KESHER Birthright-Israel trip brings Jews from Suriname to their home Synagogue in Israel
Gadi Ben Dov, Director of Short Term Israel Programs at the URJ, has been around the block and has seen some great things that we do in our work, but this was one of the highlights for him. In August 2010, a special Kesher Birthright-Israel group travelled to Israel with a group of young Progressive Jews from Suriname. Among their visits as part of the regular Birthright-Israel itinerary, they had the unique opportunity to experience a part of the Jewish history of Suriname while in Israel. Here, Gadi Ben recounts the unbelievable experience he witnessed.
I want to share with you an amazing experience that I had with our Kesher Birthright group from Suriname. We had scheduled a reception for them at the Israel Museum since the new museum that recently opened its doors after three years of renovations has a new exhibit called the Avenue of Synagogues. This exhibit has several synagogues, reconstructed ones as well as models that are displayed in an interactive experience where people walk in to and through them to experience synagogues from around the world.
One of these synagogues is from Suriname. It was the synagogue where many of our participants had spent the first years of their lives, where they participated in their Jewish life cycle events, holidays and more. I didn't know this at the time, but the synagogue was literally moved from Suriname to the Israel Museum part by part and reconstructed almost identically to the way it looked there. (On a much smaller scale of course) In addition to our group, some fifteen or so Israelis who had made Aliyah from Suriname and some relatives of the participants on the trip had arrived to take part in this event as well.
While walking through the museum and the Avenue of Synagogues with the curator of Judaic Exhibitions at the museum, the group was anxious to arrive at "their" synagogue. After about a twenty minute tour, we finally arrived at our destination. When the group entered the reconstructed synagogue at the museum, they felt at home, they were swept with emotions and all of them, including the adults from Suriname in the crowd, were in tears. There were media from Ma'ariv, The Jerusalem Post, and Israeli TV, and all were snapping away with their cameras at the sight of this outburst of emotions. Even all of the VIPs, Chief of staff of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Gidi Mark, the CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel, James Snyder, the Director of the Museum, and others were moved deeply by what was occurring around them. There wasn't a dry eye in the room!
After a long pause, a few speeches were made and some of the adults and participants who remembered praying in the synagogue back home said a few words as much as their emotions could allow them. Some of the nice words were said by Baruch Lionarons, a friend of Jules Donk, the congregational leader of the community who we have been in contact with to organize the tour. He talked about the wonderful times that this synagogue has seen and about the great memories it holds in its past. He then turned to the group and told them how they are the future of this synagogue and of the community in Suriname and that while it is permanently here on display here in Israel for all the Jews of the world who come to Israel to see and admire, it is their duty and privilege to continue the tradition and to be strong supporters and builders of the Jewish community in Suriname. Baruch went on to say that in some ways this synagogue represented both the past and now with the group in it, also the future of the Jews of Suriname.
The group then received a book produced by the museum commemorating and describing the cataloging and transferring of the synagogue from Suriname to Jerusalem. More speeches were made, including one by the representative of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs who could not deliver the speech in English and needed a translator... and by Gidi Mark, the CEO of Taglit Birthright Israel. Joel Oseran spoke on behalf of the World Union of Progressive Judaism.
I have been around the block and have seen some great things that we do in our work, but this was one of the highlights. I was proud and glad we were able to help with this project and felt honored that we were able to facilitate this group's experience in Israel. We should be doing more to foster the connections of Jews around the world to our North American communities.