By Sara Russell
Guest blogger Sara Russell traveled to Prague and Israel during this summer’s CJP's Young Adults mission. After returning home and reflecting on her experience, Sara shares five thoughts from the trip.
1. I made real connections
For a game that I seem to play weekly, Jewish geography is something I had always taken for granted. But in being asked about my trip by co-workers, I learned that it’s is something unique to our community and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is a blessing to be able to grow one's Jewish network. The mission not only let me build new friendships with people in Boston, but cities throughout the United States. Those connections extend beyond the states to Moishe House leaders in Prague and the active young leaders in Haifa, Boston's sister city. Each of these young leaders come from diverse backgrounds but all share a passion for the Jewish community.
2. Shabbat is truly special
Shabbat is when the always on-the-go pace slows down. It lets you reflect on the experiences of the past week. On the mission, we had the opportunity to experience two unique Kabbalat Shabbat services. In Prague, we visited the Spanish Synagogue, where we were welcomed as honored guests in a community that displays their Judaism proudly – even though it is not as widely embraced as it is in America. We were greeted by Prague police officers who were there to protect us from those who still feel ill-will toward Jews, decades after most have left the Czech Republic.
On the other end of the spectrum, Kabbalat Shabbat services in Tel Aviv were in a light, open-air courtyard where our voices raised as one to welcome in Shabbat. Surrounded by Jerusalem stone and 100 young adults from across the U.S., there was no question how special it was.
3. There’s adventure at every corner
Israel has so many experiences to offer and new ones to be discovered around every corner. A few of my favorite adventures included riding ATVs in the Golan, surfing in Tel Aviv, and exploring Jaffa by bike.
4. Israeli culture has it all
Israeli culture is defined by all of its different sects, languages, and religious beliefs in one small country. I had the opportunity to hear from people from a variety of backgrounds. We met with the Jewish Haredi community and learned about their issues assimilating into a world where work is required over Bible study, and spoke to Arab women whose community is separated from Jews from Kindergarten through college. The vibrant culture of Israel was also explored through a food tour of Shuk HaCarmel, which features aromas and flavors inspired by generations of populations from all over the world.
5. Tikkun Olam matters
Volunteering with charity organizations is not a one-way street. The goal is for both the charity and the individual to get a return on the investment. This mission gave me two hands-on experiences with charities that I will never forget.
The JDC's Accessible Health Zone is an amazing organization that engages the disabled community and gives people with special needs the tools and a support network through sports activities as an outlet to live a full life. The Accessible Health Zone has a Wheelchair Basketball league and our group experienced a competitive game. Seeing how each chair was adapted for the individual’s unique situation that allows everyone to compete on a level playing field without a nod to anyone being different was a beautiful experience.
The second charity was SAHI. They work with high school-age teens who want to give back to the community. One of the main facets of the program is boxing and delivering food to families who need assistance. What I love about this program is that the teens get to bond with other high schoolers they may not otherwise come into contact with, and it allows them to pay it forward. They deliver the food without seeing those they are helping because they know sometimes shame comes with needing help. This charity also gives teens the skills needed to be safe within their community.
Both charities help remove the barriers to happiness and success in life, which is really all one can ask for.