Lauder e-Learning School Helps Students Connect with Jewish Identity & Family
The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation helps students develop strong, rooted Jewish identities.
Mr. Adam Sawicki, the father of Karolina Sawicka — an alumnus of the Lauder e-Learning School of Poland — recently documented this incredible story of how his daughter’s participation in the Lauder e-Learning School led her to study in Israel, discover her lost family, her grandfather’s grave at the Lodz cemetery, and to build a memorial honoring her grandfather.
Here are the original letters and documents, as written firsthand.
Part I. Letter from Karolina Sawicka, Alumnus of the Ronald S. Lauder e-Learning School of Poland
Dear Mrs. Hadassah Buchwald-Pawlak,
My name is Karolina Sawicka, I’m 16 years old and I live in Israel. Right now, I’m in the middle of the biggest adventure of my life. It all started when I was 6 years old and went to my first class at JOINT Jewish Sunday school in Lódz. I liked it from the very first lesson. I didn’t know why it was called a “Sunday school”, because a school is a place where we learn, but every week there I met with my friends; we played together, we watched films, we cooked, and we didn’t have textbooks or notebooks. Most importantly, there wasn’t any homework, but when I left after each lesson, I felt like I’d learned more than during the whole week before going to school.
The question is, what helped me soak up so much knowledge during those lessons? The answer is they were structured: each lesson had a pre-determined theme, but we conducted a free discussion about every subject. A question could be asked about anything, and an answer is always given. I really like that way of doing things. Lessons at the Lauder e-Learning Schools are also conducted in a similar way, which is why I always look forward to every lesson because each and every one can be the one that changes my life. First and foremost, I had a deep sense of freedom during the lessons at the e-school.
I came to classes every Sunday. At the end of the year, our madricha Marysia Karwacka told us that there would be Jewish summer camps for children – one in Poland, “Atid”, and the other abroad, in Hungary, “Szarvas”. I was just 7 years old, but when my parents asked me if I wanted to go, I said ‘yes’ right away. That’s how, one month later, I ended up at a camp, and since then I’ve gone there ever year.
Three years ago, during one of the lessons at the JDC school our madricha told us about the Lauder e-Learning Schools and about the program – that we could learn Jewish studies & Hebrew language and even, English, German and French. So right away I decided to become a student at the Lauder e-Learning Schools.
I knew that my older sister Klaudia had graduated from the Lauder-Morasha Jewish School in Warsaw. I couldn’t do that because I lived in Lodz, not Warsaw. So the e-school became an answer for my quest and that’s how the biggest adventure in my life got started. Finally, I started to learn Jewish studies with Ms. Joanna Czopnik which inspired me to read more and more about everything related to Judaism. As a result of that felt strong need to explore more deeply my Jewish roots and Jewish identity. Before that, I only knew that my grandfather was Jewish, and that there wasn’t anyone left from that side of the family. We thought they had all died in the Holocaust and World War II. I also knew that my father had always wanted to find his roots and discover his lost Jewish identity.
Last year, I graduated from middle school in Poland, and I started dreaming of continuing my education at a Jewish high school. I started looking at Jewish schools in the USA, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I only found one international school, but my family couldn’t afford studying there.
A year ago at the Lauder e-Learning Schools Shabbaton in Krakow I met you Mrs. Pawlak, and if it weren’t for your help, I’m sure I wouldn’t be where I am right now. Your personal history restored the motivation in me that had flickered out, giving me new inspiration. Now I’ve been living in Israel for eight months, going to an international school, making my dreams come true and learning about myself. I finally feel I’ve found my place on earth.
I know that life requires courage, because fortune favors the brave. This is just the start of my story, and I can’t wait to see who I will become and where I will be in a few years. I’m really happy to be surrounded by such wonderful people I can count on no matter what.
The English lessons at the Lauder e-Learning Schools with Ms. Olga Krzysztoporska helped me to start speaking English. I’ve learned as much English at the e-school as I would after years of education at a “normal” school. This made it easier for me to join the Naale program and start studying at the Mosinzon International School in Israel.
It was the same with Hebrew. I learned Hebrew grammar and writing at the e-school, which helped make it easier for me to start school in Israel.
I want to go back to what my father wrote and tell one story that happened to me in Israel.
As you know, every child at the Naale school has a “host family”, and of course I did too. During the Sukot holiday, there was a school break, and my family took me to the beach for a few days. On Friday evening, some friends of my “host family” came to spend Sabbath with us. We sat down to supper and started talking. When I told them I was from Poland, they said their parents were also from Poland, from the city of Białystok (I was born there). During the conversation, they asked questions about my family, so I started telling them the story you already heard, and I mentioned that I have family in Israel: uncle Efraim, aunt Ruth and my cousins: Ofer, Eyal and Iris. Eyal added that Iris plays a harp called newel in Hebrew. Incredibly, my mother’s maiden name was also Newel.
Suddenly, I noticed that my host family mother’s eyes were huge. She asked if she heard right that my cousin was named Iris Eyal, was 45 years old, and played the harp. I nodded my head in confirmation. After a moment, she stood up from her chair and shouted that a miracle had happened, because she knew Iris, they had served in the army together, and what was even more incredible – Iris played harp at her wedding ceremony. The next day, we found her telephone number on the Internet, because I didn’t have any direct contact with her before. I was only in touch with her mother Ruthi and her brother Ofer. We called her up, and first my host family mother introduced herself in Hebrew and told her the whole story, then I talked with her for around an hour. And this is the incredible way I found my lost family!
Nothing happens in life without a reason, and everything has some deep, hidden meaning. I think that everything that’s happened to us over the last year is a sign from my ancestors that it’s high time to find our roots and our lost identity!
Thank you and shalom.
Part II. Letter from Adam Sawicki, Father of the Student in the Ronald S. Lauder e-Learning School of Poland
Dear Ms. Hadassah and Dear Rabbi Maciej Pawlak,
I took the liberty of forwarding your email to Karolinka in Israel, because she has the original emails she had received from our newly-found family in Israel, and will send them to you today.
Perhaps I should start from the beginning. My name is Adam Sawicki. I was born in Łódź in 1955. My father was a Warsaw Jew, born in Kołbiel in 1893. His name was Mosze Iglicki, but in 1956 he changed it to Michał Sawicki. My father died in Łódź in 1959 and was buried in the Jewish cemetery when I was only 4 years old.
My mother died when I was 16. I knew that my father had some relatives in Belgium and Israel, but all my attempts to find them failed (I went to Belgium when I was 18, but I could not learn anything).
I have five children, but only the three youngest have felt the call of blood and wished to learn about the Jewish culture and felt Jewish in the full sense of the word.
It all started with Klaudia Jagiełło, who has graduated from the Lauder School in Warsaw and has always been active in the Jewish community (she ran a Sunday school for Jewish children in Warsaw, was madrich at summer camps for Jews, and is a Limmud and JCC volunteer). It was under her influence that Karolinka Sawicka, my younger daughter, became strongly aware of her Jewish identity (even as a child, she used to go to Jewish summer camps and integration camps, for example in Szarvas).
As soon as it became possible, she enrolled at the Lauder Morasha e-Learning Schools, which proved very valuable in her search for her Jewish roots. Lessons on Jewish culture, Hebrew classes and integration meetings in Warsaw, Shabatons of the e-school in Łódź and Kraków, have greatly strengthened her awareness of her Jewish origins. My youngest son, Staś Sawicki, has been attending the e-school since he was 5 (already for two years now), and when he started attending elementary school he was six-and-a-half years old. This year he will complete his first grade. As soon as he could understand anything, he knew without a question that he was, of course, a Jew.
He is a diligent student at the e-school and enjoys it very much, especially learning about the Jewish history and culture.
Having completed junior high school last year, Karolinka decided she wanted to continue her education at a Jewish high school abroad. This was her own decision and she began looking for a Jewish school in the United States. She got in touch with several such schools, including one in the State of Carolina (a secular Jewish boarding school), but unfortunately we could not afford the tuition (approximately $43,000 per year).
During last year’s Shabaton in Kraków, Karolinka shared her dreams with Ms. Hadassa, who advised her to talk to Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who might be able to help. Needless to say, my wife and I wholeheartedly supported Karolinka in her dreams and her pursuit of self-realization.
We made an appointment to see Rabbi Schudrich in Warsaw, and it was at this meeting that the idea came up to look into the possibility of going to Israel to attend a high school there. Such opportunities were being organized in Germany for Ukrainian and Russian Jews.
After the meeting with the Rabbi, as we were already in Warsaw, we made an appointment to visit the Jewish Historical Institute through which I had already been trying to find my Jewish family for several years.
This time we were lucky, as Ania from the Jewish Historical Institute found a document from Yad Vashem, submitted 16 years ago in Israel by Menachem Iglicki, son of Szymon Iglicki, where Szymon Iglicki’s place of birth was Kołbiel and the names of his parents were the same as those of my father’s. The document also contained an address and a phone number in Israel.
Ania from the Institute cautioned me there was a difficulty, since the family had changed their name in Israel to Eyal and if they moved to another place, it would be difficult to find them. She also told me it would be advisable to find someone who spoke Hebrew, because these were elderly people who might not speak English.
Having returned to Łódź, I met with my friend Magda Shor, who had returned from Israel with her daughter who attends the e-Learning School with my children and speaks Hebrew well. I asked her to help me get in touch.
We met at the JOINT Sunday school several times and I tried to call my “family” in Israel, but without success. One Monday morning in May 2014, I took Staś to the kindergarten and returned home. Karolinka’s classes started late that day, so she was still at home.
I dialed the phone number in Israel and expected, as always, to hear it ring without anyone picking up. To my great surprise, I heard a woman’s calm voice saying “hello” and just managed to blurt out “Menachem Iglicki.” The woman asked me whether I spoke English, I answered I didn’t and handed the handset to Karolinka.
She started a conversation in English, explaining who we were and who we were looking for, and it turned out that Menachem had died five years earlier at the age of 72, and the woman, named Ruth, was his widow and was 72 years old. It was a deeply moving moment and my excitement reached fever pitch when Ruth said I had called Menachem’s landline, which for some reason she had neglected to disconnect after her husband’s death and which had not been used for five years.
She said when she heard the ringing, it was like a message from the beyond, and when she heard my voice saying “Menachem Iglicki,” her spine tingled. To this day she cannot understand why she did not have this line disconnected (which is good, though, and apparently this is how it was destined to be).
This is not the only “miracle” connected with the Lauder e-school (because if not for the e-school, Karolinka might not have wanted to continue her education at a Jewish school abroad, and I might not have had the luck to visit the Jewish Historical Institute and find this piece of information, as I had already looked for it for several years to no avail, and Ania, despite her efforts, never came across it).
I wrote earlier that my father died in 1959 and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Łódź when I was four years old. Yet, I remember the funeral to this day, since it was the first time in my life when I cried. I visited my father’s grave with my mother and I remember playing next to my father’s grave. When my mother tidied it up, I often went to play by the Poznański’s Mausoleum. My mother died when I was 16 and several years passed before I wanted and was able to afford a Matzevah [Memorial Stone] for my father.
It was a great shock when I found someone else’s grave at the spot where my father had been buried. I could not forgive myself that I had not saved enough money earlier to pay for a gravestone and allowed for someone else to have been buried in the same spot (at the time I did not know that, according to the Jewish burial custom, graves are never put one on top of another, since I only knew the Polish way, that if you did not pay for a tombstone, then, after a certain time, someone else would be buried in the same spot).
This was a very traumatic experience for me and I could not reconcile myself to the idea that I had forever lost the opportunity to put a Matzevah on my father’s grave. Many years passed and my distress was so great that I probably erased the affair from my memory, as I completely forgot about it. However, several years later, oblivious to that event, I contacted the Jewish community centre in Łódź with a request to locate my father’s grave, since I could not find it as I walked around the cemetery, though I had known the place as a child.
I was given the number of the alley and the number of the grave, and I was shown the place, but it didn’t look the way I remembered it. Let me mention again, though, that I did not remember that someone else had been buried on the spot of my father’s grave.
For some reason I could not put a gravestone in the designated place.
When several years later, I finally determined to put a Matzevah on my father’s grave, I went to the place with the cemetery supervisor to make arrangements, and, examining the spot indicated by the Jewish Community Center, I took out my phone and showed the man a picture of my father’s grave just received from my newly-found family in Israel.
The man took the phone from me and looked at the picture in which I, as a small boy, stood with my mother by my father’s grave, and said this could not be the spot. Something was wrong, he said, and using the picture for clues, examined the grave next to my father’s, and took me to a spot where he thought my father’s grave should be. He read a partly preserved inscription on a nearby grave and said that my father was buried under the other tombstone. He then explained to me that Jews never bury their dead in a spot where someone else had already been buried.
Now, finally, there is a Matzevah on my father’s grave, exactly on the spot where he was buried and which I remember as the right one!
Part III. Letter from Karolina’s Family in Tel Aviv, Israel
Dear Kate and Adam, Klaudia, Karolina and Stas,
It was so good to talk to you and see you last night. The wonders of technology. Adam I would like to tell you that I appreciate very much the long way that you went in order to find us, that you did not give up and I admire the courage you had to call us! I am sure it is not an easy or simple thing to do. To wait for the ‘hello’ on the other side of the telephone and see if it is friendly or not. I am so happy that you did not give up!!! Thank you very much dear dear cousin.
I will tell you the story of Menachem’s family that I know.
Symon and Hinda got married about 1932 in Belgium. Symon was there and a sister of Hinda met him and told Hinda to come to Belgium to meet him. She was then in London with her brothers and sisters. Symon and Hinda lived in a little village called Gilly, which is today a part of the town Charleroi. Symon’s sister Bracha was already living in Gilly. She was married to Adolf and they had two daughters: Dany and Isabelle. Symon and his sister were selling textiles on which Symon drew designs (Dany said he was very talented and drew beautifully). They were selling them in the markets.
Menachem was born in 1937. When the Germans conquered Belgium in 1940 the families of Symon and of Bracha tried to get to Paris to Moishe-Nuchom (Maurice) Iglicki – a young brother of Avrom-Meyer. But they could not go on because of the German bombers and shooting. So they went on to the south of France together with many many other refugees. The Germans were shooting on the long convoys of refugees and they hid in different places until they reached a little village called L’isle sur Tarn. They stayed there for about a year. Then they went back to Belgium because the situation in Belgium seemed to be OK. Efraim was born in 5.5.1942. After one month, the Jews in Belgium had to wear the yellow star and life became very hard. Menachem was sent to hide in a monastery, which was an orphanage, in a little place called Chatelet, not far from Charleroi. He was 5. Hinda, Symon and Efraim the baby were hidden in the house of a neighbor.
After some time they returned to their home – we do not know why. One day Hinda went across the street to buy bread. When she wanted to return she saw the car of the Germans taking Symon and Efraim. She went into hiding by the resistance. After some time the doctor who knew where she was told her that Efraim is in a hospital nearby. She dressed as a nun, went there, and took him. He was then taken by the resistance to a family to hide. Efraim changed 9 families during the war. Menachem, after about one year in the monastery, was also taken by the resistance to a very nice family who hid him until the end of the war – nearly two years. This was very lucky because a short time after that, someone told the gestapo that Jewish children were hidden in the monastery and all the children were taken by the gestapo.
Symon was probably sent to a transition camp in Belgium, and in July 1943 was sent to Auschwitz. This we found out from a document in Yad Vashem:
They made a spelling mistake with the name – you should write Szmon Iglicki.
When the war ended the resistance brought back Efraim and Menachem to their mother. They lived close to Bracha and her family who were also hidden during the war but came back to their house when the war ended. Adolf and Bracha helped Hinda and the boys They stayed in Belgium until 1946, and then went to London where Hinda had brothers and sisters. Menachem and Efraim went to school, Hinda was working with her sister in a restaurant. In 1951 they moved to Israel. Hinda sent Efraim to a religious boarding school, he was 9. Menachem was sent to a different religious school but he was too wild and was sent home. Hinda married another man, Menachem who was 14 worked for one year in Tel Aviv and then left home and went to live in a Kibbutz near Natanya (where I live).
I found a letter from Dany to Menachem where she mentioned the names of Avrom-Meyer’s children: Brucha (Brahca), Yakov-Hersh who died with his three children in the Shoah, Moishe – your father, Shulem, Rochel who also died with her husband and three children in the Shoah, and Symon.
I hug you all and love you.