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Monday, March 26, 2018

Sephardic Heritage Trip 2018/5778: Day 7 - A Royal Farewell

We started our final day in Spain with our last lavish breakfast and then headed out to the Royal Palace. Although this is the official residence of King Felipe and his family, they choose not to live in the sprawling palace with 3,162 rooms. Instead it’s used only for official business. We marveled at the opulent decor that spanned a wide variety of styles colors, and influences. But then it was time to load the bus and head to the airport for our way home. It’s hard to believe that a trip that we planned for so long has come to an end, but it was a memorable experience for all of us!

Sephardic Heritage Trip 2018/5778: Day 6 - Seville

Though we lost an hour when they changed the clock last night, we still departed from Gibraltar bright and early. We thought we made great timing when we crossed the border without incident, but then our bus broke down as soon as we got into Spain. We made up for our lost sleep while we waited for a new bus, but then we were off to Seville. 
We started our day at Plaza de Santa Cruz the site of a church that had been a mosque that was given to the Jews to use as a synagogue in 1248. Then we went down into a parking garage which was built on the site of an ancient Jewish cemetery. Though most of the graves were destroyed, one remains there. The bones that were exhumed were never reburied and our guide Moses is fighting the legal battle to have them returned to Kever Yisrael. 
Then we walked through the old city of Seville towards Alcazar - the palace of King Pedro. Along the way we saw evidence of Jewish persecution. The majestic palace was built in the 14th century in an Islamic style called “mudejar.” We were in awe of the incredible architecture and loved hearing that they filmed Game of Thrones here. We planned to go to the incredible Plaza de España but it was closed because of the (non-existent) wind. We’ve been told that we need to do a reunion trip because we missed out on something so amazing. 
Then we headed to the station to take the high speed train back to Madrid. In Madrid we checked back into the Novotel and then gathered in the lobby for an inspiring wrap up session. We reflected on our experiences and discussed how the trip impacted our understanding of our background and heritage. It’s crazy to think that we’re going home tomorrow!!!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sephardic Heritage Trip 2018/5778: Day 5 - Shabbat in Gibraltar

We had the pleasure of spending Shabbat in the beautiful Jewish community of Gibraltar. After a beautiful picture in our Shabbat finery, we lit candles and went to pray Kabbalat Shabbat and Arbit in the majestic Nefusot Yehuda shul. Then we had a delicious catered meal in a local hall. In addition to divrei Torah from some of the girls and beautiful singing, we got to hear from Moses, our tour guide. He told us about the sacrifices he needs to make to live as a Jew in Seville, Spain - a place where there is almost no Jewish community. He told us how special it is for him and his family to spend a Shabbat like this, and he reminded us to be grateful for the opportunities that we have and often take for granted. This morning we prayed Shaharit at the oldest shul in Gibraltar - Shaarei Shamayim where we got to see the interesting customs of the Western Sephardic Jews. On our way to lunch we got to see the parade of the National Guard - in their kilts and fur hats - marching down Main Street. We also saw lots of proud Jewish families walking home from shul - it was almost like being on Ocean Parkway! Before going back to the hotel for our Shabbat nap, we went around the table and everyone shared their favorite or most meaningful part of the trip. We had free time in the afternoon, and some girls even went to shul to hear a shiur about Pesach with some of the chaperones. The most special part of the day was visiting the Lasry family and praying Mincha and watching sunset from their porch that has views of both the water and the Rock. We ended Shabbat with an inspiring kumzitz and then headed back to the hotel to get ready to go bowling! 
Bowling was lots of fun - especially with good music playing in the background and delicious Gibraltar-style pizza and “chips.” 
The highlight of the night was a surprise birthday party, complete with a piñata and a delicious cake. Tomorrow morning will be a bittersweet goodbye to Gibraltar as we head back into Spain for our last full day on the trip.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Sephardic Heritage Trip 2018/5778: Day 4 - Gibraltar

We arrived in Gibraltar late last night where we were greeted by a delicious light supper in Amar’s - the country’s one and only kosher cafe. We then checked into the newly renovated Elliot Hotel. There were lots of cheers when we announced that wake up wasn’t until 8:45.
This morning we headed out to explore the famous Rock of Gibraltar! We went up to the top on a cable car where we were treated to a breathtaking view of three different countries -Morocco, Spain, and Gibraltar! We got to meet the famous Barbary apes up close and personal - especially when one stole an avocado straight out of someone’s bag! 
We then hiked down to the famous St. Michael’s Caves where we ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the magnificent stalactites and stalagmites. For our final stop, we learned about the history of Gibraltar and climbed through the siege tunnels that the British built in the late 18th century.
For the rest of the afternoon to shop and experience the quaint Main Street in Gibraltar. The highlight was getting greeted almost every block by members of the warm and vibrant religious Jewish community here. Then we went back to the hotel where we got ready for Shabbat. We are so excited to spend Shabbat in this amazing country with this incredible community!!!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

New Orleans Chesed Trip 2018/5778: Day 4

We started off our bonus day of the NOLA Chesed trip at around 10:30am after getting to sleep in late. We took advantage of the warm weather and took a walk to Cafe Du Monde where we enjoyed beignets- part two! We then continued to Target where we got Starbucks and clean clothes. Later, we headed to an airboat for a swamp tour were we took lots of pictures and even got to hold a baby alligator. We had the opportunity to see the Louisiana marshland up close. We saw many alligators and enjoyed the scenic tour on the water. 
We then took a stop at Lafreniere Park were we used the great lighting to take more pictures- Mr. Galpert needed for the Instagram! We played frisbee, walked around and watched the ducks in the river. We then went back to Casablanca for dinner and headed back to the hotel. We hope to be on our way back to New York tomorrow morning after an amazing and meaningful trip. It truly was “quacktastic!” ~Kelly Esses, Class of 2018

Sephardic Heritage Trip 2018/5778: Day 3 - Morocco

On the third day of the Sephardic Heritage trip we woke up before dark in the port city of Algeciras. After another lavish breakfast - this time on the hotel patio, we were off for Tarifa to catch a ferry to Tangiers, Morocco. 

After crossing the border, we met the one-and only Ahmed the tour guide and his colleague Jafar and boarded the bus. We drove up through the French, Spanish, and American sections of Tangiers, passing luxury villas on the way - including the summer palaces of the king of Morocco and the prince of Saudi Arabia. 
Our first stop was a picturesque lookout point with a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. We had the unique opportunity to make a special Bracha upon seeing the meeting point of two major bodies of water. Back on the bus, we drove down to the Caves of Hercules, a natural grotto formed by the crashing waves that is said to look like Hercules’s profile. The caves were used in Roman times to mine limestone to make millstones that would crush olives to make oil. 
One of the highlights of the day was a thrilling camel ride along the beach! Then we drove down to the old city of Tangiers where we got to walk through the colorful Berber market (Thursday is market day!) towards the Medina. We ate our lunch in an authentic Moroccan restaurant on ornate tapestry couches serenaded by local musicians and a belly dancer. 
Then we explored the abandoned Jewish section of the old city by walking down Rue Sinagoga that at one point had 17 shuls! We got to see 2 of the shuls: the majestic Nahon synagogue, built by a wealthy family in the late 19th century, where we prayed Mincha together, and the Rabbi Akiva shul, built In 1902. We also had the opportunity to pray at the grave of Rabbi Habib Toledano in the ancient Beit Hachayim. Then we had some free time to shop and bargain in the souk. Then it was back to the border for our ferry back to Spain. We then boarded the bus for our final destination - Gibraltar - where we will be spending the weekend. One day, two continents, three countries!!! What an awesome day!!

Heritage Trip to Poland 2018/5778: Days 2, 3 & 4

We ended our second day at Lejansk, one of the great centers of Chassidut in Poland. We prayed together at the kever of Rav Elimelech of Lejansk and then had a Chassidic-style tish (herring included!). From there we went to pay tribute to the children who perished in the Holocaust. In our tribute we learned an important lesson about appreciation and family.
On the third day, we spent the morning touring the old Jewish quarter of Krakow, telling stories about some of the famous personalities and places of Kazimierz. We spent time understanding the structure and events of the Krakow ghetto (including the factory of Oskar Schindler). In the afternoon we had a moving visit to Auschwitz I where we were able to see some of the possessions taken from the victims of the camp. The very tangible, visual evidence of the crimes of war, made for an impactful visit.
We spent our last day in Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi death camps. The sheer magnitude of the camp was powerful and menacing. We paid tribute to the victims of the camp as we toured on the path of those who were sent to the gas chambers, and then those who were sentenced to work. We ended our trip by singing Hatikva outside one of the barracks of the camp, and headed to the airport to fly back to NY to reunite with our families.

New Orleans Chesed Trip 2018/5778: Day 3

This morning in New Orleans, we started off by getting coffee on the way to Habitat for Humanity- round 2 so that we were energized for the work ahead. We worked on finishing the foundation and started laying the floor boards of the house we worked on yesterday. We even enjoyed a dance party on site with bagels (Mr. Galpert still has btw). 
We then went for a late lunch to Waffles On Maple and enjoyed epic waffles, pizzas, and salads. 
While our next planned stop was the airport to return to New York, we instead made our way to the historic French Quarter of New Orleans and explored the market, Jackson Square Park, and the River Walk. We ended our tour with a horse and buggy ride through the historic streets. From there we made our way to the Lakeview Mall to purchase clothing and food for the rest of our stay. We hope to see you soon... ~Louise Anteby and Clemy Jajati, Class of 2018

Sephardic Heritage Trip 2018/5778: Day 2 - Córdoba and Medinat al-Zahra

This morning in Spain we woke up to a lavish breakfast and then headed to the station to take the high speed train to Córdoba. In Córdoba we started our walking tour at the Bab al-Yahud (the Jewish Gate). We walked through beautiful narrow alleys until we came to the Rambam’s statue where we talked about his many accomplishments and recited and sang the Ani Maamins. 
Next we went to the plaza of Yehuda Halevi and then had some time to shop and explore the quaint old city. We went back on the bus and rode to the majestic Medinat al-Zahra archeological site. This sprawling ancient city was built by Abd al-Rahman III, Muslim ruler of Córdoba in the 10th century. This city was lost for 900 years until it was rediscovered and excavated in recent years. We saw a fascinating animated recreation of Medinat al-Zahra in its glory.
We then got to explore the surprisingly well-preserved majestic palace and adjacent homes. Next came a long drive south with a stop along the way for an authentic SY mazza buffet. We checked into the Mercure Hotel in the port city of Algeciras from where we’ll catch a ferry to Morocco tomorrow morning!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

New Orleans Chesed Trip 2018/5778: Day 2

Today we woke up early in the morning to get ready for another great day of Chesed in New Orleans. We volunteered with Habitat for Humanity to help build a house. Habitat for Humanity partners with future and current homeowners to build simple, decent, and affordable housing for low to very low-income families. Volunteers and future homeowners work together in the building process. 
We installed termite shields, carried countless blocks of wood, hit wood with a sledgehammer, and nailed wood beams together. We were volunteering until 4:30 PM, which gave every student an opportunity to help out. We then proceeded to the hotel to get ready for our events at night. We had dinner at Kosher Cajun, where we were stuffed with amazing food. 
We then went to a New Orleans Pelicans basketball game in which we got free bobble heads, took pictures on the court, and even made it on the big screen! The Pelicans won, which was also a plus. We then ended off the night with carpool karaoke playing all of our favorite songs on the ride back. We are ecstatic for what tomorrow holds. ~Mikey Darwish, Class of 2018

Sephardic Heritage Trip 2018/5778: Day 1

On Monday night, twenty six seniors took off for Spain, Morocco, and Gibraltar for the  Sephardic Heritage trip. After getting off the plane from New York to Spain, we went straight into touring.
Our first stop was the beautiful medieval city of Toledo. We took the one of the longest escalators in the world up to the old city where we visited the stunning El Transito Synagogue which was built by Shmuel Halevi in about 1356. Words of Tehillim are engraved all around the magnificent inlaid wood ceiling. We also saw medieval Jewish tombstones. 
Then we got to observe gold thread jewelry making before heading to see the awe-inspiring Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue. This ancient synagogue was built in 1180 and reflects the local Muslim architecture. Though it’s currently owned by the church, it is considered to be the oldest shul in Europe still standing.
Then we went zip lining over the Tagus River at the entrance to the old city of Toledo.
We then went to Madrid and saw the Plaza Mayor, the site of many auto da fes where victims of the inquisition were burned alive. We said a chapter of Tehillim in the memory of the Jews killed there.
Our last stop was Pinati Madrid - a kosher restaurant where we had a delicious dinner! After such a long day we were very happy to check into the beautiful Novotel Madrid for the night.

Heritage Trip to Poland 2018/5778: Day 1 & 2

On Saturday night thirty one seniors and four faculty members embarked on our annual Senior Heritage to Poland. After a stop over in London, where we got to see Buckingham Palace, we landed in Warsaw. 
We visited the Warsaw cemetery where we met up with the Polish Bridge of Youth participants, a Polish public school teacher and two of her students. We saw the grave of י ל פרץ and the mass grave for Jews who couldn't be given a full Jewish burial and funeral. From there we traveled to the Warsaw Ghetto and saw the monument built in commemoration of the Jews who fought, ran, and perished. 
After the ghetto, we parted from our Polish friends and made our way to Treblinka, a death camp that focused on murdering Polish Jews. At the camp, Yeahivah of Flatbush students involved with the Bridge of Youth program added their stones to an existing memorial, started by the Polish students, in memory of the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust. 
The following day, we traveled to Lublin where we visited Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin established by Rav Meir Shapiro. There we learned a piece from דף יומי and then made our way to Majdanek.