Program Details

We believe that the first step for any mass return of Jews to Poland is to re-map Polish-Jewish memory. It is the physical, material environment of the nation – monuments, memorials, tourist routes – that scaffolds our sense of national identity. We want to change this ecosystem of memory with a comprehensive program we call “Birthright Poland.” Birthright Israel is a popular program that offers a free trip to Israel for every young diaspora Jew. Birthright Poland adapts this principle for the needs of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland. We call for young Jews to visit Poland to imagine, experience, and put down their new roots.


Our program consists of four components:

1. “Birthright Poland” would be a Polish government funded youth travel program, bringing Jewish youth to Poland to explore the country’s long and diverse history with their Polish, German, Roma, Ukrainian, Belorussian and other European counterparts. Instead of visiting only Poland’s landscape of Nazi camps, we want Jewish and non-Jewish youth to go camping in Polish forests. We will re-map Polish forests as a terrain where paths cross and histories overlap. We will include in one single frame places of Polish pride and shame, sites of Jewish life and death, Muslim communities in the East, former German territories in the West, and abandoned Łemko villages in the South. In this way, we want to retrieve and re-imagine the burdened term “Polish camps.” Our new Polish campgrounds will embrace past pluralism and foster dialogue. We will rediscover the forest as a space of possibility.

The forest has played an important role in Polish-Jewish history. It was a site of betrayal, lynching and extermination, of hiding and resistance. It has been misused to conceal crime, eulogized as the venue of heroic deeds, bewailed as the scene of ultimate evil. A multivalent symbol, the forest is a space in between, a site not only of division but of overlap. Impervious to official signification, subject only to the vegetative cycle, it transcends ideologies and embraces a multiplicity of narratives. It contains graves, but promises new life.

2. “Birthright Poland” campers will take part in longstanding camping traditions. They will sing multicultural songs, assemble regional cookbooks, and meet for campfire storytelling with elders from many cultural groups. These young pioneers will build settlements by learning ancestral construction techniques. Each group will build on the work of the former, preparing a welcoming landscape for the first wave of Renaissance Movement returnees.

3. Camping excursions will be followed by field trips to city centers for urban history documentation and re-tagging. Poland’s landscape of martyrology monuments will be counterbalanced by creative, alternative memorial interventions. New sites will announce the deeds, creations, and achievements of ethnically diverse Polish women and men from a variety of historical moments. More recent contributions of Vietnamese and other immigrants to Poland will also be included.

4. Many maps of Jewish heritage in Poland look like this. We call on the Polish National Tourist Office to disseminate a new map. Our map features an evolving landscape of diversity and cultural sharing, inspiring new generations of Poles and Jews to re-imagine their roots and embrace their futures as new Europeans.
“Birthright Poland” is not intended to erase the concerns of map #1. Poland is a key site for the shared European heritage of the Holocaust. For this reason, Holocaust sites are incorporated into our new map. Campers will visit and preserve them, while learning about what happened there. But our new map unfolds a landscape beyond these dark sites.  

Heritage is sensorially rich and emotionally resonant. It has long been mapped to serve ethno-national projects that keep Poles, Jews, Germans and other Europeans locked in separate, exclusive, and oppositional group identities. We call for a comprehensive strategy to re-map Polish-Jewish memory, to imaginative, progressive, inclusive ends.

As old Jewish legend has it, it was in the forest that the first Jewish travelers to Poland discovered their God-given home. According to the legend, entering the woods, they passages from the Talmud engraved on every tree. They knew they had come to the land where their ancestors once dwelled. They called the place „Po-lin,” which in Hebrew means “Here you shall find a haven.” If Jewish life in Poland started in the forest, maybe it can re-start in the forest as well.