From Fort Worth to NYC with Ahavath Sholom
The confirmands in the sanctuary at Congregation Shearith Israel. From left, Lia Bloom, Maya Kiselstein, Gali Brautbar, Vivienne Roumani (member of Shearith Israel), Ethan Bailey and Nadav Ninio

In New York City, confirmands immersed in Jewish history and culture
By Melissa Morgan
Five students from Congregation Ahavath Sholom’s Learning and Engagement Center just returned from their Confirmation Class capstone trip to New York City, immersing themselves in various aspects of the city’s diverse Jewish culture. This trip has become a tradition at Congregation Ahavath Sholom, as 2019 marked at least the seventh time the congregation has sponsored such a trip.
High school students Ethan Bailey, Lia Bloom, Gali Brautbar, Maya Kiselstein and Nadav Ninio, together with teachers David Saul and Melissa Morgan, gathered at CAS at 5 a.m. Friday, June 14. Over the next few days, with the help of vans, planes, subways, boats and lots of walking, they studied Jewish immigration to America and Jewish diversity as well as ate lots of kosher food.
Jewish immigration to America
Visiting Congregation Shearith Israel (The Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue) at 70th and Central Park West for morning minyan took the group into the rich history of the Orthodox Sephardic congregation dating back to 1654. With documentary filmmaker Vivienne Roumani as a tour guide, the group learned about the history of the congregation, beginning with a boatload of Jews fleeing Recife, Brazil, to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. Minyan was in the small chapel (“Little Synagogue”), and the group saw a Torah scroll from the days of the American Revolution. The sanctuary contains beautiful Tiffany windows, a central bimah and “skeptic lamps,” built when electricity was new (one part of the fixture uses gas; one part uses electricity). The congregation continues to use its own prayer book and minhag (local customs), with separate seating for women.
Looking to Ashkenazic Judaism and why Jews left Europe, the group had the unprecedented opportunity to attend “Fiddler on the Roof” in Yiddish with English and Russian supertitles. Everyone found it intense and absorbing. Texas native Steven Skybell as Tevye was particularly remarkable. Ethan Bailey said, “My favorite part of the trip was ‘Fiddler’ in Yiddish. It just made it feel more legit.”
Of course, the group also took the ferry to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, studying the process of immigration to America. Many of the museum exhibits specifically talk about Jewish immigrants, whether for a Passover Seder on Ellis Island or the kosher food available for purchase after immigrants were examined and approved. Various congregations and immigrant aid societies helped the new arrivals any way they could.
The group went from Ellis Island to Lower Manhattan and the Lower East Side, just as many new arrivals just off the boat would have done. Pretending to need housing, they experienced a 1915 tenement apartment, hosted by 14-year-old Jewish immigrant Victoria Confino of Kastoria. This living history tour by the Tenement Museum gives participants the chance to interact with and ask questions of a professional actress who has studied her part for over a year, including working with recordings and family members on accent and content. Victoria Confino lived in that same building for four years, sleeping on the kitchen floor, with nine other family members, in just 300 square feet. The Tenement Museum also has other programs related to Jewish immigration and immigration in general.
Also on the Lower East Side, the group visited the Museum at Eldridge Street, built as Kahal Adath Jeshurun in 1887 by Ashkenazic Jews. From a crumbling ruin in the 1980s, the synagogue building has been restored to a glorious condition. In 2010, a huge circular stained-glass window was added to replace the lost front window. Rachel Serkin, museum educator, taught the group about the building and the Lower East Side Jewish community.
Jewish diversity
While history is a huge part of the trip, so is experiencing a bit of the amazing Jewish diversity found in the United States today. The group saw Temple Emanu-El on the East Side of Central Park; was hosted by West End Synagogue (Reconstructionist) for musical Kabbalat Shabbat services and Shabbat dinner, learning a little about Mordecai Kaplan and Reconstructionism; and spent Shabbat morning singing and praying with the very welcoming Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. Founded in 1825 by members of Congregation Shearith Israel as the second congregation in New York City, B’nai Jeshurun has helped shape 21st-century American Judaism with its emphasis on music, spirituality and justice.
The group also did a walking tour in Borough Park, learning about the Hasidic communities that have developed in the city since World War II. Orthodox tour guide Jeff Altman of Timeline Touring, although not Hasidic, is known in the neighborhood, and is a calm and insightful presence. He taught the group about the many institutions (schools, stores, bus services, bakeries, etc.) that have developed to serve the local community.
Although the group’s main exercise was walking, they also saw the extensive fitness facilities, swimming pool, art studios, day care, meditation space, and beit midrash at the Marlene Myerson JCC Manhattan on the Upper West Side. And they exercised some mental muscle analyzing images from rare documents, presented by Dr. David Kraemer, director of the library at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Dr. Kraemer challenged the group to see what they could learn not only from the words on the page, but also the illustrations and style of the documents.
No trip to New York City would be complete without some amazing kosher food. The group experienced grocery stores (Fairway, Zabar’s and stores in Borough Park); deli at Fine & Schapiro (Upper West Side); late-night shawarma, kebabs, and falafel at Ali Baba (Upper West Side); great vegan Chinese (Buddha Bodai, 5 Mott St, Chinatown); and kebabs and more at Ta’am Tov (Diamond District, near Rockefeller Center). Everyone enjoyed the delicious variety of kosher foods available in New York City.
The group completed their New York City immersion with a look at recent history at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, a long walk in Central Park and souvenir shopping.
The CAS Learning and Engagement Center is planning a similar adult trip in the future.

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  1. Janet Snyder

    This is such a wonderful trip for these young people. Mazel tov !!

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