Lublin and Majdanek

On Thursday, we visited the main square of Lublin, which was full of life, and showed an exhibit similar to one in Israel (umbrellas).  The old buildings and European vibe reminded most of us of Tel Aviv on a Friday morning.

Later on, we went to Majdanek, a death camp outside Lublin.  Majdanek has not been damaged, changed, or retouched, so you can see the exact details, gas stains, bedrooms, personal items. And the crematorium.  We were shocked when the first building was entered was gas chambers.  The sudden turn off the weather from sunny and bright to cloudy and gray, along with the massive number of crows, created an eerie feeling.  Being the only group in the camp, seeing the sadness in our eyes created fear and highlighted the intensity.

Having the ceremony in front of the dome of ashes created sadness and fear, and stirred up emotions.  The ceremony was very specific to the camp, and it felt as if you were watching your family cry.

At the entrance to the camp, there is a big monument.  The huge size and looking up from under it created a sense of lack of control, as if the monument represents the pour of the Nazis over the Jews, as if they were looking from above.  The thunder and storm always seemed to be over the ashes and crematorium, and the minute we left, it started raining.

On the bus, we were watching movies, and we could never imagine that this was how it really felt like until we were in the camp.  We realized it was exactly like the movies.  The whole vibe was shocking and sad.  Just as shocking were the new houses built close to the camp after the war. -Rebecca, Rochester and Dana, Modi’in

TWO SOULS IN MAJDANEK, by JFIer Ben Richardson

We inhabit Majdanek

Where humanity stopped at the front gate

Where the screams of the living turned into the silence of the dead

Where embraces became beatings

Where food became rare

Where life became a privilege

Where gas-filled cans

Broke lives

Ate dreams

Where fire engulfed bodies

Seared families

Reduced love to black dust

Where we now reside

To remind

To revisit

To teach the world Majdanek

Where showers made the world unclean

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Josefov and Kabbalat Shabbat in Krakow

Well today we had the usual wake up at 6 am, and as usual, I was running on very little sleep! So the first major landmark we visited today was the Jozefov Cemetery, riddled with the gravestones of the murdered Jews. As soon as I entered the cemetery I felt a wave of the sadness and pain that the Jews felt when they were massacred in the town. As I looked upon each intricate grave stone, I listened to our guide, Noam, as he told us the stories of some of the people who died. With each story, I felt more and more connected to the history of Jozefov.

After our time there was up, we had begun our travel to the synagogue. When we got to the synagogue, I was surprised to see that it was also a library! During our time at the synagogue we were given a brief lesson on the history of the synagogue and how the only reason it was still up was because it was used as a horse
stable during WW2.

After the synagogue our trip was going to take a turn for a more serious route: the Jozefov forest and the killing pits that lay inside of it, where thousands upon thousands of Jews were mercilessly executed by the police. Before we entered the forest, Sam, the survivor who came with us on the trip, told us about his mother, and really emphasized how much meaning his mother had to him, and this really made me reflect on how important family really is. When we entered the forest, the first I noticed was that, as in the Lupochowa forest, there were no birds, they seemingly just disappeared. Adding to the eerieness of the forest, I noticed there were no signs marking the territory, no signs marking where the massacre of the Jews took place, and this angered me very much. As we listened to the song that Noam played, I closed my eyes and listened, to try to feel the presence of our past ancestors who had died in the forest.  I tried to hear the last sounds that they ever heard. As we were beginning to leave the forest, I had a new found sense of anger inside of me, it grew each time I thought about the fact that the police of Jozefov decided to murder the Jews, out of there own choice, and I came to the realization of just how hard
forgiveness can be.

When we arrived at our new hotel in Kraków, We had a very nice Kaballat Shabbat at the local synagogue, in which the sense of
family that had been growing since the first day of JFI had been fortified significantly. As the day ended I had gone to bed with a sense of true bonding among my fellow JFI’ers, and looked forward with a sense of hope that my next few days in Poland will come with a sensible feeling, rather than one of just anger, of which I had today. -Gilad, Rochester

Friday was a fascinating day.  We began the day by driving (for quite some time) to Jozefow, a small town that thrived in pre-WWII Poland.  In Jozefow, there was a group of civilians associated with the Nazis called the Reserve Police Battalion 101.  On the night of July 13, 1942, the Jews of Jozefow were taken to the forest by the Battalion and shot over the next three days.

In Jozefow, we visited a cemetery in the woods.  The cemetery rung with the voices of the roughly 1600 Jews killed in the forest just outside the small town.

After Jozefow, we took an extremely long bus ride to Krakow, where we checked into our hotel and began Shabbat in Poland, which has been one of my favorite nights on the trip so far!  We went to an Orthodox synagogue and David led us in services.  Then we had dinner at JFI’s favorite Polish restaurant, Kosher Delight.  Towards the end of the meal, we all sang songs and had an amazing time.  It made me realize the incredible power of Shabbat to bring people together.  Both the Americans and Israelis knew the same songs and were united under Shabbat.  That was a really special night for us all, and one we will all remember! -Ben, Rochester

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Day 1 in Poland

We started the day in the plane from JFK to Warsaw. After we arrived at Warsaw at 8am local time we had to wait for all of our guides and security. While we were waiting, people slept, played music, talked,  or took pictures and videos of people sleeping. Eventually our journey in Poland began and we started our day of alternating sleep and learning. We started learning about Jewish history in Poland by visiting the Okopowa Cemetery. We then went to Korczak’s Orphanage. Here people began to be noticeably tired. We had lunch at the Palace of Culture and Sciences. We then visited the Ghetto Walls. Today there are apartments in the same place where the Ghetto was located. We then went to Umschlagplatz. The Nozyk Synaguage was our next location, and here many people were extremely tired and some people fell asleep. After we visited the Synaguage we went to Chopin Park where people were able to relax. We took a lot of pictures and walked and bonded as a group. We had dinner at a local restaurant. After dinner we arrived at the hotel where everyone was finally able to take a shower and sleep for the first time since we left Rochester. Even though everybody was tired, we were able to visit a lot and learn more about Jewish history in Poland. -Alex, Rochester

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A Day in “Jew York”

We started our day in Chinatown.  In a Jewish American old synagogue, the tour guide explained how old it was – from the 1600s!  Today, the temple does not have enough people for a minyan.  It was not surprising – the old and grey synagogue was standing in the middle of digital and colorful Chinatown, after all.  I have been told before that New York has a large Jewish community in it.  But only when I walk in it, I understand that even here, it is hard to be a Jew.  Why would I choose the kosher restaurant between hundreds of choices?

We went to Times Square.  One thing I love about being in the US is that I’m trying new experiences every day!  Today it was Starbucks coffee.  It was really good, but I can understand why it didn’t go to Israel.  Starbucks tried to open a store there, but we have Aroma all over the place. – Yael and Tom, Modi’in

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Fort Ontario, Seabreeze, and Farewell Dinner

Sunday was a lot of fun!  We went to Fort Ontario, Seabreeze, and had a farewell dinner  the Fensters’ house.  Although the drive to Fort Ontario was a bit long, the fort was very interesting, and I learned something new.  Seabreeze was fun, too!  Since it was a very hot day, it was nice to go to a water park.  In Seabreeze, there was a wave pool, and it reminded me of the beautiful beaches in Israel, which made me miss home.  The dinner at the Fensters’ was also fun!  I can’t believe the week is already over! -Goni, Modi’in

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Shabbat with the Bush Family

My Saturday at Rochester with the Bush family:
We woke up at 8:30 am, had breakfast and went to our way to Keuka lake. After about 2 hours of driving we arrived at Cory camp to pick up Alex’s brother – Adam (I just met him the same day). Later we went to the lake, took the boat and started water-skiing, i tried but it was too hard, so we went to lunch at the Switz. After the lunch we tubed the lake and finished the lake experience. Next we went to get ice cream and headed back to Rochester. When we arrived in Rochester we went to the mall for a small walk and then headed home. The day ends with an havdala and cosmic bowl. -Arad, Modi’in 

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Niagara Falls and Camp Sisol

We woke up really, really, really early.  We had a funny ride because I brought my ukulele and we sang songs. Then we reached Niagara Falls!!!!! There was an amazing view of the falls and we even saw Canada!! Afterwards, we got on the “maid of the mist”-a boat that sails really close to the falls. It was AWESOME!!!! We all got soaking wet and we saw some really great view from there. After that awesome experience, we went to “cave of the winds”- a wooden deck under the falls. That was the time that I noticed how great and powerful the Niagara falls really are!! It was an amazing view and again, we all got really really wet. And then, we went shopping!!!!! $$$!!! Arad won the “buying too much stuff” award, and most of the boys (including me) bought the same cool tank top at only 4$!! After buying some stuff we went on to a red wings baseball game. We first ate “bar b que” and then we met some Jewish American scout kids! We took a picture with them and went on buying some foam fingers. The game was so much fun!!

For conclusion, the day was INCREDIBLE! We had so much fun and we have seen some breathtaking views!  -Omer, Modi’in

First thing in Friday morning, we drove to Camp Sisol, a Jewish day camp located near Rochester.  The campers are separated into groups by their age.  When we got to Camp Sisol, the kids had their Friday morning gathering.  They were singing songs, some of them in Hebrew, and ate challah.  Of course we joined them.

Before the gathering ended, Noam, Omer, and I played “The Song for Love” [Yachad] in Hebrew and everyone joined.  It was very nice.

Every pair found their group of campers.  Gilad and I were matched with the oldest kids, between the ages of 12-14.  We had a great time playing Israeli games and ultimate frisbee with them.  Later, we all ate lunch, talked to the camp manager, and went for a small hike near the camp’s river.  The camp has beautiful land with hills, a forest, and the river.

Later that day, some of us went to a service at Temple Sinai, an amazingly beautiful place.  Long story short, the service was great.  We went on stage to say some prayers, and the mood was nice.  The big difference from synagogues I’ve been in is the tunes of the prayers.  -Aviv, Modi’in

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