Regardless of differences in race, gender, political values or country of origin, being Jewish can bond one to a worldwide community. I learned this lesson this past summer when I voyaged across the Atlantic to travel through Europe. My family and I visited England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Hungary. While the experiences were amazing, it is the people I met along the way that really stuck with me. Even when I tried to speak in my pitiful German accent or asked for directions in metropolitan London, everyone was kind and helpful and I managed to find myself as a member of an international community.
In Hungary, we toured Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe. As I walked through the large beige exterior into the building, I couldn’t help but stare at the beautiful stained glass. By chance, when I entered the grand sanctuary, with its towering ceilings and intricate designs, I ran into one of my parents’ friends from Europe. Together, we walked through a temple that had withstood World War II and the constant persecution of Jews. As we stood in the sanctuary, we marveled at how strong the Jewish community was, and still is, all around the world; we reminded ourselves how important it still is to continue to invest in our community. That afternoon, I prayed and toured the synagogue with Jews from around the world. What was amazing to me was that I could relate to people who were seemingly so different from myself—we were from different places, spoke different languages, and were even different ages—simply because we all had something in common on a deeper level. And that something was Judaism.
When we arrived in Holland, I was very excited to see the Anne Frank House. However, due to lack of planning and research, my family arrived at the house only to find it closed for the day. Having no other opportunity to visit the house for the remainder of our trip, we chose to look at it from the outside. Gazing up at the brick exterior and long old-fashioned windows, I was upset that we couldn’t go inside and take a tour. And yet, as I stood outside looking up at the façade of the building, I became overwhelmed to think that a girl, about my age, endured the Holocaust in this very spot. Anne Frank had had Shabbat dinners at a table just inside that building and died because of her religious beliefs. And there I was, standing there, the same age with the same religious beliefs, living life. I know I’m not the only Jewish girl to have felt personally connected to Anne Frank’s story, but at that moment, my neck craning to absorb every possible detail, I felt connected to Jewish teens everywhere. Knowing that many teens today have the privilege to practice Judaism safely is something that we can’t ever take for granted, and I felt reminded of this at that time.
Though the Jewish community is small, Judaism is fierce, smart, caring, loving, supportive and strong.
These international experiences made me think back to 9th grade. In the middle of my freshman year of high school, I moved across the country from Boston to Los Angeles. I was an outsider, alone, and scared. Within the first couple of months, my family joined a new congregation in Los Angeles, where I was welcomed and accepted by the Jewish community. Through the synagogues that I have been a part of, I have learned that the Jewish community is a tight-knit group of individuals that come together to form an amazing network.
Being Jewish doesn’t change whether you live in Hungary, Holland, Los Angeles or Boston. Though the Jewish community is small, Judaism is fierce, smart, caring, loving, supportive and strong. Every Friday, around the world, people sit down at dusk, light the Shabbat candles and sing the blessings. People thousands of miles away pray to the same god and worship the same faith. And all those people are members of the Jewish tribe, because we are a nation, we are a people and we are a global community.