I would definitely feel comfortable calling this experience of entering college as a freshman a journey. In fact, it has made me reflect on my first day of high school, yet another journey of mine. Comparing these two journeys, though similar in that they regard my education, are completely different stages of my life, leading me in very different directions. I remember feeling only slightly anxious to begin my high school career. I mainly felt excited to spend an extra four years with some of my best friends, and begin forging new friendships with people I now happily call my best friends. I was ready to explore my extracurricular interests, and felt open to learning new areas of education that I had yet to fully experience. I was, however, faintly sad at the thought of my day ending promptly at 5:10 Monday through Thursday, and very sad at the prospect of losing touch with my friends that would not be joining me at SAR High School. Now, a month into college, I think back to my first day spent here at List College. This time around my journey felt very different from my high school beginning. This time I came into college not knowing anyone, and feeling more than a little sad at the thought of my best friends being thousands of miles away in another country. There was plenty of fear, but a large amount of excitement as well at the thought of embarking on an adventure that my friends won’t be experiencing until a year from now. It’s definitely been a journey thus far trying to balance a social life with not just one school, but two. It’s definitely been an adventure balancing my old life with the new one seeming to settle in now. It’s been a voyage planning my day accordingly, seeing as I no longer end class at 5:10. Whatever this journey has in store for me, I’m very excited to be pursuing it, living it, and learning from it each and every step of the way.
I would be heading to Israel for the fifth time, but in many respects, this trip would be the first of its kind. Every other time I had gone to Israel, it had been with my immediate family. We would visit a tourist attraction now and then, but a vast majority of our time was spent visiting my enormous extended family (my dad has 13 brothers and sisters, so I have countless uncles, aunts, and first cousins). However, this time would be different. I would be going to on a jam-packed ten-day trip to Israel with 40 young Jews, many of whom had never been there before.
The trip came and went in the blink of an eye. We had gone white water rafting in the Jordan River, camping in the Negev, and floating in the Dead Sea, and everything in between. I had finally had the “touristy” experience of Israel that I had longed for and even made friendships that I still have today. However, perhaps the most rewarding aspect of my trip was the dynamic between the staff and the group.
Many of the people on the trip had little or no sense of Jewish identity, and even fewer had any formal Jewish education. My staff, however, were all religious modern orthodox. This made for an incredibly interesting clash of religious and generational polar opposites: the pious met the secular; white collars and wigs met tank tops and shorts, promiscuity and casual hook-ups met shomrei negia. I, not being very observant, but having studied Judaism for many years, found myself being pulled in by two worlds colliding. I learned a great deal about myself on Birthright. I completely changed my outlook on some things, and strengthened my opinions on other things. I don’t believe one person, group-member or staff, left that trip unchanged. It was an experience I would recommend to anyone.
A journey is not meant to be exclusively positive or negative, rather it is meant to invoke meaning and inspiration. The second half of my senior year of high school is one of those journeys – one that I will never forget.
For four years, I waited until the end of January when I would say good bye to my family and friends and travel along with my 62 classmates on a two month journey – one week exploring the horrors of the Holocaust and seven weeks exploring the wonders of the State of Israel. To say I was nervous was an understatement. During the weeks prior to my departure, I expressed concern to my mom that I was unsure if I would be able to emotionally handle seeing where 6 million Jews were killed.
Going to Poland and being able to see the atrocities of the Nazis helped reinforce my passion of being a Jew even more. Although I left Poland with even more questions than when I had arrived, I felt accomplished for being able to show that the Nazis were unable to accomplish their goal. They were unsuccessful in wiping the Jewish people off the face of the planet and it was a liberating feeling being able to “shove it in their faces” that they did not succeed.
The plane ride to Israel was an emotional one. I was still trying to sort through what I was feeling in Poland while getting ready and excited to land in Israel. The journey I took throughout my week in Poland had both a positive and negative effect. Positive since I was able to learn first hand what had happened to 6 million Jews and was able to emotionally handle the experience. Negative since I witnessed the grave of 6 million Jews first hand. It was an experience and a journey that I will never forget and will continue to persuade others to take on their own because it is so important to never forget what happened to the Jewish people.
What is a journey? To me, a journey is an extended period where the self reaches a climax or rock bottom. It includes overcoming challenges and reflection of the self. During one summer in between high school years, I traveled across the United States with forty-seven other Jewish teenagers on a bus for six weeks. Before the trip, I was filled with doubt. What good can come of noisy teenagers in such a cramped space together for so long? How could my staff members possibly invoke a renewed, deeper sense of Judaism? Will a journey across twenty-nine states impact my thought process and how I view the world?
Soon enough, my qualms were set aside. Everything was right. As I stepped off the bus at each stop and explored what every place had to offer, I was filled with awe. Cities, such as Las Vegas and Houston, wowed me with their differences from my native New York and taught me what they had to offer. I suddenly held a place in my heart for the places that none of my family and friends had ever even dreamed about like the Corn Palace in South Dakota and the outrageously large “FREE” stamp located outside of Cleveland, Ohio. The group of people whom I was traveling with certainly increased the level of positivity I associated with the experience. Judaism, our commonality, brought us together and allowed us to create a tight-knit community. Everyone was willing to be open and listen to one another. For once, I felt comfortable with my surroundings; I felt as if I had belonged
Through my eyes, the world had grown exponentially in size. I was just one person and I realized the opportunities that our planet had given to me. I can travel, climb, eat, ride, and do anything I dream about. I have the power to create meaningful connections and relationships with people, if I set my mind to it. I am confident that Judaism will remain an important value and guide me throughout the rest of my life. My trek across America was a journey was an experience to see new places and meet new people. Most importantly, this journey was my time to grow and soar.
Education, a means to an end. For most, high school is merely a mode of transporting oneself to college. College leads to either a job or graduate school. Eventually, the end goal is a well-paying job that can afford one the lifestyle he or she wishes to live. Students want an education that will land them a job on Wall Street or entrance into medical or law school. As an incoming college freshman, I was prepared to follow ‘the path’ to law school.
I, regrettably, followed said path a little too closely my first semester. I took classes I believed would strengthen my chances of getting into law school, rather than ones that seemed interesting. I spent all my time studying, rather than venturing into New York City, or even spending time with the people on my floor. I realized that I was so wrapped up in my long-term goal that I was forgetting to live in the present. Unfortunately, this also meant that I was miserable. Upon returning home for Thanksgiving break, I begged my mother not to force me to return. I had not made a secure group of friends. I had not found my niche. I had no reason to return. Of course, my mother insisted I, at least, finish the semester. And, so I did – still not living to the fullest.
Second semester, I began to reach out. I joined a sorority and several other organizations on campus. I began to form relationships and find groups in which I could thrive. Still, my schoolwork is important to me and I hope to someday attend law school. However, I have discovered that earning my bachelors degrees is not merely a path to the next step in my life. Rather, I must enjoy the journey.
In an environment full of distractions, an inspirational force is often difficult to uncover. My life during high school, one consumed with social distractions, created an environment of little focus. However, I thought that when I arrived at Columbia, I would finally learn in an environment of scholarly inspiration.</p><p>As I stepped onto the Columbia campus on my first day, Butler Library immediately caught my attention. The path of loosened coble-stones gave way to pillars of time-honored stone that housed thinkers of the Ivy-League institution. Butler was a work of art in my eyes; it would make me as successful as the many others who had passed through its doors before me. I felt so privileged to be able to work with such great people, in such a majestic space, in the greatest city in the world.</p><p>Sitting in Butler reflecting on my new scholarly environment, I thought that this was my inspiration. Columbia’s history, its beauty, and my colleagues, all inspired me to work to my fullest potential. However, my cultural exploration of NYC soon taught me otherwise.
On a trip to the MoMA, gadgets of flashing lights, blank canvases, and chairs hanging from wires surrounded me. Being somewhat of an art history guru, I knew modern art was unconventional, but the work within the MoMA altered my perception on art entirely. I realized that while traditionalists may reject a modern artist’s inspiration, and even disregard their work as art, others may think of it as a masterpiece. As I contemplated the meaning of inspiration, I realized that some, such as artists, find it wherever they work, regardless of their environment.
To understand the art of the MoMA the artists must have searched for motivation. Through the discovery of something stimulating, the artists perceived inspiration. The journey to arrive at one’s inspiration was beautiful, and in turn, part of the inspiration in itself.
I applied this logic of the modern artist to my own scholarly ventures. By exploring my environment, cultural outlets of NYC, I sought out true intellectual stimulation that inspired me. The adventure of finding exciting material at the MoMA was a catalyst for creativity. By unearthing scholarly arousal in my environment, I found that it was not only the surroundings I worked in, but also my journey to explore those surroundings, that revealed true inspiration.
This past May, I travelled to Israel with my entire grade for our senior trip. It was an incredible way to culminate the last thirteen years, or for some four years, of our Schechter experience. In the days leading up to the trip I was filled with feelings of both sadness and excitement. I couldn’t wait to experience Israel with my best friends, but I also knew that this trip meant that we were one step closer to graduation, one step closer to saying goodbye to one another.
I’ve never been able to handle change. From a young age, my mom would tell me that change was good and that soon enough I would look back and say, “you were right, I’m enjoying this next chapter just as much, if not more, than the last.” You would think that after a certain number of times I would finally get the message, but this was never the case. I was sure that this was the end. I was afraid that once we graduated, my friendships from high school would diminish and I would never make everlasting friendships in college.
However after three weeks in Israel with my family of thirteen years, I came to the realization that this was really just the beginning. I didn’t have to lose anything once I graduated, but instead only build upon everything I have created thus far. I guess it took a trip to the Holy land to make me realize that it was time to move on. As much as I was going to miss my Schechter family, I was ready to forge ahead by meeting new people and experiencing new things. It was time to break out of that bubble and enter the next chapter in my life. Although college has been an adjustment, yet again my mom was right, so far so good.
When I was ten, I lived in Roanoke, Virginia. I absolutely loved it there, my friends, the school, the natural beauty of the valleys down South, and everything else. My parents however, wanted more for us, wanted things we didn’t even know we were missing, so they made the drastic decision to move to Queens, New York. Obviously, I was completely miserable. To make it worse, we moved on my birthday. My eleventh birthday, which I had been looking forward to and planning for, was going to be spent in a moving vehicle for hours and hours, with my small siblings, no party, and going to a place I had no desire to be in.
The morning of my birthday, I woke up, ate a birthday cake briefly, and loaded my entire old life into the car. Aside from a few brief bathroom breaks, we were squeezed into the car the entire day, singing the same three songs over and over again.I’d like to say that this is the part of my journey where I switched my perspective on the trip, and got more excited to move, but it was not. I’m sorry to say that I remained petulant and grumpy for a solid couple of years after that.
A while later, after adjusting and finding a great group of girls to be friends with, I realized that I didn’t hate Queens as much as I had previously thought. A few years after that, I was shocked to come to the conclusion that not only did I not mind the move, but I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else and truly loved Queens and Manhattan. The journey was so hazy that I did not even realize that I had arrived at the destination, or that there even was a destination to arrive at. My life before and since that birthday seven years ago had many more journeys, the college process being a big one, but the move from one country to city helped me see that the end result is never set in stone, and that one can’t possibly foresee how any journey will end.
As many journeys do, mine began in a state of transition. Off the heels of a wondrous gap year spent exploring my innermost self and navigating the state of Israel (among other countries), I was set to start yet another journey. This time, my travels would be a slow and steady four-year climb towards the ultimate mantelpiece display: a glossy photograph of me in a powder blue gown with my hair smoothed under a tasseled cap. A nervous excitement and terror was the side dish to every emotional entree as I, once again, uprooted and re-planted myself, this time in New York City.
The first few days spent walking the grid of Manhattan’s Upper West Side proved to be somewhat of an identity crisis. Not so much in that I didn’t know who I was, but that I was unfamiliar with whom the city was. The flickering yellowed street lamps and shop overhangs couldn’t have belonged to Manhattan, for they were purely carbon copies of the streetlamps and shop overhangs that had caught my eye in London that past January. And surely the sound of rushed Hebrew murmured between puffs of a cigarette wasn’t the soundtrack to the streets of Morningside Heights, for that was the background music of the Tel Aviv beach. Even the way fall smelled in New York was stolen from the golden-red rustling trees at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I was frustrated. Instead of a novel experience, I was caught in a montage of past ones.
The pilfered beauty of fall passed to leave winter in its wake. Yet when I noticed the spindly, naked trees standing in a bed of white snow I did not think of my hauntingly beautiful week in Poland. Instead I thought of potential snowball fight opportunities in front of Butler and that one day it snowed in Texas. It went unnoticed, the disintegration of the veil. Perhaps I was too busy experiencing new things to pay attention to the montage of memories fading into the shadows.