One of my goals for this trip was to give these young people a taste of life in a large, urban Jewish community. For the most part, the Confirmation class students have lived their lives in a place where the Jewish community is very small and the opportunities for Jewish experiences are scant. I wanted them to see that, just two hours to our south, there is another kind of Jewish world. It is a world inhabited by tens of thousands of Jews who live in relatively close proximity to each other. The culture of Miami Beach is inseparable from the large, thriving Jewish community that has been there for more than seventy years. Jewish food, Jewish music, Jewish learning and Jewish people are to be found on every city block.
Here are some of the highlights of our trip:
• At the Holocaust Memorial, we heard a concentration camp survivor, Isaak Klein, tell his story. WIth frightening details, he told us of his experience as a boy in the cattle cars, the unspeakable misery of the camps, the death march from Auschwitz, and the inhuman medical experiments of Josef Mengele that he was forced to endure.
• Our trip to the Jewish Museum coincided with a visit from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the first Jewish Congresswoman ever elected from Florida. That fit nicely into the theme of celebrating the role of Jews in the history of the state of Florida.
• At Temple Beth Sholom we met with senior Rabbi Gary A. Glickstein, who talked about the history of the very diverse Jewish community in Miami Beach, and Rabbi Amy L. Morrison, who took us on a tour of the building and talked about some of the congregation's innovative projects. I was particularly impressed by the way the congregation has put substantial resources into reaching out to twenty-something and thirty-something Jews in the community with no effort or expectation of recruiting them to become dues-paying members of the congregation. This congregation is thinking outside the paradigms that close many young, unaffiliated Jews out of Jewish learning and Jewish experience.
Of course, I hope that the students will remember this day for a while. I hope that it made an impression on them about the possibilities of Jewish community beyond the limited experience they have had in our small (but lively!) congregation. I hope that it makes them think about Judaism as a fun, vibrant, living and changing tradition—one that they can help shape in the future with their own Jewish choices. I hope that this trip might inspire them to look for new ways to connect with Jewish community, even after they leave their parents' homes and find their own place in the world.