Emotional rollercoaster. That's the only way to accurately describe our first, full day in Jerusalem.
We started the day with a moving lecture from the renowned Avraham Infeld. If only everyone could hear him speak...his articulation, humor, and passion for telling stories is mesmerizing. He is a person that seems to have infinite wisdom, but he is especially powerful when speaking about the complexities of Judaism.
His speech resonated with me because he spoke about my greatest insecurity about being Jewish -- that I don't know what that means. I'm Jewish in the same sense that I am Russian, German, and Polish. If asked, I would most identify as a cultural Jew -- someone who remembers the Jewish history and shares the same values as the small percentage of the world that is Jewish.
This identity crisis stems mostly from the fact that I was raised in a town where I was the only Jew in my high school. Like most Jews, I attended summer camp and was able to get my Jewish fix there. Camp is one of the top three most life-changing and memorable aspects of my life (Thanks Mom and Dad1).
Fast forward a few years to my college days...
My choice to go to Binghamton University had nothing to do with Judaism. In fact, I was unaware of the vibrant Jewish community at BU. However, as soon as I arrived, I realized there was something very special about the Jewish community and unity on campus. The most symbolic memory I have of this is wearing my volunteer shirt for Israeli Independence day and being part of the majority, instead of the minority, with the hundreds of other volunteers.
Last night, I felt this sense of unity again. Once a year, Birthright hosts a "Mega Event" that is a huge celebration of Birthright's progress, bringing together all trips that are in Jerusalem at the time. We were lucky enough to take part in this amazing event. Being there was like combining a lecture series, massive concert, rave, dance party, pride celebration, and more into one. Everyone there felt a connection to their Judaism and to each other that was euphoric.
The Mega Event showed me that, once again, I am part of something bigger than myself. The same is true for my Jewish identity crisis. A lot of Jews don't know what they mean when they say they're Jewish. People on this trip who were sure what their Judaic beliefs were prior to this trip are now in a state of confusion.
However, like Infeld said, confusion is good because it leads to questions, discussions, and hopefully, some answers. But, while this emotional rollercoaster is causing me so much introspection, I feel happy and privileged to be a part of a people and a culture that is complex. Normal is boring, and we Jews certainly are neither of the two.
So, my advice? Ask questions, be unsure, listen to those on the other side of the argument. Most importantly, be open to learning something new about yourself, something that makes you feel like you are a part of something bigger than yourself.