Milwaukee Jewish Federation mission trip to Poland observed Jewish resurgence | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Milwaukee Jewish Federation mission trip to Poland observed Jewish resurgence

This past April a delegation of over 30 people represented Jewish Milwaukee in a visit to Poland and Hungary. Co-chaired by Mark and Sara Hermanoff, and Steven and Robin Arenzon, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation mission participants visited Holocaust sites and experienced the current resurgence of Jewish life in these countries. 

Their itinerary included stops in Warsaw, including (not limited to) the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, the Nozyk Synagogue, and visits with local Jewish community leaders. In Krakow, the group explored the Kazimierz Jewish Quarter, bore witness at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and spent Shabbat evening with members of the Krakow JCC. They visited with refugee families from the war in Ukraine sheltering in Poland.  Following a drive through Slovakia, the mission continued in Budapest with a presentation by a senior political analyst, saw The Shoes on the Danube memorial, visited synagogues, and had presentations by the young leaders of non-profit organizations doing important work for their own Jewish communities. 

Mark and Sara Hermanoff

“We have never been there, and we knew we would never go if we were not with a community. It’s a powerful and difficult experience to have, especially on your own,” said Robin Arenzon. “Then with everything that was going on in the world after Oct. 7, it just made it even more important for us to get there and bear witness to what happened to the Jews.” 

Mark Hermanoff found the mission trip to be meaningful. “We were there with our Milwaukee professional and lay leaders, all of whom became close friends by the end of this shared experience. We were seeing the importance of strong communities in Poland and Hungary while at the same time experiencing how our own community supports one another,” he said. This mission illustrated why a community of shared values in Milwaukee is so important, according to participants.  

The journey was enhanced by commentary provided by professional travel guide Mike Hollander; Miryam Rosenzweig, president and CEO of Milwaukee Jewish Federation; and Chief Development Officer Julie Schack. Samantha Abramson, executive director of the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center prepared the group with pre-travel education sessions and connected Wisconsin to the European sites throughout the 12-day mission. Sara Hermanoff said: “Samantha added significant stories that directly related Jewish Milwaukee’s connection to Europe before, during and after the Shoah.” 

Steven and Robin Arenzon

Steven Arenzon was glad, however, to see hundreds of students touring and learning about the horrors of the Holocaust. He also saw people wearing Israeli flags. “We walked away being proud, just of being Jewish,” Steven Arenzon said. “They say it’s going to leave a mark on you and it does…I feel it’s my responsibility now to carry this,” said Steven Arenzon, who has family that perished in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust. He feels he must know the Jewish story there and tell it. 

Robin Arenzon came away feeling that the Jewish people are fragile yet strong, that the Jews of 2024 are fortunate to be here.  

“Our mission was entitled Rediscovery, Resilience, & Reflection: A Transformative Journey,” Sara Hermanoff said. “We walked away not only having borne witness to the evils of the Holocaust, we now also fully appreciate the beauty and deep value of living a meaningful Jewish life within vibrant Jewish community.”