PRAGUE (Jul. 7)
A Holocaust survivor is joining 150 Jewish high school children from North America on a monthlong exploration of European Jewish history.
To add to the experience, the Reform movement’s North American Federation of Temple Youth, or NFTY, flew out Holocaust survivor Hana Greenfield from Israel to give lectures and share her experiences.
The Czech-born Greenfield, 75, who has written a series of books on her wartime experiences, will accompany the children to Auschwitz, one of several she was held in during the war.
Greenfield said she found it very difficult returning to Auschwitz, but felt that it was important that young people understood the past in order to understand the dangers facing Israel today, in particular the threat to democracy.
“People are not sending children to Israel these days, so I have brought Israel a little bit to them,” she said. “Living in 1939, it didn’t occur to us what danger there could be. With the situation in Israel now, I think it is very important for the younger generation to realize how dangerous the situation is.”
During their visit to Prague, the high school students visited the city’s Jewish Quarter, where they learned about the life of the Jewish community there during the Middle Ages. They also visited the Pinkas Synagogue, and took part in a Frank Kafka program that covered the life and times of the famous writer.
“The purpose of the trip is to enrich them with their European heritage and to show them 1,500 years of Jewish traditions,” said Baruch Kraus, director of NFTY’s “European Roots” program. “We want them to see and feel it.”
Kraus explained that NFTY had arranged for Greenfield to join the tour because she could offer something that textbooks could not.
“Personal history or personal memories is the strongest form of education,” Kraus said. “It turns education or words into experience.”
Other countries on the schedule for the trip, which ends July 31, include Britain, Italy and Poland.
For 17-year-old Joanne Rosenfield, the trip is an opportunity to connect with other Jewish young people.
“I am from a really small town in New Hampshire, and the only Jewish kid in my high school,” she said. “I wanted the chance to meet others my age and see all my heritage. You can read about it in books, but it makes everything seem so much more real when you go places.”
Sydney Wasserman, 17, from Sacramento, Calif., said she had never been to Europe before and couldn’t wait to learn more about her Jewish heritage.
“I want to know what being Jewish means to me,” she said.
The students will also visit Spain during their travels where they will learn about the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry, when Jews thrived under a benevolent Muslim rule.
“I hope that by the end of the trip they will have learned that wherever there was a situation where governments allowed freedoms, everybody thrived, and when they didn’t, it hurt the Jews and the general populace as well,” Kraus said.
Ten of the high school children have opted to cut short the European tour to explore Israel for several weeks.
Aaron Dewitt, 16, from Toronto, said he wanted to visit Israel in order to express his support for the Jewish state.
“I feel that now it is really important to visit Israel because there are so few people going there,” he told JTA.