For years I’ve been going to Temple Emanuel in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, but I never really felt like I belonged there until our Confirmation class trip to Chicago, Illinois from March 16, 2019, to March 18, 2019. This trip inspired me to not only look at Judaism through a different lens but also to go out of my comfort zone and not stay silent.
Our trip started early Saturday morning when we left St. Louis to drive to our host home and drop off our luggage. We later went to a social action open house featuring NFTY’s Social Action Vice President, Zoe Terner, in Skokie, Illinois. I had never been to a NFTY program before, but as soon as the event started, I felt welcomed and comfortable. While we were participating in the social action program, I noticed that everyone was very passionate about changing the world for the better, just like myself and many others in BBYO. Later that night, we ended the program off with a Havdalah led by people in NFTY as well as myself. These events made me appreciate NFTY and their message. I was reminded of how similar our goals were as organizations. In all of my years in BBYO I had never seen, nor heard of a time when BBYO joined hands with NFTY for anything especially a Havdalah. This was really special to me.
Once we left the NFTY event, we headed down to a movie theatre to see a German movie being shown at the JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival called The Tobacconist, directed by Nikolaus Leytner. This movie centers around how a 17 year old named Franz had to move to Vienna, Austria at the beginning of WWII to become a tobacconist’s assistant. Here, he meets Sigmund Freud, a regular customer and now a famous psychologist. Of all the WWII movies I’ve seen, this one was the most interesting because it didn’t even mention concentration camps at all, but still was very impacting. At the time that the movie takes place, Vienna was very peaceful. Because the Nazis came in later in the movie, I got to see Vienna through different perspectives. While watching this movie, I thought to myself about how it was possible that all of the fighting and dehumanization could be taking place without disrupting the lives of ordinary civilians in a capital city such as Vienna.
Sunday morning, the day we left the host home to explore Jewish Chicago, we decided to stop at North America’s only Baha’i Temple. What is the Baha’i faith? The Baha'i faith is a religion that accepts all other religions and believes that every single religion is right in their own ways. This religion was empowering to me because it’s a place that anyone can go to without feeling unaccepted and without being discriminated because of their religion. After we visited the Baha’i Temple, we took a quick drive through the stunning campus of Northwestern University and had amazing hot dogs at Portillos. Yum.
Later that afternoon, we went to Chicago’s Holocaust Museum. I’ve been to two Holocaust Museums before this one, but this specific Holocaust Museum was very special to me. Not only does Chicago have a rich Jewish history of its own, but this museum has a real boxcar on display, which was used to transport Jews from ghettos to camps where most of them later perished. While I was standing in the boxcar, I thought of the Jews who once stood in there, being transported, and how some of them said that G-d helped them survive whereas others said that they couldn’t see G-d. It was really moving for me and I had a lot to think about. While we were there, we also had the honor to listen to Holocaust survivor, Fritzie Fritzshall, speak virtually at the Take a Stand Center on the lower level of the museum. Her story really made me think, especially when she shared that she had told her mother to go to the opposite side that she was on. Unfortunately, the side that her mother went to was the side that went to the gas chambers. I still think about this story that Fritzie told us, and how she was so young, making hard choices that would impact her life forever.
Once we left the museum, we went to our hotel in the heart of downtown Chicago to drop off our luggage, and then we headed out to eat the best deep dish pizza I’ve ever had at a restaurant called Giordano’s. Another yum! Then, we went to see the Blue Man Group, which in my opinion, was the most amusing thing I’ve seen so far this year.
When the Blue Man Group ended, we went back to our hotel to have some serious discussions on all of the events we had been to over the last two days. Believe it or not, we all learned something new and interesting about those around us. I personally felt like I went from not talking to anyone in my confirmation class this entire year to having personal relationships with everyone in my class including my synagogue’s Director of Education and Community Engagement, Subie Banaszynski and her husband Al Banaszynski who also accompanied us on our trip.
The next morning, we took a boat tour, in 30-degree weather, on the Chicago River– which was still green from St. Patrick's day! During the tour, we learned all about Chicago’s interesting and beautiful architecture. Afterward, we went to a Jewish deli called Eleven Diner. Let me tell you a little bit about Eleven Diner, that place is AMAZING! Triple yum. I recommend it to any person who ever goes to Chicago.
After our delicious lunch, we took a short tour of a reform synagogue by the name of KAM Isaiah Israel. The synagogue itself is very beautiful especially since it has remnants from other sects of both Judaism and Christianity. The synagogue is also right across the street from Barack Obama’s old house, which was pretty cool.
Once we left the synagogue, we began our five-hour trip home back to St. Louis. Before I fell asleep in the car, I thought about all of my experiences over the past few days and how they have shaped me into the person I am today. I am a Jew, and I am proud!
Ian Roundtree is a passionate Aleph from Mid-America Region: St. Louis Council who enjoys playing the trombone and bass guitar.
All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.
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