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TIJS’s Jews of Poland: History and Memory Study Abroad Experience


Reflecting on her participation in TIJS’ inaugural Poland study abroad program last May, Emory undergraduate Clara Conry 26C recalls how it represented, “an incredibly unique experience that allowed students to experience some of the history they had learned about during the [related] course. Not only did this trip build community but every student concluded that they came away with knowledge about Eastern European Jewish history they could not have discovered in the United States.”

Building on the positive feedback from 2023 participants and strong programmatic foundation, TIJS is excited to offer an expanded iteration of the program for Emory undergraduates in Summer 2024.  To that end, this year’s version will feature a 11-day, 1-credit summer study abroad program in Poland, taking place May 19-30, 2024.  Once again, the Berger Family Fund, established by Bruce, Michelle, and Emily Berger 23C with the purpose of supporting student experiential learning on topics related to antisemitism, Jewish life, and Jewish history, will allow TIJS to heavily subsidize the program for students.

Leading the initiative and its complementary course is Eric Goldstein, an Associate Professor jointly appointed in Emory’s Department of History and the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies.  Through this pursuit, he’s excited to provide students with hands-on opportunities to connect with and explore the region’s unique history and culture.

“Jewish engagement with Poland and Eastern Europe is a story of huge contrast,” Goldstein shares.  “It’s a story of vibrant Jewish life - it was the largest center of Jewish life in the world for many decades, if not centuries – and also a site of immense tragedy.  And then, in recent years, a site of a kind of cultural rebirth.  So I think (Poland) really provides a lot of very interesting tensions, interesting questions.”

As they unpack these tensions and questions, students will split time between Krakow and Warsaw where they’ll engage in dialogue with contemporary Polish and Polish-Jewish activists, university students, and cultural and community leaders.  Additionally, the program will feature excursions to historical locations such as the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, Wieliczka Salt Mines, and – new to this year - a former "shtetl.”  A shtetl “was a typical small town where Jews in Eastern Europe lived, especially in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries,” Goldstein explains.  “So we’ll not only have a chance to explore how Jews lived in the larger cities, but this kind of classic example of how they lived in the countryside as well.”

To maximize students’ time abroad, TIJS will partner with the Taube Center for Jewish Life & Learning, an organization founded in 2009, to enrich Jewish life in Poland and connect people from around the globe with Eastern European history and heritage. The center’s programs engage visitors in the exploration of a nuanced history, conflicting narratives, the role and place of memory and memorialization, traumas, and legacies. Significant components of the heritage tour education programs include a focus on individual and communal responsibility, the challenge and morality of preservation and restoration, and encounters with contemporary Jewish Poland.

Ultimately, participating students are in store for a profoundly thought-provoking experience as they explore Eastern European Jewish life during many historical periods, from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, through the Nazi Holocaust and Soviet domination, and culminating in the current period of post-Soviet Jewish renewal.  As Goldstein notes, “Poland is a place where the questions of history, culture, and identity are extremely apparent and sometimes fraught.  But it makes the study of those issues particularly interesting and rewarding.  It will be a very challenging, meaningful, and rewarding topic to study for anyone interested in those issues.”

Only Emory undergraduates are eligible for TIJS’ Poland Program and students must either complete Prof. Goldstein’s spring 2024 semester course JS 271/HIST 296: Memories of Jewish Eastern Europe or assigned advance readings.  You may learn more about these requirements on the official Emory Education Abroad page.  Applications will be accepted starting mid-December with a February 15th application deadline, though students are strongly encouraged to submit their applications as early as possible, as some programs reach capacity by the end of January.  As Lydia Levy 24C from the 2023 program reflects, “Seeing a place is very different than learning about it in the classroom.”

Published 12/6/2023