Israeli Playwright, Stav Palti-Negev, reflects on her recent visit to Poland with filmmaker and fellow Asylum Alum, Malgorzata Kozera-Topinska. The purpose of the trip was to collect research for a feature film that they are working on together, which tells the story of a 17-year-old Israeli, Ella, who is visiting Poland on a high school trip. The film and research trip are proudly supported through Asylum’s Small Grants Program.
I always thought that I had visited Poland before. The proof was in my passport, a stamp from 2001 that proved I had entered the country. For many years I had a vague memory of that trip – train tracks, concentration camps, the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw and one happy moment in the main square of Krakow, where I saw a little street theater show that stayed with me as my favorite memory from that journey. That was it, but for me, I had been to Poland. Like many of my friends who have been on similar trips, I thought I knew what Poland was all about.
So, when Malgorzata (Gosia) Kozera-Topinska asked me to write a script with her about the Israeli school trips to Poland, I was very excited. It was an opportunity to revisit these old memories and investigate a phenomenon that I started seeing as dubious as years went by.
We began our work process with a new trip, one that became an inspiration to many scenes in our script. We drove out of Warsaw into rural Poland, to visit old Jewish towns that were emptied during the war. We wanted to see what these towns look like today, who lives in them, and how the past intersects with the present. We searched for signs of Jewish life – a mezuzah mark left on a doorway, a star of David above a window, an empty lot where a synagogue used to stand. And at the same time, we were on a journey to understand contemporary Poland and its people. Along the way, we met farmers in their apple orchards, old ladies in open-air markets, waiters in empty restaurants, pensioners dancing in the park. They all became characters in our story that aims to capture a moment where two cultures meet. The conversations that Gosia and I had along the way involved her explaining the Polish culture and history to me, and I would describe Israel’s complex society to her. This conversation would be the same one that our protagonists have, who are traveling through Poland in a very similar way.
Through our work, I learned that I was actually visiting the country for the first time. As a teenager, I saw one face of Poland, and like many others who have been on a similar trip, I believed that was the full story. This script has given me the opportunity to rediscover Poland and its people. For these few weeks, I got to be 17 years old again, traveling with our heroine, Ella, and seeing the country through her eyes. This new trip, so wild and imaginative, is one that I would have never done by myself. I am thankful that our story took me there.