Posted by: Wayne L. Firestone on 1/16/2007 4:11:00 PM
Working with Jewish college students has many rewards. Witnessing their growth as they mature from a recent high school graduate to a poised, pre-professional. Conducting adult conversations about Judaism with them for the first time in their lives. Seeing first hand how their Jewish identity deepens as they participate in meaningful Jewish experiences. One of the most rewarding aspects of this work is how it reinforces my own Jewish identity.
I recently returned from a trip to Israel where I joined with 2,500 students in the Taglit-birthright israel program as well as 500 students on our Winter Israel Experiences and the Leading Up North trip, which was sponsored by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. As an Israeli citizen, I have seen everything Israel has to offer and it is easy to lose sight of its capacity to inspire. However, looking at Israel through students’ eyes reminded me of how this country inspired me, as a high school student, to become actively involved in Jewish life.
For example, Bowdoin College senior Casey Dlott set aside her indifference when she visited the Kotel (Western Wall). "Going to the Kotel was quite the experience," she said. "It is something you hear about your whole life but have never seen and then there it is. It was interesting how emotional I became."
Matthew Friedman, a junior at the University of Vermont, welcomed the trip. "Friends and family who have gone on these trips come back saying it’s the best thing they’ve ever done," he said, "I was expecting something as great as they described and that’s exactly what I got."
But the most heart-warming experience was that of West Virginia University senior Valerie Carpenter, who had converted to Judaism just a month before her trip. Standing on the Tayelet, or promenade, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, Valerie said she felt Jewish for the very first time. "[The conversion] was very exciting but I didn't really feel Jewish," she said. "It was when we first gathered together on our way to Jerusalem and danced the hora and blessed challah and wine, that I was really able to embrace my new people and new land."
It took a new member of the family to remind me about Israel’s power to inspire. Valerie Carpenter went to Israel to learn, but through her learning, she has taught us all.
RE: Inspired by Students
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