The Budowsphere #5
We are only about a month away from our annual 8th grade trip to Israel. In a previous blog I spoke about Zionism, and the trip to Israel is the most important manifestation of Zionism in the school.
Our graduation trip to Israel started in 1999, and I have been privileged and blessed to lead every excursion. Each year I try to change things and provide new, exciting experiences for our students. I am never bored- the students are energized, and their enthusiasm electrifies me.
There was one year that we did not go to Israel. It was during the years of the Intifada, and the situation in Israel was really dire. There were daily bombings reported in Jerusalem, suicide bombings all over the country, and stories of lives spent in and out of bomb shelters. Everyone worried about whether or not we could or should take the students to Israel. It was the year my daughter graduated, and many Shabbat meals were spent with her asking, “Dad, are we going to be able to go to Israel this year?”
Because of the terrible conditions, and many parents’ justifiable fears, we decided to forgo Israel and take the students on a Jewish historical tour of Eastern Europe. We started in Budapest, where we visited a synagogue that cost $25 million and was certainly very impressive. We traveled to Prague by train, a city that was once central to Jewish life, and ended our tour in Amsterdam, culminating in a visit to the Anne Frank house.
The trip was interesting, but I felt uneasy and agitated during the entire trip. Everywhere we went there seemed to be nothing but museums and dry, lifeless places. The lavish synagogue in Budapest was just a museum- there are no services held there. In Prague, one of the biggest tourist attractions is the cemetery. We went to Theresienstadt, and prayed at a river where Jewish ashes were thrown by the Nazis. When we finally arrived in Amsterdam we visited the Anne Frank museum, the building where a young girl lived out her short life.
My reaction to the entire trip was that this was a “march of death.” Every place we went was a testament to Jewish lives that were taken, and I vowed “never again.” The next year, although the Intifada was still raging, we returned to Israel. There were so few tour groups making the trip to Israel that the Jerusalem Post actually wrote an article that singled Abrams out as one of the few organizations that was willing to come to Israel during this time. I have the article framed and hanging in my office as a remembrance.
I am adamant that my purpose is to teach Jewish students about life, not death. When we visit Israel I purposely arrange the trip so that we visit the Kotel and experience life in Israel before we go to Yad Vashem. I am determined that we will not take our children on a “death march,” commemorating the genocide of our people, but instead will continue to bring them to Israel to rejoice in the vibrant, living country that is ours.
L’shana Haba Jerusalem.
Rabbi Ira Budow