“Mom,” can I invite my two new classmates for Shabbat dinner this week?” my son Jack (then age 16) asked me sometime in in the fall of 2006. “They are new in town.”
“Of course,” I said. “Always happy to have your friends.”
That Friday, all was ready – the kids were showered and dressed, the food cooked and warming, the table, dressed in white, adorned with our finest china with two Challot hidden beneath a colorful cloth. I lit the Shabbat candles, covered my eyes, waved my hands around them three times as if my fingers were magic wands, and poof, Shabbat arrived. I took a deep, long breath and greeted my four children with a hearty – “good Shabbes.”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” Jack mentions, “my friends that are coming for dinner are from Poland. Their English is not so great.”
The “Polish boys” arrive at our doorstep – shy and awkward. Jack – neither shy nor awkward, introduces them –
“Mom, these are the Zhezevskys,” Jack announces. “They are here from Poland. We have trouble remembering both names, so we call them the Zhezevskys.”
Well, I asked their real names and learned that they are Aleksander Czyzewski and Joseph Lang and they came to Seattle from their home in Warsaw to attend the Northwest Yeshiva High School.
Ok, I think, it’s a bit strange to come to Seattle for high school from Warsaw, but, going with the flow, I welcomed them to our table and tried to make them feel at home. I learned that they attended the Jewish middle school in Warsaw and wanted to continue their Jewish education into high school, but there was no such option in Warsaw. The Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, called his friend in Seattle, Rivy Poupko Kletenik (my dear friend) and asked her if she would help in bringing two Polish boys to Settle to attend our Jewish high school.
“Absolutely,” was Rivy’s immediate response.
[Photos: Rabbi Michael Schudrich; Rivy Poupko Kletenik]
Arrangements were made, plane tickets were bought and here they were, struggling to learn geometry, chemistry and Talmud – in English. Joseph Lang, stayed in Seattle for two years and then returned home, while Aleksander stuck it out until graduation. We were thrilled to welcome them both to our Shabbat table many more times.
Fast forward to 2015, I called Jack, who was living in Boston:
“Jack,” I ask, “where does Czyzewski live? We are going to Poland in June and I would love to see him.”
“I am not exactly sure,” he responds, “I heard he was back in Warsaw. Message him through Facebook.”
In 2015 I was still a newbie when it came to “messaging on Facebook,” but I thought I can figure this out. Indeed, I found Aleksander Czyzewski on Facebook and sent him a message. On December 7, 2015, I typed:
This is Karen Treiger – Jack Goldberg’s mom – from Seattle.
I hear that you are back living in Warsaw. Shlomo, Ether (our youngest) and I are coming to Warsaw on June 17th. We were wondering if we could see you when we are there. We are coming to visit the towns where Shlomo’s parents lived before the war. We will be in Warsaw from Friday, the 17th until the following Wednesday.
Hope to see you. Karen Treiger
I was shocked when, the very next day, I got a message back – it worked!
Dear Mrs. Treiger,
It is very nice to hear from you. I remember my time in Settle very well, especially visits at your home. I just finished my studies in Israel and came back to Poland. I am working on my thesis and looking for a job. I am not sure if I will be in Poland in June since I do not know where I will be working. But please keep in touch because even if I will not be in Poland, my father or some friends of mine can take you around. If you can send me a list of places you want to visit, I would be able to help you with arrangements and plans.
Sincerely, Aleksander Czyzewski
[Photo: Jack Goldberg and Aleksander Czyzewski in Warsaw, June 2016]
Well, this was the beginning of a connection of Einstein’in proportions (reference is to last chapter of My Soul is Filled with Joy). We spent time with Aleks, and since all four of our children ended up with us in Warsaw, it felt like a family reunion. He explained that he was working as a translator for law firms. We had the pleasure of meeting Aleks’ parents, Adam and Elżbieta and though language might have been a barrier, it was not, and we quickly felt like old friends. Over dinner at one of Warsaw’s kosher restaurants, they told us their families’ stories of Jewish secrets in post-war, communist Poland. Vowing to stay in touch, we said our goodbyes.
[Photo: Shlomo Goldberg; Adam Czyzewski; Elżbieta Czyzewska; Aleksander Czyzewski, Jack Goldberg; Karen Treiger – Warsaw, June 2016]
Ten months later, in April 2017, I was back in Warsaw, with my youngest daughter, Esther. We were there to see the Styś family members and sadly, to pay our last respects at the gravesides of both Jan and Janina, who we had met the previous June. Aleksander Czyzewski served as our travel partner and translator for our expedition to Stare Lipki to visit Eugenius and Alina Styś.
“So, when will the book be published already?” Alina Styś asked impatiently as we sat in their now familiar small living room.
“I am not sure, but I am working hard on it,” I responded. “I have a dream, that once it is published in English, I will find a Polish translator and get it published so I can come back and give you a book that you can read yourself.”
“That sounds great,” they both said, “hurry up!”
At the end of our visit to Stare Lipki, we drove back to Warsaw where we were looking forward to spending time with Aleks and his parents. Alek’s father, Adam gave us a private tour of the National Museum of Ethnography in Warsaw, of which he is the director. Our plan was, after visiting the museum, to go out to dinner. But alas, Warsaw’s Kosher restaurants did not cooperate with our plan and they were closed. So, Esther, Aleks, Adam, Elżbieta and I sat in the Museum office, ate granola bars and talked yet again about their families and what it means to be a Polish Jews living in Warsaw in 2017.
Adam and Elżbieta were both very proud of the beautiful exhibit in the museum dedicated to the life of Jews in pre-war Gombin, Poland, where Adam’s family was originally from. Adam had worked hard to make the exhibit a reality. Further, the 2016 annual conference in the Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw coincided with the focus of the publication of “New Ethnography: Jewish Ethnography and Folklorists in Poland before 1945.” Adam was the “editor and project director” of this impressive 600-page book with a collection of essays and pictures. They gave me a copy of this three-and-a-half-pound book to bring home with me. I hoped it would not put my suitcase over the pound limit! Beaming with pride, Adam explained that Elżbieta runs a small publishing company and she published the book. Wow, a true family endeavor.
Back to Seattle I sat at my desk and wrote and re-wrote. My Soul is Filled with Joy: A Holocaust Story was completed and published in September of 2018. I am happy to report that the book includes the poignant and meaningful stories of Adam, Elżbieta and Aleks.
As soon as the book was finished, my brain began to churn with a passion. How can I get this book translated into Polish and published quickly – while Eugenius and Alina are still alive? I did some research and spoke to several people about how best to make this happen. Then I remembered – Aleks is working as a translator.
Back to the computer – on October 12, 2108, I wrote:
I hope you are doing well.
My book is out in the world and I want to send you a copy. You are in it as are your parents! . . .
I know you do legal translations – would your skill translate to a book like mine? . . .
If not, do you know any translators who work on books who you think are good.
Thanks. Shabbat shalom. Karen”
On October 20, 2018, I received the following:
“I would love to translate Your book. Not only because this book is of a great interest to me but also this kind of translation is my favorite. Usually I translate corporate letters/e-mails/documents. . ..
My mother does publishing but she has almost none with distribution but will be able to find you someone trusted. Once we get your book in hard copy and Word my mother can list cost of: preparing book for printing or if you want a new design different from original, there will be additional cost and finally printing.
Best Wishes from me and my parents.”
How about that – the Czyzewski family comes to the rescue. Aleks will translate, Elżbieta will publish and Adam may jump into the fray to help with editing the Polish manuscript. A Czyzewski family package deal. Amazing. The goal is to have the finished product by June of 2019. I will be going to Poland for the launch and will be speaking about the book at the POLIN Museum in Warsaw and at the Krakow Jewish Festival. But best of all, I hope to hand My Soul is Filled with Joy in Polish to Eugeniusz and Alina Styś.
ALL this started thanks to the Northwest Yeshiva High School, Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Rivy Poupko Kletenik. When NYHS opened as a Jewish High School in 1974, in the basement of the Seattle Hebrew Academy, its name was Yeshivat Ohr Hatzafon (Yeshiva of the Northern Light). Well, this northern light, let’s call it the north star, led me and my family to the Czyzewski family in Warsaw, Poland. Now, together, we will bring Sam, Esther, and our own stories to Poland, back to where the story began 80 years ago.
You gotta love it!