By: Dr. Evie Rotstein
L’Dor v’dor are words that we as Jews say often. We are reminded each year during the Passover seder to connect the past to the present and to the future, by teaching our children. What better way to teach our children, specifically our teens, than by offering them the opportunity to see, touch, feel and experience Jewish life in Europe and then travel to Israel. How very lucky I am to witness this experience with such a wonderful group of NFTY teens.
As a Jewish educator for many years, these last 6 days in Prague, Krakow and Warsaw have been one of the most rewarding weeks of my life. Yes, these are normal Jewish American teens, interested in sports, music and French fries, and yet, there is an amazing yearning to learn more about who they are and more astonishingly, about who they are in the context of Jewish history. I am particularly impressed by the level of curiosity and compassion these teens have exhibited.
I am a Jewish educator, because my grandfather, who was a teacher in Germany before the Holocaust, was not able to fulfill his career dreams. After watching the movie Schindler’s List on the bus ride from Prague to Krakow, we toured the Jewish quarter and its many synagogues. We learned about the richness of Jewish life in the pre-Holocaust days of Krakow. After lunch in the big town square, we returned to the Jewish ghetto and ended the day in the nearby courtyard of Schindler’s factory. Sitting in a big circle, I was given the chance to share the story of my mother and grandparent’s escape from Germany. They were among the lucky survivors who found refuge in a small farming village in France. There they were protected by the kind and brave righteous gentiles who risked their lives to do the right thing, just as Schindler did.
The goal in any educational setting is to connect the big ideas to the individual, so that ultimately the learner can make personal meaning of the world we live in. This is always a challenge, and perhaps even more so in these times, when we are witness to so many confusing and troubling present realities. And yet, these NFTY students have been given the gift of learning experientially, while in the moment. Each day is filled with powerful lessons, when they are challenged to think beyond the immediate, to connect the past and the present. Their amazing well trained NFTY educators bring the very best of educational theory and pedagogy to their teaching.
L’Dor v’dor is truly the message of this week. I am filled with feelings of gratitude for being able to share this experience with future leaders of the Jewish people.
Dr. Evie Rotstein is the Director of the New York School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She has spent this week traveling with groups 8A & B.