By Michelle Heymann and Deborah Erdman
In order to instill knowledge of the origins, traditions and roots of Judaism in members of the young Brazilian Jewish community, the “Projeto Alicerces” was founded in 2008, with the first group traveling in 2009 to 7 Eastern European countries.
Over the years the project has grown, and groups of young adults have explored the history of the Jews in the Mediterranean countries, and then the countries of Central Europe.
Prior to the trip, the students dedicate 10 months to learning about the countries they will visit, culminating in the trip.
Founded by Shliach Rabbi Dovid Weitman, “Projeto Alicerces” is a learning program instilling Jewish pride and identity in these young students, thereby creating young Jewish leaders.
During the second half of January of this year, Project Alicerces provided a new experience for a group of 50 young Brazilians, 15 to 17 years old, from different parts of Brazil such as Belem, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, Belo Horizonte, Recife, S?o Paulo, Porto Alegre, Erechim and Brasilia, had the opportunity to go to Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and Israel.
Led by Rabbi Dovid Goldberg and with the teachings of Rabbi Levi Weitman, they were accompanied by guides and monitors specially prepared for this trip, and by a person responsible for the safety, during the entire trip.
This version of Project Alicerces trip, which was designed especially for teenagers, was known for being one of the largest groups of young people at this age to travel abroad as an extra curricular activity, aiming to gain knowledge of our traditions and our ancient culture, looking forward to strengthen the Jewish “foundation” that maintains our people.
For most of them, this was the first chance to be abroad with people at their age and from different places in Brazil.
Providing this kind of experience is one of the Project Alicerces features, that seeks to explore the footsteps of our ancestors, making way towards our Jewish history.
As a characteristic and a goal, the Project Alicerces provides, before traveling abroad, nearly a year of studies of the history of Judaism and the communities they were to visit. So, they were able to get to know each other in weekly classes, and also learned much about what they saw. In addition, they underwent evaluation tests of what they learned to qualify for the trip.
In a different pace, appropriate for each age group, the journey began in Milan, visiting Jewish places, as well as famous tourist sites, such as the Piazza Del Duomo gallery.
Following through north Italy, the group went to Verona, Padova and Trieste, then arriving in Postojna, Slovenia. In Trieste there was a moving ceremony to honor those who were killed or deported (when Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943, the Germans occupied the area and treated their former allies very tightly, including the creation of a concentration camp in Trieste in a rice mill, today transformed into a memorial).
As the group arrived in Slovenia, they visited the largest cave of stalactites and stalagmites in the world, which represented a quiet moment to reflect on the teachings and questions provided so far.
Then the route continued to Zagreb, capital of Croatia. The city impressed them all with their lamps. The idea of them rekindled each night had them wonder about the importance of always keeping the Judaism flame lit, passing this light constantly all around us.
Also in Croatia, they visited the Plitvice National Park, established in 1949. With over 20 hectares of pure preservation of beauties of vegetation, animals and more, the park is a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It’s wonderful, surrounded by hundreds of lakes and waterfalls.
Completing the first week trip, they returned to Venice, where they experienced an unforgettable Shabbat inside the “Ghetto Judio”, the first ghetto in the world.
The city of masks was the first place that Jews have to clothing (colored hats) to distinguish from the rest. For these two reasons, the approach there was very different, focusing on the importance of remembering who we are and where we came from.
Then the highlight, Israel!
With this journey many knew Israel for the first time. It was certainly the most expected destination by 50 young passengers, with more than a week of back and forth across Europe and therefore with more integrated and united as a group.
Over 9 days, they explored north to southern of Israel, from Masada and the Dead Sea to the Golan Heights and Tzfat. In Tiberias they traveled by boat and donkey to a place where the goal is to make us return to the past, as was the story of our history. They visited tombs of great sages and places where there were major battles. They met up at an army base in Chevron, after visiting the Mearat HaMachpela.
The biggest impact of the trip was certainly the last Shabbat in Jerusalem. The march to the Kotel and dinner with that view was left without words, was very thrilling. It was so exciting that teenagers become involved prayers, at a joyful Kabbalat Shabbat.
There are many experiences in a such short of time, we made sure the minds of these new generation of Jews will keep for a long time lived the scenes lived.
Beyond strengthening Jewish identity and its ability to understand the history of his people, made friends that will carry throughout your life!