Spain, Italy, France, Monaco and Poland in eight days – those were unforgettable moments in the lives of one thousand students from the FSU, who completed their EuroStars trip last week.
They danced on the streets of Barcelona, biked and walked on the trails of Sardinia, learned about Jewish history in Nice, celebrated in Monaco, rested for Shabbat in Milan and concluded their journey with solemn commemorations in Auschwitz. Joy and tears, learning and realizations – the trip became a Jewish identity milestone in all of the students’ lives, connecting them to global Jewry and letting them further realize that they are a vital part of ‘the tribe’.
“These students amazed me. I wasn’t expecting this level of interest, curiosity, mindfulness,” said Mr. Baruch Gorin, editor-in-chief of popular Jewish magazine “LeChaim ” in a radio interview about the trip. “They are motivated by a natural interest in their heritage. When I was growing up, keeping Jewish traditions was “against all odds”. For today’s youth, being in a Jewish environment is a natural way of being. And this naturalness brings about a different mentality – its lively, positive, open. What I saw was a huge group of young people who think that being Jewish is “cool”, that they are lucky to be Jewish. For me, coming from the background of Soviet prejudices, this attitude is a novelty and I see it as one of the main achievements of Jewish activity in the FSU over the last two decades.”
Some of the most long-lasting events on the trip were the Torah scroll completion ceremony in Monaco, the group Shabbat in Milan and the memorial ceremony in Poland. These events went beyond sightseeing and learning – the new Torah scroll arrived to its permanent home – in Moscow’s Jewish community center, where it has already been used for daily prayer services. The group Shabbat meal in Milan saw five region-wide marriage proposals, from Nizhniy Novgorod to Novosibirsk, Rostov, Bryansk and Bobruisk – cities thousands of miles apart, a chance of meeting that could only be brought together by the program.
And the memorial ceremony in Auschwitz allowed students to further realize their connection to the past of the Jewish global community and their responsibility for its present and future. The group met with Batsheva Friedman, a Holocaust survivor, whose entire family perished in Auschwitz. Today Batsheva’s family together with children, grand-children and great-grand children amounts to 154 souls. “This is my revenge against those who tried to destroy us,” she said to the group, sending a powerful message that FJC’s EuroStars participants carried with them back home for the years to come.