At the first Shabbat dinner back of 2020, students who visited Poland and/or Israel over the 2019-2020 winter-break shared memories and highlights:

For me the greatest moment was when we lit a Menorah on the tracks leading into Birkenau, the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz. Thinking of what being on those tracks meant then, coming back to the same tracks 75 years later and lighting a Menorah felt like a great response to Hitler and the Nazis. – Dan G.

Israel was awesome and I gained so much from my time in Tzfat. Probably the best single memory was when a synagogue across the street dedicated a new Torah and there was singing and dancing right in the streets and Israeli drivers honking and yelling to get by, it was crazy wild! – Osher L.

I was in Israel over Chanukah this year and my yeshiva would close up in the late afternoon and take us places to help with the Chanukah spirit. Being in ROTC here in America, my favorite experience was bringing doughnuts and lighting Menorah with Israeli soldiers on an army base up by the Syrian border. You all know me with ROTC, so that was very special. – Seth B.

I went to Israel on a JNF trip, different than a birthright trip. For one, it’s not free. You have to raise the funds towards the trip but then everything is covered once you get to Israel. They took us all over, to all kinds of JNF sites. The underground playground/bomb-shelter was very memorable. We also set up a giant Menorah in a small town near the Gaza border. A lot of the places we went to were work sites where we did things, lots of volunteering. – Kira G.

This was my first trip to Israel, I went on birthright with UAlbany. The Kotel had to be the biggest memory for me, I waited my whole life to go there. Not only did I get to put on Tefillin at the Kotel myself but I also helped two other people put on Tefillin, so that was extra special. And then there was a group of Argentinians there, singing and dancing “Moshiach, Moshiach!” and I jumped right into that circle and got right into it, and there were Dutch tourists who filmed the whole thing. – Jason F.

It was my first time in Israel, it was an amazing trip. I finally went my last semester in college after thinking of going all this time. Sure glad I went. I really liked how close I got to the Israeli soldiers who accompanied our trip, I am still in touch with them regularly, despite the time difference. And it was really cool when we got off the bus one time, somewhere in Israel, and got to see AJ and Seth, both friends from UAlbany, standing right there. It was so random yet such a sense of home. Really glad I went! – Logan K. 

After one of the sad visits to a concentration camp in Poland our group went out and started to sing together. And then more groups started to join and it really was very touching, moving and uplifting after all the sadness we saw. When in Israel it was really cool when my brother (he’s in the IDF) surprised me in the Shuk, that was awesome! – Coral C. 

We did a lot of concentration camps and sad places on the Poland trip, but the visit to the Children’s Graves had to be the hardest. But there was also a bright ray of light. Lighting the Menorah on the tracks to Auschwitz-Birkenau made me remember that each of us has a candle, a bright light to bring to the world. So many of those bright lights, six million lights, were snuffed out. But we each have a Shamash (lighting candle) and must remember to keep lighting lights wherever we are, back on campus, at work, at home. Don’t forget your Shamash candle! – Michele M.