To me, Judaism is determined by the Jewish choices you make. You can grow up learning and going to Hebrew school and Friday night services every once in a while and be super Jewish in your own mind or you can have no Jewish education, never go to temple, and call yourself Jewish. Before EIE (URJ Heller High), I considered myself Jewish because I went to temple every once in a while, attended Sunday and Hebrew school and even went to a URJ Camp, but now I am proud to call myself a Jew because I know where I truly came from and I know my Jewish roots.
I think teachers have a big impact on how you learn. You can have a boring teacher that doesn’t care and you won’t get much out of the course or you can have a teacher that does more than just teach. They inspire you and make you feel a part of a community that you didn’t know you could fit into. For the past 4 months I started my day with three hours of learning Jewish history, from the Exodus to the modern state of Israel, with my teacher Shira Kleinman. Shira’s teaching is one of the reasons I feel so connected to my Judaism. She has impacted me through every aspect: how I see myself as a Jew today and how I feel about Israel. Shira taught me that it is okay to not understand and to not know what is coming next. At home, I’m not surrounded by Jewish people 24/7 as I go to all-girls Catholic school (Go Tigers!). But I spent the last four months surrounded by Jewish teens just like me who didn’t know what was coming next or how they felt about being Jewish. Throughout this course, I was confused and was left with a lot of questions such as ‘Why do I believe in this man who commanded us to follow Commandments when there is no proof?’ or ‘Why do I believe in a state that sends children to fight for their country at the age of 18?’
There’s more to Judaism than holidays and belief. There is also community and a sense of belonging. There is something larger than yourself and beyond what you believe in. I have become connected to a land, a country – Israel – in a way that I did not expect. When I initially pictured Israel I thought of the Western Wall and Orthodox Jews on their way to pray. Now I think of looking out to cotton candy sunsets over the Kinneret while singing my favorite Jew-tunes.
I don’t think Aliyah is the answer. There is so much to this world that needs to be explored. But I do think that my time with Israel is not done and my connection to this country is not determined by living there only for four short months. When people ask: “What was your favorite part?,” I don’t think there is an answer that does justice to this experience. Thank you Aviv ’17 for the most memorable experiences and for helping me find my Jewish and personal identity.