Posted February 27, 2018
Over President’s Day weekend, our Confirmation class explored over a thousand years of Jewish history in Germany on their study trip to Frankfurt, Mainz, Worms, Speyer, and Nuremberg. Students learned of the many iterations of destruction and rebirth these communities have experienced and explored questions like, what is present in absence? What is the best way to memorialize a community? And why and how does a community decide to rebuild itself? Students built relationships with Jewish teens in Frankfurt, celebrated Shabbat with the local community, and gained a deeper understanding of their position as American and Reform Jews in the world.
One modern-day experience I’ve had in Germany so far was orthodox Friday Night Services. It was the first orthodox service I’ve ever been in, and it was a different Jewish service than my typical Central service. There were no instruments, prayers were chanted in unfamiliar melodies, and, of course, I didn’t understand the announcements or prayer book in German. However, the largest, and most eye-opening difference of the whole experience was the fact that men and women were separated. I sat in a balcony above the bimah and the main floor of the synagogue. I felt like an audience member watching the men down below pray and chant and did not feel like I was praying with them. Maybe this was because I had difficulty understanding where we were in the service. At some point, I felt unimportant though because the balcony was poorly maintained and was built in a way that I had to stand up and poor over the balcony wall in order to see the prayer leaders. The fact that I couldn’t see the main activity of the worship demonstrated how the prayer experience of the men was more valued than that of the women. I know I will bring this memory back with me to the city. I will also remember the beautiful interior of the synagogue too. It had originally been a Reform synagogue exclusively, but, today it is shared by all the different Jewish communities.
One of the historical experiences I will bring back with me to the city was the image of the Frankfurt ghetto wall which ran parallel to a cramped alleyway in between two modern buildings. It was constructed in the 15th century. I didn’t realize the total effect that the narrow streets must have had on the oppressed Jews and their daily life. The streets in these alleys were just a few meters wide. Thinking about the absence of light, fresh air, and the open space while standing up against the big, ugly walls which isolated and separated Jews for hundreds of years made me understand a bit of what being oppressed was like for them. I will take this memory back to the city with me too.
- Daphne R.
The Nazi rally grounds struck me the most this trip. The massive land allocated to the Nazis reminded me just how many people took part in genocide. Thinking about all the people that would attend the rallies really shook me because I could really get a grasp on the amount of people that would be willing to support a party in favor of mass murdering. Upon my return to New York City, I will be able to live my life freely as a Jewish adolescent. I must not take religious freedom for granted. Because so many young Jews did not get to live a proud, unconfined Jewish life, I must honor their memory by living my own fulfilling Jewish life. Living in an environment where people are free to practice whatever religion they choose, I must deepen my understanding of the Jewish religion so I can make sure that Jewish lives never have to be confined and cut short again. The Nazi rally grounds reminded me to be proud of my religion and to commemorate Jews who lost their lives by living my best Jewish life.
- Rachel H.
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