By Jesse Paikin
Chaperone with NFTY in Israel Groups 3A & 3B
URJ Israel Programs Coordinator
Encountering Jewish history is a heavy task. We are a people with a long memory, and there is much to learn, know and remember from the stories of our people. Coming to Europe and encountering Jewish history and Jewish life with all of our senses and emotions is important, and certainly makes the task of learning and remembering a bit easier, but it’s definitely still a weighty task.
I am so impressed by the maturity, insight, delight, curiosity and excitement of the 70+ teens I’m traveling with in Europe right now. They are carrying the weight of our history in ways that make me certain that our Jewish heritage will be remembered and our Jewish future will be vibrant. From their caring attitude towards each other, to their insatiable desire to learn more about the stories of Jewish life in Europe, they are becoming a very real link in the proverbial “chain of Jewish life” that is often spoken of.
I want to share two particularly moving experiences I’ve had so far with these inspiring teens:
1. Earlier this week, I confessed to the groups that I had never seen the film Schindler’s List. A glaring hole in my cultural library, I had just never gotten around to watching it. I can’t think of a better way to have filled this gap than by watching it together with the groups on our journey from Prague to Krakow. As we supported each other through the emotionally wrenching parts of the film, then asked probing questions about the history of the story afterwards, I was honored to truly join the participants in the educational process. It was a great example of how a film can become more than just a movie, but a trigger for very real reflection.
2. Today in Krakow, we sat inside the Temple Synagogue, a stunningly beautiful Progressive Synagogue in the heart of the Jewish Quarter. Michal, our guide, began singing a traditional niggun that was composed right here in Krakow. It was my favorite niggun that I sing almost every Shabbat at shul in New York. I got chills on my arms as the entire group rose to their feet, joined hands, and began dancing through the shul. In that moment, the heaviness of our history turned to pure lighthearted joy. For these 75 teens, that proverbial chain of Jewish life became welded solid right then as the ghosts of hundreds of years of Jewish history danced together through the ornate columns of the Moorish building.
I know that these 75 teens are just beginning the journey of a lifetime, and I look forward to sharing thoughts with you again after Shabbat.