells it: “My grandfather passed away when I was just a baby. One day, when I was about 15, I became curious when I found a pile of papers with my grandfather’s name. I started reading these letters and documents and with my parents began trying to piece together the puzzle of my grandfather’s life. It took a number of years but we eventually discovered where he came from, who his family was, even his original name. It turns out that some of his relatives had survived the Holocaust as well, but had left Poland just before or right after the war. We reached out to them and amazingly are now a family again.”
Magda did not immediately connect with the Jewish community. In fact, it wasn’t until after her graduate degree that she went on a Birthright trip, which soon led to the opportunity to work as Birthright coordinator in Poland.
Photo credit: ARTREPUBLICA Rafał Poławski
It was then that Magda started learning more about her Jewish heritage and became increasingly involved with the Jewish community in Wroclaw. A friend invited her to a Schusterman Connection Point in Europe, where she first learned about the ROI Summit and decided to apply. “Being in ROI was a way for me to learn more about being Jewish…I was looking for an opportunity to interact with people who knew more than I did. The experience was overwhelming. Spending five days with 150 people who were so committed to Jewish values and causes and doing incredible things all over the world was both inspiring and a bit intimidating.”
For Magda, ROI is very much about her Jewish identity. “Everyone talks about how Poland is a Jewish graveyard and says that Jewish life will never reemerge here. As a young Polish Jew this makes you feel that you are not fully Jewish, because your Jewish life will never be as complete as it would be if you were living somewhere else.” She adds, “But being at the Summit I understood that there is no one way to be Jewish. Interacting with different people from different backgrounds I realized that we all struggle with the same challenges and ask the same questions, namely how does Jewish life apply to me today?”
After working in the offices of the Jewish community in Wroclaw, Magda accepted a position from Hillel International to open a branch in Warsaw. “Being part of ROI Community has helped me hone my message to my students, especially those just starting out on their Jewish journeys. First, focus on building your Jewish identity, and making it a relevant, focal part of your lives; then, focus on tikkun olam, on working to make the world a better place.”
According to Magda being an ROIer means instant connection. “Wherever I travel I try to reach out to local ROIers. It is such an obvious, immediate, and natural connection. Being in ROI makes the world really small, in a really good way.”