By Amanda Kaufman, Zach Kostura, and Andrew Rome
Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York
On April 4, 1995, at 4:00 PM, four New Yorkers -- Zachary Kostura, Andrew Rome, Amanda Kaufman, and teacher Honey Kern -- set out for what was to be a long, hard sixteen day trip to Poland and Israel. We were prepared; we had our water, food, and most importantly, our toilet paper. We were ready to survive by our instincts -- live on the edge. So, we all got into our limo and headed for the airport. At the airport we met up with HGP volunteer, David Dickerson from Virginia, and off we flew to Warsaw, Poland.
Students in Kazimierz, Poland
We arrived in Warsaw and met the ten nicest Australians we've ever met. They were Aaron, Gin, Sonya, Ben, Glen, Jazz, Skids, Robin, Alison, and Jo. After writing e-mail to them for so long, we were looking forward to our meeting. Everyone was great! We all became good friends since we had a long bus ride from Warsaw to Krakow.
Eventually, we arrived at the Forum Hotel in Krakow where we waited for the thirty Israelis with whom we were to travel. However much we wanted to meet them, none of us could hide our tired faces, our dirty clothes, or our disappointment when we found out that the Israelis' bus broke down somewhere in the middle of Poland. Finally our "man-in-charge," Gideon, told us that we would be having dinner, going to bed, and meeting the Israelis in the morning.
The next morning we were all down at the hotel dining room at 7:00 AM sharp! Or else we would answer to Gideon, which of course, we hadn't found out was so fulfilling . . . yet.
Although there were twice as many Israelis as there were Australians and Americans put together, everyone was very friendly, and we all took to each other immediately.
Nothing in the world could have prepared any of us for the things we would see and feel over the next few days.
Our first test was Auschwitz/Birkenau, the most infamous concentration/death camp of them all. We had only known each other for three days so far, and the emotions we felt were very new to us. It was amazing; even though we didn't know each other that well, we were all there for one another. It didn't matter if someone crying or sad was Israeli, or Australian, or American, or a boy, or a girl. If someone needed you, you were there. This was a time when the ice was broken; friends were made; feelings were shared; and, all our hearts and minds grew a little bigger.
Other sites we visited in Poland included the concentration camp sites of Majdanek, and Treblinka. We also toured the Warsaw and Krakow ghetto areas; Krakow's old Jewish quarter (Kazimierz); two Jewish cemeteries; and several old synagogues.
During our stay in Poland, we met a variety of wonderful Polish natives, including our Polish guide, Marek Borchert, and a few, tired bellboys who were disturbed by the noise we made during our nightly bonding sessions with the Israelis and Australians. We shared many once-in-a-lifetime experiences with our new friends, and they are in our hearts forever, as will be the fine Polish cuisine of "shnitzel and chips."
On the eleventh day of the trip, we reunited with LOT Airlines, and journeyed down to merry ol' Israel for the remaining seven days of the trip.
We landed in the Tel Aviv airport around 4:00 AM on the eve of Passover, and took the two-hour bus trip to the town of Kiryat Motzkin. There we met the parents of the Israeli students, said our goodbyes to our classmates, and piled into the cars that took us to the houses of the hosts and their families, where we stayed for the next week.
A day later, the weary travellers slept late for the first time in thirteen days as we got a late start to what was to be a very interesting day touring Israel with our hosts. Everyone got to know a different part of Israel that day. Some hosts took their guests to soccer games, or the mall, or the movies; while other hosts showed their guests Tel Aviv, or the Lebanon border.
The next day began at 7:30 AM, the group reconvened at Motzkin school and piled back on the tour bus that took us to Tel Aviv for a formal tour of the city with our great tour guide, Gideon. We visited such sites as The Hard Rock Cafe and the beach, where the silky, desert sand of Israel met the cool, salty water of the Mediterranean.
In the days to follow, we saw more of Kiryat Motzkin with our hosts and toured such historical and important sites as Nazareth, the Golan Heights, Masada National Park, Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea, where everyone stopped for a very brief swim.
The time we spent in Israel, as our stay in Poland, was absolutely unbelievable. The action never seemed to stop! Our days were completely filled with adventurous activities such as hiking up the mountains of the beautiful Masada, walking along the beaches in Tel Aviv, and speaking to all of the different and interesting people of the market places of Jaffa. One of the most memorable places of the trip was our visit to the Children's Memorial at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.
Our days in Israel were filled with fun and educational activities, and nights were spent with our new friends and hosts. We got a chance to see Israeli nightlife. We saw movies, went to the mall, and met many of our Israeli friends' schoolmates. Many of the Israelis also had parties at their houses at night. They were great, especially the one where Zach dropped his hat off the roof of a four story building and Alex picked it up with the fire hose. Yes, times were anything but boring.
The Poland/Israel trip far exceeded all of our highest expectations. It was one trip that none of us will ever forget. The friends we've made, the times we've shared, and the wonderful feelings that warmed our hearts will give us something to smile about in those long, summer afternoons, and keep us warm throughout the winter.
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