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Reflecting on BBYO Passport

Continental Reflections on a BBYO Youth Trip


Jamie Ehrlich

Special to the Journal

Thu, August 18, 2011

The sun was finally beginning its descent and the scorching heat of the day subsided in favor of a cool dry breeze. My tightly knit group of 46 walked along the canals of Venice as the gondoliers sang. Bells from St. Mark’s Basilica echoed through the narrow passageways and over short bridges. It was Shabbat, so everyone in my ordinarily pungent and road-weary group was clean and looking their best.

Upon arrival at the synagogue in the ancient Venetian ghetto, we were separated by gender and given prayer books. Though it was difficult to make sense of a half-Hebrew and half-Italian Orthodox service, I realized that the Hebrew section was universal for all of the nationalities gathered there. In a funny twist, I learned that the woman sitting next to me was from Swampscott.

We had just spent the day in the Venetian ghetto, and I was smiling thinking about the joyful play of little kids riding their bikes through the ghetto’s center. It was safe, secure and everyone kept an eye out for each other. Our group felt comfortable enough to sit in the middle of the square devouring pizza and reflecting on the European experience.

We observed Shabbat in many languages and in many lands, including Italy, Slovenia, Holland, Belgium, France and England. Visits to the Eiffel Tower and the Coliseum were sprinkled with visits to Omaha Beach in Normandy, the Val D’Hiv Memorial and Fort Breendonk: a completely preserved World War II concentration camp in Belgium; a building where if the walls could talk, they would scream. I felt a rush of emotion I will never forget as I wondered about how many European Jews were in this horrible place longing for the joy, safety and security of their own ghetto.

I have returned to the North Shore after 28 days of traversing Europe with BBYO (B’nai B’rith Youth Organization). Lifelong friendships were formed just as the teen organization promised, but more importantly, memories that were created will survive the test of time. Anyone can travel through Europe and visit the ruins of Pompeii or ride the London Eye, but the exposure towards my Jewish heritage left an indelible mark on my heart.

Jamie Ehrlich lives in Marblehead.

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