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Community News

Walking in Their Shoes: Our Mission to Budapest and Israel

From October 27th-November 7th, 2015, 37 women departed on our Federation’s Women’s Mission to Budapest and Israel. While exploring Jewish life in Budapest, Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Jerusalem, the women were also treated to briefings with representatives of our life-changing partner programs—exclusive opportunities that only a mission with the Federation offers.

In Budapest, a stunning city cut in two by the Danube River, the women stood on its banks and learned how the atrocities of the Holocaust affected Jewish families at the Shoes on the Danube Memorial. This permanent art installation replicates, in bronze, multiple pairs of shoes worn by Jews who were led down to the river and shot by the Hungarian Arrow Cross. Overcome with emotion, trip participants sang Hatikvah and left roses at the memorial.

Said Lori Palmer, “Each pair represents a life. And they only represent one person killed for the simple crime of being a Jew. It is my responsibility to bear witness and to have my own children bear witness. It is my job, as a Jewish woman, to try to make a difference.”

The women discovered that many Jewish survivors stopped practicing religion after the war and buried their culture in the past. These survivors raised children and grandchildren who, until recently, never knew about their Jewish roots. However, Budapest is experiencing a new Jewish revival. Participants visited our partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)’s Balint House (the JCC of Budapest), where Zsuzsa Fritz spoke passionately about providing programs and a space for the Jewish community to thrive. Sasha Friedman also shared how the Szarvas International Jewish Youth Camp, funded in part by our Federation, is transforming the lives of Jewish children by introducing them to their history and culture. They, in turn, are introducing it to their parents, and Jewish communities worldwide (not just in Budapest) are growing stronger and more vibrant every day.

Leaving the beautiful architecture of Budapest behind, the women boarded a plane for the next leg of their journey:  Israel. While driving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, they stopped in the village of Nir Galim, a moshav created by Hungarian Holocaust survivors, where they walked through an extraordinary photography exhibit. Sponsored by JDC, this project connects survivors with a therapeutic counselor and other staff to help the artists embark on a creative journey enabling them to process their memories, experiences and personal stories. The women were deeply moved by the survivors’ photos and stories, and were reminded of how their support of our Federation is making a tangible impact.

On their final night in Jerusalem, the women enjoyed Shabbat dinner with Michal Barkay, a phenomenal speaker who inspired them with her perseverance in bringing her vision, the Alma Preparatory School for Female Leadership, to life. This school helps empower vulnerable young women by giving them the skills they need to succeed in Israeli society before they enter the army—and beyond.

Witnessing firsthand how the work we do together touches lives and why it is so critical to people’s emotional and physical wellbeing, the women now understand on a deeper level why their support of our Federation is so important.

For more information about our Federation’s Missions, please contact Mitch Hamerman at (323) 761-8133 or MHamerman@JewishLA.org