Wendy's Travel Blog | 2018 FRD Leadership Mission

Follow Wendy Berger, Senior Director of Philanthropy, as she documents her FRD Leadership Mission through Berlin and Budapest!

Day 1 - Thursday, July 12th 2018

SUZANNE BARTON GRANT (National Campaign Chair/JFNA-Delaware):
Focus on lay and professional leadership relationships and partnerships.
Will celebrate throughout the week all increased gifts and all new endowments and new giving levels.

RABBI BRAD HIRSCHFELD (Scholar in Residence/CLAL):
What baggage did you bring with you?
Insights allow you to mobilize your values and share insights with others. 

We see what we believe & believe what we see.
Berlin is a city once so divided  - anything is possible. Now a reunified city. A beacon of light to the world. It is up to each of us to decide what we see and how we interpret it. Once we believe something, we will see it. 

We are the freest, richest, most powerful generation of Jews to ever walk the earth. There is nothing that we are not capable of doing. Everything we see is an invitation to create the world in which we most want to live. Nothing but will stands between us and the world we want to see. It is within our power to make the world what we want it to be. Nothing is impossible. Let our “baggage” inspire us to do the work we do as we say the Shehechiyanu.

8th largest Jewish population in the world. “Our” people are here and we will stand united with them as we participate in a “Kippah Walk” to the synagogue. 

We are seeing that people don’t like umbrella giving anymore – people want to designate their gifts. We are raising $900 Million in unrestricted giving. Another $900 Million in endowment. Individualism and Sectarianism are fragmenting our Jewish world. We stand behind Jewish tradition and history – we must focus on the “WE” and not the “ME”. We are going to stay in this business to help Jews around the world, whether we know them or not. What we do is the antidote to much of the pain and division we are seeing in the world. Federation may not be “in fashion” right now, but what we do is critical and important and the work we do makes so many things possible. We bend the arc of Jewish history. We change the destinies and outcomes for hundreds of thousands of Jews every year. And we will continue to do that. 

Days are scrolls – write on them what you want to be remembered. 

Federation is there every single day, not just when crisis hits, as we have been since the beginning of Federation. For our ancestors, our parents and grandparents, our children and their children, we are here.

Together we will Reflect on the past and Dream about the Future.

We are in “Chevruta” groups to learn and share together. We will elevate our work through storytelling. 

“People won’t remember what you said, they will remember how you made them feel”~ Maya Angelou

Worked on our own personal stories and shared with our group

ED SAROTTA (Scholar in Residence/Photographer):
Ed Sarotta worked in Atlanta, but lives in Venice now.

Stories – both telling and listening are equally important. While in Germany we will hear one story after another about Jewish history. 
UJA (now Federation) was formed the day after Krystallnacht in 1938. JDC was there to find permanent homes for Jews who were displaced and homeless after the holocaust. More than 150K Jews have come to Germany since 1990. They have created a Jewish revival in Berlin & throughout Germany that does not necessarily correlate to our ancestors who lived here prior to the Holocaust.

RABBI JOSH SPINNER (Exec VP of Ronald S. Lauder Foundation):
Rabbi Spinner lives in Berlin with his wife and 3 daughters. They moved here from US 18 years ago.


View full gallery of Day 1 photos

Day 2 - Friday July 13th 2018


Berlin means “swamp” and has about 3.8 million people in it. Berlin used to be known as Prussia and has a garden, Tiergarden, that is 3x larger than Central Park!

Foreign Ministry- State Secy Walter Lindler Accomplished musician and Lawyer Speaks 7 languages
1988 entered diplomatic service
Previously Ambassador in several other countries Born in Munich

“Never Again” always will be on the minds and in the hearts of Germans. “Never Forget” critically important now as the last remaining holocaust survivors are dying.
Over 100K Jews now in Germany. After Holocaust there were only 15K Anti-Semitism is present in Germany, but less prevalent than in other European countries.
Opened new Jewish campus in Berlin 2 weeks ago.
Increase in Anti-Semitism possibly due to globalization. Also rise in social media & social isolation makes it easier to publicly attack Jews

Synagogue built 1911 - damaged by fire night of Krystalnacht November 1938

1933 Nazis came to power. Jewish population went from 160K to 4K Today 13 operating synagogue in Berlin People pay dues and go to any synagogue they wish- not for individual synagogues but as a group. Pay 9% of their tax return to belong. Germany funds all Jewish centers for all of the people. 

Choir (from Opera) + Cantor & Rabbi
Beautiful service + baby naming. L’dor Vador no matter where in the world you live. 

Prayers are the same in any language.

Day 3 - July 14th 2018


In the morning I toured Jewish museum and local sights. No photos were permitted at the Jewish Museum
In the afternoon I attended workshops and then a Session with Russian Jews and Jewish Agency
I had dinner on my own in the evening and follow it with Havdallah services (at 10:45PM!)

View full gallery of day 3 photos

Day 4 - July 15th 2018


20 years ago, the biggest story in Germany was the massive influx of Russian Jews. Today, Anti-Semitism is top issue, along with influx of people from war torn areas and how the Jewish community responds to their need for help. Head of Central Jewish Council led the Jewish community in welcoming refugees. Focused on integrating them into the German society and recognizing their social and cultural differences.  Jewish Council holds an Annual “Mitzvah Day” – Jewish groups volunteer in refugee homes.

Interesting that the Central Council of Jews in Germany, which is more of an administrative body rather than religious, accepted the immigrants but have not accepted the Jews (like those from yesterday representing Jewish Agency) who are not Halachically Jewish. Tikkun Olam vs. Jewish Law = a sense of disequilibrium.

Young Syrian attacked a young Israeli recently in Germany which prompted increased coverage by Washington Post of Anti-Semitism. Also led to increased education in schools and bringing to the forefront the reality of how Jews are treated in Germany.

90% of Anti-Semitic attacks are committed by right wing groups and Germany is trying to deal with these groups.  There are very strict anti-hate laws in Germany and it is illegal to deny the Holocaust. The right wing leaders have managed to operate in the “grey zone” of that law. These groups actually want to attract media attention.

Markel has had to change some of her views about border controls and free movement between European countries and immigration due to pressure from more right wing leaders of neighboring countries, such as Austria.

In 2011, $70,000 was given to Jewish Agency in Germany to support programs. Now funding has reached $1 Million, and much is through direct fundraising.


Yizkor Service to remember Holocaust victims led by young JDC and Jewish Agency participants. Saw actual train car and memorial listing dates and numbers of Jews deported and taken to their deaths. Said Kaddish for victims and “planted” names of victims near memorial. Sang Hatikvah with local members of community and Jewish Agency participants.

KIPPAH WALK – setting the stage with Rabbi Brad. On our walk, We will all wear kippot.

Rabbi Brad told us that the art of Jewishness is to live Jewishly . He told the story of his great grandmother coming from Minsk to America. When he started wearing kippah at age 12, his mother was not accepting or supportive. She was fearful for him and could not understand why he chose to make himself a target.

From this experience Rabbi Brad learned that each generation must ask and answer the most fundamental Jewish questions. We each must seek the central question for ourselves and then figure out how we can engage and make a difference in the world. Once we get clarity on what we seek, our job is to do everything we can to ensure that we can answer that question and feel proud. 

We were asked, “how will YOU walk the walk; not on this walk specifically, but in your everyday lives? Be particularly proud and passionately committed to the universe and to YOUR question.”


A little background on the Berlin Wall:

Cold War was an extension of WWII. 
Berlin in Eastern part of Germany – Berlin was divided and divided into 4 sectors. 
1952: many citizens fleeing East Germany. Between 1945 – 1961, there were 3.5 million Germans fled East Germany to West Germany. 
1962: Stalin gave order to close border between East/West Germany. 
After wall was built, anyone who tried to cross was killed.

Walked from Berlin Wall to hotel – about 2 miles. Stopped at one of the train stations where the deportation occurred. Saw bronze statue that depicted “To Life & To Death”.  A few thousand young children were sent by train from Berlin to Hungary and then to the UK without their parents. Some of the children were as young as 3 years old without their parents, never to see them again. They were put in foster homes or in a special center for displaced children and were never even allowed to say goodbye to their parents or families. The other side of the statue depicts the millions of Jews who were marched to the trains and sent to concentration camps to die. 


has existed for over 100 years with one common denominator in everything they do – they help Jews in need - no matter where they are, and help them to lead relevant Jewish lives.                                                              

Panel from Warsaw, Kiev, Israel, Ethiopia, Berlin. 
-    At the age of 11, Anja, (now a young woman) was sent from Bosnia with her 6-year-old brother and without her parents to live with her grandmother in Serbia. In Serbia she discovered she was Jewish and that the only reason she survived was due to donations from generous Americans through JFNA and therefore given to JDC. The JDC provided Anja and her family with medical care, supplies, food and clothing. Anja learned to accept and embrace her Judaism. 

-    Betty, a young Ethiopian woman, was raised in Ukraine. Her given name, Bethlehem, raised so many questions in her, leading her Birthright Israel trip. Israeli magazines and newspapers became aware of her she became a sort of mini-celebrity. 

-    Misha is from Russia but attended an ORT School (world’s largest Jewish Education and Vocational Training Non-Governmental Organization) in Warsaw. He now works for ORT running all ORT schools in Russia, and just had his second child. He feels he has finally come full circle with his Judaism and will continue that with his children.

-    Angela spent three years in Miami as community Shlicha. Now she is the Shlicha for a Jewish agency in London. Her Iranian grandparents walked to Israel before it was even a state.  Her paternal grandfather was a Zionist Activist in Iraq. Father from Iraq, grandfather a Zion’s activist. Angela was born in Ashkelon where her parents live but with no bomb shelter. 

-    Agata’s birth country no longer exists though it was known as the Polish People’s Republic until 1989. Born in 1983, she admits that Judaism is not really a part of her life. Agata recalls feeling “alone but very Jewish.” Her message to us was that although there were concentration camps in Poland, they were run by Nazi’s from Germany and the Polish acknowledge and regret the Holocaust. There is still a Jewish population in Poland that needs and wants our support to flourish.

View full gallery of day 4 photos

Day 5 - July 16th 2018


JDC and Jewish Agency returned to Budapest in early 1980’s – since then Jewish life has returned to Budapest. 
Between 30K – 100K Jews in Budapest (numbers vary greatly depending on who you speak to). Very active and lively Jewish community. 


Went on “Old City Crawl” through Jewish quarter in Budapest with guide. Saw oldest synagogue in city and learned of its history and toured monument to those who perished in Holocaust here. 

Toured Israeli Cultural Center with four young adults who participate in JDC programs. Each told their Jewish journey and how JDC helped them not only to discover their Jewish identity, but also helped them continue to live Jewishly, either through Birthright or a local Tikkun Olam group where they choose local projects to get involved in and have leadership tracks to help them develop as Jewish leaders in the community.

Heard from the local leader of the Jewish Agency in Centropa. 


We heard from three locals from Budapest whose families had not raised them Jewish out of fear of Anti-Semitism. These individuals worked to become involved in Jewish life in their hometown and thanked JDC, the Jewish Agency and Federations for their support in helping them to participate in Jewish life and continue with their education. 

View full gallery of day 5 photos

Day 6 - July 17th 2018


60 pairs of shoes for 60th anniversary – commemorating that Jews had to take all clothes and shoes off before going to death camps.
There we held a memorial service, said prayers, and heard names of some of the people who died during Holocaust  from Budapest.

Each of us threw a white rose into the Danube River to remember those who were lost. Here on the banks of the Danube River, 800 Jews were ordered to take off their shoes and then were taken to their death.


40 years of silence passed following the holocaust in Hungary because nobody was permitted to speak about what happened or to be Jewish. 

Inter-generational Program – in partnership with Jewish Agency and JDC. Brings together 3 generations of Jews: young adult Birthright alumni, elderly Holocaust survivors, and survivors’ children (most who did not know they were Jewish until they reached adulthood). Young people today do not want to base their identity on the holocaust. Yes, it’s a part of their history but not all of it. Second Generation Survivors are known as the “Lost Generation.”They struggle with how to keep the memory alive after last survivor dies?

The bottom line is that we are all links in the chain. It is up to us whether we will be the next link or the last link. 

This program creates bonds and helps both younger and older members of community understand and learn from each other. Their “journey” culminates with a shared trip to Israel.


Gabor, age 77: The group itself was the most meaningful part of program. Feels like he has another granddaughter. Felt as if The Wall was teaching out to him and asking “What kind of Jew are you?”

Istvan, age 71: the program helped connect him to other generations and make sense of the past. Visiting Yad Veshem meant the most and to see his fathers name in the wall of righteous gentiles. His Dad hid and saved 13 people in a basement that was 2x8. Also loved seeing the science and engineering in Israel. Wants to share his experience despite his fear of speaking due to Parkinson’s. Said first Shabbat prayers in Israel at Wall.

Aina, age 30: her grandmother was holocaust survivor but she was never allowed to discuss it with her because they weren’t allowed. 
North- like home in Europe. South- more like Africa. Anyone in the world can go to Israel & feel at home. It was important for her to see the others’ reactions to Israel and the new things they shared. Also her mom came on trip and now wants to be part of JDC trip. 

Being Jewish in Hungary cannot be taken for granted. It’s a journey, it takes an effort and can’t be taken for granted. We all belong to something bigger and it is our responsibility to ensure that all have the opportunity to be Jewish and explore their Jewish identity. 


Met with JDC Director, Gabor, and 2 women who are survivors, Vera and Iboya. Both of their fathers were taken away by the Germans and both of their mothers were also taken afterwards in Hungary. The women both ended up in the same orphanage, but did not know each other then.

Iboya’s mother disappeared and she never saw her again, but miraculously her father returned from the concentration camp in 1946. She got married and had a son but her son passed away 8 years ago.

Vera’s mother survived after being kidnapped and beaten but her father never returned home. At 19 she married, had three children and one of her children now lives in Albany, New York.

Both are helped by the JDC through home visits and social activities. 

VISIT TO JCC BUDAPEST (called Balint House) – supported by JDC. 

Met with Exec Director, Zsuza Fritz and Theater Director, Andras Borgula. Both found out as adults they were Jewish and then began journey of learning about their history and dedicating themselves to providing opportunities within Budapest for all Jews, from children to older adults. JCC Budapest has a thriving theater program, Jewish Film Festival, leadership programs, street festivals and over 1,500 programs per year and partner with over 50 organizations. Right now they are actively planning for the future of the center for the next generation. 

Tonight we will go on a Danube River Cruise. 

View full gallery of day 6 photos

Day 7 - July 18th 2018

David Brown, Chicago

We connect Jews wherever they may be. JFNA is on the front line of the most important issues facing world Jewry today.

Holocaust connection (survivors dying off)
Demographics (intermarriage, lack of Jewish communities)
Millennial's lack of connection to Israel & Jews in other countries
Jewish education & formal training
Political divide
Threat to Jewish homeland – security

In last 48 hours, JFNA sending funds for immediate use to help areas affected by fires in the North AND sent $10K sheckles to victims and their families who were hurt in most recent rocket attacks this week.
JFNA is on the ground with offices and staff in Israel and ready to assist at any moment wherever and whenever needed.


25,000 young Jews from Central/Eastern Europe and the FSU have attended for over 28 years.

Founded by JDC and Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in 1990. Lauder Foundation owns the camp and leases to JDC for $1/year. JDC operates the camp with a budget of over $700 Million. Each summer, 1,600 young Jews attend from 25 countries. Each session is 12 days.

Spent the day at camp with over 300 children from 15 countries, ages 6-18. Saw how they interact and learn each others’ language, learn cooperation and share a common Jewish background. Did activities, including arts and crafts and sports with the kids and had a festive lunch with them to include singing Jewish songs and dancing together. Toured the camp grounds and met in their camp synagogue. Learned how JDC and the Jewish Agency identify the kids and that the camp is at capacity and fills up within one day of online registration. Families pay up to $250 per session per child and the Jewish Agency underwrites $1,000 per child through the help of Federations and private donations.


Look at how we have survived the past 70 years since the Holocaust, especially in Eastern Europe. If we can accomplish THIS in the past 70 years, then IMAGINE what we can do in the next 70. We have the power, passion and ability to survive and thrive and help our fellow Jews wherever they are.

Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh: “We Are All Responsible For One Another.” 

Rabbi Brad taught us that we are not just responsible for one another, but WE ARE ONE ANOTHER. We are a global Jewish family and we should be thinking of Jews at home, in Israel and around the world as or family members. Whatever we would do for our own family, we should be doing for all Jews everywhere.


Spoke about her grandfather and his passion and activism for the Jewish community and how he went to great lengths to protect and save Jews and the effect that had on her. Urged us all to dig deep to find the connection that moves us and to use those feelings to work even harder and give to our capacity to save and improve the lives of Jews across the world.


Had our final dinner at the beautiful Vigado Concert Hall. On this mission, we raised over $2.5 Million in NEW Endowment Gifts + $15,000 in new designated gifts + we raised over $1.6 Million in pledges for the 2019 Annual Campaign = a 33% increase overall compared to 2018, which is the highest ever for this Mission.

View full gallery of day 7 photos

Final Thoughts

I would like to thank the Delaware Jewish Community for allowing me to go on this important and fabulous Mission to Berlin and Budapest. Seeing is believing. We all have heard about the work Federation and our partners JDC and the Jewish Agency are doing overseas, but it is one thing to read or hear about it and another to see it firsthand. Jewish life is alive and thriving and being reimagined in Berlin and Budapest. I met Holocaust survivors who are not only leading full lives but ensuring that we never forget our past. I met young adults who are not only living Jewishly, but creating amazing, positive, welcoming communities for their peers and their children. And I saw the light and love of being Jewish in the eyes of children who have just found out that they are Jewish and are finding their “families” and friends due to our contributions and the work of JDC and the Jewish Agency. I learned about so many of my fellow participants’ Jewish journeys and family histories, many who have a personal connection to Berlin, Budapest and Eastern Europe. I spent Shabbat in Berlin with people who may not have spoken my native language, but we all shared in saying common prayers in Hebrew and shared common hopes for our future. I am so proud of Suzanne Grant and the other lay leaders and JFNA staff who worked tirelessly to plan a full and meaningful and spectacular mission which has provided me with renewed passion and practical information to bring back to our community in Delaware and the Brandywine Valley. My wish is that I could bring every one of our community members with me to experience what I saw here and what I learned here. And I promise each of you that I will continue to work on behalf of our local and global Jewish community to do my part in ensuring that we not only survive but thrive for the next 70 years and beyond.

I welcome the opportunity to meet with any of you who wants to learn more about this Mission, the work of JFNA and our partners and to share ideas and strategize about the ways we can work together to help our Jewish family, wherever they are and whenever they need us.


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