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Illini Chabad ASB BERLIN 2015 Blog

Tuesday - day of all kinds of emotions

Tuesday was one of the most pivotal days of not only the trip but possibly all of our lives. It brought us another long day ahead, for the right reasons though.

After an early breakfast at Chabad, we took a brief tour of the building with Chava. We saw the mikvah, library, lounges and learned about how the center came to be.

At the end of our tour, we were graced with the presence of the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman. The entire group was amazed by his powerful speech about politics and we were truly lucky that he was able to take time out of his day to meet with future "ambassadors".

After we met with the ambassador, the tone of the day started to shift a bit as we drove to south West Berlin to Wannsee - the villa where the Nazis signed The Final Solution. This document was the plan that was implemented for the mass murder of all the Jews in Europe. It was a very real experience as we walked through the museum where just 70 years ago the nazi officers signed papers to end the Jewish people's existence in Europe.

Continuing on our journey, we drove to a memorial at a train station in Berlin. This train station is the oldest of its kind and it was the primary station where German Jews were transported to their deaths via train. A very large section of the tracks was a dedicated memorial where each part had an engraving of each train sent. Logged in metal engraving was the date, amount of Jews and their destination. We sat in silence as the reality of the history began to truly set in.

Following a brief lunch in a park in the Bavarian quarter of Berlin, the next time our bus stopped was outside of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Orienburg. No one was sure what to feel from the time our group stepped off the bus. We had a tour guide but no one was able to find the words to say. It was a chilly and cloudy day, fittingly and the cameras began clicking instantly. Immediately upon entering the camp, we all felt our hearts drop and it was absolutely bone chilling. For a lot of us, it was our first time in a concentration camp. It was absolutely massive and emotions were flying. We saw barracks, remnants of gas chambers and a beautiful beyond words memorial to those who died. Tears, fear, grievance and hope filled the air.

One of the most touching things to happen on the trip occurred at the memorial at Sachsenhausen. We lit candles, wrapped teffillen, and sang the most amazing and heart warming rendition of "Am Yisroel Chai" as loud as we could. We walked out of the camp extremely proud, thankful and more knowledgable than before.

The day ended with packaging hundreds of pounds of food for the upcoming Pesach holiday. There are many families that need ingredients to make meals and don't have the finances to do so and ASB 2015 Berlin formed an assembly line and made the gift baskets happen. It was incredibly moving to be able to experience a full circle.

We saw where the genocide plan was originated, planned and executed. By packaging good after, the group was able to give to the Jewish community at large which is thriving in the very place where it was meant to be destroyed.

We are all extremely humbled, honored and blessed to have had this experience. Together we stand tall and with the knowledge we've obtained, we can make sure to do everything in our power to prevent this tragedy from ever happening again.

We are looking forward to seeing how the Jewish community in Berlin continues to thrive tomorrow. Am Yisroel Chai. Shalom,

-Micah Fishman 

Berlin, What?!

When planning spring break, a university student has many choices of where to go. We could have spent the week tanning on the beaches of Mexico but that choice would have been an easy one.

Coming to Berlin was a choice I made because I could. My great grandparents could not have made that same choice. Spending the week here at Berlin Chabad has been a moving, exciting, enriching experience that no trip to Mexico could even come close to. I've learned about myself and my people and I would not trade that for anything. 

-Mindy Shore, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Junior Acting


Why I went to Berlin

While most of my friends are enjoying the beach of Puerto Vallarta, I chose to come to Berlin with Chabad ASB.

My whole life I've learned about the Holocaust and I never thought I would come to Germany. I had no reason or desire to visit the place where they tried to destroy us.

I now have a new perspective after coming to Berlin. Hitler did not want us to be here or to even exist at all, so it is very powerful to stand proud as Jews in Berlin.

- Jamie Weil 


 Our day started off early by traveling into east Berlin to first see the Jewish Museum and the Topography of Terror. The Jewish Museum gave an overview of the history of the Jewish community throughout Germany. The building itself was beautifully and cleverly constructed to carefully have symbol and meaning. Each part represented something. We really liked walking through the Garden of Exile outside the museum, which gave an eerie feeling to the history of Berlin. The Museum also highlighted important aspects of Jewish life throughout history, with the Holocaust era as only one part. The Topography of Terror was a museum to show the rise of Hitler and the Nazi power. It was a lot of reading, but we learned a lot about how something like the Holocaust could have happened basically right in front of the German people and the world.

Next, we had the amazing opportunity to meet with the American Ambassador to Germany at the United States Embassy. He talked a bit about American-German- Israeli relations and we had the chance to ask questions. I thought it was really cool that he gave us some time out of his day to discuss issues that many of us care about...(also the Embassy was super fancy).

After that, we met our tour guide Nadav to do a walking tour of East Berlin. This started with the Brandenburg Gate. Nadav knew a lot of interesting stories about the Gate and the area around it.

One important thing we learned was about the stones on the ground that are used as a memorial throughout the city. These stones lie where those people who perished in the Holocaust lived. The walking tour was awesome and we had fairly sunny weather, which made it more enjoyable! We saw the University, the spot where Hitler gave his acceptance speech, and a synagogue designed by a non Jew that looks like a mosque.

We had dinner at chabad- which is always a good time.  And we ended the night with hanging at an authentic German pub to experience authentic German culture, music, and dancing!

 By Ali Jonesi 

Our visit to Prague

 A few shades before sunrise we embarked on a stimulating journey to Prague, Czech Republic.

As we drove along the countryside, we discovered the true charm of the European experience.

After five sleepless hours on the bus we finally arrived in what we quickly found out to be Europe’s true gem.

Accompanied by our esteemed tour guide Camilla, our eyes wandered in awe as we took in the Czech air while learning about the history of the small, yet gorgeous town.

After a quick trip to “The Castle,” we went on an extensive trip into Prague’s jewish quarter, where we visited synagouges and cementaries while Camila told us about the town’s impressive jewish history.

After a day filled with judiasm and architechural beauty, we experienced a local fair where we took in the smells, tastes and atmosphere of Prague.

We concluded the night with a delicious dinner at the Chabad house where we reflected on our day trip and shared highlights as we drove away into the night. 

 By: Omer Oppenheim 


Shabbat started really beautifully with a nice picture opportunity on the roof of our hotel. We had all just arrived in Berlin and it was the first time in over a day we were able to just relax and finally take it all in while watching the sun set over the city. As Shabbat began we headed over to the chabad student center for services and dinner which was a blast!

We enjoyed a lavish meal with German cuisine where we has the opportunity to meet the local German and Russian Jewish students. A long night of dining and fargrenging proved to be a good time for everyone.

Shabbat morning started slowly with most people sleeping in until 11:30 and then slowly trickling into the chabad center to catch the end of prayers and then a kiddush lunch.

There was one boy becoming a bar mitzvah, a wedding and an upshernish all happening this week!

The amount of food we consumed was amazing as it just kept coming out of the kitchen.

Following the kiddush we headed over to  Rabbi Yehuda & Leah Tiechtel's (Rabbi Dovid's brother) house for a proper Shabbat lunch. The rebitsen had produced an amazing feast and we dined until Shabbat was almost over.

The amazing part about this day was how together everyone felt as we sat free of outside distractions and just focused on each other and what was happening in our immediate vicinity. I spoke with a few other people on the trip who had never experienced a full Shabbat such as this without phones or any other electronic distractions, I was amazed to see how much they actually appreciated being "unplugged" for a whole day and just spending time conversing and getting to know one another.

Aside from the religious aspect of the day it was an awesome feeling to realize that we were spending Shabbat, walking through the streets of Berlin wearing kippas and proudly displaying our Judaism where people were murdered not so long ago for that very reason. Rabbi Yehudah reminded us many times, that the best revenge we could have on the nazi regime was proudly practicing Judaism, especially here in Berlin. I really connected to that and it made me even prouder to be a Jew. It also made me realize the importance of continuing the Jewish tradition with my future children, something I now realize more than ever is the most important thing I can do as Jew for the rest of my life.


By Stanley Dayan 

Day one in Berlin: WOW!

 Friday was a crazy day. Most of us had less than an hour of sleep from our plane ride, and we were out until around midnight.

I started to fall asleep a few times, even once while I was standing up, but the excitement kept me awake.

As soon as our plane landed, we met up with Chava, the public relations person for the Berlin chabad. She led us to a Mercedes bus (perks of being in Germany), where we began our tour.

We drove to places like the Brandenburg gate, checkpoint Charlie, and lots of cool buildings and statues. Then was our boat tour of the city. We sat on the top of this boat that went down a river and we saw so many amazing buildings and landmarks. Also, the sun was out and it was nice to just sit back and relax in the warm weather.

Finally, we arrived at the chabad, and ate some lunch while meeting some of the local people. Then, we went to our hotel, which is literally a 30 second walk from chabad. The rooms in the hotel are super cool, and all different sizes.

We explored the hotel and napped for a few hours and soon went to a shabbat service and dinner. This dinner lasted around 6 hours. It included lots of food, and good stories. After dinner was over, we all walked home to the hotel together. It was late and we were exhausted from our day of nonstop tourism.

Our first day in Berlin was amazing, and we are all so excited to experience more each day for the rest of the week.

 By: Hannah Schwartz 

Getting Ready!

 As we are getting our bags packed, the last evening before the big journey, I think back to earlier this fall when the planing began.

 Here we have a group of students, in place of going to some beach for break, are taking the time to go to a place that give us a shudder, yet going to share, going to show, we walk the streets, proud, we are part of the major revival of Jewish life in the place they tried to erase it.

 We will make a difference, meeting with university students, young children and adults, spending Shabbat in a place where they tried to erase it. Lighting a candle in a place they tried to extinguish it. We Are alive, well strong, we are back and stronger then ever.

 Am Yisroel Chai!

Keep checking this blog for posts and thoughts as the trip comes along. 

By Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel 

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