Illini Chabad ASB Berlin 2014 - Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Living at U of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
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Day 5

We woke up, had breakfast and got on the bus again, joined by our Berlin tour guide.  We headed to the Bayerische plaz and toured a memorial site, the site displayed signs of the laws that were passed to oppress the Jews in the years leading up to the Holocaust. The last sign of the memorial read “Auswanderungsverbot fur Juden” ; meaning no Jew is allowed to leave Germany. It was angering and emotional to read this sign. It is difficult to fathom that there was a time not so long ago when laws like these were able to pass.

Next the bus took us to the emotional monument at platform 17; the train station that was a major site for the deportation of Jews to extermination camps.  As a group, we walked the tracks and read the plaques there that documented the details of each deportation. Each student observed their own moment of silence in honor of the Jews who were deported from this station.  After this solemn but meaningful visit, we headed to the site of the final solution. This was a decision made by various members of the Nazi party to come up with their final plan to annihilate the Jews. This site was another source of frustration for me. Once again, it was hard to conceptualize how something like this could have ever happened.

We returned to the hotel and had a few hours to prepare for Shabbas.  Before sundown, everyone headed to Chabad dressed and ready to celebrate Shabbas. We attended a joyous service filled with singing and clapping. Which was followed by a three course dinner and wonderful all night celebration. L’ chaim!

Ending the day with the celebration of Shabbas was amazing. It was a reminder of the happiness and togetherness we can feel as Jews, despite our dark history. Although we had a heavy day, on Friday night at Chabad; we were all able to come together, observe Shabbas, enjoy each other’s company and feel lucky we are Jewish!  It is at this Shabbas  that I felt the true meaning of am yisroel chai!

-          Samantha


On the 4th day...

 Today we woke up at 4 am and got on the bus to Prague. After a nice 5 hour drive and a stump the rabbi that carried over from the night before, we arrived in the beautiful city of Prague. Our experience began at the top of the hill with the castle. The view from the top of the hill was filled with gardens, orange roofed houses, castles and much more! As we weaved our way down the hill, we passed beautiful historical buildings until we reached the president's castle. After Andy's pathetic attempt to make the guard laugh, we continued into the center of the palace. Then we crossed the oldest and most extravagant bridge in Prague as we made our way to the Chabad Restaurant for lunch (Ari Hannah, 2014). Here we enjoyed delicious falafel, pasta, and soup.
After lunch we journeyed into the Jewish quarters of Prague where we visited the Jewish shuls, it was there that we had a breathtaking encounter with a holocaust survivor, Shoshana. Shoshana, who was moved by Yosef's singing in the altneu Shul, approached our group and told us her story. She expressed her extreme happiness to meet us, but in reality we were the ones who were lucky to have met her. This moment was a highlight for many students on the trip and is something we will never forget. Lastly, we finished our trip with exploring the city and a lovely dinner at Chabad. Until next time, Ari and Hannah :) writing from the bus on the way back to Berlin.

Day 2

Day 2.

For me that says enough. Two full days in Berlin, Germany. 

10003458_10103513249801050_1892511766_n.jpgI say that because from the moment we landed in the airport, Tegel, and got on the bus, I couldn't help myself from thinking, "this ground is soaked with the blood of millions of Jewish people." We lost out on so many levels. From the basic level of "these were Jewish souls that got killed for the simple fact that they were Jews." To the thought that,  "Out of those millions of people, what if one of them could have found a cure to one type of cancer? Perhaps helped people suffering from AIDS?" 

After spending a day re-living the history that is so palpable here in Berlin, I managed, to some extent, begin or organize my thoughts about this place. Until I stepped foot and experienced first-hand an actual concentration camp, the inhumane cruelty and experience remained an ideal, a concept, to me in my understanding. After spending 2+ hours being guided on a tour through the Sachsennhaussen Koncentrationlager an entirely new idea began to take hold in my mind. Instead of  vain attempts of trying to wrap my mind around the horror that took place in those years, I realized that there is a different message for me here. 

10155654_10103516061546290_827241487_n.jpgHow can an entire people turn to this? How can one of the most educated countries in the world take part in the most inhumane part of history? The only thing I can think of is that we are not dealing with "insane people". The people that perpetrated this, and the people that stood by and watched without getting involved were super normal, perhaps too normal. When human beings lose that which makes them human, and the values of their lives become dependent on where the stand on society's later -- that is when people can begin to turn into numbers. It is our responsibility as Jewish human beings on this planet to 1: realize what is our uniquely Jewish contribution to this world, and 2: how can we be a role model for humankind as a whole.

969486_10103516065303760_1593103854_n.jpgFor me, that is what stood out most. Going around the table at dinner, others shared how cleaning up a part of the Jewish cemetery what very moving. We were able to help people that perished and have no one left to keep their resting place in order. Nobody is going to thank us nor is anybody going to giving us any recognition for helping these people. But we know that we are part of a history that no matter where we currently live, we are all connected. Like the president of the Keren Hayisod (UJA in America) shared with us this morning, "It is up to each and every one of us Jewish people that are going to be the leaders of next generation to lead us in the right direction". If we will not lead, who will?

Good night from Berlin, at an hour waay too late, I hope that some of my experiences from today will somehow be transferred in this short write-up. I have been moved beyond and class or lecture could have ever done. I hope that my experience has been transferred on to this page to 1% of what I am feeling. 

P.S We visited the Berlin Museum of Jewish History today. Maybe I will write about that tomorrow morning, but for now - sleeppp


Day One!

What an amazing first day! Gathering in the airport in Chicago with an Am Yisroel Chai to Copenhagen to Berlin. Seeing the sheer amount of history that is so present in the streets of Berlin is super moving to myself as an American Jew living today in the United States. Driving by the Holocaust memorial in the center of Berlin, and standing in the square where the Nazi armies marched after each victory, made me think how special it is that I can be standing here today. Imagine a Jew standing and watching thousands of Nazi soldiers proudly parade after a victory. What would this Jewish person think? When watching such a display of power of pure evil, how can a person remain optimistic in this world? Then I snapped a picture of myself in front the the Brandenburg Gate and thought to my self, "After all is said and done, who is coming and snapping a picture of this place in history?"

To experience, firsthand, the story of the Berlin wall and to see the dedication an sacrifice people made in order to bring liberty and freedom to people reminds me of what is my responsibility as a Jewish person living in freedom today. Seeing a picture, and standing in the place, where 500,000 people stood and protested their oppression and demanded liberty, I learned how important it is for each and every one of us to make our voices heard and to care about injustice and oppression happening today.

Before I fall asleep from exhaustion of an amazing 24 hours, I want to express how moved I am by today's experiences, but the words I come up with fail to do justice. Perhaps when I am more rested or when this experience has a chance to sink in I will be able to put my thoughts in better order and write more eloquently so you will be able to share in my experience, but until then I can only say wow. If the next six days of this trip are going to make such an impression as this first, I am going to be a changed person when I land back in Chicago. 

2 Days to go...

Here we go...


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