Every year, the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School sends its senior class on a trip to Eastern Europe and Israel in lieu of a second semester. The class of 2014, which graduated on Feb. 9, is getting ready to leave for their trip on Sunday.
According to trip planner and JDS teacher Aileen Goldstein, the trip sports anywhere from an 84 to 92 percent participation rate. This year, 93 out of 107 graduating students are attending; 88 graduates will go on the entire trip, three are skipping the Israel leg and two the European part.
Unlike previous years, the trip will be run entirely by the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, at whose campus in Hod Hasharon the students will stay for the majority of their Israel visit. Previously, JDS had supplied staff in Eastern Europe. Alexander Muss’ schedule will also change the order of the trip to show students a more chronological history of the Jewish people.
The students will travel directly to Israel where they will spend the first four weeks there before heading to Poland in late March. There, they will visit Warsaw, Treblinka, Majdanek, Auschwitz and Birkenau.
Following Poland, they’ll spend two days in Prague, at which point they will return to Israel to have their Passover spring break, participate in a 2 1/2-week volunteer
program, and see many other sights.
Goldstein said the trip proves to be deeply moving for the students, particularly at two of the concentration camps.
“The students find Majdanek incredibly overwhelming emotionally,” she said.
The death camp, which is still mostly intact, features a tour that sends visitors through the still-standing gas chambers and crematoria.
Goldstein said students tend to have deeply emotional reactions due to “feeling as though they’re walking through the gas chambers and in the same footsteps” of the Jews who were brought there during the Holocaust.
The other concentration camp that the teens react most to, she said, is Birkenau, because many of them had family members who were held there.
Each year, the class holds a memorial service for the students’ family members.
In Therezin, outside of Prague, the classes visit a hidden synagogue, which Goldstein finds inspiring due to the model of Jews insisting on practicing their religion despite the risk to their lives.
“And to me personally,” she said, “that’s always a very poignant moment.”
When the students return to Israel after their break, they will have a number of
options for volunteer programs, from youth aliyah organizations to kibbutzim.
The students will split into groups and disperse throughout the country to their various volunteering destinations. Afterwards, they will come back together for the last week and a half of the trip, and will return to the United States May 22.