My name is Ori Shaham and I’m the Rosh Chinuch (youth educational leader) for Hashomer Hatzair USA. Three weeks ago I joined the 11th and 12th Hashomer Hatzair delegations to the TESCO refugee camp in Przemysl, which is on the Polish border with Ukraine. Volunteering with these delegations in the Hashomer Hatzair children’s center was perhaps the most meaningful thing I have ever taken part in, and I feel so fortunate to have been able to join.
I wanted to share some of my experiences and reflections with you all. Whatever I can’t describe in words, I hope the pictures and videos will do some justice :) There is a lot here, so I’ve split it up into sections.
The work we’ve done in the children’s center and our humanitarian aid in Ukraine has been possible because of the generosity of our community. Going forward, we also plan to create a youth center within Ukraine, in Kharkiv, to help with the rebuild of the city. Many of you have donated to make this possible already. If you would like to donate again or spread the word, you can do so here: https://campshomria.com/blogs/news/yachad-for-ukraine.
Visiting the Site of the Przsmsyl Ken:
In a particularly moving moment for me, I visited the old building of one of Hashomer’s earliest kenim, in Przemysl, with fellow Shomer Yoni from Israel. The Przemysl Ken was closed 88 years ago, during the Nazis’ invasion of Poland. Before the Holocaust, Przemysl had a vibrant Jewish community, with Jews making up over a third of the city.
I strolled around the city for a bit, and noticed a number of different buildings with Magen Davids, signifying their past Jewish heritage (see last picture). For me, this was an emotional way to first see Poland, where my mother’s entire side of the family was from before they either made aliya to Israel, fled elsewhere, or were killed in the Holocaust. Many on my mother’s side of the family were in Hashomer Hatzair in Poland, and although they lived in Warsaw and Krakow , not Przemyśl, seeing the old ken building made me imagine their lives, hopes, and dreams at the time.
I’m grateful the first time I was in Poland was by taking part of the Hashomer Hatzair delegation to the children’s center. In the face of oppression from the Nazis in World War II, and from a brutal and unjust invasion from Russia into Ukraine today, this movement continues to be a space to resist, inspire, and provide hope for others for a better world.
A marking left from where there had once been a Mezuzah at the entrance to the old Ken building in Przemysl.