Reliving the past is a major aspect of Jewish culture and motivates us for how we live our lives as Jews today. Members of the prestigious Union Society of the Orthodox Union will have an opportunity to experience the past under the guidance of OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, in this summer’s Mission to Eastern Europe. The trip, which will include visits to Vilnius, Prague, and various cities in Poland — formerly centers of flourishing Jewish life and learning– will take place from July 2 through July 13, 2006.
Union Society members are contributors of $5,000 or more to any Orthodox Union program worldwide, including: NCSY, Yachad/Our Way, Kharkov-Joseph K. Miller Torah Center, Seymour J. Abrams OU Jerusalem World Center, and the Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus. The trip is being operated by Kesher Tours, leaders in the field of special interest trips for observant Jewish travelers.
Rabbi Weinreb, who will serve as Scholar-in-Residence, has traveled four times to Eastern Europe and once to Ukraine, each time leading a tour or a mission. His commentary is certain to include a combination of Jewish texts, history, and personal reflections on the glories of pre-Holocaust Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, their tragic demise and current steps toward revival. Above all he will inspire as well as inform; enthrall as well as instruct; and in short, provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience, even for those who have been to Eastern Europe before.
As Rabbi Weinreb explained, “I am looking forward to acting as Scholar-in-Residence for many reasons. For many of us, Eastern Europe is the “alter heim,” the “old home,” of which we heard our grandparents speak. It is the site of centuries of Jewish history, which all ended in the Holocaust. Returning there for even a brief trip gives us the occasion to learn so much about our history and heritage; to pray at the graves of saints and scholars; to be uplifted by walking in their paths and learning where they learned; and to grieve and cry over all that was lost, often at the very sites of mass murder and destruction.”
Rabbi Weinreb continued, “But we will also witness the small sparks of revival which do exist. I have developed a model for leading tours like this which incorporates educational programming about Jewish history, the lives and teachings of those buried at the various cemeteries we will visit, and special perspectives and little-known facts about the ghettos and concentration camps. I look forward to returning again in the company of the OU mission participants, and am sure that the experience will be inspiring.”
Mission highlights include:
Days 2-3 in Vilnius (formerly Vilna) will include visits to the Great Synagogue, the Mausoleum of the Vilna Gaon, and the ghetto where the Slobodka Yeshiva once stood.
Days 4-7 include Shabbat in Prague as well as visits to the Jewish Quarter, the Jewish Museum Complex, and the burial place of the Maharal. Davening will be held at the Alte Neu Shul of the Maharal, one of the most influential thinkers in the post-medieval period. Shabbat will include not only services but an afternoon walking tour.
Days 8-9 in Krakow include a trip to Oskar Schindler’s world famous factory, the former Jewish Quarter, and the Ramah Synagogue.
Days 10-11 in Warsaw will include a trip to the sites of the Warsaw Ghetto, Mila 18, Umschlagplatz, Auschwitz and Birkenau.
“Although inevitably a trip of this nature will focus on the destruction of the Jewish community, there will be opportunities to witness examples of the rebirth of Jewish life and observance in that part of the world,” declared Stephen J. Savitsky, OU President. “It is clear that Rabbi Weinreb’s commentary will focus not only on Jewish tragedy but on Jewish renewal as well.”