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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Heritage Trip to Poland 2019/5779: Day 4

This morning we visited Auschwitz I, the most visited site in all of Poland. What was once the center of the massive three-camp Auschwitz complex was reclaimed by the Polish government and turned into a museum in 1947, just two years after Russian soldiers liberated the camp. We began by walking through the famous "Arbeit Macht Frei" entry gate, yet another example of the Nazis' use of deception to keep prisoners in line. The museum's strict rules dictated that, for the first time all week, Rabbi Lubner would not be our tour guide. Instead we were led through the camp by a non-Jewish, Polish guide, and it was fascinating to hear tales of the Holocaust from his perspective. He even talked about which exhibits were most memorable to him when he first visited Auschwitz on a school trip as a boy. This part of Auschwitz mainly housed non-Jewish Polish prisoners, but many of the museum's exhibits are dedicated to telling the story of the 1.1 million Jews murdered at Auschwitz. We were moved by displays of personal items confiscated from Jews upon arrival - thousands of eyeglasses, hairbrushes, and even prosthetic limbs. The most disturbing was a massive display case of 2 tons of human hair collected from approximately 40,000 of the hundreds of thousands of women who were shaved upon arrival.
The rest of the day was spent traveling back to New York. We are all glad to be back home and reunited with our families and our beds, but every one of us was moved and changed by the many things we have seen, learned, and experienced over the past few days.

Special thanks to Mrs. Winkler for coordinating, to Mr. Hofstetter and Ms. Dweck for chaperoning, and of course to Rabbi Lubner for everything he did to make this such an extraordinary and meaningful experience.

New Orleans Chesed Trip 2019/5779: Day 4

We began our fourth and last day in New Orleans at Green Light New Orleans, an environmentally friendly non-profit organization, that began updating the light bulbs in the city to more efficient, energy saving bulbs. Once they completed that project, they started a project to try to save the city from flooding. We painted water barrels that release water slowly so the ground can absorb it in a way that it won’t flood. We painted barrels so that it’s a pretty fixture that people would want to display in their yards. We also cleaned up a local vegetable garden to help people access fresh produce.
After Green Light, we went to the Giving Hope Food Pantry. People come once a month to fill their houses with food. We helped unload the truck and organize the produce. We then handed out food to all the people that needed. We were able to meet them and greet them with smiles, hopefully making their day a little better. 
Afterwards, we went to Waffle on Maple and enjoyed a great final meal together. The New Orleans Chesed Trip was an amazing experience filled with Chesed and Fun! 
~Betty Greenberg, Class of 2019

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Heritage Trip to Poland 2019/5779: Day 3

Day three of the Heritage Trip to Poland began with a short bus ride to visit four synagogues in the Kazimierz section of Krakow. Each synagogue differed in its founder and style. The first was the Rema’s shul, which is located right near his grave, which we also visited. The next shul, the Isaac Synagogue, was founded and sponsored by wealthy philanthropist Rabbi Isaac. After that we saw a completely different shul which is formalized known as the Kupa Synagogue but is nicknamed “Poor Man’s Synagogue.” This shul was not sponsored by a wealthy figure, rather the entire community collected money for it. All three shuls were built in the 1600s. The last shul, built in 1821, was called The Temple Synagogue and was very left wing compared to the others, and was thus controversial in its time. When we arrived there were already two other tour groups inside, and when one of them started singing and dancing near the bima, some of our students immediately joined in. Soon all three groups were singing and dancing together, a joyous moment that was a needed respite from the somber nature of many of the other destinations on this trip.

The next location we visited was the Plac Zgody, the big square where Jews were rounded up before being sent into the Krakow Ghetto. A few blocks away we stopped at a remaining piece of the actual wall of the ghetto and learned about the history of the Jews who lived there. This place was where many of the scenes in Schindler's List, the movie we watched yesterday on the bus, took place.

Our next (and highly anticipated) stop was Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau. Upon our entrance, we all noticed the long train tracks that extended throughout the entire field. We later learned that as a result of these train tracks, Jews from all over Europe were sent to this camp. We learned about the process that arriving Jews went through. We visited the Quarantine Barrack, which was used to isolate Jews to ensure disease wouldn’t spread. Next we stopped alongside the section of the camp where Hungarian Jews were imprisoned. It was especially emotional for a few of us, as two students and one teacher had family members who were imprisoned there. Next we walked further into the camp to the remains of one of its gas chambers and crematoria, and read poems and first-hand accounts about the horrifying actions that were performed in there. After that we saw the Sauna, a building where arriving Jews were stripped of their clothing, had their heads shaved, had their belongings taken, and were tattooed with numbers. All these sites showed the dehumanization that occurred as the Nazis stripped the Jews of every aspect of their humanity.
Lastly, after leaving Birkenau, we went to our fifth shul of the day, Auschwitz Jewish Center, to sing, pray mincha, and engage in some group learning about the actions of a variety of individuals in the Holocaust and the choices they all made in their various roles.
~Terri Franco, Class of 2019

New Orleans Chesed Trip 2019/5779: Day 3

On the third day of the New Orleans Chesed Trip, the students helped Habitat for Humanity, an organization that builds affordable houses for low income families. With the help of volunteers, the organization is able to sell the house at the lowest price available. We started out the day with cleaning up the area around the houses and split into groups to complete the houses. We put up siding, insulated panels, Tyvek, and more. It was a grueling day of work, but very rewarding when we saw how much we accomplished.
After a long day building, we returned to the hotel to get ready for the New Orleans Pelicans VS. the Golden State Warriors basketball game. Agtsr dinner we headed to Smoothie King Stadium (next to the Superdome). We even met another Jewish group from Los Angles and we shared some stories with them. Yeshivah of Flatbush got a shout out on the big screen and some of us were featured on the big screen as well. After a long day, we were able to have bonding time with our friends in the lobby. ~Chen Menashe, Class of 2019

Heritage Trip to Poland 2019/5779: Day 2

Day two of the Heritage Trip to Poland began with a stop at ישיבת חכמי לובלין an old Yeshivah built in 1924. The Yeshivah only operated for a few years because the funds ran out. The Yeshivah was used by the Polish and then returned to the Jews. It was than renovated and is now used as a Shul hotel and museum.  This Yeshivah started the Daf Yomi movement and therefore Rabbi Lubner led us through a bit of that morning's daf.
Our next stop was Majdanek where we spent the majority of our day. We walked the entire camp witnessing the living conditions, gas chambers, crematorium and more. We completed our experience with a memorial of those shot and killed in the back section of the camp. We recited a Perek of Tehilim and said kaddish as we concluded our day at Majdanek.
The second half of the day consisted of a 3 hour bus ride allowing us to regroup and rest. Our final stop of the night was a gravesite. This wasn’t your ordinary cemetery. It was a memorial for both Polish citizens and Jews who were taken out of there towns nearby and shot in huge graves. We all took our time to reflect on ourselves as we read the letter our parents had composed for us. Silence filled the air and tears were streaming down everyone’s faces. Our night ended with a beautiful dinner and a session where we had the opportunity to express our thoughts and feelings.
~Michael Chattah, Class of 2019

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Sephardic Heritage Trip 2019/5779: Day 6: Cordoba

On our last full day in Spain, we headed out after another great breakfast to Córdoba. Our first stop was Medina Azahara, the magnificent palace complex built by Abd al Rahman III in the 12th century whose archaeological remains were discovered not that long ago. We began with an animated video that allowed us to imagine what the beautiful city was like at the height of its splendor. We then proceeded to explore the remains. Not only did we take beautiful pictures, but the breathtaking scenes taught us about the Golden Age of Muslim Spain and the setting in which Sephardic Jews flourished.
We continued on to the beautiful city of Cordoba . We had a quick lunch and enjoyed ice cream while sitting at a café. We then took a walking tour through the charming streets of the city. We learned about some of the famous Jews who lived in the city such as R. Yehuda Halevi and Rambam. We prayed a meaningful mincha in the only synagogue still standing of 17 the city once had.
Finally, one group of students went shopping while another hopped on Segways and e-bikes and explored different parts of the city like the Roman bridge and a gorgeous plaza. 
We then boarded the high speed train to Madrid where we had dinner in a kosher restaurant and wraped up our trip with a discussion and activity around the table. We were joined by three alumni who are studying abroad for the semester in Madrid. We’ll be checking in to a hotel tonight and leaving back home tomorrow morning. We can’t believe how fast the week went! It was a spectacular trip that gave us memories for a lifetime.
~Ezra Faks and Lily Beyda, Class of 2019

New Orleans Chesed Trip 2019/5779: Day 2

On our second day in New Orleans we began our chesed activities by partnering with the NOLA Tree Project at the KIPP: Leadership Elementary School. There, we were split into different groups to help out in different areas of the school.
Some of us decorated bulletin boards, hung up school decorations, separated answer sheets for state exams, diagnosed computer problems, organized the library, and more. We also had the opportunity to learn about the amazing work of NOLA Tree Project in restoring the beauty of New Orleans.
We then traveled to southern Louisiana where we enjoyed a thrilling airboat tour. We saw alligators up close and even were able to hold some! The experience was exhilarating.
The next stop was a tour of the Lower Ninth Ward and Jewish cemetery. We saw the destruction of Hurricane Katrina - even fourteen years later. We saw the houses that were rebuilt as well as those that have yet to be restored. We stood next to the levees that played a huge role in the destruction. We then visited the Jewish cemetery where the community members buried Sifrei Kodesh and Sifrei Torah that were damaged during the hurricane. It was touching to see how the community cared for these holy works like fellow fallen community members, burying them next to their loved ones.
After dinner, we went to the French Quarter and waited in anticipation for the famous Jazz Concert at Preservation Hall. Once inside, we realized our wait was well worth it. The  musicians gave it their all and everyone in the room was tapping and swaying to the sounds of their instruments and voices. It was a great end to a very long day. 

Sephardic Heritage Trip 2019/5779: Day 5: Seville

Today we explored the charming city of Seville which had the second largest community of Jews in Andalusia.  
After another delicious and lavish breakfast, we went to the wondrous Al Khazar Palace in Seville, Spain. The amazingly crafted palace compound was built in the 1300s by Christians but was based on Moorish style and was adorned with magnificent art. We walked through the beautiful gardens and went through a maze in the garden.  After a short cafe lunch, we ventured out on a fascinating guided walking tour of the Jewish quarter led by our tour guide Moses, who is actually a native Sevillian. There we learned about how the Jews lived as property of the crown in Seville until the pogroms in 1391 and the Inquisition which began in 1478. We also went to an underground parking lot where we saw the remnants of a Jewish cemetery. 
After this, we ventured to the  breathtakingly beautiful plaza d’espana which was the site of the world fair in the early 1900’s. Here, we took a ride on a horse-led carriage and explored the beautiful architecture. Then we had free time for shopping (highlight was finding a Zara’s outlet) followed by  a hot meal from Seuda served in a local restaurant. Finally, we had a great time at the Casa De Guitare where we had a taste of authentic Andalusian culture and watched a fabulous traditional Flamenco show! Tomorrow Cordoba! 
~Jack H Dweck and Teddy Betesh, Class of 2019

Monday, April 8, 2019

Heritage Trip to Poland 2019/5779: Day 1

The first day of our Heritage trip to Poland was a bit of a whirlwind for all of the students participating. After a long, exhausting flight, we landed in Warsaw at 1:00 pm, where we promptly rushed to the old Jewish cemetery in Warsaw. There we learned a lot about the grand legacy of Polish Jewry, beginning in the 15th century, and how it met its unfortunate end after the Warsaw Ghetto burned down during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The first part of our exploration celebrated the rich history of Warsaw Jews. We visited tombs of influential Jews of Warsaw throughout its long history, including י. ל. פרץ, a prominent figure in Yiddish literature and an author whose works the students know quite well, and L.L. Zamenhof, who sought to unite the world through his creation of a universal language, Esperanto, but whose dreams were never realized. The next part took a darker turn, as we recounted the creation of the Warsaw Ghetto and the horrors that occurred within as they related to the cemetery. We saw the gravesite of Adam Czerniaków, the head of the Judenreit, which governed the Warsaw Ghetto. This man had to make what Rabbi Lubner called "choiceless choices," in order to decide who would be deported to meet the Nazi's quotas for that week. However, his actions placed a heavy burden on his soul, and he later committed suicide. We concluded our visit at the site of the mass graves where nearly a hundred thousand Jews were buried towards the end of the war, when the rate of deaths from disease and starvation was too high for the חברה קדישה to keep up.
We then boarded the bus again and headed for the death camp Treblinka II, taking the same journey as the nearly 800,000 Jews who were murdered there did. While the camp itself was torn down towards the end of the war, powerful monuments have been erected in its stead, such as heavy stone pillars marking the boundaries and concrete slabs along where the rail lines once stood. In the center of the camp, approximately where the main gas chamber once stood, stands a massive stone , the top carved with stylized piles of bodies, to commemorate the atrocities of the camp. In the surrounding clearing are 17,000 stones of varying sizes and shapes, to symbolizing the roughly 17,000 Jews killed in the camp each day at the height of its operation. Each stone is inscribed with the name of a town, village, or city from which the Jews killed at this camp came, serving as a powerful reminder of the meaning of community to the Jewish nation.
Today was a day of highs and lows, to learn of some of the best and worst moments in the history of Polish Jewry. After such a day, it is no surprise that I witnessed nearly all of the students in varied states of shock, anger, and horror throughout the day. One thing we do share, though, is a deeper appreciation for the Holocaust, which has given us a sense of camaraderie that I don't think we could have experienced otherwise. Of course, we must thank our guide and historian Rabbi Lubner for helping us through the day. He set the mood with music and quotes from תנ"ך, and always went into great historical depth to help us understand. It is our hope that tomorrow will only be even more meaningful. ~AJ Fine, Class of 2019

New Orleans Chesed Trip 2019/5779: Day 1

This morning a group of 24 seniors headed to JFK at 6am to board a flight to New Orleans, Louisiana for the New Orleans Chesed Trip in partnership with NSCY. Upon their arrival they went straight to the world famous Cafe du Monde and enjoyed their signature beignets. The students enjoyed the glorious weather and ate lunch outside.
Next they visited the French Quarter Market and were able to buy many items of memorabilia pertaining to New Orleans. There were so many interesting things and oddities that were unique to New Orleans. We then walk along the Riverwalk where we enjoyed the cooling breeze of the Gulf. All the walking led to the National World War II Museum where we watched an interactive 4D film experience about The Total War that went Beyond All Boarders.
For dinner the students enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Casablanca, and afterwards went to Rock N Bowl for bowling and a live performance of dancing and an orchestra. Students then went to Walmart to stock up on food for the coming days. This was the end to the first wonderful day in New Orleans.
~Katriella Weingarten, Class of 2019

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Sephardic Heritage Trip 2019/5779: Day 4: Morocco

On the fourth day of the Sephardic Heritage Trip, we visited three countries and two continents all in one day!
On our second morning in Gibraltar , some students woke up extra early for a 4 mile run with Mrs. Wielgus to watch the sunrise by the beach and take pictures throughout the quaint streets of Gibraltar. After minyan, we had an elaborate breakfast on the stunning rooftop restaurant of the hotel with fresh produce and egg omelets. We discovered that Ezra Faks makes a mean avocado toast with eggs:) 
After leaving Gibraltar, we made it to the ferry going from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier, Morocco by the skin of our teeth! The ferry crossing was fun but rough with very choppy waves. Upon arrival in Morocco we met- and will never forget!-our personable and excitable tour guide, Ahmed. We joked that he sounded exactly like a character from the movie Borat. Our first stops were a tour of the fancy sections of Tangier and a stop for pictures at the gorgeous point where the Mediterranean and Atlantic meet. To fit with the mood of the city, we played lively Arabic music on the bus. We then toured the breathtaking cave and grottoes of Hercules where we learned about the many civilizations that shaped the history of Tangier. After that we had a blast riding camels on the beach! 
Finally, we toured the Medina, the old city of Tangier. We saw two beautiful shuls in the Jewish quarter and prayed mincha in one of them. We also learned about the unique history of the Jews in Morocco and their special relationship with the king of Morocco. 
In the afternoon we ate our packed lunches at a restaurant while listening and dancing to Moroccan music. After touring the city we had some time to shop around the market place/ shuk. Many students practiced their bargaining skills at the market place. Some of the boys bought hats called the tarbuj or the fez, traditional Moroccan hats. Everyone walked out happy with the items that they bought from the market. The students played the oud and the Moroccan drums while waiting by the customs to get onto the ferry back to Spain.
We are now on the bus to Seville looking forward to the sights tomorrow will bring!
~Julie Saadia and Aaron Najar, Class of 2019

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Sephardic Heritage Trip 2019/5779: Day 2 and 3: Gibraltar

After a quick breakfast (and early am beach run for Solomon Mandaloui and Mrs. Wielgus) we got on the bus and drove to Gibraltar for our second day on the Sephardic Heritage Trip. While we waited to cross the border we heard about the fascinating history of this British territory and the story of the Jews of Gibraltar. We stopped for a hot lunch at Gibraltar’s kosher restaurant and then had an hour to shop on the quaint Main Street before we checked in at the really nice Eliot hotel. We then boarded a minibus with a tour guide who pointed out all the interesting sites of Gibraltar including the Jewish cemetery, as we climbed up to the Rock.
The highlight of the day was meeting and feeding the famous monkeys of Gibraltar! We then explored the siege tunnels dug in the 18th century to defend Gibraltar. As an added bonus, we got to watch all traffic stop as an airplane took off from Gibraltar’s only runway which doubles as the main highway!
We then went back to town for more shopping and preparation for Shabbat. We ushered in Shabbat and then went to pray in Nefutzot Yisrael- one of the beautiful historic synagogues in Gibraltar. We then had a Friday night seudah where we heard divrei Torah and discussed the highlights of the trip.
In the morning, we went to the oldest synagogue in Gibraltar, Shaar Shamayim, where the traditions and customs of the country provided a learning experience for all of us. There were new tunes to learn, unusual customs (like the president wearing a top hat) and additional prayers. This was a very rare Torah reading, since three sifrei Torah were taken out and read. Following prayers, we ate together, singing zemirot and listening to various divrei Torah. We had a few hours of free time to walk around the neighborhood, to play games, or to just catch up on sleep. We then had seudah shlishit on the top floor of the hotel, with the Mediterranean Sea and the skyline of Gibraltar, Morocco, and Spain in full view. When the boys prayed mincha, the girls headed to the beautiful house of one of the most prominent lawyers and personalities in Gibraltar James Lasry. Mr. Lasry shared his fascinating biography with us and explained what made Gibraltar and the Jewish community so special. When the girls returned, the boys prayed Arvit and we recited Havdalah right after.
After Shabbat ended, we traveled to an Escape the Room and tried to crack the code of murder mysteries and two groups successfully escaped before the hour was over. Following that exciting activity, we went back into town to have some pizza at midnight and a surprise birthday cake for Stanley Cohen to end the night. Tomorrow to Morocco!

~Mazal Zebak, Class of 2019

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Sephardic Heritage Trip 2019/5779: Day 1

On Wednesday night, fourteen seniors took off for Spain, Morocco, and Gibraltar for the Yeshivah of Flatbush Sephardic Heritage trip along with Mrs. Wielgus and Rabbi Avi Harari.

Day 1 of the Sephardic Heritage was off to an amazing start! After a great flight with lots of empty seats aboard, we landed in Madrid and met our tour guide Moses. We went straight to the Plaza Major where we learned about the persecution of Jews in the Spanish inquisition and saw the exact spot where they were burned in the Auto-da-fés.
Next we explored the magnificent Royal Palace - the biggest palace in Europe! - and some of its 3,000 plus breathtaking rooms.
We then traveled south to tour the city of Toledo - one of the most important cities for Jews in Spain. We had fun zip lining over the Tagus river and took in the beautiful sights of this medieval city while we ate lunch. After lunch, we learned about the ultimately tragic history of the Jewish community of Toledo from Moses and our own Stanley Cohen. We toured two magnificent synagogues that had been turned into churches but were now museums. We also saw ancient Jewish tombstones that testified to the existence of Jewish communities for hundreds of years in Spain. Another highlight was praying mincha in the El Transito Synagogue of Shmuel HaLevi Abulafia - it reinforced for us that although we had been persecuted and ultimately thrown out of Spain, אנחנו פה! We are still here -while the descendants of Ferdinand and Isabella and the inquisitors vanished from history. We then visited a jewelry and sword making workshop and then took one of the world's longest escalators down to see a panoramic view of the city.
Finally, we traveled back to Madrid and caught a high speed train to Malaga in the South where we will spend the night before traveling to Gibraltar for the weekend. We can’t wait to meet the apes of Gibraltar tomorrow!
~David Tawil, Class of 2019