Saturday, June 8

14 Jun

Last night, our entire group gathered for Shabbat dinner, including our lovely professor Lori Lefkovitz and her wonderful husband Rabbi Lenny Gordon. After a chaotic day, I felt at peace coming together with the people who have become like my family for the past few weeks. For me, Shabbat is a day of relaxation and reflection. Today I am reflecting on our Jerusalem journey as a whole and the strong bonds that have formed within the fourteen students in this group. We began to reflect as we went around the table last night to say what we were individually grateful for this week, what we have learned in Jerusalem, and what we will take away from our Jerusalem experience. My classmates brought up some significant points that I feel are truly important to share.


One of the greatest things I think we have all learned is that Jerusalem holds intense importance for many groups of people. Here there are holy sites for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. People come from all over the world to see this magnificent city and all that it has to offer. In a way, our group is so privileged to have been able to spend three weeks in Jerusalem and tour its historical and religious sites. Some of us are not even twenty years old, and we have already been to a place many of our ancestors never had the opportunity to reach. Not everybody has the chance to visit or live in this desired land, but we were lucky enough to have spent three weeks learning and appreciating Jerusalem’s incredibility. We have gained such appreciation for our opportunities throughout our time in Jerusalem, which I am sure is a gratitude we will never forget.


Another topic of conversation that has been thematic throughout our entire trip is Judaism and its relationship with Jerusalem. Half of us have been raised either religiously or culturally Jewish and have come to Israel with a decent amount of knowledge about Judaism. The other half ranged from knowing a great deal about the Jewish religion to next to nothing. What has stood out to some of the students who are not Jewish is the great amount of knowledge they have gained about both Jewish and Israeli culture. Some students came here knowing hardly anything about this place or its people, and they feel as though they have come to a great understanding in Jerusalem. What I know that I love, and a feeling that my classmates share, is that we have learned so much from not only our classes, but the people on our trip. We have learned from each other’s perspectives, backgrounds, and cultures, and I think that having both Jewish and non-Jewish students in this group has been beneficial to learning about Judaism and Israel.


An experience recognized by almost all of the Jewish students on this trip is the way that their views on Israel have both stayed the same and changed. All of the Jewish students have previously been to Israel, and this trip has been a time to verify certain beliefs and challenge others. Here many of us have randomly run into friends and family from home, proving that for many people Jerusalem is a place for connection and unification. Jerusalem brings Jews together, which we have definitely experienced over our three weeks here. This trip has also been a way for us to expand on and change our opinions of Israel that some of us gained through Birthright. Five of the Jewish students have been on Birthright, and many of us believe that Birthright teaches Jews to love Israel without understanding its complexities. Through classes and conversations, our eyes have truly been opened to the conflicts that this country faces that we were not previously taught. What is extremely special for some of us, however, is that we have learned that we do in fact love Israel, even if it is for a different reason or in a different way than we thought from Birthright. 


A couple of other perspectives shared at dinner last night include gaining an open mind about Judaism and learning why people identify with it. Many members of our group who did not know a lot about the Jewish religion have learned enough about Judaism to really understand and accept it. Those of us who are Jewish have also gained a sense for how Jerusalem is significant to the other monotheistic religions, and have learned why this place is important for everyone, not just the Jews. Some people have even learned why their families identify with the Jewish religion. It is not just a practice affiliated only with religion; Judaism is a culture and community that people can identify with both in Jerusalem and throughout the rest of the world. I can definitely say that I have learned a lot about myself and my connection with Judaism on this trip as well.


As we moved throughout the circle sharing our feelings about Jerusalem, I mentioned the way the city brings me a sense of peace that I have yet to find almost any where else. In the hustle and bustle of the city during the week, Jerusalem feels chaotic and like many other cities. Yet, at the same time, the people are so genuine and the place is so beautiful that I feel a constant sense of serenity. Two of the only places that make me feel this way are my synagogue and Jerusalem. I feel the most at peace on Shabbat in both places. Jerusalem is magnificent in the way that it shuts down for the Sabbath, and I feel the same peace at my synagogue on Shabbat as I do in this city. Shabbat is a time when I can forget all of my troubles and feel at peace, and Jerusalem truly brings me this calmness. I have come to love this city and the way that it changes my emotions. Jerusalem is such a powerful place for both myself and millions of other people. 


Psalm 137:5 says, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.” Tomorrow we leave Jerusalem. Having already seen many parts of this country, I’m struggling to grasp the idea of leaving this city. I do not know when I will be back, which I think I can say for all of us is a scary thought. If we have learned anything, it is that this place holds meaning to everyone in very different ways, but it signifies a tremendous moment in our lives. We are young and gaining great experiences, and Jerusalem is a place where we have spent three weeks of our college years. This may seem like a small amount of time, but we have obtained a great mount of knowledge and perspective in Jerusalem. We may be taking different insights away from our Jerusalem experiences, but all that we have learned we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. I am sad to leave Jerusalem, but I know that I am leaving with an incredible new sense of myself, my religion, and my people. I will never forget this place, and I am confident that I will one day return.

– Anna Meyers


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