When faith leaders and congregants were planning the merger of East Meadow’s Temple Emanu-El and Wantagh’s Temple B’nai Torah, an idea that came to mind was to create a heritage trip on which the two congregations could embark not long after their union, said Rabbi Daniel Bar-Nahum. “A journey like this with some intense experiences and powerful learning could really bring people together,” he added.
A group of 25 congregants from the new Temple B’nai Torah took such a trip this fall, led by Cantor Rica Timman and Rabbi Daniel Bar-Nahum, leaving on Oct. 20 and coming back on Oct. 29. What also made it stand out from previous trips both congregations took was the destination. Rather than visiting Israel, the group visited three cities in Europe that were directly impacted by the Holocaust, beginning in Prague in the Czech Republic, heading to Vienna, Austria and finishing in Budapest, Hungary.
The three-city voyage is a common Jewish tour as each spot is full of history and preserves the culture that existed pre-World War II. Congregants visited multiple synagogues in Prague, including one that has been in continuous use since the 13th century. “That was a very powerful room to be in,” Bar-Nahum said.
Another site was the Old Jewish Cemetery, which allegedly consists of 12 layers of burials with 1,000 bodies in each.
Prague and Vienna have small Jewish communities because of the affects of the Holocaust on both areas. Nevertheless, both communities embrace the Jewish culture that has been preserved. “Everywhere we went we were welcomed and greeted very kindly,” Bar-Nahum said.
Comparatively, Budapest has a much larger Jewish community as one of the last places that the Nazis invaded during World War II. There, B’nai Torah congregants spent Friday night Shabbat services at the progressive Congregation Bet Orim.
“It was my first time seeing all of those sites,” Bar-Nahum said. “It was especially interesting for me to learn about these places first–hand and learn about where Jews used to live and what Jewish life was like before World War II.”
He added that each city offers a time period of Jewish life that “doesn’t exist anywhere else,” such as medieval synagogues and historical sites from Judaism’s heyday.
Congregants agreed and said that the trip taught them about the resiliency of the Jewish community. “It showed us how, despite the discrimination these people faced, they were able to survive and thrive today,” said Amy Neidle, of East Meadow.
She and her husband Dan have traveled with Temple Emanu-El and were looking forward to similar opportunities with the new temple Bnai Torah. They saw the merger as a chance to get to expand on their community and, Neidle said, the trip provided a perfect opportunity to start meeting their fellow congregants.