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Traveling Through Time Zones

Posted on 03/25/2015 @ 04:00 PM

The 4-week, 9-country Global Jewish Teen Tour

Each year, BBYO, the world's leading pluralistic youth movement, sends its two democratically elected teen leaders to meet with their peers in Jewish communities around the world. For four weeks, starting on December 15, Amanda Freedman (Toronto, ON) and Sam Perlen (Nashville, TN) traveled to nine countries across Europe and the Middle East.

This is the story of a young boy and girl navigating through foreign airports.

A story of passport stamps and boarding passes, of long train rides and layovers.

A story of adventure.

Of seeing the world in new lights.

A story of history.

Of time-travel.

Of overcoming language barriers and cultural differences to create global connections.

This is not a story about AZA or BBG.

This is a story about the Jewish people.


Map of Sam and Amanda's Overseas Travel

Let’s start at the beginning. Our overseas journey began in Estonia, but this story – that of the Jewish people – started long before that, when Europe was the center of Jewish life 70 years ago.

We arrived in Estonia and soon learned that, during the Holocaust, Estonia had been stamped as ‘Judenfrei,’ a country free of Jews. In contrast, the last stop of our tour was Sofia, Bulgaria, where we learned that the Bulgarian King saved Jews living in the country during the Holocaust. Hitler had asked him to deport them, but he maintained that Jews were working on a project for him, and he would send them later. Every time Hitler asked for Bulgarian Jews to be deported, the King put off the request, explaining that he needed them for just a little longer…

Bulgaria was the only country to have more Jews after the Holocaust than before.


Skating with Estonian Teens


Bowling with Bulgarians

History and lessons such as this one played a large role in our overseas adventure, allowing us to understand our experiences in terms of the past, present and future.

We saw 6th century churches in Georgia. We breathed in the ancient air of the Old City in Jerusalem. We saw the most magnificent synagogues in Estonia, Latvia, Georgia, Turkey and Bulgaria.

These synagogues have witnessed the downfalls and uprises of our people. They have experienced the pogroms, been vandalized with swastikas and burnt to the ground by citizens driven to hatred. Despite this, they have been the venues for 13-year-old Jewish boys and girls to enter adulthood as they become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. They have become sanctuaries of marital bliss. And they have been there every Friday evening to welcome in the Sabbath Bride, waiting for a minyan to fill their temples with the words of God and the tunes of t’filah. These synagogues have stood the test of time, and still stand tall and proud of their Jewish heritage.

Our time in France in particular reminded us that the hardships of our Jewish history are sadly not things of the past. While in Montpellier for the BBYO France Convention, we were informed that bullet holes had been found in the windows of a synagogue in Paris. Despite this sobering news that a Jewish place of worship had been defaced, later that day, the teens of BBYO France danced and sang to Oseh Shalom, praying for peace around the world.


Jonah Moore, UK; Sam Perlen, US; Juliette Hochberg, France; Amanda Freedman, Canada

When we visited a small Jewish community in Turkey, home to fewer than 2,000 Jewish individuals, we experienced a kind of Jewish life we could’ve never imagined. During our stay, we met with the president of that Jewish community who laid out their anticipated future which, unfortunately, does not look so promising, as the community is predominantly made up of people in their 60s and 70s. Despite that, when he raved about the youth and their active role in bettering the community, we understood that he was proud of the present and, against all odds, has hope for the future. This reaffirmed for us, more than ever, that what we do and who we are as part of BBYO is vital to the global Jewish future.


Dinner with Turkish Teens

One of the most impactful parts of our trip was during our week-long stay in Israel when we visited the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) headquarters in Jerusalem. There, we learned about the JDC’s 100+ year history of saving Jewish people in need of humanitarian aid around the world. As the camps were liberated at the end of World War II, the JDC shipped 227 million pounds of supplies to Europe to provide urgent aid for Holocaust survivors. In 1991, the JDC executed Operation Solomon, a rescue mission that airlifted 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to refuge in Israel. Today, the JDC has created partnerships with BBYO in 16 different countries to help us connect with Jews all over the world.

It was during this meeting at the JDC office that we understood that we were no longer on a trip, but rather a mission.

“Kol Yisrael Aravim Ze Le Ze,” all the Jews of Israel are responsible for one another.

Throughout this trip, we were responsible for showing the Jewish teens in these 9 countries that there are 45,000 Jewish teens in North America wanting to know them and connect with them. Now, as we move forward, we are responsible for providing Jewish teens across the globe a safe environment where they can express their Judaism freely. We are responsible for ensuring that the Jewish people are thriving in our own backyards and on the other side of the world.

Because if we don’t take responsibility, who will?

- Amanda and Sam


The JDC Office in Israel


Hanging with BBGs in UKI


Touring Tbilisi with Georgian Teens


Learning to Deal with the (co)ld in the Swiss Alps

Food for Thought

While this trip was about the past, the present and the future, it was also about food. With all that travel comes a culinary tour of the world, and, below, we’re providing you with our own culinary dictionary of the top three most unique and delicious foods consumed during our trip:

Poyke (also known as Israeli Cowboy Stew): Poyke is a dish where you toss together meat, vegetables and Israeli couscous into a pot and cook it over a fire. We ate Poyke with the Maccabi Tzair community in Nes Tziona, and it was so good!

Khinkali: These dumplings from the Mountains of Georgia are delicious twisted knobs of dough filled with meat, spices and a savory soup-like liquid. One must eat Khinkali very carefully, or else all of the yummy soup inside spills out!

Manti: Turkish beef-filled ravioli pasta with yogurt, garlic and red pepper sauce on top. Manti may not follow the laws of kashrut, but it sure is delicious!


Poyke (Israel)


Khinkali (Georgia)


Manti (Turkey)

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