NCSY, Stella K. Abraham Leadership Students Visit Berlin
By Shoshana Kaminetsky and Tamar Kwestel
As told to Mrs. Barbara Martin
Shoshana Kaminetsky is an eleventh grade student and Tamar Kwestel is a tenth grade student, at Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls in Hewlett Bay Park.
Mrs. Barbara Martin is the Librarian at the school.
SKA and Midrasha girls visit a garden in Potsdam, Germany.
The brochure for Lauder Yeshurun in Germany states: “Since the 1980’s, more than 100,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union have emigrated to Germany. For the first time since the Holocaust, this community has a future. But will it be a Jewish one? Our answer is yes.”
Lauder Yeshurun Midrasha Berlin, designed for young women who are on a quest to discover their Jewish identity, was the destination from Wednesday, May 11 to Monday, May 17 for 12 Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls tenth and eleventh graders and two of their teachers, Ms. Leah Pariser and Ms. Miriam Leifer. This joint SKA-NCSY | Jewish Youth Leadership program was spearheaded by Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone, Director of New York NCSY, which is based in The Five Towns, who brought NCSY’s JOLT leadership summer program to Germany to work with the Lauder Foundation; and by Ms. Pariser, SKA teaching intern and one of the leaders of this trip, who had taught at the Midrasha the previous year. New York NCSY ran several missions in conjunction with Lauder Yeshurun in the academic year of 2008 and 2009 with the JOLT summer program transitioning to a full-time partnership in the summer of 2009.
“Anytime there is an opportunity to meet peers who have arrived where they have socially, religiously and educationally in different ways than our teens have, the net result is always a win-win,” explained Rabbi Lightstone. “In our past programs and joint ventures with the Lauder Yeshurun Midrasha, all participants, including staff, have been astounded by how much can be accomplished in four or five short days.”
“Working with SKA was an easy decision as their students and staff have time and time again demonstrated the ability for out-of-the-box thinking and a constant commitment to being mikadesh shem shamyim (sanctifying Hashem's name)," Rabbi Lightstone said.
Ms. Pariser declared, “Both the SKA students and the Midrasha girls had so much to offer to each other. Each side taught the other how to be moser nefesh for Torah. One of my students commented on the first day, ‘I thought we came here to do kiruv, but we’re getting the kiruv!’”
Language was not a difficulty, Ms. Pariser reports. “The Midrasha girls know English from school. Yet when the girls got there, they quickly learned that despite their language and cultural differences, we are very much bounded by a higher truth – Am Yisrael Chai.”
In her address to SKA students at the assembly that was held the day after the travelers’ return, tenth grader Tamar Kwestel described her feelings. “The girls in the Midrasha showed such an excitement for Torah and Avodat Hashem that enabled me and many of the other girls on the trip to take a look at ourselves and ask, ‘How can I, who have been raised with a strong Jewish foundation in a Jewish home, further inspire their love for Torah and mitzvot?’ But the truth is, every single person that I interacted with in these past four days has given ten times as much to me as I feel I have given to them.”
“How apt that this trip took place after Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, and Yom Ha’atzmaut,” Mrs. Helen Spirn, SKA’s Head of School, commented, also noting that three out of the four coordinators of the trip were SKA graduates; Michal Shenker Garrett, ’03, teaches at the Midrasha together with her husband, Reuvain.
Shoshana Kaminetsky, an eleventh grader, encapsulated the highlights of the trip which included viewing the Sachsanhousen labor camp, and summed up the feelings of all the participants. “On our trip to the labor camp as free ovdei Hashem, we took the very same train and walked the very same route through the city that the Jewish deportees had taken. We had the tremendous zechus to be accompanied by a real tzaddekes, Rebbitzen Miriam Roberg, who with her husband Rabbi Meir Roberg, the mashgiach ruchani of Lauder Yeshurun, travels to Germany from Jerusalem every six weeks. A survivor of the Holocaust herself, Rebbetzen Roberg chose her first visit to a concentration camp to be with us. From watching her that day, I learned to a greater degree than I’ve ever learned before what it means to live life as a constant Kiddush Hashem.”
“When we returned,” Shoshana continued, “after learning with the Midrasha girls about the middah of chesed, we got to work making challah, food, and cake l’kavod Shabbos, while Ms. Pariser gave an inspiring shiur about how to find Hashem in places of darkness. The next day, erev Shabbos, we split up into two groups to run programs in both the nursery school and the elementary school. In touring the city later that day, we gained a new perspective of the country and learned about the gedolim who lived in Berlin so many years ago up to the Lauder community there today. On Friday night, I had the zechus to eat at the home of Rabbi and Rebbitzen Rose, who had moved from Eretz Yisroel to Berlin to teach in the Midrasha.”
Shoshana added, “Inspiration on this trip came in so many forms. Sunday morning featured a chabura and shiur both prepared with much effort by Ms. Leifer. Learning with the Midrasha girls was really an experience; their thirst for Torah knowledge was so admirable and allowed us to cover all the sources that were put together. On our last night we heard divrei chizuk from Rabbi and Rebbitzen Roberg about the lessons we should take back to New York. This trip changed my view of the world on a global level, by strengthening my love towards Jews worldwide, and on a local level, by motivating me to try to make a difference in my own community.”
Concluding, Shoshana said, “A tremendous hakaras hatov to Mrs. Spirn, Rabbi Zak, Ms. Pariser, Ms. Leifer and Rabbi Lightstone for all the effort you put into planning this trip and making it possible. Although the Midrasha girls had a great time, our encounter with them meant a lot more than just fun to us. It represented the pride that these girls had in being a link in the chain of the transfer of a Torah way of life to the next generation. We saw building in the place of destruction. It was the revival of frumkeit in a place where it was once lost. And boy, was it powerful!”
SKA girls take a bike tour around the major sites of Berlin.
SKA and Midrasha girls learning b’chavruta.
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