By Sophie Ungerleider, Bus 8 Participant
Coming from a small town in mid Michigan, I am a part of a tiny Jewish community. My town is filled with somewhere around 25 churches and the closest synagogue to me is 30 minutes away. Coming to camp each summer is by far the biggest Jewish community I am a part of and it is an incredible feeling knowing that I get to go back to each year.
This summer, the change in scenery has taught me more than I have ever known about the oppression and persecution of Jews for just purely being themselves. Learning about this in Europe and then coming to Israel has been amazing because it paints the picture of the Jews having a safe haven to come to after the horrific event of the Holocaust.
Coming to Jerusalem made this painting come to life for me. Being “home” here in Jerusalem is a mind blowing feeling. Coming somewhere for the first time and calling it your home isn’t a very normal occurrence, but here it feels exactly right. Being here with my best friends that have become my family, in a place that the Jewish people have thrived is what makes this home to me.
When we were preparing to go to the Kotel, the night before we were told that we may be confronted about the validity of our religion (because of our identity as Reform Jews). This undoubtedly made me a little bit nervous. The next day, as we walked into the area of the Western Wall, all of my nerves immediately melted away. Although I have problems with how the wall is “run” in certain aspects, I made my Kotel experience something personal while still acknowledging my own Jewish values. Standing at the wall, touching the stone, I made it clear to myself that no matter what synagogue I go to, how many times I go to services each year, or the way I do or don’t follow the Jewish laws does not make a difference in my heart or mind that I am still a Jew.
I am Jewish because I believe that no matter what race, sex, religion, or beliefs define you, you deserve to be accepted. I am Jewish because I know the world will be a better place when we learn to understand each other and spread love to people different than us. Finally, I am a Jew because coming to a community of Jewish teens each summer reminds me of my own values and the importance of being my honest self no matter who I’m around or where I’m from.