My name is Rachell Kakoun and I am eighteen years old. This past summer I went to Poland with fifteen teachers and other recent graduates of The Reut School: A Pluralist Community in Jerusalem on the Gidonim delegation. This trip was different from the trip we took to Poland the previous summer, our goal was to repair and document the Jewish cemetery of Czestochowa. I did not know what to expect. Previous participants had told me that there would be a lot of hard physical work and that the cemetery looks like a dark entangled forest, where you cannot see anything resembling a cemetery just forest and greenery. Only when we reached Czestochowa and the cemetery did I really understand what the graduates from previous missions were talking about.
We worked for hours on end just to remove the vegetation that had grown over the graves to be able start to work. When the area that we would be working in was cleared of rubble and over growth and the teachers had taught us how to find matzeivot (tombstones) that were now underground, only then did I realize just how many matzeivot there were. Many are standing but there were hundreds underground!
After a person passes from this world, what is left in this world of who they were is only in the memories of those who are living and the matzeiva at his or her grave that commemorates the lives of the dead.
The matzeiva says things about the person. Was he rich or poor, married, did he have children, sometimes it tells us his profession and if he played an important role in the community. In our work, we were preserving the memory of each of these people. It is an indescribable feeling to do this for another person. To bring their memory back into the world. This is especially important work in a community that was destroyed during the Holocaust.
It is hard to describe the personal and group strengths that this work brought out in us, and what we learned about ourselves. I would never have believed that I could ever work at the pace we worked at. My friends and I have never worked with such levels of perseverance, power and dedication. When we ran out of physical and emotional strength, we needed to dig deep and find the strength to continue.
The feeling of satisfaction after digging for hour after hour and finding a matzeiva that is whole with a name that we revealed is amazing. We knew that if we did not do this work, that the matzeiva would be lost forever. That realization drove us and pushed us to work to our maximum.
The Gidonim mission was one of the strongest experiences that my friends and I have ever had. Knowing that we had taken care of almost a thousand, matzievot has changed how I look at life. In one week, I did one of the most significant acts of my life.
I am just waiting for the school to announce that there will be another Gidonim trip next year. I know that next year’s group will feel the same significance and meaning that we did. So many things that happen in my regular life seem trivial now, especially the silly things that used to bother me.
Working with Gidonim was doing a good deed in its purest sense. Know one knows that we did it. The individual buried at Czestochowa cannot thank us. We did not do it so that someone would tell us “job well done” or to get anyone’s approval. We did it just to commemorate each person and a lost community – Am Yisrael Chai!