Saturday July 30, 2011
by Laura Scavo
Shabbat Shalom SOS! We woke up late and almost missed layning, but luckily we made it just in time. Yoni, Jesse, Daniel, Reuben, Aviad, and Noah Horn did wonderfully with their portions, each one reading beautifully and receiving subtle thumbs-ups from the girls. We had Kiddush with members of the synagogue and had the opportunity to visit and learn about the oldest synagogue in Greece, Etz Chaim, which is 100 years old. It was very interesting since it was set up with the aron ha’kodesh and the bima at opposite ends of the room since the synagogue was designed according to Romaniot customs. Rabbi Tessler commented on how nice the arrangement of benches in the men’s section was, as they were positioned so that members of the congregation were across from each other. The president of the Jewish community of Athens, Benjamin Alabas, also spoke to us about how much he appreciated our efforts in helping the Greek Jewish community. He hopes that Greek teens will be able to participate and attend the SOS trip in the coming years.
We had lunch at the newly opened Chabad center, which we had attended for dinner on Friday night. Rabbi Mendel Hendel, who had planned and supervised the creation of the center, joined us for both meals and told us about his plans for the future of the Jewish community in Athens in regards to the center. He hopes for it to be a sort of community center, with Shabbat meals every week, a kosher supermarket, and learning rooms for the community to learn more about Judaism. We were lucky enough to attend the first meal hosted by the center on Friday. We ate, sang, introduced each attendee of the meal, and learned about the Torah portion of the week, which had to do with journeys. The main emphasis was that it is important to appreciate both the journey and the stops taken along the way. This relates to our trip in a very personal way, as we spend a lot of time traveling to get to our destinations. Everything from long bus rides to rest stops can be meaningful, as we have come to know each other from spending time together on boats and planes and buses, and we have become closer from braving public restrooms together and taking care of each other when someone is really thirsty but forgot the Euro required to buy a drink. We’ve come to realize that the travels and pit stops along the way are sometimes just as meaningful as the planned activities we participate in. An example of this occurred later in the day, after we had a break at the hotel.
After having slept very little the week before, Shabbat was the one chance many of us had to catch up. The rest of us, however, had other plans. My room, along with the other girls’ rooms, was awakened multiple times what sounded like and turned out to be a very enjoyable and rowdy game of Apples to Apples taking place in one of the boys’ rooms.
After our brief free time, we learned some Gemara at Seudah Shlishi. The section was about a Rabbi who, in a time of either emotional or physical illness, turned to another Rabbi for help. At a later time, the latter Rabbi needed help, and he received it from another. And so on. We learned from this that having someone who cares can mean the world to someone in need. Our discussions included the interpretation of the phrase “give me your hand”, which the Rabbis told each other when they were ready to help. Aviva noted that the text did not say let me help you or something to that effect, but specifically referred to physically taking the hand. She related this to our experience at the various homes for the elderly we have visited, as at each the people we met were eager to hold our hands while they talked to us. Rabbi Tessler told us that animals that are raised with limited access to physical touch were less prone to affection than those raised with more. He noted that as the trip has progressed, we SOSers have become accustomed to high fiving each other and rubbing each other on the shoulder or back during our more emotional experiences in an effort to comfort one another. He said that this really shows how we have come to care for each other and, in our own way, have become a sort of family (a slightly dysfunctional one, but a caring one none the less).
Noah Somekhian told the very moving story of his father’s experiences of making a life for himself in America in relation to his study of a portion of the Pirkei Avot, a section about knowing where one comes from. After arriving from Iran as a young teen, Mr. Somekhian had to work extraordinarily hard to make a living while dealing with being separated from his parents, who stayed behind. Noah said that his father found the strength to continue to believe in G-d, knowing that in the end his efforts would pay off and he would eventually gain the happiness that he deserved. Years later, when visiting the office of a social worker with his parents as they began their journey of making a life in America, Mr. Somekhian met his wife and is now happy with a wonderful family.
We then began discussing what we are getting out of the trip. Throughout our travels, we have experienced some very intense emotions, from laughing together while dancing at the Greek Taverna to crying together at cemeteries. These shared experiences have brought us very close together, creating a more intense sense of community than I have ever experienced anywhere else. Being one of the, if not the, only teen to attend a public school, I have classmates that are not Jewish and some who are not pro-Israel. One question that has stuck with me was posed by a boy in one of my classes this past year: Why can Israelis go back to where they were before World War II? This trip, along with the SOS trip to Spain last year which I also attended, have helped me to answer this question for myself. When we were in Spain last year, we ate a steady diet premade sandwiches and Kashi bars, got strange looks when walking to synagogue, and had to go through security before entering the synagogue. When we arrived in Israel, we could eat just about anything we wanted, walked to synagogue on Shabbat with hundreds of other Jews, and felt comfortable walking the streets with Kipot. While Europe is nowhere near as bad as it was during World War II when it comes to anti-Semitism, it is also nowhere near the ideal environment for practicing Jews to live. I didn’t realize how important and incredible Israel was until my experience last year, and I believe that even the most traveled of our group will have a similar emotional experience when we arrive in Israel on Monday.
That was my contribution to the discussion. Everyone had incredible and deep insights that will last with all of us for a long time, and by the end of the meeting, which included an incredible makeshift dinner of Kashi bars, Nutella or Tuna sandwiches and oreos put together by Rabbi and Aviva Tessler, all of the girls were in tears and the group sang and swayed, arms over shoulders, together.
After the emotional evening, we had Havdalah and ventured out to the Plaka. While entering the subway, Rebecca and Daniel, while attempting to take a picture together, tripped and fell at the top of the escalator. It was, in Rebecca’s words, “Hilarious!” after we discovered all parties were involved, of course.
The night concluded with ice cream on the roof of a shop, gazing at the beautifully lit Acropolis.