Due to COVID-19, a lot of students were not able to have a normal school year this year or last, and many schools had to teach over Zoom, due to the restrictions with masks and social distancing. The Yeshiva of Central Queens (YCQ) eighth grade graduating class of 2021 was not able to go on their annual Philadelphia trip for Seventh Graders last year, so YCQ made it possible for the eighth grade students to go this year to Philadelphia for a full day. The seventh grade also visited Philly last week for their annual trip.
The day started out with the eighth grade coming to school at 8:00 in the morning for davening and breakfast, and they headed out at 9:00 for the day. In Philadelphia, both the boys and girls stopped at the Eastern State Penitentiary – the world’s first Penitentiary, built in 1821 and opened in 1829. People were sent to this prison for a range of reasons starting from stealing a loaf of bread to first degree murder. The most infamous prisoner was Al Capone, sent to the Eastern State Penitentiary at age 33 when the law finally caught up to him with 22 counts of tax evasion. This was a highly publicized case and Capone was sentenced to 11 years in the Eastern State Penitentiary.
Next on the trip was the Big Red Pedal Tour around Philadelphia, where the students got to see the Liberty Bell and founding father Benjamin Franklin’s grave. The students also saw Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated, adopted, and signed. These sites were very significant on our tour, as we saw firsthand several important places relating to the founding of our democracy. On the tour, we also saw some of the oldest houses built in America – between the years 1703 and 1836 – in the historic Elfreth’s Alley, known today for historically preserving homes to see what life was like at the founding of our nation.
The entire eighth grade class then went to see Congregation Mikveh Israel, also known as the “Synagogue of the American Revolution,” which traces its history to September 25, 1740. The students learned about the history of Spanish and Portuguese Jews in America and their importance and impact on early American life. During the Spanish Inquisition, in 1492, Jews were either forced into Christianity or were expelled, and many fled to Portugal. In 1497, the Jews in Portugal were also forcibly converted to Christianity, and during the early 1500s the Jews were able to make it out of Spain and Portugal. The Jews then made their way to Amsterdam and then on to the New World and over to America, where they established congregations in cities such as New York, Newport, and Philadelphia. Mikveh Israel is the oldest synagogue in Philadelphia. Mikveh Israel’s members included Revolutionary War patriots such as the Gratz Family, and Haym Salomon (who has a street named after him near the Queens Public Library on Main Street), who joined the Sons of Liberty and helped the Continental Army in their war against Great Britain by providing financing for the war effort. Hearing about Jewish involvement in the founding of the United States was very interesting for all the students.
To conclude a long and meaningful day, the students had dinner at Congregation Sons of Israel in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and made their departure to a trampoline park, Urban Air. On the ride home, the students talked about all they experienced that day and how lucky we were to be able to have such a nice trip after last year’s series of unfortunate events. Overall, the students and staff had an amazing time, and we are all grateful to YCQ for providing us with such a great experience.
By Ruby Samson, grade 8