On Faculty: Democracy And Anti-Semitism Occupy David In Poland Steve Libowitz --------------------- Editor No. 9 Rinick was the last home of Steven David's 80-year-old uncle before he left Poland forever in 1920. But his uncle couldn't remember what city his house had been in. When David, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, visited Poland last month as part of a teaching project, he inquired about the street address only to learn that nearly every city in Poland has a Rinick, which means "town square." So on a side trip to Warsaw, David snapped a shot of the house at that address. For someone who had come to Poland as a teacher, it was a poignant lesson that a vibrant Jewish community had once existed in Poland, but now it seemed everyone had largely forgotten where it was. David was one of 10 U.S. and British faculty members who traveled to the tiny village of Mierki--a resort about 150 mile north of Warsaw used at one time by the communist elite--to help teach a crash curriculum on democracy. The ongoing program, funded by the Ford Foundation and the Batory Foundation, provides students from Eastern Europe an alternative to Marxism, which they now reject. At Mierki more than 150 graduate students and low-level government officials were exposed to basic international relations, security issues, political theory and democratization. David, who taught a course on international political economy and one on institutions, presented the material in much the same way he does to his Hopkins students but it was received somewhat differently. "They were taken aback because I gave them conflicting approaches to the material and didn't tell them that any one of them was the right one or which one I believe in," he says. "They've always been told what to think." The classes were all in English, which was the common language of the participants attending from a dozen or more European countries. But David admits his humor did not translate so well. "If a student came in late, as they walked in I'd say '...or you will fail,'" he laughs. "And they'd have this look of sheer panic on their face and ask the other students, 'What'd he say?' They just weren't used to their teachers joking around. "One of the refreshing aspects about this experience was that these students represented countries actually facing the questions we raised theoretically," he says. "For example, there's a big debate in political science about the value of institutions in international politics. When we discussed whether a country should put its trust in institutions like the United Nations or NATO or in its own power, my Croatian student was quite clear that putting faith in institutions has failed the Bosnian Muslims. These issues were very much alive in the minds of the students." Although David taught 12 hours per week, his visit was not all work. "It was like a summer camp," David says of his stay in the Lake District, with its cool winds blowing off the Baltic Sea. "We lived in quite rustic conditions, and we ate and played together (Eastern Europeans are very dynamic volleyball players, he says). It's hard to say what our impact was, but I enjoyed the teaching." But the pleasure he derived in the world of his classroom was overshadowed by the reality of the world outside it. Like many American Jews, David's family came from Poland, which once supported a community of three and a half million Jews. Most of that population, and many members of his own family, were wiped out in the Holocaust. Part of what motivated David to make the trip to Poland was his interest in what has become of the Jewish community, now numbering only about 2,000. David took the opportunity to have many frank discussions with students and government people about the anti-Semitism that persists in Poland today. One thing that deeply disturbs and depresses David is the extent to which Jews are still blamed for many of Poland's problems. "Jews are barely here, yet they are still perceived as the problem," he says. That the Jewish community is all but nonexistent in Poland is David's other great sadness. "It's one thing to read about the destruction of the Jewish people there, but it is quite another thing to see it," he says. David had two particularly painful experiences. He attended a Friday night Sabbath service in a synagogue in Warsaw--most likely, he says, one of the only synagogues remaining in the country--and no more than six or seven men were present. There was no Jewish star to mark the building. He then visited a Hebrew cemetary in Lodz that had tens of thousands of graves. "The grass was higher than me," he says. "It really brought home that once there was this community, and now it's gone. And no one seemed to care. "That's the thing I tried to express to the Poles. Poland, its culture and history and the state, has changed, but it still exists. Jewish life in Poland, though, is gone forever. "I appreciated the chance to visit Poland, but I left with a profound sadness."
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