Hungary 2014 Adult Mission: Lenny begins

Boker tov! We`re on our way to Debrecen, eastward, ultimately to the Carpathian mountains.  The bus ride was with anticipation and tefilah that the experience for everybody would be fulfilling. The morning sky was very overcast and foggy, reminiscent of the gloomy days of deportation and encampment. We rode for miles, wondering both how the Jews found these places, and especially how the Nazis went out of their way to find us and torture us.

We arrived at Debrecen to a welcoming hot breakfast at the Jewish Community center and it was kosher lemehadrin. We heard some words about the Baal Shem Tov in order to give a perspective on the wholly Chassidic lifestyle of this region of the world in Eastern Europe.

We then went next door to the shul which was of course inspiring.  We did Kriyas Hatorah with a minyan including some of the old, but current members of the shul, which greatly elevated them, especially since we read from their newly dedicated sefer torah!

We then went to the back of the shul where it was heated, and listened to a compelling talk from a young female leader in the Jewish community.  She told us the history of the Hungarian Jewish settlers until the shoah, and after.  We saw in the courtyard of the shul an outdoor cholent  warming oven which was very “warming” for all of us to see. We walked towards one of the old orthodox shuls under renovations, with old mosaic drawings still remaining on the ceiling.  It promises to be a beautiful reconstruction. In the courtyard of this shul was also the shechita house where the chickens used to be slaughtered according to Halacha. It was also being renovated for further Jewish functions.

Part of the chesed that we did was dusting and sorting out many of the old siddurim and sefarim that were used over many years.   One member of the group even found a machzor used by her uncle!

We left Debrecen heading into the “night” of Satmar and Sighet well into the Carpathian mountains.  We arrived at Satu-mare ,”big village” at sunset and went straight to the large shul which only functions now as a concert hall.  Next door was the smaller and slightly newer shul erected in the 1920s.  This is the shul that is now used by Satmar chassidim when they come for yartzheits of their rebbe’s who are buried in Sighet. There, we also davened maariv.  One chilling feeling we got in this shul was from the placard at the front of the ark which had written on it the Parshat Hashavua which happened to be Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, the last time these holy congregants davened in this shul, before they were transported to Aushwitz, one week after Pesach 1944.  18,000 Jews in Satmar no longer, save for about 100-200 remotely affiliated Jews. On the way to Sighet that evening we utilized the time on the long bus ride to watch on the overhead screen an interview of our aunt.  She described her life in Sighet before the war, the horrors of the ghetto and camps, and her amazing fortitude in starting her life again after the war in Europe and then America.

Posted in Hungary 2014 - Adult Mission, Trip Blogs | Leave a comment

Day 14

Noah ~ Aviva let us sleep in this morning after we were all exhausted from waking up early and performing “chesed for ourselves” yesterday (i.e cruise to 3 islands).  Once we all dragged ourselves out of bed we left the hotel and walked the short but uphill walk to the Acropolis. It was very hot, but we made sure to drink a lot so we stay hydrated and to prepare for the fast tomorrow. Once we reached the foot of the Acropolis we learned from the tour guide that the word Acropolis is actually just a compound of temples on the tallest hill in a city. There are many Acropolises around Greece, but the one in Athens is most popular because it was the most grandeur, and it was dedicated to the goddess Athena. There are many temples in the Acropolis, including the Erechteion, which used hold many shrines to different Greek gods and where the holy ceremonies took place, the Temple of Nike which is dedicated to the god of victory, and the Parthenon which is the most famous temple and is dedicated to Athena the goddess of wisdom. Everything was so beautiful, and it was so interesting to think about all the great scholars and important rulers who walked these grounds 2,500 years before us. The views of the city were also amazing because we had a 360o view of Athens. Once we finished the tour, we took 20 minutes to take pictures of one of the Seven Wonders of the World. After lunch we went to the Plaka, which is the touristy shopping area of Athens. We walked around looking for cool tchotchkes that we could buy for our family members and ourselves. When we got back to the hotel after that, we had a group discussion about the origins of Tisha ba’av, so we had background knowledge of what this important day means for the Jews. Once it was time for dinner, we walked to the magnificent Chabad of Athens to have a hearty meal of spaghetti before the fast. After, we walked to the shul in Athens to listen to Megillat Eichah (Lamentations, which is the reading of Tisha Ba’av that talks about the destruction of the second temple and all of the horrible things that happened because of it). We got back to the hotel and finished our discussion about Tisha Ba’av. Tomorrow we will go to different museums and try to stay in the air conditioning as much as possible so we all stay healthy and have a meaningful day.

Posted in Greece and Israel 2014, Trip Blogs | 1 Comment

Day 13

Bella ~ Chessed is technically described as loving kindness; a gift that people give to one another expecting no return.  We usually think about chessed as collecting volunteer hours, or being a good friend. But as I sit on my bed, reflecting upon the last few hours we have together as a group, I realize that chessed is everywhere, found in many various forms, in many different countries and peoples. It is not counted by hours, given a letter grade, or geared towards a certain age. Sometimes chessed is given to others, while sometimes chessed is done for one’s self. Aviva and Rabbi, you have taught me that chessed isn’t just community service hours, it is part of Jewish identity- it is a trait that means nothing until you actually DO something that improves the world around you.

            During week one we taught Judaism by being role models in a Jewish Greek Summer Camp. Week two included learning about pre-WWII Jewish history in the small villages of Veria, Salonika, Iaonnina, Chalkida, Pelion, Metsova, and more. 97% of Greek Jews were killed in the Holocaust. We had the privilege to uncover this old community, and bring it back to life. We visited synagogues, organized old sefarim, cleaned a cemetery, sang with Holocaust survivors, helped to create minyanim, and led a beautiful shira (song session) with the eldest members of Greek Jewry. We visited three Greek Islands on a beautiful full-day cruise, played on the beach, exercised with our own chayal, enjoyed ‘Rabbi and Rabbanit discussion time’, made our own Greek salads, ate incredible gelato ice cream, and did lots of tourist shopping!

            I entered this trip expecting to find our daily itinerary jam-packed with activities that give back to other people. But sometimes what you expect, and what you actually find, are two very different things. S-O-S. Summer of Service. It truly was a summer of chessed-not just for other people in need, but also for each of us, individually. I learned that sometimes the greatest acts of chessed are the small actions- the small talk at night before bed, the occasional random hug, and the hard slap on the back from a friend who cares. While my memories of this trip will forever be documented in the beautiful artistic pictures on my camera, I know that the true memories were made at 2 AM; jamming out to our ipods, running into each others’ rooms, stealing each others’ phones, and laughing like there is no tomorrow. (and certainly not remembering the fact that there is a 5 AM wake up call!). Our trip began with chessed when we first met with smiles on an airplane and assisted each other with our heavy suitcases, and will end with sad goodbyes home and final pictures. But in between those two plane rides, we have made memories that will last a lifetime- memories for us, and memories for the people we helped. More than anything, we will have learned that chessed is about giving- no matter what shape, size, or amount.  

Posted in Greece and Israel 2014, Trip Blogs | Leave a comment

Day 11 & 12

Alex ~ On Friday morning we drove for about 3 hours down the mountain Pilion from the village of Saint Johns. The ride was beautiful and we got to see the Aegean Sea right next to the amazing mountains. After the ride we went to the Jewish cemetery in Chalkida and cleaned it up. We got the hard job of pulling all the weeds out, and it looked as if nobody had ever done this job. It took us a few hours of intense work, we got to use shovels, hoes, rakes, and other garden tools. Everybody was sweating a lot and there were bugs everywhere but it was great Chesed. After cleaning the cemetery we checked into the beautiful hotel on the beach in Chalkida and we got about 4 hours of free time to swim in the ocean and chill out on the boardwalk. The water was breathtaking, and there are huge mountains in the background.  

Friday night we went to the synagogue in Chalkida which is only used on high holidays, but with our group we had enough people to run a minyan, and it was as if all the Jews in Chalkida heard about it and came to the services. The Rabbi from Thessaloniki came to help run services. The synagogue is 102 years old and its in a whole courtyard, there are separate buildings in a gated area, which is amazing because before the holocaust there would be hundreds of people at services and children that would play in the synagogue courtyard, but the Nazis wiped all of them out and thinking about that is beyond words. The Jewish community there is dying and us bringing the minyan was very special. Rabbi Tessler said in his Dvar “Imagine if these walls can talk” and that is very strong to think about. In the past when I have learned about the holocaust, I just learned numbers like 6 million, but you cannot really quantify that number, and understand how that could possibly happen. When you see communities like this and how great was the  the Nazis affected destruction, then you really get a sense of what happened and how terrible it was.

On Saturday we led another minyan at the same synagogue and had a very powerful service, and a few of the Jewish Greeks came and were very into the service. We had a great lunch after our service and then went back to the hotel to have free time where we all took naps and hung out. Later we went back to the synagogue to do Mincha service and then a Maariv service. We brought a lot to the Jewish community of Chalkida, and I know that it meant as much to them as it meant to us.

Posted in Greece and Israel 2014, Trip Blogs | 3 Comments

Day 10

Miri ~ Today’s activities ranged from seeing monasteries to driving through clouds. In the morning we left Ioannina and arrived in a small village known as Metzova to browse through the shops. After eating lunch in Calabaka, we drove to Meteora to see monasteries. From a distance, we saw the caves where monks had lived in, in addition to learning that there were monasteries for nuns as well. As we took photographs on the rocks, Zoe and Eliana decided that in the future they would build a shul on the rocks so that they will be able to live there. We then proceeded to drive to Larissa, where we saw a Holocaust memorial in memory of the Jews in Larissa who had perished at the hands of the Nazis. In order to get to our hotel in St. John, we had to drive on the roads of Mt. Pilion, where we were so elevated that we were driving through clouds, and we therefore joked that we were in heaven. After getting settled into the hotel, we went swimming in the ocean and ate dinner.

Posted in Greece and Israel 2014, Trip Blogs | Leave a comment

Day 9

Zoe ~ Yesterday, July 30, 2014 was the first day on this trip that I did not have a. I know. It’s quite shocking. But please, try not to freak out. I think I can get through it. But don’t worry. Every day so far I’ve had Nutella at least once, so you guys can stop worrying. Besides for the awful fact that I’ve gone nearly 20 hours without Nutella, the day was pretty awesome. We were supposed to wake up at around 8 in the morning, but being that I am a teenager, and waking up before noon is a bit far fetched, I had to be dragged out of bed by my roommate Eliana. We went downstairs for breakfast where I had tea and toast with jam, and we met Gabi, Aaron, Alex, Danny, and Noah who had gotten up early to run. I don’t understand why they would do that to themselves because running is where sadness comes from, but they had showered, so I didn’t really mind. Then we left Thessolaniki for Ioannina. It was a long trip, but I actually didn’t sleep. Mostly, I looked out the window and contemplated life, the universe and everything. It was really funny though because everyone else was fast asleep, and when I looked back at the rest of the bus, all the boys were stretched out across two rows of seats. We stopped for a quick bathroom break at a gas station where Eliana and I both decided that having ice cream was really important, so we each bought a snickers ice cream bar. They were exquisite. I was really pleased with the purchase. Then we got back on the bus and continued on our way to Ioannina. We got there and ate lunch by the lake and then we met Allegra, the woman who has been taking care of the Synagogue and who is committed to making sure that when she leaves the community (she hopes to move to Israel), there is a Jewish population that will survive, because her family has been in Ioannina since the first century CE, and she wants to make sure that the legacy of Jews in Ioannina continues. Allegra took us through Ioannina (which was really pretty) to the Synagogue. It was so beautiful, both on the inside and outside. Outside, they had a well which Allegra said that they used to use for tashlich, two stone washing basins for netilat yadayim, and the scaffolding for a sukkah. Inside was just as beautiful. We sat inside the shul and Allegra told us a little bit about this history of the synagogue and the history of the Jews in Ioannina. Unfortunately, the synagogue is not used much anymore because there is not really a Jewish community there. Allegra then showed us the aron kodesh. Inside the aron was a four hundred year old torah, which we got to take out and look at. It was incredible that the torah was four hundred years old, and it was still in good condition. We put the torah back and sang etz chayim he and then Allegra put us to work. In the Synagogue, there were a number of old books that were in Hebrew that Allegra couldn’t read, and did not know what to do with, our job was to identify what kind of books they were, write it down on a sticker, and put it on the spine of the book. We all got a stack of books to look through, and the first one I picked up was actually a machzor from 1868. It was so super cool. There were about a hundred books, and they were all a mix of siddurim, chumashim, tanachim, and tehilim. I know I already said this, but I’ll say it again, it was so super cool. It might have even made up for not having Nutella! After putting all the books away, we left the shul and walked back into the town where we stopped at a supermarket to get the ingredients for dinner (which we were going to make ourselves). In the supermarket, we bought foodstuffs, but there was also a lively game of hide and go seek going on with Danny, Aaron, and Jonah (there might have been more people involved, but I was too busy going into shock because at that point it had been roughly fifteen hours since my last Nutella fix. You laugh, but I have a dangerous disease called Nutella deficiency, and if I don’t have Nutella at least once a day, crazy things go down). We bought our provisions, said au revoir to Alegra, and headed back toward the bus. We put down our food parcels, and hit the town, intending to see what Ioannina had to offer. We did a little shopping, and then Aviva and the Rabbi treated us all to gelato. It was delicious. That too helped make up for my lack of Nutella. We took a group picture by the water and then got back on the bus and headed for our hotel. We got in, and saw a pool, so us children plus Gabi (really, he should be included in the term ‘children’, but I’m just being thorough) went swimming. The water was pretty cold, but we got used to it after a while. It was super fun, and then we had a delicious dinner that the Rabbi and Aviva prepared for us. We had Greek salad, tuna, sandwitches, and pudding. Everything a person needs for a balanced diet (except Nutella of course, but that’s a whole different issue, and if I start talking about it, I might start getting emotional, so I’ll stop myself). After dinner, we all went back to shower, and then we met in the lobby to have deep conversations about life. When I got there, the Rabbi was having a really interesting discussion with Alex, Ethan, Gabi, and Noah about the discrepancy between what the Torah says about creation and about what science says. The Rabbi explained that there really is no discrepancy, because science and the Torah work together, not against each other. For example, when the Torah says that God created the world in six ‘days’, there is no actual definition for what the word ‘yom’ means. ‘Yom’ could mean one day, or it could mean one million years, but since it is vague, it works with what science has come to discover. It was very interesting, and I learned a lot, but that wasn’t the conversation we were gearing up for. The Rabbi talked to us about the period of time from when the Jews left Egypt to when we got the Ten Commandments, to the golden calf, and all the way to the redemption of the Jewish people. Then we talked about whether the Torah was given or received at Mount Sinai, and Eliana said (very smartly, I might add), that it was both given and received because if it hadn’t been given, we wouldn’t have it today, and if we had not received it, we would not be practicing the commandments God gave us. We were all very impressed with Eliana’s wisdom. It started getting late, so the Rabbi and Aviva sent us to bed. All in all, it was a pretty fantastic day.

Posted in Greece and Israel 2014, Trip Blogs | 1 Comment

Day 8

Eliana ~ We started off at the Jewish cemetery of Salonica, which is beautifully kept. We learned about some of the Jews buried there. A unique thing about this cemetery is that some of the deceased chose to have their arm number from Auschwitz written on their grave. After we left the cemetery, we went to the Jewish museum. There we learned about the Jews of Greece, starting from the Tanach up until World War II. We then left the museum and went to a park to have a nutritious lunch that consisted of marshmallow fluff, peanut butter, jelly, Nutella, yogurt and some fruit. When we finished lunch, we went on a boat ride that gave a fantastic view of the coast of Salonica. After the boat ride, we drove around on our air conditioned (thank goodness) bus to get a tour of the Jewish villas in Salonica. The Jewish villas are gigantic houses that belonged to the Jews of Salonica before they were taken away to the camps in World War II, and since sadly most of the Jews didn’t return home, the houses now belong to the government. The houses are now used as galleries and government offices. It was so sad seeing such exquisite villas that used to belong to Jewish families, and that they were taken away from them just because they were Jewish. We then drove around the University of Salonica, which is built on what was once the largest cemetery in the world, and was a Jewish cemetery and held 500,000 Jewish graves. When the Germans came, they destroyed the cemetery and it had never been rebuilt. Because it is such a large piece of land, the university was built there. Continuing on our bus tour, we drove to the train station that the Jews of Salonica were deported from to Poland. It’s almost incomprehensible to imagine that a city once rich with Jews and Jewish life has now only 1000 Jews. When we finished that, we had a chance to go shopping, which was super fun. We then returned to the hotel, got ready for dinner and went to eat another delicious meal at the kosher restaurant in Salonica.  We returned to the hotel and went to sleep.

And of course we did what was most important and really needed- laundry!

Posted in Greece and Israel 2014, Trip Blogs | Leave a comment

Day 7

Aaron ~ Day 7 of the trip was an amazing one. We started off the day with a trip to one of the most beautiful synagogues I have ever seen. The building was absolutely perfect in every way. In that particular synagogue they only use it for high holidays and weddings but they opened it up for us. I thought that was a wonderful thing of them to do as they realized that we would never be able to see that synagogue or pray in it again. While we davened there was a certain ruach that I had never felt before and it was so powerful. After davening we went on a bus ride to a street in Greece. This street was filled with vendors and all different kinds of shops. As we were walking a man started putting bracelets on our wrists. After putting them on he gave some of us nicknames and acted like our friend. But then he started asking for money. So each of us had to pay a Euro or more for a small bracelet that most of us threw out. After that lovely experience we went and had a picnic lunch right on the boardwalk, which is where we met up with Rabbi Aaron. He told us that the synagogue that we davened in today was very historic. In fact that synagogue is the exact synagogue where Rabbi Koretz brought all his people together and told them to go with the Nazis. This was such a riveting story for me as I felt that I had just davened where people were virtually sentenced to death. That was very hard for me to get past but we had to move on so I did as well. After that we went with Rabbi Aaron and we mapped out an Erev that he wants to construct for Thessaloniki. We looked at the ancient walls that were still standing and we had to determine if they were acceptable for an Erev. I found that to be very interesting because I have never done something like that before and it was nice to see how. After this we went to the top of the walls and gazed upon an amazing view and took many pictures of it. When we finished that Rabbi Tessler surprised us and offered a trip to a water park because we had been very good that day. So we went back to the hotel and then drove off to the waterpark. As you all know something’s in Europe are very different then in America and this water park was no exception. The wave pool had much larger waves. There was no lazy river but there was a crazy river. But we still did everything and had so much fun together as a group. To finish off the day we had a great dinner with parents of a counselor at the camp. We told them all about the camp and how we loved. I hope it made their day.

Posted in Greece and Israel 2014, Trip Blogs | 1 Comment

Day 6

Danny ~ Friday was our second to last day at the camp. In just a few days we had become a part of the camp. Every night the Greek and Israeli kids would come to our bunk and call us out and we would hang out with them until we couldn’t stay up any longer. Unfortunately this means we are absolutely exhausted. Daytime naps have become very popular among the kids on SOS. Anyway, we were very excited to have our first full day at the camp. Some of us sang in the singing circles, others got into the European culture and played fütbol with all of the Greek people. Jonah lay in bed.

            We were all very excited as Shabbat approached because we knew this was a big deal for al the campers there, as it was for some of them their only real Jewish experience they have. The Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony was filled with wonderful singing and dancing. One dance even featured Jonah and Alex; they were great! Afterwards we stayed back and davened with some of the kids from the camp. In that moment it really felt like we were doing what we had came to do, giving them a chance to experience Judaism in a way they don’t usually get in that camp. After this we all ate a lovely Shabbat dinner and some of us even went to bed!

            Saturday we had a very relaxed day, some of us slept, some played futbol, some of us got into a minor water fight with some Israelis, others went down to the incredibly beloved beach (it is l the most beautiful beach in the whole entire world, It is so quiet and all you hear is birds and waves crashing quietly into the sand). We davened shacharit again with the kids from the camp; and we read from the Torah.

           As Shabbat came to a close, we prepared for disco: A dance party where everyone needs to bring a date (wasn’t a problem for any of the beautiful people going on SOS). This was the last night of the camp so it was very emotional for all of the campers there. However they still got us involved in every way and we danced with all the people there. During the dance we realized just how connected we had become with these kids. Some of us were so sad to say goodbye that we stayed up literally the whole night with them. We really need some sleep. The next day Aaron and I joined Aviva, Zoe, and Eliana on the beach very early in the morning to see the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. The sun was so big and red, it reflected so beautifully off of the ocean, the water was so quiet, it was so peaceful and wonderful. As we said our goodbyes we realized how sad we were to leave these people. It was a great experience that I will remember forever.


Posted in Greece and Israel 2014, Trip Blogs | 1 Comment

Day 5


Noah’s Blog ~ Leaving Camp and Traveling to Thessaloniki

We woke up this morning with a sense of communal sadness because we knew that today would be our last moments in the Greek Jewish summer camp. We packed up our bags, took one last look at the beautiful Aegean sea as we ate breakfast, and had our last meefkad  (morning flag raising) with the camp because today is their last day as well. Once we all said our goodbyes with all of our new friends we hopped on the bus and headed to the small town of Vergina to see the tomb and other artifacts of Philip II of Macedonia. He was the father of alexander the great, and he also unified Greece. It was as if we walked back into history with our great tour guide, whose special way of presenting was very dramatic. Because everything was buried under a hill for 2,000 years, most of the artifacts were intact so we could see everything very vividly. We saw the tomb of Phillip II and his wife, his grandson, and everything that was buried with him. They excavated all of his body armor and vessels that he used for his infamous parties.  But what was coolest for me is that they found his golden crown which looks exactly the same as it did when he wore it.  After that, we drove to Veroia which is a city outside Thessaloniki and saw the Jewish section and synagogue that was wiped out because of the war. The man in charge of keeping the synagogue told us that Jews first started coming to this city during the time of the Roman empire and those Jews are still called Romaniot Jews. The synagogue was built in the 1000’s and became very popular after the Spanish Inquisition. The population for the most part was around was around 1,000 Jews. However, 600 Jews died in the holocaust (most of them children), and the rest of them escaped by running away into the hills. We saw apartment buildings that had Hebrew on them with the date of which the building was constructed was on it. It was also very scary to realize that the Nazis walked on the same streets that we did, taking Jews to their death. Now there are no Jews living in that city, and the synagogue is only used for a museum and no one is praying in it. After that we went to an old age home in Thessaloniki which reminded us that there still are survivors from this terrible tragedy. Everyone has an incredible time making connections and talking to the residents. All of their stories were very interesting, including two women who survived the concentration camps and another woman whose father sent her to hide from the Nazis while the rest of her family died. It was very special to sing with them Hebrew songs, which helped jog their memory of their lives pre-war. We all felt that we had brightened their day and had made an impact in their lives. After that we we went to the hotel, which is very nice and is definitely a step up from the tents that we had stayed in the camp. We had a great dinner at  the only kosher taverna in greece. Tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh Av, so we will try to make a minyan with the Rabbi of Thessaloniki and learn about his plan of making an eruv here. We are having an amazing time, and it only going to get better.

Posted in Greece and Israel 2014, Trip Blogs | 1 Comment

Day 4

Shabbat in Camp – Bella

“A New Kind of Shabbat”  ~ If I could describe the past Shabbat experience in one word, it would be “meaningful”. It was very different kind of Shabbat for me. Not just because I wasn’t with my family, but because we had the opportunity to eat with 250 new Jewish Greek children and teens to whom Shabbat was an essential part of their Judaism, as it is to us too.
It all began Friday afternoon at 6:30 PM when the entire camp gathered in the outdoor makeshift auditorium to sing Kabbalat Shabbat. Everybody showers and puts on nice clothes for Friday night. With the lights shined bright, music blaring, and microphones turned up high, the party got going. It was very inspiring to see how excited each person was to be part of Shabbat. They had spent hours that afternoon rehearsing their songs and dances. Wow, was it amazing! As soon as the program began, each camper was out of their seat, jumping to the beat of the music, and singing along. They knew every word by heart. For many of the children here, the only Shabbat they will ever experience is here at camp. We were so grateful for them to allow us to be part of this special time.

Following the performances, the SOS group, along with a few camp staff members, sat down in a circle to bring in the Shabbat with the traditional prayers, led by the camp Rabbi. Behind us, was a view of the beautiful Mount Olympus! Then we had dinner, and enjoyed staying up late and getting to know the Jewish-Greek teens (who speak pretty good English!).

The next morning we woke up bright and early for mifkad (flag raising), then breakfast, and tefillah. The camp rabbi took out the Torah, read part of the parsha, and gave out aliyot to many of the Jewish teens. He spent lots of time explaining the stories from the Torah to the campers in Greek, and of course- we had no idea what was going on. We sat amongst the young campers, about 6-8 years old. One girl in particular would sit on my lap, as we together watched the Rabbi. She picked up my siddur, asking what it was and why she did not understand the language inside. As I tried to explain in English what it was, I found myself finally understanding why this camp was so essential to the continuity of the Jewish community in Greece. I showed her the words of “Shema”, the prayer that the camp says together at their flag raising ceremony in the mornings. Not only was she excited to understand, but I too was happy that I could teach her something meaningful. Summer camp here wasn’t just about Judaism, but about becoming friends with people whom you would never have expected.

The rest of the day including lots of free time, chilling with the Greek teens, basketball and workouts, watching and participating in their closing ceremony, lunch and dinner, and then a Havdalah and a disco party.
As I am sitting on the bus now, reflecting on the good-byes we had to say just a few minutes ago to our new Jewish-Greek friends, I understand how special we are to them, as they are to us. Though we live very different lives, there is so much that united us all, expressed through the friendships from the past four days.

I can’t wait to see what is in store for us next!

Posted in Greece and Israel 2014, Trip Blogs | 1 Comment

Day 3

Alex and Ethan ~   Day three of our exciting adventure has proven that every day on this trip will be fantastic. It was our first day here in the Jewish camp in LiTohoro. We spent last night in large tents and it was a great experience sleeping in nature. Surrounded by the mountains, including Mt. Olympus, and the Aegean Sea, the camp is in one of the most beautiful and breathtaking places we’ve ever been. There are positives to sleeping in tents such as community and nature, but there are also negatives such as bugs and having to sleep in the humid climate.

In the morning we took a 40 minute drive with experienced climbers to Mt. Olympus for an eight kilometer hike that took about five hours. On the hike we got to see LiTohoro from the view of the ancient Greek gods. The scenery was beautiful. There were two guides on this hike, one in front and one in back. The man in the front, Chris, was speed walking without a care in the world, it didn’t matter to him if he lost us or we needed a brake. The man in back, Antonio, kept a very slow pace, which was much easier to keep up with. Alex was in the faster group and Ethan forgot his physical limitations and tried to keep up with the first group. When Ethan quickly realized that this pace was too much for him, Alex kindly walked at a slower pace with him. While this was happening the slower group fell way behind, while the faster group went even faster, and the two of us were stuck in the middle. We could see the group in front at the beginning but as we gradually slowed down both groups distanced themselves from us even more. This left us entirely alone for about forty minutes without being able to hear or see the other groups. We thought we were lost, but we pushed through and finally caught up with first group and then Chris, the instructor in front, decided to wait for the farther group. We finally reunited and were able to continue this incredible hike. There were beautiful cold springs, gorges, and mountains that went beyond the clouds. When we finished the hike we took a car back to the camp and jumped into the clear, and turquoise water of the Aegean Sea. It was awesome. After that there was a camp Maccabi where we competed in sports against the Greeks. There was a very intense game of basketball between the Americans and the campers. The whole camp was watching, and it was really cool. We ended up losing but only because we were exhausted from the hike, and we wanted to take it easy on our fellow Jews. It was a great chance to bond with them, and these kids are really cool. It is amazing that we can so easily make friends with the campers here after such little time.

Posted in Greece and Israel 2014, Trip Blogs | 6 Comments

Day 1 & 2

Jonah R ~I came to Dulles Airport looking forward to a great trip filled with many chesed and touring opportunities in Greece and Israel. I was expecting a great group of kids with an awesome counselor and the best trip Imma and Abba in the world. Everything that we have done so far has completely blown whatever I thought was going to happen out of the water. After a very long flight to Istanbul, we got on the plane to Athens. The flight was short but the views as we flew in over the Aegean Sea were astounding. We got to the airport and drove to our hotel in the heart of Athens. As we looked up at the Parthenon from our hotel terrace, we imagined the great events that occurred in Greece hundreds of years ago. We went to sleep excited for the coming day. Early in the morning, we got on the coach bus and took a trip to the Jewish summer camp Le Tohoro.  On the way to the camp, we drove along the coast of Greece. The views of the water were breathtaking. Most of us slept pretty much the whole way there. The camp is situated about a hundred meters from the beach.  For all you Americans, not very far. It rained today so instead of the normal activities, we set up a mini carnival for the kids to show them that you can still have fun even when it’s raining. The love for Israel and Judaism here is so nice to see from many kids. For some, this is the only Jewish experience they get for the whole year so it makes it that much more incredible that they love it so much. Tomorrow we will be climbing Mt. Olympus so we will hopefully get much sleep tonight.  

Kherete (Good bye in Greek)


Posted in Greece and Israel 2014, Trip Blogs | 2 Comments

Greece and Israel 2014

Posted in Trip Blogs | Leave a comment

Day 19

Sunday July 14, 2013 ~Tali ~Today we woke up at 7 because we had to be on time for our first stop- the Knesset.  We toured the building itself and learned a little about how Israeli politics works.  The first place we went to was a committee room, where bills are written up in legal terms.  Then we went to the main floor where the members of Knesset vote on the bill.  The seating arrangement is in the shape of a menorah.  At the base sits the Speaker of the House, whose job is to maintain order during the session.  Directly in front of him sits the Prime Minister and the ministry.  On the stands above that main floor sits the reporters, the President, and special guests.  Then, behind them sits the public, though it is behind a bulletproof glass to protect the members of the Knesset.  After our tour, we sat down and spoke with Mickey Levy, a member of the Yesh Atid party.  He used to be the chief of police in Jerusalem and was one of the people who responded to the many attacks during the 2nd Intifada.  He met the Tesslers when he was in America, and now is the assistant finance minister (to Yair Lapid) of the Knesset.  Sitting down with him and talking was really nice and he gave us a lot of insight into how the government works in Israel.  After talking to Mickey, we went across the street and saw a menorah.  This menorah is engraved with scenes from Jewish history like Matan Torah, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Aliyot.  It is placed outside of the Knesset to remind the members of their past so that they can make a better future for the country.  From the Knesset, we went to do chesed with Ethiopian children.  While Madi, Zoe, and Dalia worked outside with some kids pulling out weeds and planting pretty plants, Miri and I stayed inside to color in cutouts of ice cream and to play a few games with the kids.  At the end, we all came together to sing and dance to some Hebrew songs.  Then, we had a quick lunch in a mall before heading to Independence Hall, where Ben-Gurion proclaimed the Jewish state of Israel.  Sitting there made me think of what great leaders there were to actually create a state for the Jews, because if they hadn’t done so, who knows whether or not we would have Israel now.  We watched a small clip about what lead to the establishment of the state of Israel, and then walked around the Carmel shuk for a little bit. We made a quick stop at the port in Tel Aviv, which was actually so stunning.  We all tried to take jumping pictures and then some ‘artsy’ ones- you can only imagine the looks we were getting from the people walking by.  Zoe and Madi played on the playground nearby for a little bit and then we boarded the bus once again to head back to Jerusalem.  We all switched up the living arrangements in that we moved into the apartment that Noa and the Tesslers were in for Shabbat- Dalia, Miri, and I in one room and Madi and Zoe in the other.  Then we walked to Mamila Mall to grab some dinner.  After searching almost everywhere for a place that was nut-free to some extent for Miri, we finally found a nice cozy café. There, we met Noa’s twin sister and spoke some more about ahavat chinam vs. sinat chinam because Tisha B’Av is nearing and that is an important topic in relation to the day.  After we all finished up, we went back to our apartment and Aviva gave us all shirts with our picture on it that says SOS International 2013 and lists the places we visited, which we all decided to wear them on the plane ride home.  Then we began listing funny quotes and memories we have from this trip and officially added Noa and Saphira to the dwarf club.  Saphira is glowy since she is always happy and smiling and literally glows, and Noa is friendly because she is able to talk to everyone and makes them all feel very important.  After, we all went to sleep to rest up for tomorrow.


Posted in Croatia, Slovenia, Italy & Israel Summer 2013, Trip Blogs | 3 Comments