LA Trip 2017 – Day 2

February 23, 2017:  Update 2
As I start to type this evening, I am listening to the students as they ask excellent questions about Anne Frank as we are at a special evening exploration of an immersive Anne Frank Exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance (Simon Wiesenthal Center). It is 8 p.m. and I am impressed as everyone has been up for 13 hours and it has been go, go, go – I do not feel as sharp as their questions (another example that I am getting old and that Mr. Monchamp really needs to travel more!).

Sometimes the second day of a trip is more challenging as people follow a Day 1 early morning wake-up with poor sleep (usually the result of trying to sleep in a room with multiple students with talking that seems not to cease) but this was not the case with our group this year. They have demonstrated improved social responsibility skills, they have been alert, participatory and generous of spirit. And many were even up and ready to go at 7:15 a.m., our wake-up time.

As we drove out of our student campus dorms at American Jewish University after a breakfast of cereal, yogurt, eggs (OK, hard-boiled) and lots of fresh fruit, we experienced the beauty of the hills of Mulholland Drive. With blue sky in the background once again granting the illusion of heat, it was a beautiful start to the day. We drove a little further towards the city and Rabbi Berger – who is 
a virtual native LA-bred with UCLA genetics and is as good a tour guide as he is a Rabbi – had many stories to tell. They ranged from interrupting OJ Simpson’s White Bronco chase to sleeping in Julia Robert’s bed (and although I may plead guilty to sometimes embellishing to make something seem ever so slightly more interesting than its reality, these stories stand on their own with truth being stranger than fiction).

This is Rabbi Berger’s car of choice in his alternate life in which he is not a Rabbi.

First stop was the Nethercutt Museum – the Nethercutts were successful in the cosmetic industry and so spent their money collecting things – like automobiles and other fancy stuff. I mean, who wouldn’t do this if they had ridiculous amounts of money (remember yesterday the guy who built the Roman Villa) – whatever happened to helping end poverty, curing cancer, etc. If you like old fancy cars this is the place for you. Everything is shiny, and metal and rubber abound. Many of the kids (and I include Rabbi Berger in this group) love this place, I am on the fence on this one but the truth is there are just not that many places that open at 9 a.m. near the university and my Starbucks app wasn’t working.


Second stop – Hollywood Boulevard. This is usually a really fun spot and it was even more active as they were setting up for this week’s Oscars. The red carpet was all set up (we could not see it as it was under white plastic but you could see it was there). I am not the star-struck type but today some of the kids thought they saw the red-haired guy from the TV show Modern Family (I am sure he has a name but I am too lazy to look it up). I would like you to know, the kids were definitely star-struck (strange how spending time with me does not rate on their OMG scale). We walked around for an hour or so – kids meandering to and fro in different groups. And yes, we found coffee (thanks for caring!).

This ‘before’ photo needs no explanation… and is neater than the ‘after’ photo.

Third stop – lunch… Pizza World. Salad, garlic bread and….pizza. And it was all excellent! After a really nice lunch it was time for a more educational visit and we headed to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. We arrived around 1:30 p.m. and credit to the students for transitioning from freedom and fun to alone and somber. We had an introduction in a powerful outdoor space dedicated to the approximate 1.2 – 1.5 million Jewish children estimated to have been murdered in the Holocaust. The space has tiles with different size holes drilled into them – totaling 1.2 million holes or thereabouts. It is a staggering visual representation of the unimaginable number of lives lost – and as at the Kotel one can write a note or a prayer and insert it into one of those holes. From here the students wore headsets and roamed alone through the exhibit, listening to the recordings at different stations. As we all walked we spread out, and as one moved deeper into the exhibit natural light ceased to exist, and the space felt closer and darker. I watched many student faces as I listened to the stories and I could see the raw emotion, the sadness and disbelief – feelings I have each and every time, and ones I hope never leave me. We were then seriously blessed with a survivor story. Dorothy Greenstein spoke to us last year during our visit and we asked for her to speak again. She held the students captivated for over an hour as she told of her life in Poland from when the Nazi’s invaded when she was a girl of 8 years, until the end of the war. The students were so very respectful of her and were so appreciative of who she was and of her sharing with them. It is at those moments that I really see hope in our future and I am so proud to be with these students.

Top: Students wondering through the museum on their own and then with
Doug the Docent in the evening.
Bottom: With Dorothy Greenstein after her presentation.

Now everyone had earned a little mental unwind so we strolled to The Grove – an outdoor shopping mall. Here we gave everyone an hour or so to wonder, to shop, to have a drink or to just sit outside and be. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the freedom as we set them on a path with instructions on when and where to meet. From our staff perspective the students have really been interacting positively with each other. 
We left The Grove and went for dinner – again, $17 US dollars on Pico (truth is this does not go as far as I thought it would). Tonight, many of us added kosher Mexican to the lexicon of food choices though I do think Persian was pretty darn popular too. 

Students standing in front of 17,000 pieces of clothing, each piece representing a Jewish Dutch child who died in the Holocaust.

In real time it is now 9 p.m. and the students have been in the Anne Frank exhibit. I have had the honour to see much of this exhibit before and to visit Anne’s house in Amsterdam twice. Hers is a powerful story and I find it full of hope and promise – inspiring even though the end is so very tragic. Something tells me the world could use a little more of Anne’s attitude right now. Real time has changed but the paragraph has not (all through the magic of modern day technology, well after all, we are in Hollywood, where dreams are made) and it is now 10:30 p.m. The students have all had a nice ride home and were pretty good sports overall about our 6:45 a.m. wake-up time tomorrow (not all of the chaperones were so positive). I look forward to another wonderful day tomorrow (just hoping that they eventually run out of energy tonight… shhhhh, I feel ‘teacher voice’ coming on!)

Until tomorrow.
Russ

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