Shabbat is about to enter Jerusalem. This is always such a peaceful moment. Yesterday sixteen teenagers from BJBE returned home from a ten day odyssey to discover their Jewish past and touch their Jewish souls. We traveled to the Czech Republic and then Israel, accompanied by the loving and attentive presence of Cantor Wolman and Emily Schwartz, Director of Youth Engagement. The power of this journey cannot be overstated. BJBE has a long-standing commitment to the Czech Republic. The Nazis decimated the city of Kolin, which is outside of Prague. Our teens go back to this city every three years to clean the cemetery, pray in the synagogue and say Kaddish for the lost Jewish community. We also visit the camp of Terezin, bearing witness to the atrocities of the Holocaust. We then traveled to Israel. The days in Israel were spent: hiking, climbing mountains, learning history, geography, archeology, meeting with Israeli peers. It was an intense and meaningful journey. Below are some reflections in the voices of our teens as well as a link to pictures of the trip. Take a peek into their minds and hearts and they will inspire you with their depth.
Finally we arrived in Jerusalem. It had been a long journey from Eastern Europe to the northern part of Israel and now Jerusalem. We looked at a view of the city and listened to Rabbi and Ezra teach us its history its geography and its spirit. Then we sat in a circle to process the last several days. Rabbi Kedar asked us to say one word that described our experience in Prague. We said, rainy, interesting, cold, beautiful. And then she asked us to say one word that described Kolin. We said, sad, forgotten, depressing, unknown, motivating, hopeful, moving.
She asked us to say more about Kolin and we said: when we first opened the gate of the cemetery in Kolin, we heard silence, nature, and our hearts believed that something was wrong. There was sadness in the air and we became aware of emptiness. At first we felt uncomfortable, even strange. And then we saw that it was no longer maintained. It was as if it was forgotten. We felt angry and became determined to fix it. A group of us tried to lift a stone that had fallen. It was heavy. It had become imbedded in the ground as if the earth had swallowed it up. We were confused, disheartened. We stood near the names of the Holocaust victims, nearly the entire Jewish population of the city of Kolin, gone.
From the cemetery we went to the synagogue in Kolin. We opened the Ark and it was empty because we have the Torah Scroll in our own Ark. We felt good that we own the Torah and it hadn’t been destroyed. We asked our guide to recite the names of the victims and two of us said their age and occupation. For so many we simply said child. At that moment, many of us gathered them into ourselves pledging that they will never be forgotten, pledging to carry them with us to Israel. We sang the Sh’ma and the sound made me feel at home. It felt like time froze 60 years ago. We will never forget.
The next day we went to Terezin. We went into the barracks of Terezin where 60 people lived in a small room with one toilet. It was so inhumane, awful, and disgusting. We were angry, alone and felt helpless. We went to the crematorium, there were so many bodies who went through there. Over 3,000. At the entrance to the ovens there was a boulder from the State of Israel presented by Chaim Herzog. We stood around a rock from Israel, we touched it, and we promised to bring those people home. We then left the crematorium and sat on the lawn looking over graves, so many graves. Rabbi asked us to imagine one face. Silently we gave the children names; Hannah, Max, Ruth, Helene. We promised not to forget, to tell their story, to remember, to carry their spirits with us to Israel.
From Terezin we went to the airport to go to Israel. We flew all night, too excited to sleep. We arrived just before sunrise and Ezra and Rabbi took us to the beach of Tel Aviv. We felt the sand beneath our feet and the sand felt like home. We thought, this is where we belong, we’re finally home. We felt so lucky and fulfilled and excited. We remember loving the seas and the beautiful views. How pure the views. We sit here now in Jerusalem and feel the air and it feels like home. We see the sights and it looks like a place from my dreams. We are remembering where we came from.
Rabbi asked us the thing we want to remember most: We want to remember our identity and never forget who we are. Israel is where our heart is, that this is our home. We want to remember to take it all in, to enjoy the experience, to remember the sacrifice of all those who came before us to make Israel a reality. This is the place where the first Jew, Abraham, was willing to sacrifice his own child. We witnessed people who were willing to sacrifice their own children for the sake of our Land.
We must fight for this land as our ancestors had. We must never stop coming to Israel because it’s where we belong. How pure and naked the happiness of Jerusalem has made us for we have finally arrived home. I always will be a Jew. This place is ours, we are at one with the country and we can never let that go. We can never let go, we can never give up. This place is home.
Ezra and I wish you a peaceful Shabbat.
Rabbi Karyn Kedar