Normally, a new friend would be someone you got to know at school, on a team, at work, or through common friends, with whom – after some time – you become close enough to call a friend. There are, however, very rare moments in which you meet someone new for the very first time, knowing they are going to be your friend. Friday was such a day. When our two groups met for the first time on a beautiful sunny afternoon at Central Park, it felt much more like a reunion, than a first encounter between strangers.
Surrounded by a brigade of new friends, we slowly and carefully began peeling and revealing to each other the different layers of our identities – and with such a diverse group of different nationalities, cultures, backgrounds, and Judaisms – this is truly a fascinating process.
It didn’t take us long to start learning that our name, or names, are a lot more than what people call us by, and are deeply rooted in our different traditions and heritages. Whether it’s our Hebrew, English, or Jewish name, or the names of our ancestors we traced down in old records at Ellis Island – they each tell a fascinating and unique Jewish story.
Just before welcoming Shabbat, we met for an intimate conversation with Rabbi Ingber of Romemu, and were inspired by his words too look above and beyond the familiar definitions of Reform, Hiloni (Secular), Conservative (Masorati) or Dati (Orthodox), and start to ask ourselves what aspects of Judaism speak true to us, as the complex individuals we are.
As things were getting deep, we found some release in the form of dancing and singing through the aisles of the temple, which is also a church (on different days of the week) with many other joyous guests from near and far. We were grateful, as always, to be welcomed again at Romemu, who truly manifest the mitzvah of Ushpizin. We even scored an invite for dinner at their sukkah, but luckily for them we already had a different plan.
Speaking of which, did you know that New York City, in addition to being a comfortable, convenient, peaceful, and most of all – affordable place to spend a weekend with 30+ teens, also has a few attractions that are worth discovering? By bus, train and boat, we zipped between Liberty and Ellis Islands, the 9/11 Memorial and One World Observatory – where we discovered some unfortunate yet interesting similarities between our countries, Times Square, and a fancy Italian restaurant – making memories, collecting experiences, and posting stories along the way.
Tomorrow, our last stop in New York will be at the Tenement Museum, where we will catch up with the folks we met at Ellis Island. From there, we’ll head back to Sudbury for the highly anticipated meeting with our host families over a homemade potluck dinner, and Simchat Torah celebration at Beth El.
In their own words
Meeting new people is always scary, but from the first hello I felt I was overwhelmed with joy and relief. Doing a “kabalat shabbat” in a church was definitely something different from what we, the Israelis are used to, but I believe that every change is for the best. I hope that our experience would continue to be as good as it was so far. – Liel
I did things today and yesterday that I never would have done if I wasn’t on this trip even though I go to New York frequently. Doing these things with the Israelis has made it more special. – Avery
This was definitely something I will never experience again! – Eliana
Yesterday was a singular experience! The Americans and Israelis got to meet for the first time, and it was awkward at first, but everyone got along great in no time. The Shabbat service we attended was different from anything we had seen before, in a great way! We learned a lot. Today was tiring but a lot of fun! We hung out a TON and visited all sorts of cool places in New York. My legs hurt, but I’m gratified and grateful for this. – Anson
I learned a huge amount of Hebrew, and connected with Israelis my age. – Caleb
It was super fun meeting the Israelis. They are so funny and nice. – Jordan
If you wish to receive daily updates, please subscribe to the blog.