Jewish students from Hillel Brazil spend time in Israel.
For select students from the former Soviet Union, Latin America, Israel and North America, the journey of Taglit-Birthright Israel went far beyond Israel's borders. These students had the opportunity to be part of this winter's multi-national Taglit travel groups, learning first-hand what it means to be part of a global peoplehood.
In one Taglit group, 20 students from Hillel in St. Petersburg, Russia shared their bus with 20 Russian-speaking students from Hillels Around Chicago and 10 Israeli soldiers. Meanwhile, in another group, students from Hillel in Brazil shared their Shabbat experience with students from Northwestern University Hillel, Hillel of Silicon Valley and Hillel Foundation of Orange County.
Throughout these shared experiences, students of diverse backgrounds found their commonalities. “I was so impressed by how quickly the group came together on the first night of the trip,” said trip leader and St. Petersburg, Russia Hillel staff member Misha Sharf. “It didn’t matter anymore where each student came from – we all felt like family.”
Sharf recalls overhearing conversations between American, Russian and Israeli peers asking each other about their individual communities and learning about their commonalities. “They asked, How many synagogues are in Chicago? Is it safe to wear a yarmulke in St. Petersburg? How hard is it to serve in the Israeli army? After this bonding experience students looked at the other groups and the whole Taglit experience with different eyes – they saw how much we have in common and how much we can gain if [we] stay united as a Jewish people.”
The Brazilian-American Shabbat experience echoed these sentiments. Much of their time together was spent meeting new people and sharing Shabbat practices from their respective homes—which tunes are sung, what foods are eaten, what prayers are spoken. “It was incredible to realize that they knew the same songs we learned,” remarked Northwestern student and trip participant Micah Friedland, “and though sometimes they had different tunes, we often sang together in harmony.”
This exchange highlighted the shared cultures that exist beyond national borders. “The most amazing part was that the students discovered that no matter where you’re from, Shabbat is a part of our heritage that can link us together,” reflected Marcia Kelner Polisuk, South America Hillel’s Regional Director of Development. “‘Shabbat Shalom’ are two words that can be meaningful no matter what language you speak.”
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