Jerusalem—Instead of planning a road trip or heading to the beach during winter break, 104 elite college students joined a Jewish heritage trip to Poland, an experience that was nothing short of transformational for these previously uninitiated students.
Run by MEOR (www.MEOR.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring, educating and empowering Jewish students at top universities across the country, the trip explored the vibrancy of Jewish communities in Poland pre-WWII, the magnitude of the loss during the Holocaust and the rebirth of Jewish life in the years that followed. The students were led by professional tour guides, Jewish educators and Leslie Kleinman, a Holocaust survivor from the UK.
For many of the student participants, including the 17 from New Jersey, this was their first Jewish heritage experience of any kind. They were profoundly moved, noting that the trip clarified what the Jewish spark is and why it is so important to prioritize Judaism.
“Though the ‘heavy lifting’ takes place on campus, where our students study Jewish topics that are relevant and compelling to them while experiencing Jewish life and community, feelings of deep connection to Jewish identity and spirituality tend to develop most effectively on MEOR leadership seminars in Israel and heritage trips to Poland,” said Debra Kodish, MEOR’s executive vice president.
“It is clear that dedicated study coupled with first-hand experiential education can reverse the trend of faltering Jewish identity across the United States and produce Jews who are not just connected, but passionate about their rich Jewish heritage and eager to lead.”
The students’ own sentiments reflect this eagerness as well as a thirst for Jewish knowledge and connection.
“MEOR’s Poland trip was so much more than your typical Holocaust history tour. We delved into Jewish history and culture and discovered what being Jewish means to us as individuals,” explained Kim Preminger, a native of Ridgewood, NJ, and a student at George Washington University. “Overall, this experience was more than just a trip; it was a journey in which I gained a stronger connection to my religion.”
Over the last decade, MEOR has battled dispassion, detachment from Jewish identity and the ever-rising forces of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism to create a masterwork of Jewish engagement that now functions on 21 prominent college campuses across the U.S. The goal has always been to engage these promising Jewish leaders in the discovery of their own heritage and identity and inspire them to connect with Judaism on their own terms and in their own time.
“This past semester at Harvard, I developed a strong curiosity and yearning to learn more about what it means to be Jewish. This trip came at the perfect time for me,” said Samantha Udolf, a student from Harvard who also participated in the trip. “I have never felt more of a connection to my Judaism than I did in Poland. I walk away with a greater sense of pride in being Jewish and a desire to continue my Jewish education. Learning with MEOR has been an incredible start to a meaningful journey as I develop my understanding of Judaism.”
University campuses represented on MEOR’s Jewish heritage trip to Poland included Boston University, Berkeley, Brandeis, Emory, George Washington, Harvard, Stanford, Tufts, Yale, Binghamton, NYU, Rutgers, Temple, Michigan and University of Pennsylvania.