On the eve of the International victory day May 9, a group of 100 University students from across Russia took part in a historic mission, visiting Jewish sites all throughout Eastern Europe. The trips objective was to reconnect Jewish Russian youth to their heritage, and put a special emphasis on the part which the Russian army played in the victory over Nazi Germany.
Built as pilot project on the initiative of Russian Jewish businessman Mr. Gregory Finger, the program included 6 months of preparation by the students, including attending classes on Jewish history, tradition and theology. In recent years, Mr. Finger has developed an active interest in the development of Jewish youth programs in the former Soviet Union. The project became a reality thanks to Mr. Fingers support along with a joint effort of local and international donors.
The highlight of the mission was the visit to the Auschwitz- Birkenau concentration camps. It was there that the students experienced for the first time, the magnitude of the Holocaust and the devastation which was wrought on their people. Nobody could hold back their overwhelming emotion and tears as they gathered around in silent prayer on the site where over one million Jews were sentenced to their death. It was there that a firm decision was made to reconnect to their roots and continue carrying the torch of the Jewish nation.
The trip continued with the students visiting the historic Jewish city of Prague, the one community in Eastern Europe which was preserved and was left almost completely intact to this very day. Shabbat was spent with the local Jewish community of Budapest where they had a chance to see a thriving Jewish European community, as well as tour the historic city.
The trip culminated with a full day tour in Vienna followed by a banquet with Russia’s Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Berel Lazar. At the event, every student stood up and spoke about their feelings and impressions of the trip and how it made them feel so proud to be Jewish. The students spoke about the how the trip helped them realize the importance of marrying Jewish and giving their future children a solid Jewish upbringing and education.
Each student ended their talk with a strong commitment to get more involved in their local Jewish community and to strengthen their participation in Shabbat, holiday and community activities. Additionally, many of them undertook resolutions to start eating Kosher, reciting prayers, and to reach out and help Holocaust survivors in their community.
As they got on the plane to go back home the next day, the students expressed their thanks to the trip organizers and promised to bring their Jewish friends to participate in the program this coming year.