By Rabbi Marla Feldman
Rabbi Marla Feldman, Director of Development at the Union for Reform Judaism, is a chaperone in Europe with L’dor V’dor Group 10. This is the first in a series of blog posts by her about her experience with the group. Read parts II, III, IV, and V.
Being a chaperone on L’dor V’dor is a really sweet deal. Travel with about 40 high school youth from JFK Airport to Prague. Make sure they all still have their passports and cameras by the time they arrive. Deal with any missing baggage or other foreseeable problems with a group of teenagers who met each other the same time they met you – at the airport just prior to the flight. Deposit them safely into the expert arms of their madrichim (counselors), tour guides and NFTY staff upon arrival in Prague. The quid pro quo for this one-way duty is an all-expense paid trip to Eastern Europe. Meals, tours, hotels and flights for a week in Prague, Poland (Auschwitz) and Warsaw. If you are so inclined, you can even get a free flight to Israel with the group as well.
As sweet deal, indeed… until something goes wrong. So there we were – 43 kids from all over the U.S. transferring in Vienna to a connecting flight to Prague. Successfully got everyone off the flight with passports in hand, found the connecting gate, and… oh my! The connecting flight is canceled. So now, what do I do with these 43 kids who are exhausted from a sleepless night on the flight and camped out at a gate with no agent? After a moment of panic the adrenaline kicks in and I get to work. Find an agent – don’t let them go until I have answers. Find a security guard to help escort the kids from the gate to the service center. Contact the NFTY coordinator in Prague, who gets the Israeli travel agents working on a solution. Contact the Youth and Camping director in NYC, who gets working on a solution through the Jewish Agency. Find the right agent at Austrian Airlines (Roland!) and make sure he prioritizes finding a solution for our group in the midst of hundreds of other stranded passengers.
In a matter of moments, everyone set to work solving this problem. Within a few hours we had a bus loaded with box lunches and begin our 5-hour trek from Vienna to Prague. A heroic effort went into getting Dor L’Dor Group 10 from Vienna to Prague… but the real heroes are the young adults of Group 10 themselves.
They stayed together. They helped ‘count heads’ at every step. They accepted special tasks whenever asked – getting dozens of bottles of water for their parched fellow travelers, schlepping each other’s bags off the baggage conveyor belt, cleaning up the detritus of 3 hours of snacking and drinking in a corner of baggage claim. And they never whined… not once. They never panicked. They never complained. These young adults who had met only a few hours earlier had bonded into a tight-knit functioning group that helped and looked out for each other. They stepped up in a really big way.
What could have been a disaster turned into an adventure. I am extremely grateful to the dedicated group leaders in Prague, New York and Israel and the valiant staff at Austrian Airlines and even the bus drivers who, without a word of English, managed to communicate and shepherd us safely across the EU. But most of all I am grateful to the members of Group 10 who showed maturity and flexibility in the face of difficulty and really rose to the occasion.
We had a great first day on our journey.