Sunday July 24 – Thessaloniki
By Daniel Berglas
After a meaningful goodbye to the Greek campers we were on our way to Thessaloniki. We stopped for lunch where we all went around and spoke about highlights of the camp experience. Amongst the highlights included, appreciating how hard the Jewish people in Greece are trying to hold on to their Jewish traditions, despite the challenges and the tragedies that are part of their history. We visited the Jewish Museum in Thessaloniki and learned in detail about the destruction of the Jewish community in Thessaloniki which was a stronghold of Jewish life. The Jewish community of Thessaloniki (Salonica) in 1943 numbered at 52,000. Ninety-eight percent of the Jews in Thessaloniki were murdered in only 6 months in Auschwitz. There were 30 thriving shuls before the war and now there is barely a minyan to support one shul. It’s an odd thing to see that a city that was predominantly Jewish, economically and socially, was destroyed and just a flicker of anything visually Jewish remains. Following the museum, we checked into the hotel in the center of town. After a one hour rest, we boarded the bus and headed to the Old Jewish People’s Home. The elderly people were very happy to see us and were very appreciative that we came. Despite our language barrier, we connected on extremely high levels with these Holocaust survivors through hand holding, tears and many hugs. There was one woman from France by the name of Sylvia, with numbers on her arm from Auschwitz who touched me deeply. She lost her entire family in the Shoah. Her tears and emotions had an impact on everyone in the room and the sadness penetrated all of us. As we broke into song and Sylvia had smiles on their faces, I understood what a mitzvah we were doing by coming to visit these people. All of the traditional Jewish songs and all of us holding hands connected us in ways that words could never do. Many of us became very emotional and it seemed like these elderly Holocaust survivors were the ones comforting us and telling us to be strong and to cherish what we have. They blessed us to be successful and to have families of our own. On the bus ride back there was a big contrast to that of what we felt in the summer camp. In the Old People’s Home, we saw faces of those who survived the worst atrocities, a kind of Hell on earth and in the summer camp we saw the effort to sustain Jewish life in Greece. It was a powerful contrast.
We then went for dinner a new kosher restaurant in Thessaloniki. It is so nice to see that such a nice restaurant opened up in this historically strong Jewish community. The food was delicious with a choice of schnitzel or hamburger, plus a dessert – a one year anniversary (of going out) cake for Saphira and Aviad. We davened mincha in the restaurant and then headed back to the hotel accompanied by the Chief Rabbi of Thessaloniki, Rabbi Eliyahu Sheetrit. The Rabbi gave us a shiur at the hotel when we returned. After the tiring day, both emotionally and physically, I feel asleep when my head hit the pillow.
Mom, dad, Tehila, Shmueli and Eli – I miss you guys very much and am excited to see you in Israel when you arrive there.