Penn State Hillel - The Baltics - March 2010

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Penn State: Aciu (thanks), Lithuania!

From March 7-14, 2010, 17 students from Hillel at Penn State University will volunteer with the Jewish communities of Tallinn, Estonia, and Vilnius, Lithuania.

Previous posts from Penn State in the Baltics: Day 0 and Day 1 | Photos from Painting Day! | Tere!! | Estonian Clowns! | Farewell, Estonia – Hello, Lithuania!

On Wednesday, we took an overnight bus ride from Tallinn through Latvia to our final stop of Vilnius, Lithuania.

We visited the Jewish Community Center in Vilnius, where we were introduced to our Lithuanian peers.  After some ice breakers, we had a chance to speak with the Executive Director of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Simon Gurevicius, who is affectionately called “Simonchek.”

Mr. Gurevicius spoke to us about challenges facing the Jewish community and really connected with each and every one of us through his personal anecdotes and jokes. We were given a short tour of the JCC, which provides everything from financial support to clubs for the elderly.  Following the tour, we prepared Passover packages to take on our home visits the next day.

Friday was one of the most meaningful days of the trip for many of us.  We were given the opportunity to break in to small groups to visit the homes of local Jews (many of whom had survived the Holocaust as well as living in the USSR).  With our Lithuanian peers serving as translators, we had the opportunity to hear their personal stories, about what life is like in Lithuania, and get to see some family photos (some from the 1930s!).

Later in the day, we were able to visit the JCC’s “Sunshine Club”, a club for Jewish elderly.  The club had prepared a Yiddish song book and we all were able to sing and connect with each other, despite the language barrier.  We even taught the elderly some of our favorite songs.  It all hit home when the director of the club told us that we were like “American grandchildren” to club members.  That night we held our own Shabbat services and a song session with our Lithuanian peers.

Saturday morning we visited the only remaining synagogue in Vilnius.  We were told that there were around 75 synagogues in Vilnius before WWII, but all but one had been destroyed by the Nazis.  We stayed for much of Shabbat services before heading out on a walking tour of the old Jewish ghettos in the city.  The tour was fascinating and the tour guide told us many interesting stories about the rich Jewish history in Vilnius.

After returning to the JCC, we held a Havdalah service with the members of the Jewish youth group.  Once again, despite the language barrier we were able to connect with one another. Saturday concluded with a night out on the town with our Lithuanian peers who we could now truly consider as friends.

We can’t believe the week is almost over. This has really been an unbelievable experience and we will never forget it!

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Penn State: Farewell, Estonia – Hello, Lithuania!

From March 7-14, 2010, 17 students from Hillel at Penn State University will volunteer with the Jewish communities of Tallinn, Estonia, and Vilnius, Lithuania.

Previous posts from Penn State in the Baltics: Day 0 and Day 1 | Photos from Painting Day! | Tere!! | Estonian Clowns!

After a fun night out with our Estonian peers, complete with a dance party and fun ice breakers, what could possibly be the best way to wake up college students?  A welcoming knock on our hotel room doors from our Hillel director, Aaron, that’s what!!  Unfortunately, this wake call up was the beginning of our last day in Tallinn.

We started off the day with a walking tour of Tallinn, which provided us with numerous photo opportunities, a chance to buy some souvenirs, as well many sugar coated almonds!  YUM.

The architecture in the Old City of Tallinn was breathtaking, and helped us better understand Estonia’s past.  For a country that has been occupied by so many other nations, it was reassuring to see that these beautiful and unique structures still remained.

The flag of Estonia

We learned some interesting facts, like what the colors of the Estonian flag represent:  Blue represents the sea, black represents the soil, and white represents the bright future that lays ahead for Estonia.

We also learned that even in Estonia, you can find a McDonalds (a pretty nice McDonalds we might add).

After lunch we went on a tour of the ONLY synagogue in Estonia, which happens to be located right next to the Jewish Community Center.  Although small, the synagogue helps bring the Jews of Estonia together in one place. For many of us it was hard to imagine one synagogue in an entire country, when many of us have more than one synagogue in our hometown. The fact that there are more Jews at Penn State (6,000) than in the entire country of Estonia (less than 4,000) is a scary thought, but we are hopeful that the Estonian Jewish community will continue to grow and prosper.

After our walking tour, we split into small groups to meet families of the Estonian Jewish Community, among which many have been negatively effected by the economic crisis currently facing the countries of the Baltics. During these visits, we had the opportunity to learn about the everyday lives of these families and see how their Jewish identity compares to ours.  Some of our experiences introduced us to struggling families who lived in homes as big as the dorm rooms at Penn State. We could clearly see the effect of the failing economy on the lives of the families we visited. At Penn State, one might see some of the effects of the global economic crisis, but here in Estonia, this crisis is much more apparent and even more devastating.

Then it was time to party (don’t worry, we partied with the preschool students, their families, and clowns) to celebrate the opening of the room we helped design the day prior. The clowns did their show in Russian AND spoke to us in English, encouraging us to participate in the festivities. This celebration showed us how the Tallinn JCC brings the Jewish community together to celebrate important events and made us all feel like kids again.

As the party was ending, we realized we only had a few more hours left in Estonia. We spent this time with our peers, where we had dinner together and gave presents, such as a sweatshirt that says Penn State in Hebrew and a CD of our favorite American songs. In return, the Estonians put together a great slideshow of pictures that represented our past two days together, including the progress of the mural we worked on from start to finish.

When dinner concluded, it was time to say our last good-byes and get ready for our ten hour bus ride to Lithuania. We realized that even after two days, we were able to form such great friendships with people in another continent, and we were also able to leave our mark in the Jewish Community of Estonia.

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Penn State: Estonian Clowns!

From March 7-14, 2010, 17 students from Hillel at Penn State University will volunteer with the Jewish communities of Tallinn, Estonia, and Vilnius, Lithuania.

Previous posts from Penn State in the Baltics: Day 0 and Day 1 | Photos from Painting Day! | Tere!!

Yesterday we celebrated the re-opening of the childrens’ playroom at the JCC in Tallinn. The day prior, with help from local Estonian peers, we painted an awesome mural in the room. Here are some pictures from the festivities.

Sharon gets an assist from one of the helpful clowns at the party!

Children celebrating in the room we decorated!

Clown noses, balloon swords...do we even need a caption?!?

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Penn State: Tere!!

From March 7-14, 2010, 17 students from Hillel at Penn State University will volunteer with the Jewish communities of Tallinn, Estonia, and Vilnius, Lithuania.

Previous posts from Penn State in the Baltics: Day 0 and Day 1 | Photos from Painting Day!

Tere!! (that’s “hello!!” in Estonian!)

Yesterday was our first full day in Tallinn, Estonia! After a full breakfast that included herring (!? ok actually it was delish) we headed through the medieval old city (beautiful!) to the Jewish Community Center. There,  we learned about the services the center is able to provide for the members of the small Jewish community in Tallinn. Programs include meals on wheels, social clubs, home care services, and medicine subsidization, just to name a few.

It’s really incredible that the JCC, with the support of JDC, is able to provide so many beneficial services to the community and that because of these services, the Jewish population has a higher life expectancy than the general population of Estonia.

For our service project, we painted a mural in a room that the JCC can now use for activities with children. We were helped by Tinis, a wonderful Estonian painter who graciously guided us in creating a beautiful scene of properly shaded landscape. When we were done the room looked great; it definitely had a warm feel and seemed more welcoming than a bare white wall to the children in the Tallinn community. We took turns either painting the room or making posters and signs to decorate the Jewish kindergarten.

During our time at the Tallinn JCC we also worked with and met a lot of Estonian peers, who were really awesome. We enjoyed hanging out with them and bonding (and asking them how to pronounce “hello” and “what’s up?” in Estonian).

It was incredible to spend the day performing community service with members of the Tallinn community. We were able to have a great time joking around and hanging out with people our own age and learning about their culture, while performing imporant service to the community. In the end, it wasn’t so much that we were doing our own community service project, but more that we were taking part in a community project.

We are all really excited to celebrate the opening of the children’s room together with kids from the community and see how we actually impacted their lives and made a difference! Photos will be up soon!

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Penn State: Painting at the Tallinn JCC

From March 7-14, 2010, 17 students from Hillel at Penn State University will volunteer with the Jewish communities of Tallinn, Estonia, and Vilnius, Lithuania.

Previous posts from Penn State in the Baltics: Day 1

Here in Estonia, our group is working together with members of the Estonian Jewish community to paint a beautiful mural at the Tallinn JCC. Once finished, this room will serve as play area and meeting place for families, children and other community members. Additionally, our group is creating Jewish-themed posters and decorations to be used both at the JCC and the local Jewish kindergarten.

After getting a lesson on which colors to use and where, we put on smocks and got prepared to add color and life to the kids' play area.

Madison feels like a kid again while painting the parting of the Red Sea to teach the Kindergarten students about their Jewish heritage.

Rachel and Brittany pose for a quick photo op in front of the mural in the kids' play area.

Jackie looking professional with the paint brush and palette.

Stay tuned for pictures from the grand opening party tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Penn State: Arriving in Tallinn – Day 0 and Day 1

From March 7-14, 2010, 17 students from Hillel at Penn State University will volunteer with the Jewish communities of Tallinn, Estonia, and Vilnius, Lithuania.

Below, participants share a few pictures from their first day in Estonia.

Here we are in the JFK airport, getting to know each other and relaxing before our 7 hour flight to Germany, en route to Estonia.

This picture was taken while walking from our hotel located in Historic Old Town Tallinn. While waking through the narrow streets of Old Town Tallinn, we were amazed to find this beautiful open space that once functioned as the city center and could not help but stop and take a picture!

Here are a few of the girls outside the restaurant, the Beer Haus, which features a pirate ship, as well as waiters and waitresses in traditional Estonian clothing. Not only did many of us get to taste "honey beer", but we also got our first taste of Estonian cuisine. Yum!

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Penn Stater

Name: Michal Berns

Age: 21 (July 9th)

Major: Media Law & Policy, Minor: Art History

Why a JDC short term service program: Being that I have been involved with Jewish life on the Penn State campus from my Freshman year, I find it incredibly important to help other Jews around the world when given the chance. I am a firm believer that one can never be satisfied with their own accomplishments in life before helping others.

Hobbies/Interesting facts: I am originally from Jerusalem, Israel and moved to the states approximately four years ago, and English is my second language. I love to read, cook, hang out with my best friends, and anything and everything about sports.

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Penn Stater

Name: Sharon Silverman

Age: 20

Area of Study: Jewish Studies

Why a JDC short term program?   Being a Jewish studies major, I have had the opportunity to learn about Jewish communities all over the world.  However, I have never been able to visit those places or do my part in order to help these Jewish communities.  The JDC program allows me to do just that, as well as become closer with memebers of Penn State Hillel and memebrs of the communities that we will be visiting.  Oh, and we’ll make sure to have a little fun too!

Hobbies/Interesting Fact:  Singing is my number one passion.  I apologize in advance for the random song fests that i will start, and everyone will become aquainted with my slightly gospel side!  I hope thats okay :)  I also love having a good time and making people laugh.  An interesting fact about me is that i am in the Penn State Blue Band, where you can find me on the field any home game!

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Penn Stater

Name: Lindsey Kamens

Age: 20

Studies: Advertising and Business Minor

Why a JDC Short-Term Service program?: I am so excited to travel to Europe for the first time and embrace and learn about Jewish culture in Estonia and Lithuania. I am looking forward to meeting new people, giving back to the community and coming back with new memories and friends!

Hobbies/Interesting Facts: I enjoy traveling with my family and spending time with friends. I playing tennis, cooking, and listening to music!

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Penn Stater

Name: Caitlin Craig

Age: 19

Studies: International Relations major with a double in Spanish.

Why a JDC Short-Term Service Program? I always look for new opportunities to get to know a new place, its people and its culture. I thought this was a great way to do so meanwhile helping out and connecting more with the worldwide Jewish Community.

Hobbies/Interests: I just started ballroom dancing and I definitely love it. All types but my favorite is definitely Salsa at this point. I also like to hang out with friends and relax. I enjoy running. And I like to travel.