Brittany Seitzman, a Syracuse junior whose education began at the Temple’s Early School, just returned from a semester in Israel, at Tel Aviv University. Like for so many others, it was a life changing experience. Also like so many others, she received the Ross Scholarship, which the Temple awards to every one of “our” students who spends a term at an Israeli university. Below, she reflects on an amazing four months.
I’m very lucky. For the past five months I was fortunate enough to experience a little slice of heaven.
At first I was a little hesitant about going to a new country with new people and assimilating myself into a completely different lifestyle, but now that I’m home I’m already planning my next trip back. Spending a semester abroad in Tel Aviv opened my eyes to an entirely new world. Not only did I get to know a lot about Israelis and the world Jewish community, but I have also met people from all over the world with whom I had more in common than I could have imagined.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect. On the plane ride there I started to panic thinking, what if everyone speaks only Hebrew? What if all restaurants only serve hummus and falafel? Is it going to feel like a war zone? After the first day in Tel Aviv my nerves were calmed. I realized none of this was even close to accurate. Everyone spoke English, there is a lot more food than just hummus and falafel (although I did eat that for most meals as a choice), and I felt like I was in a place that was as peaceful and secure as at home.
Spending the semester in Tel Aviv not only educated me a great deal about Judaism and the Jewish people, but I also learned a lot about myself and a whole new language. The Jewish religion like any other religion has a large spectrum of observance, from those for whom it guides their actions every hour, to those for whom it is important, but in a much more casual way. That is true at home and was true in Israel as well, though it was clear that in Jerusalem there were more of the former and in Tel Aviv more of the latter.
One of the really new experiences was the Ulpan, the intensive Hebrew class that met for four hours a day for four weeks. I knew this was going to be a challenge, but I was up for it because I really wanted to learn the Hebrew language and be able to understand and speak it both during my time in Israel and after. Although the days were tiring, at the end it was rewarding to find that though I just was introduced to this new language, I could now speak and understand it pretty well.
I was fortunate enough to spend a few Shabbat dinners with the family of a friend family I met on Birthright and with whom I had kept in touch with. When I joined her and her family for dinner they were always incredibly welcoming and made me feel at home. She has Shabbat dinner every Friday night with her family, but her family is quote liberal so she is allowed to use her phone and drive on Saturday. Participating in Shabbat frequently in Israel made me want to make Friday night Shabbat dinners present in my own home with my family. The first Friday I was home my family lit the candles and made a big meal for Shabbat. Even though this was new for my family, since I have been home we’ve been consistent about it and I plan to continue this the rest of my life.
Spending a semester in Israel affected me in many ways, and the biggest was probably the impact it had on me as a Jew. Through all I learned and all I experienced my Jewish identity became truly precious to me, and I look forward to nurturing it throughout my life.