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 second in a series of blog posts by her about her experience with the group. Read Parts I, III, IV, and V.
After our adventure getting from Vienna to Prague, Group 10 was ready for a “normal” day. Little did we know that a normal day would entail a visit to five synagogues, an ancient cemetery, two museums, a memorial hall, a castle, a famous bridge and… an encounter with the Golem!
A charming and historic city, Prague’s history intertwines European and Jewish history, blending ancient and modern side by side. Walking through the Jewish quarter was a journey through the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, from the Holocaust to the rebirth of a Jewish community. We walked in the footsteps of the Maharal of Prague and his infamous Golem, Spanish refugees fleeing the Inquisition, Jewish financiers to the Crown, Franz Kafka, Holocaust victims, and in some cases, our own relatives.
We discovered a city of contradictions – anti-Semitism juxtaposed with a thriving Jewish culture; feudal inequities and Emancipation; poverty and wealth; orthodoxy and secularism. Through individual stories (told through role-play by staff members), the people who have lived in Prague throughout the centuries came to life for us.
It was a magical experience. The day was like a roller-coaster through history, driving from modern Prague back to the Medieval Period and forward in time to the Inquisition; fast-forwarding to pizza parlors and then traveling back in time to the Holocaust, and back further to the reign of King Charles. One could get whip-lash were it not for the expertise of our wonderful group leaders. Our group has two Israeli counselors, three American counselors, local tour guides and the amazing group coordinators who are ever-present shepherds on our journey. Joining them, of course, are the chaperones like me, who are along for the ride!
Surprisingly, the group is not overwhelmed by this infusion of history. They soak it all in and consider their place in the Jewish world at each step along the way. It helps that in- between visits to historical sites the counselors lead team-building exercises to strengthen the group identity and create a sense of community and light-hearted fun. At the end of the day, given the opportunity to share their reflections, one young woman said she felt blessed (and grateful to her parents!) for having the opportunity to enjoy such a powerful and meaningful – and deeply personal – experience. We all had tears in our eyes as she spoke. Another participant said she loved traveling with her family, but this was an experience that she could not imagine having with anyone other than her closest and dearest friends… whom she met two days earlier.
Note to parents – we are two days into this program and I can assure you it is well-worth every penny. To a person, your child’s Jewish identity has grown stronger and more assured. They are stretching in ways they never imagined and growing more mature by the day. And there is so much more to come.