The large double-decker bus was waiting for us just outside the giant train station in Munich. As the group of 50 or so college age students waited for Alexei to call their names, check them off and allow them to board, I wondered what I was about to experience. Am Echad is a branch of the Lauder foundation. Their seminars are but a taste of their unprecedented efforts at reaching German and European Jewish youth. This two week summer seminar was to take place high in the Swiss Alps, in a small city called Parpan. The seminar was to consist of daily Torah study, kosher food, two shabbos experiences, (on two separate shabbosim of course) singing, dancing, sports activities, home-made game shows at night, (among them were “lets make a deal,” and “Who wants to be a millionaire”) and a general exposure to Torah Judaism.
The bus completed its international journey by weaving through the precariously tight mountain roads up to the Grischa Lodge hotel, where a meal awaited the new arrivals. The group was a fascinating sight, Jewish boys and girls from across the spectrum or Jewish life. Some dressed in the modest fashion of the religious while others looked as though they had never even heard of kosher or shabbos let alone experience them. On the surface, the group may have appeared a bit eclectic. But to the trained eye, they may never have been a more beautiful group. Fifty Jewish souls who were not fortunate enough to be raised in a Torah observant home had come together for two weeks to spend time getting to know God and his Torah.
Morning prayers and breakfast were followed by three hours of optional classes. Some were in German, some in Russian, others even in English. After lunch, the afternoons were filled with such activities as alpine sledding, mountain climbing (in a cable car of course!) a trip to Zurich, and games of Soccer and American Football. At five o’clock in the afternoon, the learning would start up again with the “Bais Midrash Program.” The first fifteen minutes consisted of an introduction to the material that would be studied. Groups then formed to study and discuss the source material for about thirty minutes and then there was a fifteen minute conclusion. Mincha and supper would follow, leading into the nights “night activity.” After Maariv at ten oclock were the optional classes, in English, German, and Russian, which were extremely well attended, some lasting past midnight. Authentic thirst for the words of Torah is always inspiring.
I was brought to the Seminar to strengthen them, and while it may be cliché, I was very inspired from them. I cannot say what will happen to those who experience those two amazing Jewish weeks. I do not know who they will marry, where they will settle or what they will believe. But I think that they will have been changed forever by their experience with Am Echad. And I pray that the Torah that they have learned and the Shabbos that they have felt will never leave their souls. I pray that the inspiration that they will leave with will not dissipate – that they will join yeshivas and Torah institutions where their minds and souls can blossom and shine. I hope that this incredible group of holy Jewish souls will forever inspire me to come closer to where I should be, and to grow beyond my surroundings the way these amazing youngsters have.