I got a few opportunities to work with young students who have just come back from the visit to Poland.
The kids seemed as if they have experienced a trauma, not knowing what to expect in the workshop with me, they sat, staring at the floor, avoiding eye contact, maybe their memoriy, visions from the trip started kicking in, and surfacing in their mind?
after a quick run around, hearing their initial thoughts of the trip and of returning to Israel, I found a suitable moment in the circle of conversation and asked carefully if they had any moments of clarity in which they realized there is a comic scenario. Sometimes, when you are right in the situation, perhaps it's too uptight and unclear... so I asked them to reflect on such moments in which something was funny/sad or just bizarre or ridiculous that maybe could function as relief for all the troubled souls gathered together during the delegation activity. I asked a group that came back from a tour if there were any moments they can look back on now and realize that they were actually funny...
One participant remembered that during their trip, they visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and museum, and following that evening, they moved on, arriving at a new town. The group then met a parallel group of local Polish kids for an evening of introduction, fun, and games. To help break the ice, the local kids prepared some group games and activities.
Even though the kids were flooded by the horrifying experience, which they knew about and regarded as a dreadfully significant part of the visit, they had no time to process their thoughts and feelings and were immediately called down from their rooms. Reluctantly, they cooperated with the locals' good intentions. After all, the idea is to remember what happened back then and look forward with hope... right?
So, they all sat together, and for the first game, they were all asked to take their shoes off and only keep one shoe to pass around the circle. "What to do with the other shoe?" asked the kid, and to that, his fellow Polish friend replied, unaware of the impact this might have, "right there - in the pile, with the rest of the shoes"... He had a short frozen moment in which he exchanged a quick look with his peers and then headed on, obeying the order very uncomfortably.
Photo by workshop participant - "Pile Of Shoes" - The bizarre experience
During our workshop, he recreated the sight he remembered using classmates' shoes. He recreated this pile and presented this story. It was such a sweet story of good intentions all gone bad and the tons of embarrassment that surrounded the whole scenario. We laughed out in much-needed relief. This story has just put the human point right in the middle of it all - a small interaction of associated fear and unease, putting such 'heavy' issues in a healthier light and proportion just by letting the past release its clenching grip and having a small mutual smile and laugh in the present to lay the foundations of a better future.
...In the words of Roman Gary, in the great novel 'The Dance of Genghis Cohn':
“I always wondered what The Jewish Humor is, in fact.”
“What do you think?” he asks.
“I think it's a kind of a way to shout.” I reply.
and this is what the WWW has to say about using humour (sometimes!):
"Humour can indeed provide a way to release tension, cope with difficult experiences, and bring people together. It's important to find moments of lightness amidst heavy topics, as it allows us to humanise the past and create connections for a better future."