Friday, March 12th, 2010...10:38 am
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.
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.
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.