Israel Trip 2013

B’nai Israel Confirmation Israel trip 2016

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Day 1

Good morning!! After a long flight and seeing the gorgeous view of the city of Jerusalem we have a 6:30 am wake up call. Come get ready and eat your delicious breakfast, or in my case, some cereal and bread. Then it’s off to the old city. First stop: the western wall tunnels. It was amazing to learn the history behind the western wall and the landscape and geography of the holy city of Jerusalem. Afterwards, off to the western wall! It was such an emotional and amazing experience. I’m so glad that I have the opportunity to be on this wonderful trip. And the fun didn’t stop there, afterwards it was off to the City of David.

We changed into swimsuits and headed for the aqueduct and learned about the history of the old City of David, which was VERY interesting. Next up: water tunnels. The water tunnels were so exciting and such a great adventure. Walking through the aqueduct tunnels with the water was an amazing experience. At first the water immediately went up to our lower backs, or at least it did for me because everyone else is taller, and then it lowered to just above our ankles. The water may have been freezing but it felt so nice and refreshing after a long couple hours in the sun. Seeing the differences in how the tunnels were put together was mind blowing to see another form of architecture that’s different than our modern architecture back home. This trip is definitely everything I imagined it would be and its only Day 1. Oh, and my new favorite word thanks to our tour guide and Ben Yaffe: SABABA!! I’m so excited for the rest of this trip and to explore Israel. Masada, we’re coming for you next!!!

Submitted by,
Madison Smith
Oh, and I had my first successful conversation in Hebrew today!!!!
Now, some helpful and funny phrases from Lexi Hendel:

-“What’s a kaba?”-tour guide
-“Uh it’s obviously corn on the kaba!!!”-Lexi Hendel

-“What language do munks speak out of curiousity?”
-“Don’t they speak Munkian?”-Lexi Hendel

Day 1 Part 2

As an added surprise our tour guide, Yair, along with Cantor Lichterman and bus driver, Alex, brought us to an Arab market. The market reminded me of a flee market, it had many products, and lots of food. The first thing I bought at the market was an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) sweatshirt. I also got one for my brother, Josh. Soon after that we went to the shuk. The shuk is a Jewish market. At the shuk we had falafel for lunch, which everyone else said was amazing. Then after lunch, more shopping!! There was such a wide variety of products to choose from! I got a new case for my phone that looks like a bird with little ears or feathers at the top. After the shuk, it’s back to the Rabin Hostel for down time. During the down time everyone just hung out together. After our down time it’s off to dinner! For dinner we got to choose from a variety of foods such as: spaghetti, hot dogs, a salad bar, chicken schnitzel, rice, and rotisserie chicken. The dinner was very filling and delicious.

After dinner there was a meeting with Cantor Lichterman about the plans for tomorrow!! We have to get up at 2:00am to go to Masada!! So far Israel is all I thought it would be, plus more!! Well, I’m off to bed!! See you at 2:00am Masada!!! Good night!!

Submitted by,
Jamie Sherman

Some notes about our tour guide Yair:

-he plays guitar
-he’s 31 years old
-he was born in Israel but his mother was born in Chicago, Illinois and is of Italian and Libyan origin!!
-he loves to surf
-he was in the Israeli army
-but most importantly he knows so much and has so much to teach us about Israel!!

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Day 2

Day 2 started with a bang. We woke up at 2am to travel 2 hours to Masada. After climbing the short side of the fortress behind the crowds, we watched the sunrise and davened shachrit and put on tefilin. As a group we learned about the history of Masada and its present-day significance. Breakfast followed the cable car ride down Masada. We then traveled to En Gedi. We climbed the rocks to reach the waterfalls which we soaked in for about 2 hours. We were told the story of David and Saul in the caves as a young David destined to bee king fled from the jealous King Saul. as it happens this was the scene of Quinn’s bar mitzvah haftorah.
-Jeremy Davis

Next in our itinerary was something extraordinary we had all been looking forward to since we arrived in Israel. The Dead Sea was just a short drive away, and had an extremely scenic route with the beautiful blue water. After eating a delicious lunch overlooking the sea, we finally swam. We had fun floating on our backs and putting mud all over our bodies, and having to switch to a pool if it started to hurt. We left after 3 hours to go to our last stop of the day, Abrahams tent. We rode magical camels to travel back in time and ate a dinner in Abrahams tent, where he told us his story and provided us with delicious food. Exhausted after such a long day, the ride home was quiet, and all of us will have a great night’s sleep tonight.
-Sam Richards

Extra information: Quinn found inner peace in En Gedi. We met an old friend of my dads (Greg Davis) from USY and Ramah at Abrahams tent. His name was Josh but I forgot his last name. The final bus ride to the hostel was fun because Lila and I were the only ones awake while everyone else was sound asleep.
-Jeremy davis
The Dead Sea was hilarious, everyone fell into deep pits of soft clay and the girls screamed almost every time. We now have a ton of inside jokes that will probably make their way onto the blog pretty soon. Emmie showed her managing skills as she oversaw strangers trying to recover her shoe, that she lost in a Dead Sea mud pit. She had to wait for her hero Brian to come to her rescue and easily pull out her shoe.
-Sam Richards

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Day 3 Part 1

We started off the day by going to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.  Before we entered the museum, we went down a ramp that led us down to the museum doors, which represented to me that we were going to a dark time in history.  The hallways in the museum zig zagged at an incline.  There were pictures of before, during, and after the Holocaust. Many artifacts were behind enclosed glass cases, such as the pajamas they wore in the concentration camps.  Videos were shown throughout each section about survivors telling about their personal story.

Going to Yad Vashem was emotional for me as it was for all of us because my great grandparents perished in the Holocaust, but my grandparents were Holocaust survivors.  Before we went out of the museum,  I saw a picture that caught my eye.  It showed survivors standing together in Israel in their concentration camp clothes holding the Israeli flag.  Cantor Lichterman told us a story about how he found out about his sister that he never knew about. Once we reached the end of the museum, we went up a ramp and it was a great relief for me as a Jew to see the beautiful scenery of modern rebuilt Jerusalem as our Jewish capital.

Lila Goldman

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Day 3 Part 2

After a long, scenic drive after the museum, we arrived at a gas station. We all had a healthy, if bad, lunch. There we met our archelogical guide, after a shot drive to the site we climbed off the buss into the blazing sun. Our sweaty exhausting walk ended at a cover where a cool breeze was coming from the ground. The guide then took us down into the ancient man made cave system to a breath of relief from all the hot kids. When we stopped in a spacious room in the cave the guide explained that this room was used to raise pigeons. After claiming out our eyes were met with the scorching sun after a dark cave, with the sun glancing off Mr. Kripeis head. We then walked to a different site where the guide explained that we would be digging for artifacts, at which point Ian’s eyes lit up. We spent a good thirty minuets scraping at the ground, pulling out pottery, charcoal, and even some bones. Then we carried buckets of dirt up to the surface where we sifted for smaller things at which point we found even more bones. Our day ended with us getting to pick out pieces of pottery that they didn’t need and each one of us getting a acheological dig certificate.

-Margaret Roberts

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Day 4 Part 1

On shabbat morning, we walked to the Italian Synagogue which was right down the street. The synagogue was gorgeous. It was originally built in Italy in the 17th century. It stayed as a functioning synagogue until about 1900 when it was closed but was maintained in Italy until it was moved to Jerusalem in the early 1950s. It is the same way as it was when it was built. My favorite part is the ark, which was intricate and painted gold. It is a Orthodox synagogue so the women had to go high up on the balcony so they were separated from the men, and had to peer out from shutters like 400 years ago.

The tunes used at the service were very different from the tunes all of us are used to. For most of the service, we all just listened. Jeremy had the opportunity to do the Levi Aliyah after I passed it up because I thought the gabbai was asking “Are you leaving?” rather than “Are you Levi?” We left the service and were very moved by the experience.

-Asher Kripke

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Day 4 Part 2

Following our service at the Italian synagogue, we went to eat a picnic lunch in the Garden of Liberty (which happens to have a replica of the Liberty Bell). On the menu for this meal was a delicious box lunch featuring Cantor Lichterman’s favorite food, chicken schnitzel. In the park, we also played soccer and climbed dragon sculptures — “traditional” Israeli activities. There were lots of other people in the park; we met Israeli families and even witnessed pictures before an Ethiopian wedding.

After the park, we began a journey through thousands of years of history.  Our tour guide Yair explained how, through five thousand years of history, there has only been two times (before 1948) that an autonomous Jewish state existed in the land of Israel. This occurred under the dynasties of King David and the Maccabbees. Otherwise, Yair explained, Israel was under the control of various empires. This was a great history lesson because it demonstrated how amazing it is that we live in a time where an independent Israel exists that Jews can visit and live in. It was a powerful reminder of how lucky we are.

Then, on the walk back to the hotel, we passed by — but did not enter — the historic King David Hotel. Previously, it was the home of the British police headquarters and the recipient of Israeli resistance fighter bombs in the short period between the end of World War 2 and 1948. Tragically, over a hundred people were killed, British and Israeli soldiers alike. Today, it is now a five star hotel. It also happens to be where chaperone Matt stayed when he visited Israel decades ago (its biggest accomplishment).

After a few hours of rest at the hotel, we went to the Kotel to celebrate Shavuot. There, we encountered a very crowded area with Jews from all over the country and all over the world. There were people from all different sects of Judaism, whether ultra orthodox or teenagers from Toledo. We held a short service outside the wall, then split into men and women and visited the wall itself. We were able to touch the wall and make a personal prayer, which was an incredible experience. We ended the day on this holy note, having had a once in a lifetime experience celebrating a holiday at the holiest place in Judaism.

– Nathan Podolsky

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Day 5 Part 1

Day five started out with another relieving late wake-up. At 8:00, Jeremy, Sam, and I got out of bed ready to start the day. We went down to the lobby and met outside to get ready to walk to Shavuot services. When we arrived to the Great Synagogue, it was modern and beautiful! When we walked into services, a young boy was at the bimah! It was interesting to see a child leading services, even though it was only for a little while. After that, the, Megillah of Ruth was read. However, it was fairly inaudible due to the fact that it was an Orthodox synagogue, in which case there was no microphone despite the large size of the sanctuary. Further on in the service, we read the Ten Commandments. We stood up for this, which was interesting. Being in this shul was quite different than the Italian shul we had gone to yesterday. This shul was much larger, they had an amazing cantor, (not as good as Cantor Lichterman of course), and a choir supplemented the cantor during most of the prayers. As a music lover, I enjoyed listening to that. After services were over, we looked at one of the largest mezuzah collections in the world, of which one of the most famous is the mezuzah of Rabbi Nachman of Braslav, which was carved from a remnant of wood from the original magnificent chair he sat in more than 200 years ago in his synagogue around 1800, which was dismantled and sent to Israel to be preserved. Rabbi Nachman was one of the greatest Chasidic rabbis and also the great grandson of the founder of the Chasidic movement. This mezuzah was particularly simple compared to the others.

Changing topic now, when we left the shul, we headed back to the hotel. We had previously been informed that the day was far too hot for a long hike, and we ended up getting about 5 hours of free time, the largest chunk of the day we have gotten for free time so far! To fill the time, everybody came together to either play card games such as euchere, ERS, and BS, which was tons of fun. It was wonderful to have this much free time before our evening activities.

-Quinn Murphy

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Day 5: Part 2

In the evening, we left for a walk. We walked through the Armenian, Christian and Muslim quarters on our winding way through the old city. We passed many other Jews walking throughout the city. We eventually made our way to the tomb of King David  in the Jewish quarter. This spot is extremely holy for Christians and Muslims as well as Jews. There were many Chasidim celebrating Shavuot around the building that stands above the tomb. We then made our way to an outdoor mall not too far from our hotel. On our way throughout the mall, we passed buildings that were made of old stone bricks. Each brick was labeled. We then found out that these buildings, which predate modern Israel, were disassembled, piece by piece, labeled, then reassembled a few years ago within the mall. We spent about an hour and a half in the mall. We got ice cream, and shopped. The confirmation class found the gift that will be presented to the congregation upon our return.  It was very interesting to see shops that we recognized from the U.S., such as Nike and american Eagle, right next to stores that sold judaica.

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Day 6

Hello, and welcome back to the next edition of your favorite blog brought to you by your favorite duo, Miranda Hupp and Lexi Hendel. (Please hold your applause until the end) We would like to start from the beginning… We are not talking Adam and Eve but like 12:01AM, June 13, 2016. It all started in the Jersulem Tower hotel, we were all snuggled up in our comfy crusty bed when we were very rudely awoken by drunk partying Israelis just outside our hotel windows. You could only imagine how salty and frustrated we were because we were obviously trying to get a “good nights rest.” Eventually we fell back asleep in our nice crusty beds and were soon awoken once again by the obnoxious loud wake up call. Even though Lexi and I were not in the same room, we both answered the same way, with a spot on Indian accent and then promptly hanging up the phone and going back to bed. We all got up out of bed eventually and made our way downstairs for the… Interesting…. Breakfast choices.

After our breakfast we waddled out to the bus, never been happier to see it considering we have been walking everywhere since Friday. On our way to the aqueducts we made a stop to a historical statue of  the famous menorah infront of the Knesset, Israels parliament,   which held a myriad of different meanings and inscriptions including a famous sentence from the prophet Zachariah which amazingly is from my bat mitzvah. (Shoutout to Lexi’s Bat Mitzvah.)

Then we got on the bus again and drove to the ancient Roman aqueducts. Depending on your height, the aqueduct reached different points on ones body. For example if you are short like Miranda, Maddie, Carolyn, and the Shermans then the water went all the way up to mid stomach and we were swimming. However if you are tall like Sam or Alexa, then the water went up to the knees. One of the best memories at the aqueduct was Emmie screaming because a crab almost touched her, then Carolyn slipped and the crab fell on Asher’s foot. Overall the aqueduct was a blast.

We then got on the bus again and went to the ride donkeys and make our own pita in a replica of an ancient Israeli village. I would just like to add that Alexa and Miranda’s donkey named Vanilla was a mile behind the group the entire time… And Lexi and Maddie’s was always in first. (Lexi and Maddie are going to the national donkey competition!…)

Then we went shopping in the accent holy city of Tsfat way in the North of Israel in the Galilee and bought some souvenirs to take home with us. Upon arrival an old lady came up to Miranda and slapped her on the arm for an unknown reason. Most the girls bought jewelry and shirts and the boys bought gifts for their mothers or in Asher and Nathan’s case, Star of David underpants. We then made our way out of the twisty ally’s and the same angry old lady started cursing at Lexi, again for an unknown reasons. We then got back on the bus and drove to the Kibbutz. Maddie and Miranda came up with a new system called pre sleep because Emmie has a differing opinion on bedtime. At the Kibbutz we ate a delicious meal and enjoyed some quality time with our friends. A gorgeous location on beautiful Lake Kineret.

We would like to leave you with some memories and inside jokes we have made throughout the trip, most in which you will not understand until we come back.. But that’s okay..

1. Jewsus Christ whatta doin!?

2. Haha shut up margie its not funny..

3. More or less…

4. Wait, July’s a month??

5. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!!

6. I would like file a complaint

7. “Psst Miranda why is there two pumpkins behind us”

8. *leaves the apple juice in the room* *happy dance*

9. That nose blow sounded like a machine gun

10. TAKE IT AWAY MARGIE!!!!!

Much love, lexi and miranda

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Day 7/8 last day!!

To celebrate our last full night, we had a huge bonfire with s’mores, an accordion player, birthday cake for Asher (the actual day) and Emmie (last week), and guitar playing by our tour guide. It was a great night, except it’s already hot in Israel. Therefore, you could not get within 4 feet of the fire without feeling extreme heat. Overall, it was a great night and a great ending to our stay at the kibbutz.
The next morning, we woke up early and packed our bag for the last time on this trip. Then, we traveled to a school in the Partnership region with Toledo, where we met with kids just like us. It was extremely fun to hang out with them and learn about their daily life. Brian and Nathan’s speech about being Jewish in America and Toledo was pretty great too. Later, we made pita and sang songs together. We ended the visit with a beautiful group picture, where we all “dabbed.”

Submitted by: Alexa Bader

Day 8

In the afternoon, we went to the Ayalon Institute (Kibbutzim Hill) where between 1945 and 1948, 40 plus members joined for protection and establish d a kibbutz after the Holocaust in Europe. To protect Israel and to help it become a state, the Haganah became the core of the Israeli Defense Force. Britain controlled the area at the time, but the members of the Ha’Tzofim Aleph group and Ta’as corps had other ideas. The main reason for creating the Kibbutz was to educate the kibbutz children enough so they could go to university and succeed after their ancestors were bogged down by the Holocaust.

But the underground was much more important to the members of the Kibbutz, even though some giraffes (kibbutz members that weren’t involved in producing bullets) were unaware of the secret. The Haganah needed ammunition and Ha’Tzofim Aleph and Ta’as could help the cause. Both groups built an illegal underground bullet factory, the size of an underground tennis court, to aid in the production of bullets for the Haganah. There was one entrance to the underground under the bakery and another under the laundry, both used to disguise the noise of the bullet production. The most impressive part was that the Kibbutz gave every impression of a regular kibbutz with regular communal meetings and practices, while still running an underground factory. Not to mention the factory produced 2,250,000 bullets with 0 casualties and 0 discoveries. There was one close call with a British train crashing 100 meters away from the Kibbutz, putting the members under the microscope. However, they were let off the hook because of their extreme helpfulness and willingness to help British victims. Also, the kibbutz had a special visitor, a Holocaust survivor who as slave labor for Nazis was forced to manufacture bullets for them in a similar facility and she remarked on the contrast in the work they did – she to destroy (Jewish) legend, they to defend and build Jewish life. She recalled the significance of that specific factory we visited. “Without this factory, we may not have won our independence”, which delineates the significance of our visit perfectly.

Next we went to the markets of Jaffa to go power shopping for the final time. Included was a nice view on the beach of Tel-Aviv overlooking the sky view of the city and the magnificent view of the Mediterranean Sea. I bought a nice $13 shirt from an Israeli chain, Castro, while other peers bought local T-shirts and apparel.

Next we had a fancy dinner at Maganda, a famous Yemenite restaurant where we toasted to a wonderful trip and reminisced about our best memories on the trip. Yair, our guide, even pitched into the conversation by saying his favorite thing about each of us and received a well deserved standing ovation. Cantor thanked all of us for being such a wonderful group and thawed Alison and Matt our chaperones for their great help while Matt thanked the Cantor for all his work in making the trip so great. We finished saying our highlights of the trip and headed to Ben Gurion airport in Tel-Aviv, where we said an emotional goodbye to Yair and Israel while hoping to return again soon.

Submitted by Brian Glasser

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Chaperone thoughts on the trip

I was extremely excited about this trip, but was a bit nervous not knowing most of the kids very well.    I truly came to love them all during this experience.  Watching them experience Israel and learn her history and beauty was awe inspiring.  One of my jobs was to bring up the rear when we walked anywhere to make sure we did not lose anyone.   I am blessed to have these memories which I will always treasure:

– Alexa Bader had such a positive attitude, even on the days we were exhausted.  I must have heard her say, “this is fun!” at least 5 times during different activities.  Her positivity was contagious!!!!

-Emmie Brody was always smiling and she gave me plenty of hugs.  She was often slightly over-caffeinated according to her roommates.  I think she surprised herself with how much walking she did.

– Jeremy Davis was one of the most engaged kids in participating with the tour guide.  He could one day be a history professor.  He also enjoys talking smack when he beats me at euchre.  But who won the last game 10-1?

– Lexy Hendel was very funny.  She entertained the girls a lot with her accents and humor.  Because the Hendels live in Findlay, she probably had the least interaction with the others prior to this trip.  It was moving to see the kids relationship with her fully blossom.

– Brian Glasser had a constant smile on his face that made me think he was up to something.  He is extremely smart, well-spoken and a great big brother.  He spoke beautifully to the school kids in our partnership region.

– Carolyn Glasser is so sweet to all of the kids.  Her relationship with Brian reminds me of my sister’s relationship with me when we were that age.  She would often drop back to the back of the group to talk with me when walking places.   I love her independence!!

– Miranda Hupp is a fairly picky eater who did not really love the Israeli food options.  Therefore, she was the most appreciative when we received special pizza meals.  She is a magnet to the other kids, they all love her.  She also conquered her fear of cable cars.

–  Nathan Podolsky wins the award for best sense of humor.  He always made sure our guide equated all distances in terms of football fields so we could understand better.  He taught the Israeli kids how to dab.  Kol ha kavod!

– Lila Goldman had never flown on a plane before and I am sure was nervous about being that far from home.  She not only survived, but thrived.  She loved being with the kids and I am so glad she was part of this trip.  She even sang for all of us at the bonfire by the beach.

-Sam Richards always had a smile on his face and could be one of the nicest kids I have ever met.  He was our tech guru helping out with blog posts and never complaining.  He probably had the toughest time in the tunnels because of his height, but I know of no head injuries.

– Margaret Roberts and I had a chance to bond on this trip.  She loves to share her interests in comics, music, and television.  She loved the stray cats in Israel and I had to keep her from bringing one home to her mom.

– Maddie Smith also had never flown before.  She is so sweet and always smiling even when she was dead tired.  She really bonded with the other girls. She admitted to me she missed her dad’s cooking.

– Quinn Murphy is so expressive and was one of the most enthusiastic kids when he found an activity or food he liked.  He loved the waterfall at Ein Gedi.  He loved the food at our final night dinner and was a joy to have on the trip.

– Ian Mahoney was enthralled by the art, architecture, archaeology, and history.  He was so interesting to talk to and get his take on what moved him.  He was blown away by the ark at the Italian Synagogue.  He is an excellent euchre player too.

– Jamie (Lizzy) Sherman was a joy to have with us.  She sat up front on the bus and participated with Yair, our tour guide.  She did everything and was so emotional leaving Israel.  It showed me how much she must have loved the entire experience.

– Asher Kripke.  Getting to go to Israel with my son was emotional, and I often found myself tearing up.  At the top of Masada, we davened as we both wore talit given to us by our grandparents.  Alison captured a picture of him showing me how to wrap tefelim.  He is mensch who I am proud to call my son.

– chaperoning with Alison and Ivor was a pleasure.  Ivor has such passion for music, for Israel, for the Jewish people and for these kids.  He helped plan a great trip, along with our travel agent Michelle, and Kim Brody.  He infused stories to make the history relatable while knowing when to pull back and let the kids chill out.  Alison was a calming and motherly figure to the kids.  It was not easy for her to make the sacrifice to be away from her family, we were so lucky she made the tough decision to come with us.

– Thank you to everyone who played a part in making this trip possible including my grandparents, of blessed memory.   I went to Israel 35 years ago for the first time as a Bar Mitzvah present from my grandparents.  I am so thankful to have the honor and pleasure of chaperoning a trip named for them and to experience many of the same things 35 years later with kids from B’nai Israel.  Both Israel and B’nai Israel were special to Sherwin and Naomi and to me as well.
Matt Kripke

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Concluding Thoughts

HAZZAN IVOR LICHTERMAN

A DREAM COME TRUE

By the time you read this, it will be a few weeks since our group of 19 returned from our Israel Confirmation trip. We spent 8 days plus 2 days traveling from June 6 – 16. This is the 4th CBI Confirmation Israel trip to date, from which 54 students and several adults have benefitted.

Many of you have undoubtedly heard about the trip, read my blog which each participant contributed towards, and seen photos which fortunately in today’s cyber and digital world are so easy to share. Needless to say it was an amazing adventure! I am sure it has inspired all participants as it has in the past, and we shall have the opportunity in the near future to hear from them first hand as they report back to you.

We traversed Israel at a frenzied pace, keeping the students stimulated and ceasingly occupied from dawn till late at night. Not surprising they had no time to get into any trouble! They are doubtless catching up on some much needed and deserved sleep as I write this now.

We traversed the heights of the Golan at the north-east Syrian border, to the hostile north-western Lebanese border, where we observed Hezbollah encampments up the hill literally less than a mile away. There we were hosted by a group of handsome Israeli soldiers not much older than our students, whose families originated from all over the world. They protect Israel 24/7, and we gave them gifts donated by our Federation and snacks.

To the south we muddied ourselves and floated in the depths of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. We ascended Masada at 5:30 AM before daybreak while it was cool enough, and observed the sun rise to a typically hot over 100 degree Israeli summer’s day. But Josh Sherman’s record 19 minute climb up the snake path to the crest of Masada, remains intact from our trip 3 years ago, as we took the easy way up. Cowards! Even I was not huffing and puffing up the gradual (as opposed to steep) ascent, despite daily falafel and chicken schnitzel consumption, with a comfortable cable car descent!

We bussed, hiked, crawled, dug, climbed, schlepped, waded, swam and davened our way all over Israel, often filling our days with 4 or 5 different and contrasting activities and adventures.

We walked the ancient excavations of the old city of Jerusalem, placed prayers in the Kotel and davened there several times. On the subject of davening, we visited 3 different shuls in Jerusalem that I had selected for contrasting Shabbat and Shavuot services, somewhat different from what we do at B’nai. The highlight may well have been the 400 year old Italian shul where Jeremy Davis belted out the Levi Aliyah in a manner that made us all proud, the echoes of which are still reverberating in our ears!

There is story attached to the Aliyah that is notable: Asher Kripke (also a Levi) mistook the gabbai’s mixed-accented ‘are you a Levi’ question for ‘are you leaving?’ and answering ‘no’ Jeremy got it by default! Jeremy you owe Asher! On Friday night we attended the only Orthodox synagogue in the world that has a woman Cantor who chants from behind the mechitza – the women’s section, the bimah being half in the mens and half in the women’s section with a curtain splitting it.

We put on tefilin at 3 incredible destinations – the Kotel, Masada, and Lake Kineret at the Sea of Galilee, where we also incidentally observed many Christian groups pilgrimaging in Israel. At our hotel at the Kineret was a large Menonite Amish contingent.

Many coincidences occurred in Israel during our trip, from which our students experienced an ever shrinking world and just how small Israel actually is. For example, Miranda Hupp, wearing a Miami of Ohio University shirt on one of our plane rides, met a Miami U student on the plane who knew her brother Noah (who was on our previous CBI trip) from the Glee Club and remarked to her on his beautiful voice. Another example, at a gas station outside our archeological dig, while eating lunch we ran into a couple from my previous synagogue in Arizona, whom I haven’t seen in many years as they had moved away. Seeing them and their now adult children was a joy. Or at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem where there were perhaps some 1000 people for Shavuot services, we sat right next to the Cantor who succeeded me in Stamford, Ct. 25 years ago…Israel is indeed a small country!

A highlight of the trip (of which there were many) was when I invited Yaakov Friedman (formerly Zhiang of China then Toledo) who made Aliyah to Israel a year ago, to visit with us and speak to our students. He drove with his lovely wife and 3 beautiful young daughters for an hour and a half to meet with us. At first he was hesitant, saying he had no idea what to say. But once he began, he had me in tears, and our students, as tired as they all were from a full day of activities and travel, were mesmerized by his family’s on going Jewish journey, what they have gone through to become Jewish, live in Israel and gain acceptance.

This dream come true trip has without doubt enhanced our students’ positive view of Israel, and their understanding of Judaism, as well as their knowledge of the centrality of Israel and Jerusalem in our lives. Our amazing guide Yair (whom some wanted to put in a suitcase and smuggle to Toledo) did much for our appreciation of Israel today, as well as throughout Jewish history.

The memories will be with us forever! I am deeply appreciative to all who made this trip possible. It is truly a beracha that we at CBI are one of very few synagogues in the world that are able to provide an almost free trip to so many of our students as a benefit of membership. I am truly grateful to the 2 wonderful chaperones Matt Kripke and Alison Sherman who were right there beside me at all times, to keep our students safe and ensure the best possible experience!

Hazzan Ivor Lichterman

 

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Day 3 part 2

After a long, scenic drive after the museum, we arrived at a gas station. We all had a healthy, if bad, lunch. There we met our archelogical guide, after a shot drive to the site we climbed off the buss into the blazing sun. Our sweaty exhausting walk ended at a cover where a cool breeze was coming from the ground. The guide then took us down into the ancient man made cave system to a breath of relief from all the hot kids. When we stopped in a spacious room in the cave the guide explained that this room was used to raise pigeons. After claiming out our eyes were met with the scorching sun after a dark cave, with the sun glancing off Mr. Kripeis head. We then walked to a different site where the guide explained that we would be digging for artifacts, at which point Ian’s eyes lit up. We spent a good thirty minuets scraping at the ground, pulling out pottery, charcoal, and even some bones. Then we carried buckets of dirt up to the surface where we sifted for smaller things at which point we found even more bones. Our day ended with us getting to pick out pieces of pottery that they didn’t need and each one of us getting a acheological dig certificate.

-Margaret Roberts

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CBI Toledo Europe Mission 2015

CBI JEWISH MISSION TO EUROPE MAY 5 – 18, 2015

INTRO
I have been working with Lee and Gail Kwait for over a year now to put together this eagerly anticipated Jewish heritage mission to Europe. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and time and making connections to pull something like this off and trying to satisfy a divergent group each of whom has different needs and interests is complicated to say the least. But the Kwaits and I led a mission to South Africa recently which was fantastically successful so on request from people who heard about the South African tour we decided to offer this followup. There are several repeat participants on this mission from our last trip.

It’s been a few days already since we departed Toledo for Europe. Except for a little free time here & there it’s been exhausting so I have had no time to blog unfortunately. When we finally check in at night from long days, as exhausted as I am I work on planning the next day and researching the Jewish components so often I don’t get to sleep till late at night, then the next day I am usually first so I can make sure along with our other tour leaders that everyone is where they are supposed to be…

PRAGUE
As a fan of architecture and history Prague in the Czech Republic is a dream. Unscathed and not bombed during World War II everything is intact though over 40 years of Communist rule brought some neglect but it’s been restored to its former glory as one of the most beautiful and great cities of the world with intact buildings dating back as much as 800 years.

Similarly much of the Jewish heritage is also intact making it a great treasure though the reason is sinister and chilling as the Nazis planned Prague’s Jewish area as ‘The Museum To The Extinct Jewish Race!’ Consequently they have the largest Judaica collection in the world and many magnificent synagogues within close proximity to each other. This is very different to for example Poland particularly Warsaw which was a Jewish community many times larger than Prague (350,000 vs 58000 Jews) and Germany where almost everything was destroyed and obliterated.

HIGHLIGHTS TO DATE
The 3 experiences that stand out most in my mind are our visit to Terezin Ghetto/Concentration Camp, the many shuls we visited and Friday night shabbat service followed by dinner which I will now describe in more detail. I have visited Auschwitz Birkenau twice for missions so when I mentioned to my mother we were going to Terezin she said compared to the death camps where she and my father were interred in the war, “Terezin was a picnic!”

PERSPECTIVE
Although this jarring remark by mother is very realistic I would say that going to any place where our People were concentrated for the eventual purpose of destruction, is an equally sickening and sobering experience. I actually was not planning to go to Terezin and thought I would stay with those of our group who did not want to go and we’d do some fun sightseeing. But when 18 of 19 members of our group signed up to go, I wasn’t go to leave them as I am the spiritual leader of our group so I prepared an appropriate service to conclude our visit, as one cannot leave a place like Terezin without some “separation” and spiritual upliftment.

TEREZIN
The sick thing about this sad place is that it’s an old Czech fortress town from which the local general population was expelled to create a “holding” place, a temporary transit point for Jews from the area till its inmates could be transferred to their next “destination” often Auschwitz or other such places, most resulting in death.

I will not report any more on this visit except to say that after 5 grueling hours there, the climax occurred at the end. This was due to careful planning by our excellent guide Luba, a young Jew from the Ukraine who heads Precious Legacy Tours, and myself. I asked her for an appropriate place where we could do our short ceremony I planned for the conclusion and she said she had the perfect place.

CEREMONY
About 20 years ago a tiny hidden secret synagogue was found there with beautiful painted biblical quotes of inspiration such as beseeching God to hear our prayers, and Stars of David painted on the walls. It was a secret shul. So we did our readings and chants there including Kaddish, poems by the children of Terezin, and concluding with Hatikvah. I was impressed everyone remembered to bring the service I had Includes in the packs each person had received from me for the trip with all kinds of pertinent materials and articles on all the places on our itinerary etc.

I had texted my wife Jan to tell her we were going to Terezin. Jan who was supposed to go on the trip but had to cancel due to family emergency, texted me an inspirational note I shared with our group during the service, which mentioned that our son Mayron who is a surgical resident in Michigan had just received some prestigious medical awards, and she added, ” they tried to kill your lineage…so as much as they tried to get rid of us we are excelling and achieving!”

Everyone in our group cheered and clapped, it was a deeply emotional moment for us all, specially for me who lost 100s of relatives in the war and a half sister aged 4. As Lee Kwait read the poem I Never Saw Another Butterfly written by a young boy in Terezin who perished, he could hardly finish reading, we were all choked up…but left with the words ringing in our ears of Hatikvah “lih’yot am chofshi b’artseinu….to be a free people in our land…”

PS we have just crossed the border by bus from the Czech Republic into Germany as I write this!!

THE JEWISH AREA OF PRAGUE
Concentrated in one small area of Prague where the Jewish ghetto once was, are an ancient Jewish cemetery as well as 6 impressive synagogues and a beautiful building of the Chevrah Kadisha – the Jewish Burial Society which played a vital social services and Tsedaka role in the community. In addition a little further away is the magnificent Jerusalem Synagogue which was not on our tour as its too far but I went there in the morning during free time and am sure glad as its magnificent. It is still in use as are several others although the community is tiny compared to pre-war, a few 1000.

Described in local literature as ‘the most beautiful synagogue in Europe’ is the Spanish Synagogue so called because of its magnificent Moorish architecture. It is very reminiscent of Florence Italy’s synagogue though much smaller but both rank amongst the most beautiful in the world without question. We took lots of photos outside too by the weird statue of Franzen Kafka, the famed Jewish writer about whom Prague jokes ‘everyone’s heard of him no one has read him.’ This saying we learnt from our tour guide from Precious Legacy Tours Luba who was outstanding and deserves special mention as having a good make makes a huge difference on tour.

Also awe inspiring is the Alt-Neu Shul, the oldest in the world in constant use (except during the Second World War) dating from 1270, yes just imagine standing in this holy space where over 750 years our People have continuously davened to Hashem!! By the ark is the 400 year old seat of the great legendary saintly tsadik Rabbi Judah Loew known as The Maharal, So integral is he to Prague history that a statue attributed to him stands in front of city hall. Next to the Altneu Shul is the Jewish town hall with its famous Hebrew clock.

The cemetery close by has 1000s of graves on top of each other as they ran out of room, including the Maharal’s grave.

PINKAS SYNAGOGUE HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL
On all the walls of this Shul are inscribed the names of every Jew from Czechoslovakia who perished in the Shoah some 78000 names filling every corner of every wall including lobby, corridors etc. Other than names the building is deliberately and starkly bare except for an outline of ark & bimah..it is as powerful as visiting Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. I am so glad our group had the following experience described in my next paragraphs after exiting this memorial…

SHABBAT SERVICE IN PRAGUE
We concluded our Jewish experience here with an amazing coincidental climax by returning to the Spanish Shul for Friday night service followed by kosher shabbat dinner at the Solomon Restaurant. We had no idea what to expect at the service ~ I had contacted them and they said they were expecting 1 other group but when we arrived there weren’t many seats. I asked if they could bring out more and they said they thought it would be enough as at that point there were some 50 people which was all they were expecting but the crowd just kept growing with mostly young people and growing till there were some 150 or so packed in and they ran out of chairs and siddurim. We started 20 minutes late. It was a typical Conservative service very similar to Reform so our group were familiar with and able to follow the service and sing along and men and women sat together.

A RARE HONOR
I introduced my group to the service leader who was a regular congregant from Ukraine (I don’t know if they have a Rabbi or Hazzan) and he asked me to sing the various Kaddish prayers which I was glad to oblige as singing there is a hugely emotional experience and honor.

The acoustics were fantastic and I could hear my voice reverberating off the arches of the magnificent structure. When the leader asked people where they were from we were happily amazed to find some young Jews knowledgeable of the service singing at the tops of their voices filling this great Shul with davening from all over Eastern Europe including Warsaw Poland where my family is from, Rumania etc.

DEATH TO LIFE
Keeping the flame of Judaism alive in these places where it almost disappeared is a real kiddush Hashem – a sanctification of God’s name. What a contrast to the ghostly walls of the bare Pinkas Shul we had beheld a mere hour before..the young people’s voices still ringing in my ears Lecha Dodi – Come my beloved…let us greet the shabbat queen…and these young people live where? In Israel? No! In America? No! In Poland, in Rumania, Hungary, Czech…Ezekiel’s dry bones coming to life vision!

SHABBAT DINNER
Dinner at the Solomon was delicious – traditional Jewish chicken soup, beef over cholent etc but more inviting than heimishe cousine was joining with the group next to us of French Jews as we sang together with great ruach zemirot and Israeli songs and I grabbed one of them & we danced ecstatically at the joy of bringing together Jews with from all over the world in this great place once called by some ‘the museum of the extinct Jewish race…!!

GERMANY –
REGENSBURG
First stop here was Regensburg, a beautiful historical college town well preserved of centuries of history dating back to Rome. I only felt it worthwhile to do these countries so associated with Jewish suffering if we were going to do experience something positively Jewish so I set out during free time to find the Shul which I did with no problem, bumping into Joanne Rubin and Leah Connor exploring the town, whom I took along to find the Shul that was nearby.

It was locked of course, no security. There were 4 call buttons on the gate. I pressed them continually never being one to give up quickly. As Joanne and Leah began to leave a woman’s voice answered. I identified ourselves and our mission and soon the front door opened and a custodian opened for us. We explored the whole Jewish center and took photos. It is in the building that before the War housed the community offices. This survived though the Shul part of the complex burnt down on Kristalnacht. There is a new center which they are going to enlarge as it is too small to accommodate the reemergent community now numbering 1000 with the influx of Russian Jews as all over Germany.

MIZRACH
Later as our whole group toured the town, we saw 2 sights of Jewish interest – Oskar Schindler’s home and a Holocaust memorial on the sight of a former ancient synagogue which was revealed recently through excavations. The memorial is by an Israeli sculptor and in the place where the ark stood is a stone with the Hebrew word mizrach – meaning ‘east’ carved, symbolizing the direction of Jerusalem but also meaning to shine as in light shining, the intent being for people to dwell in harmony. It was Sunday, the weather was perfect and the memorial was filled with many young people relaxing and enjoying the bright sunshine…I wonder if they grasp the significance of that once holy place or the word mizrach?.

When I told our group about the Shul some wanted to see it so I took them before retiring to the boat to depart Regensburg.

SMALL WORLD
Two amazing coincidences – in Prague we stopped in the old town for lunch at a small local cafe when a woman jumped up and yelled ‘IVOR’ – it was Judy Gatchell from my former synagogue in Tucson whom I met 15 years ago when she needed a mohel for her grandson. We had reconnected last year when she attended a concert and scholar in residence program I did there. It was emotional to see her here in the middle of Prague – I told her we were going to the Conservative synagogue Friday night so she came too and said how much she enjoyed hearing me singing there…a long way from Arizona…

Second small world coincidence – the manager of our boat which by the way is gorgeous, brand new one month old – is a Hungarian who spent 14 years in Cape Town and married a South African and lived about 12 blocks from my mother in a city of 4 million!

OFF TO DINNER
On the boat you dare not miss a meal –
it’s a religious ritual –
Shouldn’t be a problem – I am religious and I know ritual, right?
Wrong – these buffets are chaos –
you can’t find an entrance to the line –
have to push your way in –
like they’re going to run out of food?
It extends round and round – like a wedding ring – no beginning no end
Like a merrygoround.
All 181 people on board attack simultaneously…
my African background should come in handy, that animal instinct of the jungle –
see a target? See food. Haven’t eaten in an hour. Attack! attack! Claw your way Cantor
come on don’t be shy…
thought I’d go in the reverse order but even starting with dessert doesn’t help –
the line extends beyond that too.
Might as well just wait it out
but by then everyone at your table’s all done and you’re left holding the bag…
Tomorrow morning there will be breakfast, won’t there?

VIENNA

Vienna is an incredible city! I think it would be appropriate to say though, that it has lost its heart as a result of the events of the Holocaust. Before World War II, almost 10 percent of Vienna was Jewish, approximately 180,000 Jews: half of the doctors were Jewish, three-quarters of the banks, two-thirds of the movie houses, 85 percent of the lawyers, and 100 percent of the scrap metal dealers just for example. Many famous Jews came from or were active in Vienna, like Theodore Herzel, author Stefan Zweig, Sigmund Freud, Arnold Schonberg, Johann Strauss, Josef Schmidt[famous tenor/my father visited him in his home in Vienna in 1938 together with Cantor Moshe Koussevitsky] and Gustav Mahler. Jews made an extraordinary contribution to Vienna’s cultural and intellectual life. The Jewish writer Sweig said that 90 percent of what Viennese are proud of, is attributable to Jews. Today, there is a strong resurgence, perhaps as many as 20,000 Jews with more than 10 synagogues.

Our bus entered the Ringstrasse, which incorporates within it many of Vienna’s famous and historical buildings. Before the war, many Jews lived on the Ringstrasse. In fact, there is currently an exhibit at the Jewish Museum in Vienna called Ringstrasse-A Jewish Boulevard.

We passed the magnificent opera house, to which I went back later in the day during our free time, but unfortunately, I missed the tours. I was in awe of the many magnificent buildings that we saw. I am a postcard collector, and although I am a good photographer, I still collect postcards of significant architectural. I bought several dozen postcards of magnificent Viennese buildings, which I a gleefully adding to my collection as prized acquisitions.

MAIN SYNAGOGUE

We visited the one remaining synagogue from the pre-Holocaust period- the almost two-hundred year old orthodox Seitenstettengasse Temple. It is beautiful, round, with two galleries for women. The roof is painted blue like the sky with stars, giving it an awry and eternal sense. For me, this synagogue filled me with a sense of awe: it is where one of the greatest cantors of all time served for 56 years- Salamon Sulzer, much of whose music influenced heavily the Ashkenazi synagogue. I stood with awe at the Bima, where Sulzer helped shape synagogue music for half a century and where today, I am glad to report the style of services led by their Israeli Hazzan, choir and Rabbi, helping to perpetuate this grand tradition.

JEWISH LANDMARKS

The are three major Jewish landmarks besides the synagogue that I visited: In the Juadenpaltz is a stock Holocaust memorial in the shape of books of a library that have been turned inside out. Behind this memorial is one of two Jewish museums in Vienna. I visited both. In this museum, underground, there are excavations of an ancient synagogue that once stood in this Jewish area. At the other Jewish museum, among many interesting artifacts, is Theodore Herzel’s bicycle.

DINNER

Having gotten tired of pasta and grilled salmon on our boat nightly, I decided to skip boat dinner and go to a nearby Israeli-style Viennese restaurant called Bahur-Tov, which means in Hebrew “good boy”. I had a nice chat with owner who is from Eastern Russia, but spent a lot of time in Israel. I ordered Schnitzel. I must say, it was possibly the best I have ever had in recent memory- certainly the largest- the portion was massive. As the owner brought me my order, he said “I doubt you will be able to finish this”. He also pilled on as many french fries as would fit without falling off the side of the plate. It was also garnished with salad. I did not see any point in leaving half of it when I was already full and taking the rest to go for the boat. What would I do with it then? Eat it cold? So I finished it. It was worth it!

BRATISLAVA-SLOVAKIA

This city, also known as Pressburg, has always been of interest to me, ever since I was a young lad. One of the Rabbis who served with my father in his synagogue in Cape Town, Eugene Duschinsky, one of the most impressive Rabbis I have ever met- brilliant erudite, intellectual, learnered in Talmud and seemingly everything else, had studied at the famous Yeshiva of Pressburg to which Rabbinic students all over the world used to flock before the War. The buildings that housed the Yeshiva are no longer standing. We visited the one remaining synagogue, which has upstairs in the women’s balcony a museum almost single handedly created by an impressive young man, Dr. Maros Borsky who has great passion for his community. The synagogue is well maintained, but not used during the winter months, as it is too expensive and too large. It actually officially opens after the date of our visit, but Dr. Borsky kindly obliged us by opening up and spending a huge amount of time with us.

CHATAM SOFER MEMORIAL

Later that day, our cruise had arranged home hospitality with Slovakians in the area. I opted instead to visit one of Jewish Europes most famous landmarks- the burial site and remnant of an ancient Jewish cemetery, which contains the sanitarian tomb of the great Rabbi Moshe Schrbier, known as the Chatam Sofer. It is remarkable how this enclosed cemetery was created during the communist era with the help of large donations from Jews in New York and other places. It was done as a result of urban renewal, and was necessary to preserve this deteriorating Jewish site. Architects and engineers from all over the world come to see this impressive preservation site. The Jewish community employs a full-time person who oversees the cemetery and opens up for visitors and pilgrims. Dr. Borsky arranged for my visit, and within a 15 minute, simple, short, ten dollar taxi ride, I was there. Since it is very near the Denube embankment, I took a brisk walk along the water back to our boat which was conveniently docked a mere twenty minutes away.

SALZBURG

Ever since I was a child and was raised with a deep appreciation for classical music, I became aware of Mozart. Therefore, Salzburg was always on my consciousness as the city most associated with Mozart. So when our tour offered the opportunity as an add-on, I was first online to sign up. Of course, Salzburg is also associated with the Sound of Music. Salzburg is considered one of the most beautiful places in Austria and was recently included in the official list of 100 places to visit before you die.

We went on a walking tour of the old historical part of the city, including the magnificent Mirabell Gardens from which there is a magnificent view of the great Hohensalzburg Fortress.

Crossing the famous Salzach River over one of Salzburg’s beautiful bridges, we walked the bustling streets to Mozart’s birthplace.

While everyone was enjoying lunch and some free time, I snuck out and went on one of my typical long hikes to the other side of town to find the one small Shul that still exists for the very small Jewish community that is left in Salzburg. It was about a half hour brisk walk but well worth it, because as I mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I do not visit Europe unless I find something Jewish to do there. The Shul is a reconstruction of the modest Shul that existed there before the War when it was destroyed.

Although Salzburg never had a big Jewish community like Vienna, Budapest, and some of the other places we visited, I should point out that while hiking the narrow streets of the old town to Mozart’s birthplace, we passed Judengasse where the original Jewish ghetto once existed.

For those who have an interest in Hollywood, no visit to Salzburg is complete without seeing some of the sites associated with the movie The Sound of Music. While we did not have time to see most of them, we did see the Pavilion in Hellbrunn where Von Trapp proposed to Maria.

BUDAPEST

Budapest the capital of Hungary is also one of the great Jewish communities of Jewish history. Today, the Jewish community numbers close to 100,000 despite the events of World War II and is one of the largest in Europe. Arriving on boat by the Denube, everyone gathered on the open upper deck of the boat to zoom in on taking photos of the magnificent parliament building, perhaps the most significant architectural landmark of Budapest, visible from miles away.

As we went on a bus tour of some of the best sites of Budapest, we passed the beautiful Opera House, and I resolved to return as soon as I had free time to try to take a tour, and not to make the same mistake as happened in Vienna, where by the time I got to Vienna’s famous Opera House, I missed the last tour. Free time is often spent spontaneously as one tries to find your way around, often winging it, hiking, or grabbing public transportation of taxies, whatever works. I returned to the parliament to try to take a tour, but it was closed for a NATO conference, and security barred my entry.

On Friday night, I invited members of our group to join me for services at Budapest’s Great Synagogue known as the Dohany Street Synagogue. It is the largest in Europe, and the second largest in the world. Its two onion domes are a landmark of Budapest, visible from far away. For those who like synagogues, visiting this Shul is an experience like no other. For those who have visited great churches and cathedrals around the world, you might say that this Synagogue is Cathedral-like. While Judaism has many significant synagogue structures, there are few of this grandeur or majesty. I have been privileged to visit synagogues in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Florence, Italy, which are compatible in majesty, but this one is much larger. For example, there are two balconies for women, so that it accommodates almost as many women as men. Most of the year, they do not use it because it is too big. They use the smaller but still beautiful Hereos Temple, on the grounds right next to it. I was gratified to notice that included in the plethora or tourist memorabilia that one sees all over Budapest, anything architectural- including great buildings of Budapest, also depicts the Great Synagogue amongst Budapest’s other great buildings like the Opera House, St. Stephen’s Basilica, many Art Nouveau buildings.

Members of our group were exhausted, as we were nearing the end of our tour, and they were worried that by the time we returned from services, dinner would be over. So I went alone, and I am thrilled that I did. The synagogue is neither Orthodox nor Conservative nor Reform, it is a unique Hungarian variation called Neolog. It is somewhere between Conservative and Orthodox- men and women are separated but there is no partition (the balconies are only used when there are very large crowds); only men sing in the choir, and an organ is used on Shabbat and holidays, but it is played by a non-Jew.

There were only about 75 people there on Friday night, in a sanctuary that seats over 3,000. Sitting across the aisle from me was a lovely, attractive young French Jewish lady from Paris. I noticed she was crying, I asked her if I could help. She told me she was there to say Kaddish for her father, whose Yahrzeit it was. She had recently lost her husband, and I felt badly that I could invite her to join us for Friday night dinner on the boat, so that she would not have to be alone on Shabbat. One cannot bring guests onto the boat as the boat was full. This lady was a senator in the European Parliament.

I asked someone why there was such a small crowd, and they answered that there are over 20 active synagogues all over Budapest, and people have many choices where to attend services. Some prefer smaller, more intimate places.

The service was very traditional with many familiar melodies. As in several other European countries, the Nusach (traditional melody motifs) included more major keys than East-European synagogues use under the influence of central-European synagogues (German, Austrian, etc.). Having grown up Orthodox, I thought the grand organ would bother me and be church-like; but frankly, it fit in and blended with the cantor and the choir. The combination of the organ, the acoustics, and the placement of the choir above the arch, below the curved ceiling, compounded together to make the choir sound like there were at least thirty voices. In actuality, there probably were ten or less singers. I left before Kiddush to get back the the boat in time for dinner, but pledged to return for Shabbat morning. At dinner, I regaled members of our group with stories of this most unique experience I would not want to miss for anything. I teased Jerry Russell who is our Synagogue Gabbi, that I had signed him up to be Gabbi next morning, and that he needed to be fit, because traversing the 3,000 seat sanctuary to hand out honors on Shabbat morning, would probably cause him to cover a mile or two in so doing. We still joke about this.

On Shabbat morning, there were about 50 people present. It was somewhat depressing. I am not sure why they use this building when such a small crowd gets obviously lost. The service was similar to Friday night, very traditional, some familiar melodies etc. Again I did not stay for Kiddush as much as I wanted to, as I had to many places I wanted to go on my agenda, and since it was Shabbat, I preferred to walk. The rest of that afternoon, which was free time for our group, I walked many miles following my map and saw fascinating places such as the Opera House, Gresham Palace, which is now the Four Seasons Hotel, with its magnificent lobby and stunning wroth-iron and stain-glass decorations and ceiling, and the amazing Museum of Applied Arts designed by the architect Lechner, the founder of Hungarian Art Nouveau.

In our hotel lobby, I noticed amongst tourist brochures that there was an interesting concert taking place in a palatial theatre. A few members of our group immediately signed up, and we were treated to a fabulous concert by the Danube Symphony, including a special instrument called a Cimbalom. It looks a bit like a console panel, with exposed strings like a harp, played with drum sticks covered with what looked like hair or string. The concert was a real treat. The orchestra was surprisingly large, maybe 40-50 players, including music associated with the area with composers like Berlioz, Bartok, Haydn, Lehar, Liszt, Kodaly, and of course Strauss. This is the first time I had seen or heard the Cimbalom.

In front of the parliament is one of the most moving memorials for Jews and all people, The Shoes On The Danube Memorial. It is dedicated to the thousands of Jews who were murdered right there, fell into the bloody river and froze. There are 60 pairs of rusted shoes sculpted of iron including children’s shoes. It is jarring. It cannot be missed as it is right in front of Parliament. Both the Hebrew and Hungarian plaques refer only to victims and not Jews.

On Sunday, we did our Jewish tour. Fortunately, most sites are in one area, beginning with the Great Synagogue, the beautiful restored Orthodox Kazinczy Synagogue which was one of the first heated buildings in the world, the ducts still visible from the floor, and the Rumbach Moorish Octagonal Synagogue, which tragically is not restored and is not used as a Synagogue any more.

On the grounds of the Great Synagogue are the Jewish Museum, the emotive Tree of Life, the Hereos Temple, and the Raoul Wallenberg Park, even though everything was closed together, we did a huge amount of walking and standing, and I was gratified by our group enduring this marathon as I was throughout our entire hour and entire trip, which was ambitious, extensive, and exhausting.

A fitting climax and conclusion to this amazing trip was our closing Kosher dinner at the lovely Carmel Restaurant in the Jewish area. I highlight of the dinner, besides the food was a guest appearance by Karyn Posner-Mullen who is the counselor for Public Affairs at the US Embassy in Budapest. She is an avid activist on behalf of Judaism and does incredible work both as a representative of the US, and as a Jew. Her stories of being a Jew in this part of the world were riveting. I urged her if she had the inclination to come to our Synagogue as a guest speaker, and I believe this would be an amazing program if she is ever able to come.

This was a highlight of an amazing two-week adventure into thousands of years of Euopean-Jewish history, and a fitting conclusion. Next morning, we all returned worn-out to Toledo with stories, anecdotes, pictures, memorabilia, videos, which we hope to share at a reunion at the end of the summer of 2015. We all returned enriched and inspired by what we observed- from a Jewish perspective, the resilience of our People, who time and again have bounced back and rebuilt lives and communities in the direst circumstances as observed in the above communities.

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Prague ancient Jewish Cemetery

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Cantor Lichterman at the grave of the Great Rabbi of Prague known as the Maharal from 1600

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Salzburg, Austria, birthplace of Mozart

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Mozart’s birthplace

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Mozart’s birthplace

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Synagogue in Salzburg, Austria

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The Maizel Synagogue Prague, Czech Republic

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The oldest synagogue in the world in constant use The Altneu Synagogue in Prague, Czech Republic

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Categories: Israel Trip 2013 | Leave a comment

CBI Toledo Europe Mission 2015

Categories: Israel Trip 2013 | Leave a comment

CBITOLEDO MISSION TO EUROPE MAY 2015

CBI JEWISH MISSION TO EUROPE MAY 5 – 18, 2015

INTRO
I have been working with Lee and Gail Kwait for over a year now to put together this eagerly anticipated Jewish heritage mission to Europe. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and time and making connections to pull something like this off and trying to satisfy a divergent group each of whom has different needs and interests is complicated to say the least. But the Kwaits and I led a mission to South Africa recently which was fantastically successful so on request from people who heard about the South African tour we decided to offer this followup. There are several repeat participants on this mission from our last trip.

It’s been a few days already since we departed Toledo for Europe. Except for a little free time here & there it’s been exhausting so I have had no time to blog unfortunately. When we finally check in at night from long days, as exhausted as I am I work on planning the next day and researching the Jewish components so often I don’t get to sleep till late at night, then the next day I am usually first so I can make sure along with our other tour leaders that everyone is where they are supposed to be…

PRAGUE
As a fan of architecture and history Prague in the Czech Republic is a dream. Unscathed and not bombed during World War II everything is intact though over 40 years of Communist rule brought some neglect but it’s been restored to its former glory as one of the most beautiful and great cities of the world with intact buildings dating back as much as 800 years.

Similarly much of the Jewish heritage is also intact making it a great treasure though the reason is sinister and chilling as the Nazis planned Prague’s Jewish area as ‘The Museum To The Extinct Jewish Race!’ Consequently they have the largest Judaica collection in the world and many magnificent synagogues within close proximity to each other. This is very different to for example Poland particularly Warsaw which was a Jewish community many times larger than Prague (350,000 vs 58000 Jews) and Germany where almost everything was destroyed and obliterated.

HIGHLIGHTS TO DATE
The 3 experiences that stand out most in my mind are our visit to Terezin Ghetto/Concentration Camp, the many shuls we visited and Friday night shabbat service followed by dinner which I will now describe in more detail. I have visited Auschwitz Birkenau twice for missions so when I mentioned to my mother we were going to Terezin she said compared to the death camps where she and my father were interred in the war, “Terezin was a picnic!”

PERSPECTIVE
Although this jarring remark by mother is very realistic I would say that going to any place where our People were concentrated for the eventual purpose of destruction, is an equally sickening and sobering experience. I actually was not planning to go to Terezin and thought I would stay with those of our group who did not want to go and we’d do some fun sightseeing. But when 18 of 19 members of our group signed up to go, I wasn’t go to leave them as I am the spiritual leader of our group so I prepared an appropriate service to conclude our visit, as one cannot leave a place like Terezin without some “separation” and spiritual upliftment.

TEREZIN
The sick thing about this sad place is that it’s an old Czech fortress town from which the local general population was expelled to create a “holding” place, a temporary transit point for Jews from the area till its inmates could be transferred to their next “destination” often Auschwitz or other such places, most resulting in death.

I will not report any more on this visit except to say that after 5 grueling hours there, the climax occurred at the end. This was due to careful planning by our excellent guide Luba, a young Jew from the Ukraine who heads Precious Legacy Tours, and myself. I asked her for an appropriate place where we could do our short ceremony I planned for the conclusion and she said she had the perfect place.

CEREMONY
About 20 years ago a tiny hidden secret synagogue was found there with beautiful painted biblical quotes of inspiration such as beseeching God to hear our prayers, and Stars of David painted on the walls. It was a secret shul. So we did our readings and chants there including Kaddish, poems by the children of Terezin, and concluding with Hatikvah. I was impressed everyone remembered to bring the service I had Includes in the packs each person had received from me for the trip with all kinds of pertinent materials and articles on all the places on our itinerary etc.

I had texted my wife Jan to tell her we were going to Terezin. Jan who was supposed to go on the trip but had to cancel due to family emergency, texted me an inspirational note I shared with our group during the service, which mentioned that our son Mayron who is a surgical resident in Michigan had just received some prestigious medical awards, and she added, ” they tried to kill your lineage…so as much as they tried to get rid of us we are excelling and achieving!”

Everyone in our group cheered and clapped, it was a deeply emotional moment for us all, specially for me who lost 100s of relatives in the war and a half sister aged 4. As Lee Kwait read the poem I Never Saw Another Butterfly written by a young boy in Terezin who perished, he could hardly finish reading, we were all choked up…but left with the words ringing in our ears of Hatikvah “lih’yot am chofshi b’artseinu….to be a free people in our land…”

PS we have just crossed the border by bus from the Czech Republic into Germany as I write this!!

THE JEWISH AREA OF PRAGUE
Concentrated in one small area of Prague where the Jewish ghetto once was, are an ancient Jewish cemetery as well as 6 impressive synagogues and a beautiful building of the Chevrah Kadisha – the Jewish Burial Society which played a vital social services and Tsedaka role in the community. In addition a little further away is the magnificent Jerusalem Synagogue which was not on our tour as its too far but I went there in the morning during free time and am sure glad as its magnificent. It is still in use as are several others although the community is tiny compared to pre-war, a few 1000.

Described in local literature as ‘the most beautiful synagogue in Europe’ is the Spanish Synagogue so called because of its magnificent Moorish architecture. It is very reminiscent of Florence Italy’s synagogue though much smaller but both rank amongst the most beautiful in the world without question. We took lots of photos outside too by the weird statue of Franzen Kafka, the famed Jewish writer about whom Prague jokes ‘everyone’s heard of him no one has read him.’ This saying we learnt from our tour guide from Precious Legacy Tours Luba who was outstanding and deserves special mention as having a good make makes a huge difference on tour.

Also awe inspiring is the Alt-Neu Shul, the oldest in the world in constant use (except during the Second World War) dating from 1270, yes just imagine standing in this holy space where over 750 years our People have continuously davened to Hashem!! By the ark is the 400 year old seat of the great legendary saintly tsadik Rabbi Judah Loew known as The Maharal, So integral is he to Prague history that a statue attributed to him stands in front of city hall. Next to the Altneu Shul is the Jewish town hall with its famous Hebrew clock.

The cemetery close by has 1000s of graves on top of each other as they ran out of room, including the Maharal’s grave.

PINKAS SYNAGOGUE HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL
On all the walls of this Shul are inscribed the names of every Jew from Czechoslovakia who perished in the Shoah some 78000 names filling every corner of every wall including lobby, corridors etc. Other than names the building is deliberately and starkly bare except for an outline of ark & bimah..it is as powerful as visiting Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. I am so glad our group had the following experience described in my next paragraphs after exiting this memorial…

SHABBAT SERVICE IN PRAGUE
We concluded our Jewish experience here with an amazing coincidental climax by returning to the Spanish Shul for Friday night service followed by kosher shabbat dinner at the Solomon Restaurant. We had no idea what to expect at the service ~ I had contacted them and they said they were expecting 1 other group but when we arrived there weren’t many seats. I asked if they could bring out more and they said they thought it would be enough as at that point there were some 50 people which was all they were expecting but the crowd just kept growing with mostly young people and growing till there were some 150 or so packed in and they ran out of chairs and siddurim. We started 20 minutes late. It was a typical Conservative service very similar to Reform so our group were familiar with and able to follow the service and sing along and men and women sat together.

A RARE HONOR
I introduced my group to the service leader who was a regular congregant from Ukraine (I don’t know if they have a Rabbi or Hazzan) and he asked me to sing the various Kaddish prayers which I was glad to oblige as singing there is a hugely emotional experience and honor.

The acoustics were fantastic and I could hear my voice reverberating off the arches of the magnificent structure. When the leader asked people where they were from we were happily amazed to find some young Jews knowledgeable of the service singing at the tops of their voices filling this great Shul with davening from all over Eastern Europe including Warsaw Poland where my family is from, Rumania etc.

DEATH TO LIFE
Keeping the flame of Judaism alive in these places where it almost disappeared is a real kiddush Hashem – a sanctification of God’s name. What a contrast to the ghostly walls of the bare Pinkas Shul we had beheld a mere hour before..the young people’s voices still ringing in my ears Lecha Dodi – Come my beloved…let us greet the shabbat queen…and these young people live where? In Israel? No! In America? No! In Poland, in Rumania, Hungary, Czech…Ezekiel’s dry bones coming to life vision!

SHABBAT DINNER
Dinner at the Solomon was delicious – traditional Jewish chicken soup, beef over cholent etc but more inviting than heimishe cousine was joining with the group next to us of French Jews as we sang together with great ruach zemirot and Israeli songs and I grabbed one of them & we danced ecstatically at the joy of bringing together Jews with from all over the world in this great place once called by some ‘the museum of the extinct Jewish race…!!

GERMANY –
REGENSBURG
First stop here was Regensburg, a beautiful historical college town well preserved of centuries of history dating back to Rome. I only felt it worthwhile to do these countries so associated with Jewish suffering if we were going to do experience something positively Jewish so I set out during free time to find the Shul which I did with no problem, bumping into Joanne Rubin and Leah Connor exploring the town, whom I took along to find the Shul that was nearby.

It was locked of course, no security. There were 4 call buttons on the gate. I pressed them continually never being one to give up quickly. As Joanne and Leah began to leave a woman’s voice answered. I identified ourselves and our mission and soon the front door opened and a custodian opened for us. We explored the whole Jewish center and took photos. It is in the building that before the War housed the community offices. This survived though the Shul part of the complex burnt down on Kristalnacht. There is a new center which they are going to enlarge as it is too small to accommodate the reemergent community now numbering 1000 with the influx of Russian Jews as all over Germany.

MIZRACH
Later as our whole group toured the town, we saw 2 sights of Jewish interest – Oskar Schindler’s home and a Holocaust memorial on the sight of a former ancient synagogue which was revealed recently through excavations. The memorial is by an Israeli sculptor and in the place where the ark stood is a stone with the Hebrew word mizrach – meaning ‘east’ carved, symbolizing the direction of Jerusalem but also meaning to shine as in light shining, the intent being for people to dwell in harmony. It was Sunday, the weather was perfect and the memorial was filled with many young people relaxing and enjoying the bright sunshine…I wonder if they grasp the significance of that once holy place or the word mizrach?.

When I told our group about the Shul some wanted to see it so I took them before retiring to the boat to depart Regensburg.

SMALL WORLD
Two amazing coincidences – in Prague we stopped in the old town for lunch at a small local cafe when a woman jumped up and yelled ‘IVOR’ – it was Judy Gatchell from my former synagogue in Tucson whom I met 15 years ago when she needed a mohel for her grandson. We had reconnected last year when she attended a concert and scholar in residence program I did there. It was emotional to see her here in the middle of Prague – I told her we were going to the Conservative synagogue Friday night so she came too and said how much she enjoyed hearing me singing there…a long way from Arizona…

Second small world coincidence – the manager of our boat which by the way is gorgeous, brand new one month old – is a Hungarian who spent 14 years in Cape Town and married a South African and lived about 12 blocks from my mother in a city of 4 million!

OFF TO DINNER
On the boat you dare not miss a meal –
it’s a religious ritual –
Shouldn’t be a problem – I am religious and I know ritual, right?
Wrong – these buffets are chaos –
you can’t find an entrance to the line –
have to push your way in –
like they’re going to run out of food?
It extends round and round – like a wedding ring – no beginning no end
Like a merrygoround.
All 181 people on board attack simultaneously…
my African background should come in handy, that animal instinct of the jungle –
see a target? See food. Haven’t eaten in an hour. Attack! attack! Claw your way Cantor
come on don’t be shy…
thought I’d go in the reverse order but even starting with dessert doesn’t help –
the line extends beyond that too.
Might as well just wait it out
but by then everyone at your table’s all done and you’re left holding the bag…
Tomorrow morning there will be breakfast, won’t there?

Categories: Israel Trip 2013 | Leave a comment

Some concluding thoughts from our amazing June 2013 Israel Confirmation trip

Its been 2 days since we returned home from Israel.  I am up most of the night as my mind and body think its day and during the day they think its night! This has been a most exhilirating 8 days. I was privileged to lead 17 of our Confirmation students and 2 adult chaperones who joined me on the trip of a lifetime.

No doubt each of us especially the children, all but 2 visiting Israel for the 1st time, have come back changed Jewishly in the most positive way forever. Many want to return soon to visit, study…many rated the trip 11 on a scale of 1 – 10 and though its possible their answers were tainted by my posing the question directly to them face to face, I am getting feedback that this is their genuine feeling.

Monday June 17th at our final farewell dinner at Tel Aviv’s wonderful Maganda restaurant, I asked each participant to say 1 nice thing they enjoyed on the trip about the person sitting next to them, seating having been random as they entered the restaurant. What emerged from this exercise was a revelation, for example 1 participant said about their neighbor that they had known him all their life since preschool and never said a word to them in all these years,  now they realized what a great person he was and wanted to be friends, hang out etc. Our whole group bonded into a tight family, a great by-product of the trip, besides a deeper understanding of their Judaism and appreciation of Israel.

I would like to cite last weekend as an example of the wealth and intensity of our students’ experiences: in a matter of 3 short days they were exposed to what most Jews don’t experience their entire lives:-

  • Friday morning we laid tefilin at the Kotel, put prayer notes in the Wall, explored the excavations and walked the narrow stoned streets of the Old City where our greatest sages poured forth pearls of Torah and Talmudic brilliance.
  • Friday night at sunset we joined the throngs again at the Kotel. We held our own service away from the Wall so boys and girls could join together equally, as the Kotel is segregated in Orthodox tradition. Then we joined 100s of Israeli soldiers dancing euphorically to Am Yisrael Chai! There must have been 10,000 Jews from the most ardent to secular there, plus some non-Jews who came to witness this miracle of Israeli and Jewish rebirth.
  • Saturday we attended the service at the Italian Sephardic Synagogue which houses a 400 year old ark and furniture from the former synagogue in Conegliano Veneto near Venice, which was sent to Jerusalem in 1951. I wanted the students to observe a service so different from ours, we did not recognize a single melody and some words and customs are also different.
  • Then for contrast we attended the nearby Ashkenazic Great Synagogue, known for its splendor, its hazzanut and choir. After the service their executive director, a dear friend of mine Rabbi Zev Lanton explained the symbolism of the synagogue to our group and pointed out the magnificent historical mezuzah collection.
  • We had a sumptuous picnic lunch at the beautiful Hapaamon Park by the Windmill and toured historical sights like the King David Hotel and architecturally significant YMCA building.
  • Sunday we hiked the snake path up Matsada and learnt the amazing history of this last bastion holdout against the Romans, followed by a float in the Dead Sea and camel rides and dinner at Abraham’s Tent which recreated life at the time of Abraham.
  • Monday morning Yad Vashem, a solemn tour of the Holocaust Museum, ending in our own ceremony during which I shared stories and articles about my parents and sister who were in the Shoah, to personalize it for our group.
  • An hour later we were at the shores of the Mediterranean at old Jaffa and modern Tel Aviv where we witnessed Ben Gurion’s declaration of independence at Independence Hall. The guide dramatically illustrated that after World War II everyone had a place to go home to except the displaced Jewish refugees of Europe. Now we do.

From the Kotel to Matsada, from Yad Vashem to Israel’s Declaration of Independence, our group experienced the lows and highs of 4000 years of Jewish history and modern Israel’s dynamic miracle. We all want to return now!

Here are some memorable associations from our trip:- (inside jokes)

Bari – would you switch seats with me? Always nice

Ben – our blog guru kicked out of 3 stores in the shuk for overeager bargaining

Daniel – hay what’s up Mindel? Anyone have some scissors?

Deena – tell me if you see a walking stick for my Dad’s stupid collection! Back to the Ahava store

Emma – Israeli lookalike blended well with local population

Jennie – I can take care of myself,  I burn easily

Jolie – perpetual smile

Jonathan – got spat on in the shuk for saying shabbat shalom to wrong religion

Josh Brody – Dad can I shower in your room, Sababa? Where does he put all that food?

Josh Sherman – 1st one up Matsada (under 21 minutes), went up to find Molly but she wasn’t there

Kayla – ayfoh hasheirutim? No never mind

Kyle – # 1,  salty diet,  cool shades

Lauren – conscience of the group

Morgan – aka Mindel, always polite, considerate, Brody’s cushion

Nathan – Mr Nice Guy

Noah – great speech about Ilan at farewell dinner, time to call/text Ann

Sari – I gotta keep an eye on my mom

Security at front desk – I don’t do toilet paper

Jill – a decent shower and some fries with it – prefers Dead Sea to Agron Hostel

Stuart – is it cocktail hour?

Ilan our guide – shuttup! They’ll catch up.

Alex our driver – take your feeeet off my seats!!

Hazzan – number off – stick together – curfew at midnight – time to daven, let’s put on tefilin – listen up – you guys are great!

Favorite expressions, words, names etc…

fizzybubbly, Mindel, Vered, can we switch Ilan for Rose? WHERE’S MOLLY? Been replaced by Rose at the olive oil factory.

Categories: Israel Trip 2013 | 1 Comment

Welcome – Beruchim Haba’im

I’d like to welcome  you to my blog which has been inaugurated in time for my trip to Israel February 2012 to participate in a Toledo Jewish Federation Congregational Leadership Mission under the auspices of The Jewish Agency Partnership 2Gether.

I hope to report as often as possible about the trip from our region, the Western Galilee and anywhere else the trip takes us.  So check back on this blog for updates and news and some photos. I am an avid photographer so as soon as I have the opportunity I will share pictures for your interest and enjoyment.

I am most grateful to the Federation for this opportunity, particularly since its been way too long since the last time I was in Israel and I am anxious to see the progress Israel has made since I was last there as well as to experience 1st hand programs of the Partnership and meet panim el panim with some of the wonderful people who make this all possible.

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My Synagogue Congregation B’nai Israel, Sylvania, Ohio

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