Trinity College Hillel Director Plays a Part in the Creation of New Hillel in Warsaw, Poland

Lisa Kassow Hopes Trinity Students Will Actively Build Upon Special Connection

​Hartford, Connecticut, June 3, 2016 – On April 18, Lisa Kassow, director of Trinity College Hillel, attended the official opening of Hillel Warsaw in Poland, along with the International Board of Hillel, Hillel senior leadership, and local community leaders. Kassow helped to identify the need for a Hillel in Warsaw and made the connections that became the springboard for the first Hillel in Poland.

Hillel Opening in Warsaw Poland
​L-R: Celebrating the opening of Hillel Warsaw on stage at the POLIN Museum are Jim Shane (member of Hillel International Board of Governors), Tom Blumberg (member of Hillel International Board of Directors, and immediate past chair of board), Yasha Moz (Hillel International Director of Global Relations), Helise Lieberman (Director of the Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Poland Foundation), Rabbi Yossie Goldman (Hillel International Director of Global Expansion), Magda Dorosz (Director of Hillel Warsaw), Eric Fingerhut (President and CEO of Hillel International), Sidney Pertnoy (chair of Hillel International Board of Directors), Lisa Kassow (Director, Trinity College Hillel) and Jeremy Moskowitz (Hillel International Associate Vice President for Leadership and Governance).
Between July 13 and 21 of last year, a group of 12 Hillel International professionals from the United States, Israel, and Russia travelled through Poland, exploring a thousand-year heritage, and the renewal of Jewish life 70 years after the Holocaust and 26 years after communism. The group was led by Lisa Kassow, her husband Samuel Kassow ’66, Charles H. Northam Professor of History at Trinity College, and Helise Lieberman, director of the Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Poland. They realized that a Hillel presence in Warsaw could support local Polish Jewish students and connect them with their peers from around the world visiting Warsaw or studying as international students. Lieberman said, “Poland offers an extraordinary forum for young American Jews, or young Jews from any part of the world, to learn about Jewish history, to learn about heritage, and to confront and challenge some of the most difficult and certainly most traumatic episodes in Jewish history.”

Lisa Kassow was inspired in part by a trip to Poland she led in 2014. She said, “When I took a group of Trinity students from Hartford to Poland and connected with young Polish Jews, I asked myself, ‘Why not a Hillel at Warsaw?’ I played the part of shadchanit, the matchmaker, and introduced leaders from Hillel International to those at Warsaw’s new POLIN Museum and the Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Poland.”

“It was so surprising and exciting to find a place where young people are looking to the future. I see a reflection of the best of our students at Hillel in the United States and … so many opportunities for points of connection,” Kassow said of her trip to Poland last July.

Her husband Samuel Kassow was lead historian and content curator for two of the galleries of the POLIN Museum, which won the 2016 European Museum of the Year Award. Together, the Kassows have been building bridges between Jewish and non-Jewish Trinity students and the vast Ashkenazi heritage of the eastern European part of the world – past, present, and future. The Hillel International professional study tour that the Kassows led last summer helped set the stage for this Hillel opening. Today, numerous campuses are engaging with the heritage study tour material and organizing similar journeys with their students.

Speaking on New England Public Radio about the recent opening, Lisa Kassow said, “Two weeks ago, a couple of hundred people came to mark the opening of Hillel Warszawa – city officials, Polish Jewish 20-somethings with blue hair and orthodox Jews in kippot. Flying back to Hartford, I thought how ironic it is that these young Polish Jews, the same age as those who died in the ghetto uprising, may actually feel safer in Poland than Jews in other parts of Europe today.”

When asked how this new opening will have an impact on students at Trinity in the future, Lisa Kassow said, “I can envision Trinity students making very good use of our special connection with Warsaw Hillel. At Trinity, students interested in Polish and Jewish heritage have significant academic opportunities. Now, we will have the impetus of colleagues in place to help us create more experiential learning through Hillel-facilitated journeys to Poland. My new colleague, Warsaw Hillel Director Magda Dorocz, will create her uniquely Polish Jewish version of a home away from home and sense of belonging for students who live in, study in, or visit Warsaw.”

Written by Josh LeBlanc ’16