Discovering Greece: Birthplace of Ancient Achievements and Modern Heroism

Discovering Greece

Discovering Greece:

Birthplace of Ancient Achievements and Modern Heroism


Aims, Purposes and Goals of the Seminar

Back by popular demand!

In June 2015, Classrooms Without Borders offered for the first time a historic study seminar to explore Greece and its national and Jewish heritage. Greece is universally acknowledged as a vital source for the development of politics, philosophy, and culture, but it also possesses a remarkable Jewish community, spanning from northern cities to Mediterranean islands, that has contributed to the life of the nation.

Why have we chosen Greece as the destination for an educational seminar for the summer of 2019?

Three of the expressions more frequently used to describe the values, ethics and even thought processes in much of the world today are "Judeo-Christian culture", "Western Civilization" and "Democracy". The birthplace of the latter two is located - geographically and culturally - in Greece.

"Democracy", "History", "Philosophy", "Arts", "Science" and "Politics" are a tiny fraction of Greece's contribution to world culture and knowledge. In the 5th century BC, one Greek city-state – Athens – contained the largest concentration of luminaries ever seen anywhere. These included the historian Thucydides, the sculptor Phidias, the philosophers Socrates, Plato and Xenophon, the playwrights Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes, just to name a few. It was from there that Aristotle's student – Alexander the Great – set out to conquer the known world of his day, in an attempt to create a universal civilization. Centuries later, the meeting point between his Hellenistic culture and Judeo-Christian belief would create the foundation for the Byzantine Empire, a vessel hat preserved Hellenic and Hellenistic thought, art and science for more than 1100 years, while the West was consumed by the so-called "Dark Ages". Byzantium and its Hellenic basis were critical in the preservation and the eventual dissemination of the subsequent scientific, theological, mathematical, architectural, artistic, literary, and philosophical endeavors in Europe during the Renaissance. In many ways, Greece and its history stand together as one of the primary building blocks of Western Civilization.

The Ottoman Empire's conquest of Byzantium in 1453 and the ensuing restrictions on religion and learning motivated a 400 year struggle for freedom and independence that was realized in the early part of the 19th century. However, the nascent modern Greek state soon found itself battered by two World Wars, a savage civil war followed by a military dictatorship.

During WWII, Greece suffered two brutal occupations – one Italian, the other German - after fighting a heroic, but tragic defense of their country. The Jews of Thessaloniki – constituting 40% of the overall population of the city – were sent to their deaths in the Nazi Extermination Camps. In contrast, most Athenian Jews managed to survive, in no small part due to the aid and assistance of Righteous Greek Gentiles, who risked their lives to save them. There were other parts of Greece, particularly in small communities, where the Jewish minority was saved from the Nazi death machine by their non-Jewish neighbors.

The second half of the 20th century has seen Greece's internal struggle to create a democratic society while integrating into the European Union. Today, faced with a national economy that lies in shatters together with collapsing health and welfare systems, Greece stands at a fateful moment as tough decisions must be made to safely navigate the current crises.

The organizers, funders and educators behind this travel seminar deeply believe that teachers and students can benefit dramatically from a serious, in-depth educational journey to Greece. The main aim of this program is to increase the knowledge base of the participants, enable them to integrate various disciplines into the classroom (i.e. incorporating archaeology, primary sources – such as classical historians, philosophers, writers, – together with history, geography, etc), expose students to ancient and modern realities from a "first-person" perspective, and gain a greater appreciation of their subject of study (i.e. re-kindling their teaching motivation and adding energy, vigor and excitement to their lessons).

Goals of the Study Seminar to Greece

  • To enable participants to embark on an intellectual and physical journey into the core origins and elements of Western Civilization; its uniqueness, its growth and development over time and space.
  • To attempt to grapple with the question of how human civilization developed and its connection to the Modern Western world.
  • To examine the characteristics of general culture and Greek culture, their cross-fertilization and interaction from the earliest time in Human history to the modern era.
  • To learn first-hand about Greece's modern struggle for independence and its consequences.
  • To review Jewish contributions to the life and culture of Greece across historical periods
  • To compare and contrast the U.S. and Greek Democratic systems of government together with our common values.
  • To study the lives and stories of Greek Jews during the Holocaust and their attempts to find reconciliation and renewal in the post-WWII era
  • To learn about how Greece has dealt with some modern challenges and crises - dictatorship, life under Italian and Nazi occupation, the fight against Communism, financial collapse and integration into the EU.
  • To hear from community and political leaders about the serious economic and social challenges facing Greece and the troubling rise of anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and extreme nationalism in Greece and Europe.
  • To facilitate the ability of the educators to create techniques to bring back the knowledge and experience to their students in the classroom.

Questions to Consider

Questions we mean to raise and answer on the trip in Greece include the following:

  1. How did a relatively small area – geographically – come to initiate and express key universal ideas thousands of years ago?
  2. Why has there been such a strong influence of Greek thought on the development of the majority surrounding cultures continually throughout ancient history?
  3. How did the Greek people cope with the vicious Occupation during WWII and how did the general Greek society deal with the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Greek Jews?
  4. What can we learn about our own American identities through our interaction with a similar but different Greek society?

Bringing the Seminar Home

One of the primary motives in initiating this program is to create a way to bring the experience back to their classrooms.

The organizers of this program envision the teachers and students returning to the US with insights into the various issues raised above and with an enhanced ability to convey these to their respective school communities. This will be accomplished through an ongoing connection between the participants at a post-trip seminar. Various teaching programs and student projects can be created using photos, film clips, literature and personal testimony. The vision is to create a community of "experts" who can feed off of each other's various expertise and to work together to better implement the goals of the program.

Recognition from Greek Officials

In 2015 CWB was honored by the Greek governement for our program!

"In response to your letter of May 28th, 2015, we would firstly like to congratulate the initiatives that you have taken on over the years and for the always interesting projects and events that you organize, and beyond that to thank you for your especially honorable proposal for us to endorse your cultural event under the auspices of the Region of Eastern Attiki that will take place on June 24th in the Center of Paiania.

We wish you good luck in your efforts.

Vice Regional Director

Petros Filippou"


This is an itinerary of the cities and sites we will see in Greece. The days are not in order.

Athens – Classical Athens

Sites: Walking tour of Monastiraki & Plaka, Acropolis Museum, Acropolis

Welcome to Greece! We begin our first day “hitting the ground running” beginning with a short walking tour to get our bearings and orientation with a focus on understanding the urban layout of Athens from its historic nucleus of the Acropolis, through the adjacent neighborhoods of Monastiraki and Plaka with their embedded monumental Roman structures, all the way to the center of the modern Greek governmental institutions. In the afternoon, we will begin our introduction to Classical Athens with a visit to the Acropolis Museum, followed by a climb and walking tour of the Acropolis to learn up close about the masterpieces of the Golden Age of Athens: The Propylaea, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erectheion, and the “cherry on the icing”, the Parthenon.

Athens (cont)

Sites: Agora (Athens), Hadrians Library, Tower of the Winds, Temple of Zeus, Panathenaic Stadium

Introduction to the Day: Athens & Jerusalem

“The man who is isolated—who is unable to share in the benefits of political association, or has no need to share because he is already self-sufficient—is no part of the polis, and must therefore be either a beast or a god”. Aristotle felt that one became truly human only within the context of the Polis. Today we shall begin to unpack the concept of the Polis as the central generator of Classical Greek culture through a walking tour of the Agora and the surrounding institutions that made up the classic Greek city-state. In addition to the ancient marketplace, we will visit the Temple of Hephaestus – the best preserved ancient Greek Temple in Athens – and the Stoa of Attalos. Major Roman ruins - including Hadrians Library, the Towers of the Winds and the Temple of Zeus - will also be examined as we explore the Greek influence on Roman civilization and culture. Finally, a visit to the Panathenaic Stadium – built for the use of the first Olympic games of modern times – will frame our understanding of modern Greece’s national aspirations.

Athens (cont)

Sites: Jewish museum in Athens, visit the Jewish community center and two synagogues, meet with community leaders, Rabbi, Holocaust memorial

Introduction to the day: Modern Greece today

Today we will begin with a meeting with the director of the Jewish museum in Athens to get on overall picture of what Jewish life in Greece is like today and how the country relates to Holocaust education. Following that, we will meet with heads of the Jewish community, visiting two active synagogues and the central Holocaust memorial close by.

Volos, Mt. Pelion

Sites: Jewish community center + synagogue + cemetery in Volos, Makrinitsa on Mt. Pelion

Introduction to the day – The Jews of Greece – the “Romaniotes” and their historic trajectory

Today we will leave Athens, heading north-west to encounter our first Jewish community in Greece in the city of Volos. This historic port is protected from the north-east by Mt. Pelion, rising some 5328 ft. above sea level. The twenty-four villages embedded on the mountain and its slopes aided and abetted Jews from Volos during WWII, ensuring that the majority of the population survived the Nazi onslaught. In addition to meeting the head of the Jewish community and visiting the synagogue and cemetery in Volos, we will also tour Makrinitsa the so-called “balcony of Pelion” on the mountain.

Meteora + Ioannina

Sites: Meteora, Ioannina Jewish community and synagogue + Pasha Ali island (in the lake at Ioannina)

Introduction to the day: The centrality of the Greek Orthodox church in modern Greek identity & and its role during the Holocaust

Setting out in a north-westerly direction, we will drive to Meteora to visit two of the 6 monasteries ensconced in the conglomerate mountains located on the north-west edge of the plain of Thessaly. Second in importance after Mt. Athos, these monasteries helped maintain the Orthodox Christian faith in Greece during the long centuries of Muslim rule. From Meteora we will drive further north and west to the city of Ioannina. It was there that the Romaniote Jews created there own traditions and liturgies which sustained their community until they were decimated by the Nazis. A member of the Jewish community will take us around the former Jewish quarter and synagogue and speak to us about their attempt to maintain the memory of what had been lost. Time allowing, we will take a short boat ride to an island in the lake abutting the city to tour the home of the last Ottoman Turkish ruler in this part of Greece.


Sites: Salonika Jewish museum and synagogue + key sites and viewpoint of the City

Salonika is one of the great cities of Greece. Starting from the beginning of the 16th century and lasting till the end of the 19th, the Jewish community of Salonika was the single largest ethnic religious group in the city. Virtually all of the Salonikan Jews were refugees from the Spanish expulsion of 1492. At their peak, they constituted 40% of the overall population of the city. We will visit the Jewish museum and synagogue followed by an orientation tour of the entire city which will include several viewpoints and stops along the way. In the evening we will participate in a dinner with the local Jewish community helping bring in the Sabbath together with them.


Sites: Half the day free to go on their own – archaeological museum, famous churches, etc. Half the day walking tour focusing on Jewish Salonika

Today we will get some free time for the first half of the day. In the afternoon, following an introduction to Jewish Salonika, we will embark on a walking tour of the city that will enable us to grasp the impact of Jewish life on this city up until the Nazi Occupation. The Jews spoke a medieval Spanish-Jewish dialect, ran the city’s economy and interacted with their non-Jewish fellow Salonikans on an equal footing. The port shut down on the Sabbath, as all the stevedores were Jewish. This last major vestige of “Sephardic” civilization (Spanish Jewry) was almost completely eradicated in the gas chambers of Auschwitz (97%), bringing an end to a 500 year community overnight. We will visit the most important buildings, such as the two synagogues, commercial streets and buildings, important bank buildings, a Turkish bath, the central fruit market, and much more altogether forming the center of the commercial life– and not only that - of the city, mostly operated by Jews. The visit will be concluded by a visit to the Shoah memorial, situated at Eleftherias square, where the first important prosecution was effected from the Nazis towards the Jews of the city.

Salonika, Vergina and Pella

Sites: Train station in Salonika, University campus (Jewish cemetery), Vergina, Pella, driving tour of late 19th century mansions of Salonika

Introduction to the day: Hellenism-Judaism conflict or confluence?

Before leaving Salonika to explore the heartland of ancient Macedonia, we will visit the Old Train Station, where all the deportations to Auschwitz took place. The tour will continue with the University campus, where the old cemetery used to be before it was completely destroyed. On our way out we will drive by the East side of the city where all the important villas of very wealthy Jewish people of 19th-20thcentury are. Excellent examples of fine architecture, each one has a story to tell. We will drive across the beautiful landscape of Macedonia, which is called the “Garden of Europe”. Starting with Vergina, we will explore the royal Macedonian tombs containing the remains of Phillip II, Alexander the Great’s father. After lunch, we will continue on to Pella, Alexander’s capital where we will experience the grandeur and magnificence of Greece art as expressed in 2400 year old mosaics, frescos and sculpture. A central theme of the day will be our attempt to understand the impact of Hellenistic civilization on the ancient East and how Judaism and Christianity contained, adapted and co-opted some ideas while rejecting others. In the late afternoon we will return for a final evening in Salonika.

Veroia, Larissa

Sites: Synagogue and Jewish quarter in Veroia, Synagogue in Larissa

Introduction to the day: Romaniote communities in Thessaly and their fate during the Holocaust

Heading back in the direction of Vergina, we will visit Veroia with its beautiful Jewish neighborhood of Barbouta and its restored synagogue. From there we will continue further south to Larissa to meet members of the Jewish community and to learn about the challenges they are facing today to maintain their way of life in Greece.

Delphi, Distomo

Sites: Delphi, Distomo, Athens

Introduction to the day: the Nazi occupation and the Greek resistance

Heading south-east, we will begin our day in a central cultic site of ancient Greece – Delphi. A short drive from there we will visit a memorial site commemorating the 214 men, women and children of the tiny Greek village Distomo who were massacred by the Nazis.


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