Winter trips take locals to Israel, Poland — and fur babies bring Jewish joy

Destination: Israel

From Nov. 20-Dec. 5, Thomas Sayler-Brown and his husband, John Linder, traveled as first-timers to Israel. Sayler-Brown, chair of the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation board, planned their itinerary, and did research for a future JPride group trip.

The pair are drawn to urban settings, with Thomas describing Tel Aviv as “modern, vibrant and a great place to live.” An architect, he has studied the Bauhaus architectural style. The “White City” of Tel Aviv has the largest concentration of Bauhaus style buildings in the world, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for this reason. The couple took the Bauhaus tour, viewing many of these structures dating from the 1930’s. They also took an artist-led graffiti tour of the Florentin neighborhood of Tel Aviv. That evening, they enjoyed a home hospitality dinner hosted by a Yemenite Jewish family.

Thomas Sayler-Brown and John Linder at the Bahai Gardens in Haifa

Another highlight included the Jordanian ancient city of Jerash, where they slept in a Bedouin camp before visiting Petra the next day. Once in Jerusalem, our travelers visited the usual sites. They partook in an all-American Thanksgiving Shabbat lunch at the home of Israeli cousins in Beit Shemesh who had made aliyah and who Thomas had not seen in 45 years.

Winter Birthright Bus 1703

All aboard for another 10-day Birthright Israel trip of a lifetime. UArizona Hillel students filled half of the bus along with others from Cal Poly, UC Davis, Hillel of Silicon Valley, Hillel 818 (Los Angeles), Portland, and Utah. Tucsonans Rachel Davenport, Drew Sheets, and Ryan Sheets were among the UArizona travelers.

Nirit Gelfer, UArizona Hillel’s Jewish Agency Israel Fellow, helped chaperone the group. Nirit has served as an Israel Defense Forces soldier and officer, traveled the world, attended college, and served as an Israel Fellow at the University of Central Florida before joining the UArizona Hillel staff.

“Leading a Birthright Israel trip is one of my passions as an Israel Fellow,” she says. “It is exciting to accompany the students for their first time in Israel — to see their curiosity and how, step by step, they understand their connection to Israel. It is gratifying to watch the deep friendships develop between the students and the Israeli soldiers. Plus, I watch as this trip opens their eyes as I show them my home and they understand more of what it is like to be an Israeli. I look forward to exploring with them the diverse opportunities to return to Israel.”

UArizona Hillel Birthright contingent at the Westerm Wall. Nirit Gelfer (Israel Fellow) is standing, left; Tucsonans are Rachel Davenport (standing, fourth from right), Ryan Sheets (behind Davenport), and Drew Sheets (standing, second from right)

JAC journey to Poland

Seven UArizona students traveled with Jewish Arizonans on Campus to Poland from Dec. 30-Jan. 6 over winter break. The students were mainly from UArizona, Arizona State University, University of Pittsburgh, and Penn State. Phoenix staff — Rabbi Yehuda Weiss and Risa Brumer — accompanied them.

Tucsonans Kacie Bauer and Kayla Tilicki, both UArizona juniors majoring in neuroscience and cognitive science, took part in this week of powerful Jewish experiences and meaningful group bonding. During the journey, their tour guide played music, read quotes, and told stories that made this trip covering pre- and post-war Poland all the more poignant.

Highlights of the itinerary:

In Warsaw, they toured the Jewish cemetery to understand the richness and diversity of pre-war life there. A walking tour of the city included the former ghetto and memorial sites. Kacie felt a personal connection to Bialystock, having family from there who left before the war. With snow on the ground, the group walked the grounds of Auschwitz, now a museum.

UArizona JAC members in front of a 17th century synagogue, now a Jewish museum, in Tykocin, Poland. (L-R): Elana Terner, Kacie Bauer, Benji Gerst, Rabbi Yehuda Weiss, Kayla Tilicki, Risa Brumer, Zach Allen, Brendan Buckman, Morgan Buckman

At Treblinka death camp, since everything was destroyed, monuments represent the communities that once existed. Majdanek is well-preserved with major sections of the camp still standing.

The group celebrated Shabbat with a service at one of Krakow’s old synagogues, followed by a typical Polish dinner of perogies, cholent, cabbage salad, and other fixings. They visited Kazimierz, the former Jewish quarter in Krakow, which comprises the most intact collection of Jewish buildings in Central Europe. One sees structures and synagogues still standing, fences with Jewish stars and menorahs in metal work, plus traces of the ghetto wall, and Oskar Schindler’s factory.

Kacie was impacted by a quote from the tour guide: “People respect those who respect their religion” — in other words, be proud to be Jewish. She also was moved by one of his stories: A prisoner lit a candle during Hanukkah at Auschwitz. The Nazis told the prisoners to put it out. A 13-year-old boy said that Jews do not extinguish light; we make light. The Nazi left and the candle stayed lit.  

Puppy punims

Rachel Einstein-Sim (left) and Dena Goldberg Linder at their Nice Jewish Dogs calendar launch party

If you haven’t already purchased your 2020 calendar, here is a suggestion:

Rachel Einstein-Sim, a homegrown Tucsonan now residing in San Francisco, and Dena Goldberg Linder created the Nice Jewish Dogs calendar. The concept came about after Rachel and Dena first met at a San Francisco dog park, Rachel with her labradoodle, Elle, and Dena accompanied by her pup, Poppy. Rachel noticed that Poppy was wearing a Jewish star collar. The two women bonded, became fast friends and began this venture. The proceeds from the calendar benefit Canine Companions for Independence, an organization that trains dogs to assist people with disabilities.

Einstein-Sim, a senior product manager at Adobe, and Linder, a genetic counselor at UCSF, held a dog-friendly calendar launch party on Dec. 8. Elle, Poppy, and other dog models are featured in creative calendar group shots celebrating Passover, Rosh Hashanah and other holidays. Rachel and Dena’s philosophy is that these dogs are like their babies — i.e., if dog owners are Jewish, then their dogs are Jewish too!

The calendars are available online at www.nicejewishdogs.com. 

Time to share

It’s your turn. Keep me posted on your latest happenings — 319-1112. L’shalom.