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Study Abroad Program Highlights Jewish History in Belarus

Application deadline: March 15

March 4, 2010

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Restoring a Jewish cemetery

Students will learn about the Holocaust and help restore a Jewish cemetery in Belarus. (Photo, courtesy of Dr. Michael Lozman)

The University at Albany is offering a unique study abroad opportunity in Belarus this summer. The service-learning course will focus on the impact of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe and on preserving a neglected Jewish cemetery.

A landlocked nation, Belarus is bordered by Lithuania and Latvia to the north, by Russia to the east, by Ukraine to the south, and by Poland to the west. With roots dating back to the 13th century, the Jewish population of what is now Belarus once comprised a thriving community.

"Before World War II, Jews constituted more than 40 percent of the population of the city of Minsk, and were its largest ethnic group," said UAlbany Associate Professor of Judaic Studies Barry Trachtenberg, who is coordinating the trip. "Jews faced near-total destruction during the Holocaust, with 90 percent of the population killed." 

This study abroad course will allow students to participate in a hands-on project to restore a Jewish cemetery while learning about the multifaceted history of Eastern European Jewry. Students enrolled in the course will depart after May commencement and return the first week of June. The deadline to apply is March 15 through the Study Abroad office.

cemetery restoration project

Students will restore a Jewish cemetery while learning about the history of Eastern Eurpean Jews. (Photo, courtesy of Dr. Michael Lozman) 

Led by Trachtenberg and Albany-area resident Dr. Michael Lozman, students will first visit the Auschwitz memorial site in Poland and then travel to the cemetery restoration site in Belarus.

"Among the many goals of the Nazi forces was the total eradication of the Jews' contribution to European society. This trip is an opportunity for students to ensure that their memory will not be forgotten," said Trachtenberg.

Julia Balasinowicz, a junior history major from Cohoes, N.Y., has already signed up and is excited about the course.

"I am very interested in participating in this course not only because it will be a new experience for me, but also because it will be an opportunity to learn more about what the Jews of Eastern Europe had to endure in their history," said Balasinowicz. "Hopefully, in going on this trip, students will open up their eyes and realize how wonderful of a life they really have."

Students will stay in hotels and with host families, and while the official languages in Belarus are Belarusan and Russian, only English is necessary to join the course.

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