Group 8: Eastern Europe/Israel Pilgrimage
Wednesday, July 6th
Today the group spent the day visiting sites in and around Krakow. They toured the Jewish Quarter in Kazimisz as part of a walking tour that included 3 synagogues, the Alteschule (the oldest synagogue in Krakow), Rema and Isaac. The Rema shul is named for Moshe Isserles who wrote the Mapa, the Ashkanazic gloss to the Shulchan Aruch. They also visited the Jewish cemetery behind the Rema synagogue. Then they visited the pharmacy in the ghetto and learned about the pharmacist who helped many Jews forced to live within the ghetto walls. They also saw a remaining wall of the ghetto. The group visited the newly opened Schindler museum which describes Jewish life in Krakow before the war and after the Nazi invasion, as well as the story behind the saving of 1,700 Jews who worked at the factory. The group spent some time reflecting on their T’fila goals for the summer and headed to Lublin.
Tuesday, July 5th
The group spent a long and moving day at Auschwitz-Birkenau. They began with shacharit at the Aushchwitz Jewish center and then started the tour by walking under the infamous sign, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” “Work Will Make You Free.” They went into several buildings and learned about what went on in the everyday live of the camp’s victims. Then they went to Birkenau death camp, where they began by walking through the famous guard tower. They went inside barracks, stood at the very place where Joseph Mengele chose who would live and who would die, and saw the former crematoria that were destroyed at the end of the war. At the end of the tour the group gathered for a memorial ceremony. The group then travelled back to Krakow and after dinner met in subgroups.
Monday, July 4th
The group spent the morning in Terezin, a concentration camp located an hour drive from Prague. This camp, unlike the others, was used as a propaganda tool, or “show camp,” where the Nazis would invite members of the Red Cross into the camp to dispel rumors about the extermination camps. One unique element that came out of this camp is the tremendous amount of art produced by children and adults. There is now a museum with lots of children’s drawings, which the group spent a lot of time viewing. They watched a movie about the camp, and saw the synagogue that existed there (another piece of evidence that this camp was different). They were also incredibly lucky to hear from a survivor of Terezin, who shared her story with them. The group then began their long journey to Poland and after a long bus ride they arrived to Krakow.
Sunday, July 3rd
After an exciting Shabbat spent learning about the Masorti Jewish community in Prague, the group toured the Jewish quarter of Prague. They visited the Maizel & the Pinkas Synagogues, the old cemetery and the Jewish burial society building. They continued to the Old-New (Alteneu) Synagogue, where the story of the Golem was invented. Later they continued on to the Spanish Synagogue. After some free time and lunch in the area, the group walked to the Castle District and enjoyed the gorgeous castles. They then walked down the Mala Strana to the famous Charles Bridge, where there is an exquisite view and artists selling their work. They visited the John Lennon wall, formerly an ordinary historic wall in Prague, but since the 1980s people have filled it with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles songs. After dinner, the group went back to the hotel for subgroups.
Friday, July 1st
The group visited Platform 17 memorial at Grunewald railway station, the place where the deportations of the Berlin Jews took place and then started their long ride to Prague, where they will spend Shabbat. Their next stop was at Wannsee Conference villa, where senior officials of the Nazi regime, held a meeting on 20 January 1942 and agreed to implement the “final solution.” Later they took a long bus ride to Prague. Once in Prague they headed to the hotel to prepare for Shabbat. Tonight they will have their own minyan for Kabbalat Shabbat at the High Synagogue in the old Jewish town area. Tomorrow they will join the Rabbi Hoffberg from the Masorti (Conservative) community for services at the high Synagogue. The group is thrilled to be spending their first Shabbat together in Prague. Shabbat Shalom!
Thursday, June 30th
The group started their day with a walking tour of the past and present Jewish life in Berlin. The tour included Oranienburgerstr Synagogue. In 1866, the New Synagogue was inaugurated with over 3000 seats which served the increasing number of liberal jews. Today it hosts the Masorti -Conservative Jewish community of Berlin. They walked by the grave of Moses Mendelson, a Jewish philosopher from the 18th century and continued by visiting the amazing Jewish museum. After lunch the group visited the book burning memorial. Later they visited the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe which consists of a 4.7 acre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. The group visited the interesting underground exhibition there. They ended their touring day at the Pergamon museum and saw the bright blue glazed-brick of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon from the 6th century BCE. The Jews who were exiled from Israel just before the destruction of the first Temple had to walk through this gate. The group then headed back for dinner at the hotel and met in subgroups.
Wednesday, June 29th
The group landed safely in Berlin, met their Israeli staff, Shlomo, their tour guide and Jules Gutin, the director of USY, who will be joining the group for Berlin and Prague. Their first stop was the Reichstag and New Government Quarter. They walked through the famous Brandenburg gate. The group also had an opportunity to take photos at checkpoint Charlie. They then walked along the remains of the Berlin wall and topography of terror exhibit. After a long day of touring, Group 8 checked into the hotel and had time to settle into their rooms. Later, Group 8 went out for some free time in the city of Berlin and out to restaurant for dinner. The group is very excited to start their amazing summer.