“Because you are Jewish” – A story of Jewish awakening in Poland
“I was born in Częstochowa, Poland, in 1988. Since there were no Jewish schools in Poland at that time, my mother sent me to public school. When I was 8 years old I came back home from school and I told my mother what the teacher told us that day – ‘Mom, tomorrow we can’t eat meat, we are going to church and the priest is going to pour ashes over our heads.’ My mother looked at me and said, ‘Sure, if you don’t want to eat meat tomorrow, I will not give you meat to eat, but you will not go to church.’ I asked, ‘Why not?’ She said, ‘Because you are Jewish.'”
This is when when Yaakov Wasilewicz found out he was a Jew. But he quickly learned that it was better to keep that information to himself. When he once told his friend that he was Jewish, the next day everyone started calling him a “dirty Jew’. So Yaakov kept it a secret from everyone in school.
In the summers and during winter break Yaakov started attending The Lauder Camp, a place where Jewish families around Poland would come and spend a few weeks learning about Judaism. The camp was for all three generations of Polish Jews: Holocaust survivors, their children and grandchildren.
It was refreshing for Yaakov to be in a place where he didn’t have to hide his true identity. There, everyone was Jewish and everyone felt comfortable. There Yaakov learned Hebrew and Jewish songs, and he would sing everywhere he went.
Now Yaakov is married with a child of his own, and living in Far Rockaway, New York. He has not forgotten his roots, or the challenges that Polish Jews have to overcome to live their lives as Jews and he has made himself available to teach them from afar, even once giving a class in Israel to a group of Polish Jews that were part of a Shavei Israel seminar.
Enjoy this music single of Yaakov Wasilewicz, arranged and produced by world renowned singer and performer Eitan Katz. Yaakov wrote it in dedication to his mother, Halina Wasilewicz z”l, who has since passed away, who represented so much of what the Akeida (the Sacrifice of Isaac) represented for the Jewish people, a parent endlessly sacrificing for her child.