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Trip Blog

Annie Grimley
Annie Grimley '17

Week 4
by Annie Grimley '17

The emotional roller coaster of Europe officially continued on Sunday as we began our week with Auschwitz after a mellow Shabbat. This day was very personal for me and many others, as a relative of mine, Lucie Gottlieb, was murdered in Birkenau. From the very beginning, a dark cloud hung above my head. I tried to remain calm on the bus, but my eyes were drawn to the train tracks that paralleled our path to Auschwitz. The first part of the day was a tour of Auschwitz I, the part of the camp reserved for prisoners, led by one of the museum's guides. Many of us did not appreciate this part of the day for its focus on hard facts over individual stories, especially in such a disturbing place. At one point I ran through a particularly terrifying room full of human hair from Shoah victims. I waited outside for everyone else, trying to fathom the thought that my relative's hair might have been stacked carelessly in that pile.

When we finished Auschwitz I, we took the bus to Birkenau, the part of Auschwitz notorious for the extermination of over a million people. The first place we went was the latrine, which still bore a stench I can't quite describe. We were told many prisoners committed suicide by drowning themselves here, so much so that one would usually find at least a dead body a day. Next were the women's barracks. The building we saw smelled of sickness, and I could tell why: The bunks had three levels, lacked mattresses, and were meant to fit so many women that one couldn't roll over without crushing a fellow prisoner. Next, we made the long trek from the train tracks to the gas chambers in total silence. The air seemed to swallow us, and the wind blew spirits through the camp. Suddenly, if I looked hard enough, I could see my family and all those who had walked the path before me. As I was guided along the trail to death, I wept for those who never left the camp.

Next, we reached a small, eerily beautiful pond. It turned sinister when we realized that the ashes of thousands of Hungarian Jews were concealed in its depths. We sat around the pond and mourned. For many, this was the most difficult part of the day. Afterwards, we left stones on graves and went to see the remains of the Nazis' storehouses. In these buildings, they kept various items stolen from Jewish victims. We were told that it is still easy to find items lying in the dirt and warned not to take anything (it's now an offense that warrants jail time). You can decide whether we heeded that warning.

Finally, we concluded the day with a tekkes, a ceremony. A few classmates shared family stories about the Holocaust and lit memorial candles. At long last, we hauled our freezing limbs along the tracks and to the buses. It took a long time to warm up.

The next day was Majdanek, a camp that was arguably more cruel than Auschwitz and harder for some to visit. After a long bus ride, we walked into the creepiest place I'd seen in my entire life. Majdanek was mostly intact, which made it easier to picture the disgusting forms of torture the Nazis would inflict on their prisoners. We walked through a gas chamber and saw a large pile of bones and ash left by the Nazis. As I looked out into the distance, I could spot a town on one side of the camp and a cemetery on the other. We were told that the town's residents witnessed the atrocities and did nothing, which made me wonder why their dead had been buried with dignity and ours had been tossed out like trash. All I felt the entire time was seething anger.

Our last day in Poland, following a night in Lublin, began with a four-hour bus ride to Warsaw. When we arrived, we walked around a cemetery and saw various historic Jewish areas. The last site we visited was a double-sided memorial. One side depicted the orchestrators of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and symbolized the Jewish community's small victories in the face of peril. The other depicted Jews walking to their deaths in the camps and symbolized our devastating losses. On the latter side, there stood a small child who looked back at us and pierced our souls. His gaze sent a message: Enjoy Israel, but don't take it for granted. Don't forget me and the future I could have had. When we returned to Israel the next day, I kept his silent words in my head. The moment we passed over Tel Aviv, I felt a rush of emotions. I felt fortunate to have a country that would protect me unconditionally, yet sad that those who perished in the Shoah never got to see it. I thought of my family, the families of my classmates, and the countless others who were deprived of the view I had from the airplane window.

Just when I thought we'd escaped Europe, we visited a British Displaced Persons camp to learn about Aliyah Bet. The camp was disgustingly similar to the concentration camps we'd visited, and its presence in Israel reminded me that our journey as Jews never ends. We might escape danger one day only to face it the next in a new form. The difference nowadays is that we have the State of Israel, and therefore the ability to fight back. Our final stop for the week was Independence Hall, where Israel declared its independence. I felt proud and secure as we sang Hatikvah, but once again, I saw the little boy from the memorial, reminding me never to forget the past. I have no doubt that Europe has changed us and given us a better appreciation for Israel, but even so... See you never, Poland.

Miriam Minsk
Miriam Minsk '17

Week 3
by Miriam Minsk '17

From celebrating Purim in Tel Aviv last Sunday to visiting a destroyed synagogue in Tarnow shortly before Shabbat, this past week was truly an emotional roller coaster. And, as much as we prepared for our trip to Europe by learning about the Holocaust in Jewish history class sophomore year and discussing our expectations during our visit to Yad Vashem last week, our Europe trip thus far has been more powerful and mind-boggling than I could've ever imagined.

Obviously we've done a lot this week as a grade, but I want to focus on two moments specifically, the first of which was our visit to Terezin on Wednesday. Terezin is located an hour and ninety minutes outside of Prague, and was a ghetto camp to which most of the Czech Jews were sent in 1941. Jews weren't exterminated there, and instead many of them died from starvation and illness because of the horrific living conditions. What was so shocking to me, though, was that Terezin was a beautiful town. It was colorful and well-kept, contrary to the previous conception that I had of the Holocaust ghettos and concentration camps from all of the white and black pictures that I've seen over the years. During WWII the Judenrat actually had some level of control in Terezin, to the extent that one Jew was mayor of the town for two straight years, so it had a strong culture of spiritual and religious resistance.

After walking around the town, we all squished into a small hidden shul where the Jews prayed in secret everyday. There we davened mincha together, and sang "אם אשכחך ירושלים, תשכח ימיני" ("If I forget Jerusalem, forget my right hand"). These words were written on the wall in the synagogue, and were proof that even in the darkest parts of Jewish history we've always remembered and looked towards Jerusalem. This was moving for me because only two weeks ago we stood at the Western Wall together, the place to which the Jews in Terezin sent their prayers. And now, we sang in memory of those Jews who couldn't live to see Jerusalem or the kotel. Singing together and bringing life back to that now empty shul was such a powerful spiritual experience.

A few days later, we visited Buczyna Forest in Poland where 7,000 Jews and Poles were murdered. There we had time to reflect individually and walk around the mass graves that remain. Of course many thoughts went through my head as I tried to comprehend the fact that the tall, beautiful trees I saw as I looked up were the same ones so many Jews saw immediately before their death. In Judaism trees represent life, "עץ חיים," so it seemed odd to me that what should've be a forest full of life and happiness was instead plagued by death.

800 of the 7,000 people who were murdered at Buczyna were children. After our personal reflections, we gathered as a group to discuss and commemorate the lives of the children who perished there. ",ילד של אבא" a song that many of us learned in Hebrew class that discusses a father's hopes for his son, was playing in the background from other Jewish groups that were visiting the forest as well. That song, which always represented happiness and growth for me, now prompted negative emotions as I commemorated the lives of the children who couldn't grow up and accomplish all of their dreams.

Before we left Buczyna I read my parents' letter to me about how successful Jews have been in the last seventy years since the Holocaust, and the mark that Jews have left and continue to leave on the world. Despite the tragic events of the Holocaust and WWII, we must let our Jewish strength and resilience serve as the defining moments of our identity.

This week was not easy, but as we continue onto our last few days of this Eastern European journey I look forward to learning more about myself as a Jew, furthering connecting to my Jewish roots, and continuously strengthening my Jewish identity.

Bennett Bramson
Bennett Bramson '17

Week 2
by Bennett Bramson '17

Sitting in total darkness on a rock in a cave from the time of the Bar Kochba revolt, all I can think is that my butt hurts. Our tour guide, Elhanan, told us to remain silent for one minute. When the minute elapsed and I thought I could move, Elhanan began to sing. At first I was annoyed because that meant more intimate time with the rock, but then something changed. Soon enough, similar to our experience in Hezekiah's Tunnel, everyone was singing. For fifteen more minutes, we sat in the cave on the rocks singing every Jewish song we know. I was so invested in the moment that I forgot about that rock. By the end of the exercise, I felt more connected to the land than ever before. And that is how our second week began.

2017 Senior Trip - TzfatThe next morning we visited Beit Shearim and the tomb of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the compiler of the Mishnah. We then went on an amazing spiritual journey in Tzfat. We met with a local man, Avraham, who is a Kabbalistic painter. He taught us about the Kabbalah and pushed many JDS students to find a spiritual connection through the Kabbalah. Later that night, we had a meaningful conversation about what we really thought. Some people, like me, reject the Kabbalah completely; others accept it all; and some people value some concepts but not others. Although the conversation did not change my mind about the Kabbalah, it gave me a new appreciation for JDS. The fact that we were able to have a thorough conversation about an advanced topic in Hebrew (HEBREW!!!) speaks to the intellectualness and overall preparedness that a JDS education provides. That day ended with free time and a sleepover in Tzfat.

Nahal Tavor

As what was supposed to be our first hike got rained out, Tuesday marked our first real hike of the trip. We hiked through the Nahal Tavor, a valley in the North, and went cliff diving. While hiking, we had a brief run in with a herd of cows. All I can say about that is many of us saw things that no person should ever have to see. Anyway, at the end of the hike, we had to climb an extremely steep hill. I was convinced our madrichim were trying to kill us, but once we got to the top I realized it was worthwhile. What. A. View. Here is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote later that day:

As I sit on the edge of the cliff...I keep looking around, searching for a sign of Israel, but instead am reminded of everywhere but Israel. Then I...listen. I hear the sounds of Israeli children playing and talking. That is when I realize that Israel is a collection of different cultures and people from around the world who have come together for one reason: we are, for the most part, all Jews.

Wednesday was "pluralism day." We met with a Hasidic man, a reform rabbi, and a founder of the Women of the Wall group. Each provided a different perspective on Judaism. The Hasidic man challenged all of my basic beliefs about Judaism when he told us that it is better not to be a Jew at all than to practice non-Haredi Judaism. On the bus ride back, we talked about his presentation and concluded that we cannot judge him as he truly believes that everything in which he believes is the word of G-d. Haredim choose faith over logic and that is a choice we have to respect. I related more to the other speakers as they were more progressive and spoke to my personal beliefs.

Thursday we visited Yad Vashem. This was my third visit, so I did not expect it to be emotional. While I was right in that most of the content did not overwhelm me, I was wrong in that it was emotional. At one point we stopped to watch a video of first-person accounts of the camps. One woman's story stayed with me. She revealed that upon discovering she was pregnant, she tried to kill her baby. She explained that she could not tolerate the crying of the babies already alive in the barracks. Eventually, despite her efforts, the baby was born. I wonder if that baby survived. After an extremely sad and moving day, ironically the nightcap was our Purim party. I was shocked at how quickly we were able to move from solemn and depressed to joyous and energetic.

The next morning we exchanged goodbyes and left for our first free weekend!


Don't forget to also check out two photoblogs from members of the Class of 2017:

Family, Faith & Falafel by Joey Rushfield and Ezra Gershman

2017 Senior Trip by Mollie Milchberg and friends

Dahlia Lehman
Dahlia Lehman '17

Week 1
by Dahlia Lehman '17

Shavua tov from Kvish 6!

As I write this on the bus from Jerusalem back to Hod Hasharon, the buzz of reminiscence surrounds me and my sleepy friends. So much has happened in the past five days, and I'm definitely not alone in my feeling that we've already been here for weeks.

Welcome to IsraelThis past week and the coming week are meant to kick off the trip by providing a foundational understanding of Israel, its landscape, and its history. We started off the week on Tuesday hiking Tel Gezer and learning about the ethical dilemmas of Abraham. The next day, we hiked Mount Gilboa and swam in hot springs in the north. On Thursday, we learned about the ancient temples in Jerusalem and meditated in the Negev, and on Friday we hiked Masada and floated in the Dead Sea. But the itinerary alone can tell about the broad range of things we have done and seen in the past few days. What is less apparent at a basic glance is their role as a culmination of our JDS careers.

While the unique closeness of the Class of 2017 has been clear for years, the beginning of our Israel trip has solidified my personal appreciation for the spirit of our grade. In this vein, several moments from this week stand out to me, the first of which took place on Wednesday. The weather that day happened to be slightly less than "sababa," but that definitely did not keep us from having an amazing day. While we were unfortunately unable to go to Sachne springs because of the cold and rain, our amazing teaching staff and madrichim arranged for us to change plans last minute and go 50 minutes east to the Hamat Gader hot springs. What could've become a weather crisis for another group turned into an exciting and spontaneous adventure for our class. And as we all swam through the hot springs, I don't think anyone was disappointed about the last minute change of plans.

Hezekiah's tunnel

My second highlight is from the day after -- our historical tour of Jerusalem -- and similarly shed light on what makes our grade so special. As we trudged through Hezekiah's tunnel, a water tunnel in the City of David, one of our tour guides, Elhanan, proposed that we all turn off our flashlights and revert to complete darkness. What had already been a somewhat scary experience for me and several others became that much more difficult, and each person had to rely solely on the person in front of them to guide the way through the narrow cave. With one hand behind me and one hand in front of me, I was encouraged to trust my peers and classmates more than ever before. But as I exited the tunnel over 700 meters later, I realized that that sense of trust was not just solidified in the tunnel. Rather, it was taken from years of learning beside and from the same people who held my hands and led me through the dark tunnel that held so much meaning for our heritage. In hindsight, it was that sense of culminating trust that made the experience so special.


The open and supportive atmosphere of our grade was further called upon the following night, the night of our first Shabbat in Israel, at the Kotel. With a sense of comfort from the friends surrounding me, I and many others were able to be completely vulnerable at the Wall. Following what was an emotional opportunity to pray at the wall, our grade's coherence took center stage as we all gathered at the main plaza of the Kotel. What began as a circle of members from just our grade singing "Od Yavo Shalom" quickly turned into a gigantic dance circle involving other tourists from all walks of life. We continued in song and dance for a while, and as we did, I couldn't help but think of the story that our tour guide Doni gave before we entered the Kotel plaza. He told us that, whether or not we believe in G-d, what makes the Kotel so unique is its role as the epicenter of Jewish unity. In that moment, as we celebrated Shabbat and Judaism with people who spoke different languages and came from different circumstances, I was utterly amazed at the capacity of our religion to unify and the capacity of our grade to welcome and engage.

As I reflect on our first week in Israel, it makes more sense than ever why this is our "capstone" trip. In both the sense of our grade community and our Jewish education, I anticipate that this trip will not only be a fun experience, but a true culmination of the last thirteen years. I can't wait to see what is to come, and can't wait to share it with all of you. Thanks for reading!

View of Jersusalem

Family, Faith & Falafel: Photoblog by Joey and Ezra
2017 Senior Trip: Photoblog by Mollie Milchberg and friends
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