Day 9

Dalia ~ Thursday morning we woke up to have our usual breakfast outside. (Madi woke up early that morning to go to a Croatian market with Roni, our wonderful guide and she really liked it!) We then drove to the airport and we said thank you to Roni and we all shared our thoughts on the trip. We also discussed that if we were the seven dwarfs what our names would be. The Rabbi would be sleepy because he would fall asleep on the car rides. Aviva would be Mommy because she is always taking care of us like she is our mom. Zoe would be named Drooley because when she would fall asleep on the van Roni would say that she was drooling. (Disclaimer: Zoe doesn’t actually drool) Madi would be named chatty because she loves to chat with Roni while he drives. Tali would be called Sneaky because she is very sneaky when she plays card games. Miri would be named Singy because she loves to sing Les Mis songs with Zoe. I would be named happy because everybody thinks that I am happy.  Roni would be named Grumpy but not actually because we were joking around that he is grumpy when we sing while he is driving. Truthfully I think he loves our singing and probably misses it now that we’re gone, he even took Zoe’s Nutella as his copilot.  We arrived at the airport and unpacked the trunk.  Before boarding the plane we explored the one Duty Free shop and played spit. We then boarded the plane to Turkey and luckily there was a working entertainment system and everybody watched a movie.  We arrived in Turkey and we had four hours to spend in the airport. We shopped, played cards, went to Starbucks and played more cards. (I should mention that when I say playing cards I am mainly referring to Tali and Zoe’s intense games of spit).  We then boarded the plane and were lucky enough to be able to spread out among the empty seats. We were also fortunate to listen to the safety instruction in three different languages.  Again we watched movies during the plane – although most of us had to finish our previous movie since the previous flight wasn’t long enough for anyone’s movie.  We arrived in the airport and stood waiting for the customs line to move but eventually we lost patience and began moving around. We then picked up our bags and headed for the van. We drove to Raanana and arrived at Chez Tessler. We sat down for a bit and then walked to a pizza store to eat some dinner. After we ate dinner we walked home to shower and get ready for bed. We were excited to realize that there was a small leak upstairs – where we were sleeping and the floor had to be mopped. Aviva, Tali, Zoe and I drove to the supermarket to pick up groceries for us and for our Operation Embrace Shabbaton (see more Fri). We walked around the store looking for food to give to the families of the Shabbaton – these families are people who have been traumatized by an invasion of rockets. We also picked up some food for our breakfast and struggled looking for something free of nuts and sesame seeds and eventually we gave up. We were finally ready to check out at about 12:30. We waited in lines and we checked out our Shabbaton groceries first. Then we were fortunate enough to have had the register break down. Then someone dropped a glass bottle and it shattered and the cashiers were afraid the liquid would break down the system. Fortunately they didn’t just our register was broken. They spent a lot of time trying to fix it so Zoe and Tali took the first cart of groceries to the car. Eventually the cashier made us move our stuff to another register and we had a quick checkout. We then took the groceries to the car and headed home. (I won’t mention the time because our parents will probably have a stroke) We then had a midnight snack and had the chance to say hi to Saphira (the Tessler’s daughter) and then went to bed.

 

Posted in Croatia, Slovenia, Italy & Israel Summer 2013, Trip Blogs | Leave a comment

Day 8

Zoe ~ We woke up at another ungodly hour in the morning (around 7:30. It was not super pleasant). Us girlies went downstairs and davened shacharit (but for real), and then we ate another fantabulous breakfast of fruit, yogurt, corn flakes, bread, and nutella. Always the nutella, there’s always one for me and one for everyone else J. I have no idea what we would do without it. We got in the car and drove to the Lauder school where we met with two teachers, Maya and Silivia, who were both amazing women. They were both working very hard to put together the new kindergarten that is going to open in September. They then told us that we were going to be painting posters for the younger students. We decided to do all the holidays in Tishre and Shabbat, so Tali and I did Shabbat and Yom Kippur, Madi did Rosh Hashana, Miri did Sukkot, the rabbi and Aviva did a calendar, and Dalia did a welcome sign for the kindergarten. Tali and I were lucky enough to be working with two younger students from Zagreb, who came in to help us. One was named Swen, and the other was named Leon. Swen was going into 6th grade and Leon was going into 4th grade. Swen knew English extremely well, and he was translating for Leon. After a little while, Rabbi Dadon’s sons, Emanuel and Aviad joined us and also helped us with the signs. Aviad and Emanuels’ English was also very good. I am amazed at how well everyone can speak these different languages, because I am awful at learning a different language. They were all very nice (and according to the Rabbi and Aviva, Aviad and Emanuel were cute). After we finished with the art, Maya, one of the teachers, was telling us about her experience going to the memorial sight at Jasenovac just a few days ago. She told us how most of her family perished there, and she was not impressed with the memorial they had built. She said that they made it like any other memorial for the Holocaust.  It was just a museum and there was no real trace of so much pain and suffering.  Outside of the museum itself, there is a green meadow with a gorgeous lake, and it is just so peaceful, and she thinks that it does not really give justice to what happened there, and I agree in a way. If I passed that place in a car, I would never think that something that horrible happened there, and the point of all these memorials is that you are never supposed to forget. I don’t really know what my thoughts are on the subject. After we left the school, we got in the car and started on our way to Plitvice Lakes National Park. It was a two hour drive, and Tali and I sat in the front with Roni, our amazing guide and driver.  We sang for a little bit, but then we worried that Roni would throw us (or himself) out of the car, so we started playing the license plate game which was fun. We stopped for lunch at a water mill. We had more yogurt, tuna, bread, fruit, corn, salad, chips, and once again, Nutella. Seriously. I have no idea what I would do without it. I’m not even joking. We then went for a tour of the water mill which was super cool. We saw how grain got turned into fine flour, and we actually got to see how the water powered the mill. We continued on our way to Plitvice Lakes National Park, and when we got there, we went on a trolley ride to the top, and we walked down next to all the lakes which were absolutely astonishing. The water was so clear that you could see all the way to the bottom. On our way down, Roni told us that the water was okay to drink, so we all took a sip and it was the best, freshest water I have ever tasted. Unfortunately, Aviva waited until AFTER we had all taken a drink to tell us that there was a disease called the Plitvice syndrome. Joy.  I now know that she was joking.  We continued on our way to the bottom of the lakes, and it was just amazing. There are no words that can be used to describe the beauty of the place. We got back to the place we had started, and we decided to get ice cream, because ice cream is amazing. The rabbi ordered Aviva an ice coffee, and we sang her happy birthday, and the two of them shared a drink and it was the cutest thing ever, because there were two straws, and it was just wonderful. We got back on the bus, and made our way back to Zagreb.  I am writing this as it is happening, (writing on the van) so you are getting really great information here. You are welcome. Roni is right now teaching us about shifting gears. And now I am just typing my thoughts. For the next hour, you will be hearing my thoughts as I have them. Be excited about that. I am going to reflect a little bit about Croatia in general. I really like the place, and here, taking a coffee to go is just sacrilege. When you ask for a coffee to go, they look at you funny, and have to search for a while for a cup. Here, you can sit for hours at a coffee shop and drink your coffee, and no one bothers you. It is a very nice way of thinking because it teaches you to just enjoy life and not live for the future so much and enjoy the present. Also, people get around on bikes (motorcycles and bicycles), which is really nice because it is good for your health and good for the environment. Right now, Roni is singing, and it is the funniest thing ever, because he is singing in a falsetto voice. This is just fantastic. This is also history being made in front of my eyes. Right now, both Roni and Aviva are singing and dancing. It is quite hysterical. I think we are all giving them very strange looks. They are both very into it. I am actually kind of scared about both of their mental well beings. I hope they will be okay. OH MY GOODNESS. THERE IS A TINY DOG THAT IS RUNNING WITH A PERSON ON A BICYCLE. IT IS SUCH A SMALL DOG, AND SUCH A BIG BYCICLE. IT IS THE CUTEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN. Okay, so when the song ended that Roni and Aviva were rocking out to, Aviva went back to her calm, mommy state, and it became Roni and Tali’s mission to find another song to put Aviva “back in her jam”. We got back to the hotel, and we started eating dinner which Rabbi Pinny made, and it was fish, which, as we learned from Roni, is good for your brain. We went out to look for gelato, but we could not find a place that did not have some sort of nut problem, and since we like Miri in the non anaphylactic state, we decided we should probably find something else. On our way to find some hot chocolate or tea, we saw Aggi Dadon, Rabbi Dadon’s wife, and their daughter, Simcha. Both of them were really sweet, and I was again amazed at Simcha’s ability to understand English even though she was only seven. Dalia, Miri, and I taught Simcha how to play a couple games that we learned at camp while everyone else talked to Aggi. She was also very nice and I am really glad that we got a chance to meet almost their whole family. After we talked to the Dadons, we found a little café where the kids had hot chocolate (that was literally chocolate that was hot) and the Rabbi and Aviva had Lattes. We discussed what we liked about Croatia, and everyone’s research effort about an important Jewish leader in Croatia. All in all, it was an amazingly fun day, and I hope that I get to visit Croatia soon again in the future. Hint hint, madre and padre.

Posted in Croatia, Slovenia, Italy & Israel Summer 2013, Trip Blogs | 1 Comment

Day 7

Miri’s blog ~Tuesday July 2 ~ This morning we went to the Jewish Elderly Home where we met with 5 Holocaust survivors. One of them, Eva, was a partisan who was captured 3 times by Italians and managed to escape from them every time. Bronco, who is from Hungary, showed us his amazingly accurate and realistic paintings.  Another survivor we spoke with, Miriam, had been a prisoner in the most brutal concentration camp in the area, Jasenovac, which we visited later in the day. We then drove to the Jewish Community Center. We met a few kids our age and spoke about our countries. They were very interested in Thanksgiving and our schools, and we explained to them what it is like to live in America. We then left for Jasenovac, and when we arrived we saw a beautiful field with a large stone flower in the center. We were then told that the camp had been destroyed in a bombing and the monument was built in the 1960’s in memory of those who were unable to make it out of the camp. All of us found it hard to believe that there had once been such a terrible camp there, because now the area looks very peaceful and beautiful. In the field we saw small hills and small pits. The hills represent where the prisoners worked and slept. The pits show where they were tortured and murdered. The museum that was next to the field showed former prisoners’ testimonials and even had the tools that the Ushtasha killed the prisoners with on exhibit: knives, mallets, axes, and hammers. The Ushtasha used these because they didn’t want to spend money on guns or gas chambers. The survivors in the testimonials explained how they and their families ended up in Jasenovac and how the breakouts were planned and carried through. The ceiling in the museum had the names of the known deceased of the camp. The museum guide showed us a published book with the names of 83,500 of prisoners that passed away. Many of the prisoners died due to the beatings, hard labor, (they were literally worked to death) or starvation. Families were separated, and women and children were sent to a camp 15 miles away called Stara Gradiska. Although there were no German Nazis there, Ushtasha being Croat Nazis, Jasenvoc is said to have been the camp with the worst killing methods. When we arrived back ate the hotel, we ate dinner provided by Rabbi Pinny from Zagreb.  Rabbi Kotel Dadon was also waiting for us at our hostel to meet us and speak to us. Rabbi Tessler and Aviva talked to us about leadership and we discussed leaders in the Torah such as Moshe Rabeinu. We then agreed to get a good night’s sleep since we have an exciting day tomorrow such as decorating the kindergarten of the Lauder School and going to Plitvice, a national park.

Posted in Croatia, Slovenia, Italy & Israel Summer 2013, Trip Blogs | Leave a comment

Day 6

Tali ~ Yesterday, we started off the day by going to the beach by the Adriatic Beach.  Zoe and Dalia took over the front of the bus.  They managed to entertain us with many songs, keeping all of us awake for the ride.  We took a stroll near the water for about 20 minutes and Zoe and I had a riff off with Dalia and Miri (a riff off is when a group of people sing a song and another group cuts them off with a different song with the same word).  It was a close call, but Zoe and I are convinced that we were the winners.  When we got to the actual beach, we bought a small ball and played volleyball on the beach.  We invited a boy named Bartel to play with us, and he helped Aviva, Zoe and Miri beat Madi, Dalia, and me. Then we went swimming in the water for a little bit while Aviva and Madi bought us some lunch in the market across the street.  After leaving the beach, we went to a museum that was about torpedoes, clocks, and the emancipation of the Jews.  The stories were really interesting of how people’s lives unexpectedly changed with the outbreak of World War II.  On the way to the hostel from the museum, we played geography with each letter of the alphabet.  We got through 7 rounds before we all started to fall asleep.  At the hostel we ate dinner and then went on a walk around town.  Rabbi Tessler officially joined Dalia and I as the caboose of the group.  Then we had a family meeting with the Rabbi and Aviva about the schedule and to reflect on what we did yesterday.  We also discussed what we would do if we were leaders of the Jewish community here-would we spend the money to send everyone to Israel or would we use it to try to expand and preserve the community.  Following the discussion, we all went to our rooms.  Zoe gave us all a private concert on her ukulele and after a few card games, we all went to sleep.

Posted in Croatia, Slovenia, Italy & Israel Summer 2013, Trip Blogs | Leave a comment

Day 5

Madi ~ This morning we woke up and went to the Jewish cemetery in Trieste where the head of the Jewish community in Trieste, showed us around. There was a Holocaust memorial and many ornate tombs, but our time there was shortened due to the many mosquitoes.  Then we went to see a Jewish summer camp where kids attend from the ages of one to fourteen.  It was so neat to see that here too, there was a place where Jewish children could come together and both learn about Judaism and enjoy exciting camp activities. After seeing the camp, Aviva joined us in a competitive game of soccer on the camp’s field. Then we went to the home of Helen Kropf, the mother of Gabriella, the owner of the bed and breakfast where we are staying.  There, she told us her story and the obstacles that she overcame as she went from Zagreb to Trieste to Assisi, in order to run away from the Nazis during the Second World War.  After hearing a unique and incredible story from a woman who has lived such a fascinating life, we went to a shopping mall and made ourselves lunch.  Then we went to Riviero di San Sabba, a detention center, where Jews and many others were held captive, killed, and treated brutally under fascist Italy. Afterwards, we went to Miramare castle, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, where we saw some of the most beautiful views that one might see.  Today was a day filled with both a ton of fun and learning.

Posted in Croatia, Slovenia, Italy & Israel Summer 2013, Trip Blogs | 1 Comment

Day 3 & 4

Zoe ~ Shabbat: June 28 and 29th

We walked from our little bed and breakfast to the Synagogue on Friday night, and the shul was gorgeous. It was a little room, and there were not many people, but it was really cool to hear all the different tunes they sang here. It was hard to follow along though, because the page numbers in the siddurs were not the normal ones and it was translated into Italian and not English, which makes sense because we are in Italy. After Kabbalat Shabbat, we walked to the Jewish old age home to eat dinner. During dinner, Rabbi Viterbo, who was a rabbi in Padua, Italy for more than 40 years, told us his story in Hebrew and then we sang Zemirot. We walked back to the hotel, and we played cards and bananagrams until the wee hours of the morning. In the morning, we had breakfast and went to shul. There were still not that many people, and we were still in the little room in the synagogue. After services, Rabbi Hadad who is the Chabad rabbi of both Trieste and Ljubljana, Slovenia, told us about the history of the synagogue. The main shul was gorgeous. It had huge domed ceilings, enormous pillars, and it echoed whenever someone talked. We then went to lunch back at the old age home, and we sang more zemirot. We met a survivor of Auschwitz, and she stayed longer during the lunch to hear us sing, and it was a really neat experience. Afterward, we took a walk to the port where there were many, many boats. The water was stunning, and so was the weather. We went back to the hotel for some rest, but the kids stayed up to play card games. After about an hour of playing cards, Aviva came into the room and we decided to eat dinner. When we were about to eat, we heard someone in the hall calling for help, and we saw that a couple had gotten stuck in the elevator. Someone who lived in the building already called the elevator maintenance person, but she could stay to wait for the person, so Maddie and I went down to wait for him while Aviva, the Rabbi, Tali, Dalia and Miri, stayed with the couple stuck in the elevator. The elevator repair person came, and the couple got out of the elevator, and we got to talk with them for a little while. They were art teachers from Canada, and they were really nice. They went back out, and all of us sat down and played cards. We taught the Rabbi and Aviva how to play go fish, and then we taught them how to keep a poker face. After Havdala, we went out for some gelato, and then we learned some Gemara. The gemara was in the tractate of Berachot and it was about doing chesed.  The main point of the gemara was that the rabbi in the gemara just wanted someone to hold his hand and not to have a long discussion about how he was feeling.  All of the girls gave a lot of great insights into the gemara.  At the end of our learning, we got another concert by a small traveling band, so three concerts for three countries. We got back to our hotel, but I missed my 11:00 bedtime. So sad.

Posted in Croatia, Slovenia, Italy & Israel Summer 2013, Trip Blogs | Leave a comment

Day 3

Friday:
Dalia ~  We woke up and got ready for our first real day. We walked next door to the mall and went downstairs to the grocery story, which had previously been the Jewish quarters.  We shopped for our breakfast and bought cereals and milk, yogurts, bread to eat with cream cheese or nutella, pears, plums, peaches and large waters for everyone. We ate breakfast in the outside area and then packed up the van and began traveling to Slovenia. We left Croatia and paid the toll (since Croatia isn’t part of the European Union). Entering Slovenia our passports were stamped and they checked our van to make sure we weren’t trying to sneak anyone across the borders. We stopped by the river and took pictures of a castle that was turned into a hotel. We then drove to Ljubljana where we left the van to take a tour and we then explored the area. We saw a bridge that was filled with locks that couples had locked onto the bridge. Zoe, Dalia, Tali, and Miri searched the shops looking to buy a lock, unfortunately we were unable to find a lock while Madi looked to buy some pants. Afterwards we met up and ate a quick lunch outside the van. Getting into the van we said Birchat Hamazon and then drove to Trieste where we unpacked the van and with several trips on a small elevator we brought out stuff up to the hotel and settled down and began to prepare for Shabbat. More to come later,

Shabbat Shalom

 

(Note: Our second day together we were also in three different countries: Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy)

Posted in Croatia, Slovenia, Italy & Israel Summer 2013, Trip Blogs | Leave a comment

Day 1 & 2

Wednesday/Thursday:
Dalia ~  The seven of us met up at the airport where we headed to check in with Turkish Airlines. We checked in and went through security hanging out at the shops before boarding the plane. Then we played a few games of President with Zoe maintaining a high position.  We boarded the plane excited for our travels and happy to be on a plane with three babies who only cried at the beginning of the flight. Most of us slept throughout the flight and when we woke up we were disappointed to find out that there was no entertainment system and unfortunately the flight attendants didn’t understand what we were saying. But we soon arrived in Turkey and we hurried through the airport to catch our next plane. When waiting to board the next flight we learned we would be traveling with the Croatian water-polo team who had won a medal against Spain. We boarded the buses, which took us to the stairs that we climbed to board the plane. The plane ride was short and we soon arrived in the Croatia Airport. Everybody found their bags easily and we left the airport with Roni in a large van and we drove to Zagreb. We picked up dinner from Ronis house and we drove to the youth hostel we were staying at for the night. The van was unpacked and we carried our bags up a flight of stairs to our room. We ate dinner outside in an open area and afterwards we discussed the trip such as what we would be doing, the significance and what we hope to gain from our experiences.  We then walked around Zagreb and went to our first concert. We danced along to the Croatian songs, which were mostly rock with some slower songs. The audience was filled with Croats of all different ages who all seemed to enjoy the music. We then headed back to the youth hostel where we showered up and went to bed.

(Note: Our first day together we were in three different countries: America, Turkey and Croatia)

 

 

Posted in Croatia, Slovenia, Italy & Israel Summer 2013, Trip Blogs | Leave a comment

Day 7

Rozzie ~ First Part of the Day

Today was another wonderful day, full of chesed. Last night we prepared two lesson plans for the Lauder School, a Jewish private school in Zagreb. One group presented to fourth through eighth graders a powerpoint about Jewish life in America. Another group (the group I was in) was in charge of first through third grade, and focused on the Jewish holiday of Tu B’shvat. We had leaf templates, and asked each child to write down something that they wished for, and then we would tape the leaves to a small, fake tree. The answers ranged from a dog, to legos, to the arrival of the Mashiach and one million Euros. But the most touching response was from a little girl named Dina, the daughter of the Chabad Rabbi here in Zagreb; she wished for a new school building in the most beautiful place in the world. It was amazing to hear such a small child be so selfless and humble. We then taught them the song “Henei Mah Tov,” and we had a blast singing and banging on the tables.

Naomi ~ After teaching the children and learning from the children at the Lauder School, we traipsed through the snow to our next destination, the national archives. We were given a tour of the beautiful building and learned about the history of the archives. Each decoration we passed had some significance, and many beautiful paintings depicting important places in Croatia or people in Croatia’s history were scattered throughout the archives. At the end of the tour, a guide laid out important documents in Croatian history that related to the lives of Jews. Even though we could not read the documents, since they were all written in Latin, we enjoyed looking at them and reading the blurbs about each one. They even took out the oldest document in the archives, a mezuzah scroll. One of the documents discussed a man, Isaac David Teuscher, who was arrested for not having his passport. When the document described his personal appearance, it said he was wearing something that sounded a lot like a Tallit.

When we finished at the archives, we went back to the Lauder School to cook ourselves dinner. We were split into three groups to make our dinner: some made a salad, some made the main course, and some made dessert. I was the salad making group, and we got very creative with our salads. Dinner was delicious. Some people in our group stayed at the kitchen a little longer to bake challah and mandel bread for a Brit Milah the next day.

Posted in Croatia (& Paris) with UMD Hillel Winter 2013, Trip Blogs | Leave a comment

Day 6

Lily S ~Today we traveled to Slovenia, our third country of the week! We got on the road at 9:30am, and had a 20 minute ride to the Croatia-Slovenia border. The border crossing was a slow process. First, a security guard came on our bus and checked that everyone had a passport. After more waiting, we approached the border, and we all got off the bus. We walked through what was kind of like a pedestrian toll booth, presented our passports individually to the border control, and got passport stamps! After crossing the border, we had another hour and a half or so of driving until reaching Ljubljana. Along the way, we saw snow-covered farms (it snowed today) and small villages.

When we first got to Ljubljana, we visited Ljubljana’s Jewish center. The Jewish center is located on the third floor of an office building. They had a main room with a long table and a smaller room used as a sanctuary. There are about 150 Jewish people living in Ljubljana.

Afterwards, a tour guide showed us around the city. Ljubljana was beautiful—much nicer than Zagreb. It had more character, was fancier, and was better up kept. Many buildings in Zagreb had peeling paint or cracked cement, while the buildings in Ljubljana had fresher paint jobs. A river ran through the city, and on one of the bridges, couples tie on locks, like the bridge in Paris. The city had many bars, cafes, restaurants, and nice shops including Lacoste. The area of thecity that we explored had no cars, which kept it nice and quaint.

Next, we headed to the Ljubljana Castle, which is located on the top of a mountain. We took the funicular up the mountain. Funicular was a new word for much of our group; there is also a funicular in Zagreb. A few of us had a snowball fight and we briefly explored the snow-covered castle. Afterwards, we walked back through the city to the bus, and made our way back to Zagreb.

Posted in Croatia (& Paris) with UMD Hillel Winter 2013, Trip Blogs | Leave a comment

Day 5

Tammy ~ Today was a fantastic Shabbat. We were welcomed once again into the synagogue by Rabbi Da-Don. This morning we had a t’fillah discussion and then went to services. We enjoyed lunch at the synagogue and got to hear from Sonia, an amazing Jewish lady who helped build the Croatian Jewish community and made a huge effort to be Jewish in Croatia even around thirty years ago when she had to keep vegetarian in order to keep kosher. We had two hours of free time during which we got the opportunity to explore the streets of Croatia on our own. It was great exploring a country and looking at the culture while not having electronic distractions. There are two things that have struck me the most this trip. The first thing is the ability of the community in Croatia to sit back and relax without worrying about the next place to be. While we were walking we saw thousands of people sitting outside of restaurants just drinking cups of coffee and tea. Most places do not even have to-go cups. It must be so nice to not be in a rush all the time. Walking around Croatia today on Shabbat I really got the sense of what it means to relax and not worry about what is coming next.

            The second big thing that Shabbat helped me realize is the universality of prayer and Judaism. Today, in the synagogue, we sang the same prayers (in slightly different tunes) as the Jews in Croatia. It was amazing to me to think that around the world Jews, within only a few hours of one another, are all singing the same prayers. This afternoon we got the opportunity to have a seudah shlisheet (the third meal of Shabbat) with the Chabad rabbi and his children, our tour guide and his wife and kids, the Hungarian family that helped set up the trip, and a few Israeli students who are studying medicine at the university in Zagreb. It was such a magical moment, coming together for a meal and being in a community with, singing with, and talking to, Jews of all ages and from all over the world. It is inspiring to me how connected you can be with your own Judaism by experiencing Judaism in another country. After seudah shlisheet we did havdalah and the whole diverse group stood in a circle together with arms around one another; it was magical.

Tonight we went on a witch tour around Zagreb. There were even actors who acted out a witch hunt for us in a comedic way. We learned about how 240 women were accused of being witches and burned alive for their crimes. Most of these women were executed because others were jealous of them or wanted to get rid of them for one reason or another. I had taken a lot of the tour as a joke, until I heard this truth behind the history. This idea of pinning bad things that happen on scapegoats reminded me a lot of the Holocaust and really made me stop and think about what it must have felt like to one day be living a happy and successful life, and the next day be accused of witchcraft, and tortured into giving up names of other “witches.” The tour guide made a haunting comment that really stuck with me. She said, “it is incredible the creativity humans have when it comes to torturing and killing other humans.” This line made me think about how throughout history humans have tried to find ways to hurt others and I thought deeply about how pertinent it was to the Holocaust and Jewish history in general. After the tour, we talked about Zagreb over a cup of tea outside with the tour guide and the actors. In the end, we became the group of people calmly enjoying one another’s company and enjoying a cup of tea.

Posted in Croatia (& Paris) with UMD Hillel Winter 2013, Trip Blogs | Leave a comment

Day 4

Ali~Shavua tov from Croatia! Our Shabbat experience here was incredibly meaningful. We were invited to Bet Israel Shul for davening and Shabbat dinner and felt very welcomed by the Jewish community and Rabbi Kotel Da-Don. Visiting the shul was very eye opening and we were able to have a real look into the Jewish community of Croatia while also sharing this most wonderful time with them. Rabbi Da-Don gave a d’var torah about the idea of prayer and being grateful. He said to us that being grateful is part of Jewish character and explained how one cannot be religious without being grateful. Visiting the Jewish community in Croatia has helped us see how Jewish communities in other areas of the world are very different from places like Israel or the United States. We have seen how the community at Bet Israel regularly has trouble getting a minyan. Rabbi Da-Don discussed how when he came to Zagreb, he had to start Kashrut in the community and the first brit milah was the Rabbi’s son. The wine that was served at the meal was Kosher and is made by Rabbi Da-Don, an incredible accomplishment for this community. It is not easy for Jews here to fulfill the mitzvot associated with Judaism and it is inspiring to see that the community does function given the circumstances. This truly shows how chesed here can certainly go a long way.

            After the meal, we came back to the hotel for an oneg with some singing and story sharing. As part of our activity for Friday night, we all shared our favorite Friday night memory. Stories ranged from davening at summer camp surrounded by nature to spending time with family and it was amazing to hear about these special memories. Shabbat was certainly a time to unplug, step back and reflect while being present in the moment and cherishing this time together.

Posted in Croatia (& Paris) with UMD Hillel Winter 2013, Trip Blogs | Leave a comment

Day 3

Shira K ~   Today was the first day that we got to meet and interact with the locals- and they were ADORABLE.  We went to the Chabad school on a day when they had one staff member and over ten students and helped them have “Hebrew day.”  This was a great day to help out on since nobody from our trip speaks any Croatian and the children at the school didn’t speak any English, but we were still able to communicate with them using Hebrew.  Some of the younger ones didn’t even care what language we spoke, they were just looking for a hug and a smile.  The kids ranged from age 2 to 8, many falling in the 3-5 range.  Many of us helped the kids with davening and playing with them while others cleaned out the shed, cleaned out the backyard and swing set area and prepared holiday themed art work for the rest of the year.  The kids were thrilled to have us there and took no time warming up to us.  They taught us their inside jokes, their games, and used us as their own personal jungle gyms.  All in all, it was a great time for everyone.

We ended our Friday with some Shabbat planning.  We broke up in to groups and prepared activities for Friday night, Shabbat day, and Havdalah.

            Shabbat Shalom from Croatia!

Posted in Croatia (& Paris) with UMD Hillel Winter 2013 | Leave a comment

Day 2

Daniel Z ~ Brrrrrrrrr. IT WAS FREEZING TODAY! This morning began with a loud ringing from my alarm clock at 7:15 a.m. We all had a delicious breakfast in the hotel restaurant that included fresh fruits, eggs, and cereals. Afterwards, everyone assembled lunches of yummy schnitzel, chummus, saffron rice, and pita before running off to our tour bus. Our ultimate destination today was the Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Before we could get there we had multiple quick stops. The first major stop was a memorial to Croatia’s War of Independence; the memorial is littered with makeshift Croatian tanks based on buses and even a tractor along with a MIG fighter jet and more modern Croatian tanks. Surrounding the memorial are buildings that were damaged by bullets during the war. It was fascinating to learn about Croatia’s history from Roni, our tour guide.

Next, we visited an incredible little village surrounded by waterfalls. Most of the occupants of the village originally milled corn before the village was destroyed. Now with the village rebuilt, only an elderly lady works a mill in the village. This lady showed us how to run a mill, and gave us samples of authentic, hearty corn bread.

Finally, we arrived at the Plitvice Lakes National Park. We all were able to appreciate beautiful waterfalls, a boat ride, a fascinating lesson on Kabbalah from Rabbi Tessler, and walking next to increasingly blue-green lakes. After visiting the park, we embarked on a two and a half hour journey back to Zagreb where we would have some free time to explore the city, eat penne and meatballs (kosher food that was brought from Budapest), get a little time to get to know one other person on the trip, and have a spiritual discussion on the merits of knowledge and the application of one’s own knowledge. Now it is time to go to sleep for an early start tomorrow. Good night!

Posted in Croatia (& Paris) with UMD Hillel Winter 2013, Trip Blogs | 1 Comment

Day 1

Michael S ~ Wow. I had a lot of expectations about this trip but by the first day, before we had even arrived in Zagreb, my expectations were shattered. Our flight from D.C. to France was delayed by about an hour, which was a slight issue for our hour-long layover in the Paris airport. As we landed in Paris we ran off the plane hoping to catch our flight to Zagreb. However, the Paris airport is HUGE and we were unable to get to our flight on time. We were informed that the next available flight to Zagreb would not be until 7pm, almost 9 hours later. Turning an unexpected situation into a positive one, we decided to do Paris in 5 hours. We took a cab into Paris, saw the Jewish quarter, Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. In the Jewish quarter we had an incredible meal at a bakery and saw a surprising amount of falafel stands. Instead of a day in Zagreb we saw the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. Talk about an unexpected treat.

When we returned to the airport we leisurely strolled to the gate only to be informed that we had almost missed the final boarding call. We got on a bus and boarded a bus to the tarmac.

All in all, the 9 hour flight to France, the 9 hour layover in Paris and the 2 hour flight to Zagreb we had a crazy, unexpected and awesome 20 hours to start off our trip with a bang!

Posted in Croatia (& Paris) with UMD Hillel Winter 2013, Trip Blogs | 1 Comment