DECEMBER 13, 2018, MARBLEHEAD – Marty Schneer kept coming back to the same question: Would community members be interested in Jewish-themed international group travel opportunities?
To find out, Schneer, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead, and Sara Ewing, the JCCNS’s adult program director, recently conducted a survey of members, which showed there was undeniable interest.
Schneer asked former JCCNS President Diane Knopf to research options for a European excursion. Knopf had just concluded working at the Epstein Hillel School, where for 11 years, she was responsible for community engagement and fund-raising. As a self-proclaimed “frustrated travel agent,” she jumped at the opportunity to plan an affordable trip that would appeal to other travel-lovers like her.
Now the JCCNS has announced an eight-day trip to the epicenter of Eastern Europe – Budapest, Vienna, and Prague – which will take place from May 29 to June 7. The trip, which will accommodate a maximum of 40 people, will cost approximately $3,000 per person, including airfare, several meals, and accommodations at 4-star hotels. The rate is based on double occupancy (a supplement will be added for singles) and does not include trip insurance and gratuities.
The trip is being organized by the group-travel agency smarTours, but Knopf is customizing the itinerary to include some of the region’s rich Jewish history and sights. While there will be a significant amount of walking, the trip’s pace is considered “moderate,” with plenty of down time for participants to explore on their own or relax at their hotel.
“The JCCNS is thrilled to support opportunities for community members to travel together, learn about their Jewish heritage, and experience the history and culture of such a fascinating region of the world,” said Schneer.
The group will depart Logan Airport for Budapest, where a local expert will guide a visit to the Dohány Street Synagogue, the 13th-century Matthias Coronation Church, and the Citadel on Gellért Hill. The tour also will meander through the scenic Hungarian countryside, with a stop in the artist town of Szentendre.
Once in Austria, the group will experience Vienna from the center of the Habsburg Empire, including the circular grand boulevard known as Vienna Ring Road, the Hofburg Imperial Palace, the State Opera, and the Cathedral of St. Stephen’s, one of the country’s architectural gems. Those on the tour also will spend time exploring the Sigmund Freud Museum – located in the same building and apartment where the Jewish founder of psychoanalysis lived and worked and the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial, where the names of the 65,000 Austrian Jews killed by the Nazis are inscribed.
The trip will end in the city of Prague with an exploration of the city’s Jewish past, including famous synagogues, sites associated with the late Jewish writer Franz Kafka, and a view of Terezin, where the Theresienstadt concentration camp was located.
Knopf also has arranged for an optional pre-trip from May 25 to 29 for those wishing to explore Poland. Participants will learn about Warsaw’s rich history, with visits to the monument of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Auschwitz concentration camp, where a museum now stands to honor Holocaust victims. The Poland excursion costs an additional $400 and requires a minimum of 10 travelers.
Although the trip has not yet been widely promoted, Knopf already has spent hours fielding questions from interested community members. “I have no doubt that we’ll have enough sign-ups to run the main trip as well as the four-day Poland leg,” she said. “My hope is that we can build a group connection before the trip even begins with a series of introductory and ‘get-acquainted’ meetings. There’s great excitement already building within the community.”
A meeting to discuss the trip and answer questions will be held at the JCCNS, 4 Community Road in Marblehead, on Jan. 3 at 7 p.m. Initial non-refundable deposits of $300 per person are due by Jan. 7. For questions, please contact Diane Knopf at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sara Ewing at email@example.com or call 781-476-9913.