6 years ago Leighest 0

Ashley Brauning, CTeen of Solano County, CA

When I joined Heritage Quest this summer, I thought I had Judaism figured out. I already kept some of the mitzvot, like Shabbat, Kosher, and Tzniut, which were all decisions that I made on my own at various parts of my life. My mom is not observant and my dad is not Jewish, but these things are important to me. When I joined Heritage Quest, I was given a whole new understanding of what Judaism is; I was able to connect to daily prayer and have a better understanding of it. My picture of Judaism changed.


Heritage Quest and the ‘quest’ that brought me to this trip have been a blessing from the beginning. Almost two years ago, I suffered a severe concussion, which has led to a long-term traumatic brain injury. I visited doctors up and down the entire coast of California; there were hundreds of doctors that I visited to try and get answers as to why I had little to no previous memory, why I started having seizures, and why I had heart problems. The entire past year was filled with questions to G-d; how could He do this to me? What was I supposed to take away from this injury?


In January 2017, in an attempt to search for the answers to my questions, I decided to become closer to G-d, and look for the answers in Torah. During one Shabbat, I decided I was going to turn my life around; I took on the Mitzvot of keeping Shabbat, Kosher, and dressing modestly. With Torah in my life, I began to be happier, but I was still questioning why I had to suffer through this injury. A few months later, at the CTeen International Shabbaton, I heard about Heritage Quest, and I knew that this camp would help me reach the answers to my questions.


When I got home from the Shabbaton, I told my mom about the trip and how badly I wanted to go. She listened patiently and then told me about our financial situation. The approximately two years of doctors appointments, specialists, and plane flights to doctors on two teacher salaries had drained the majority of my parents savings and my college fund. Being a senior on my way to college with my parents already taking out a loan for college and having to mortgage the house to pay off medical bills, I knew I could not ask them again for any money for my trip. I knew I still wanted to go, so I began looking everywhere for the money. I applied to any scholarships that remotely applied, I went to interviews and sent in essays . . . eventually, I received $3,500 of the trip cost through my local Jewish federation. I was still short a bit and was running out of time for registration, so my rabbi put me in touch with CTeen, and they were able to help me with the rest of the money that I needed. My friends and local Chabad community pitched in to help me in anyway they could, and once I was accepted onto the trip, they helped with the cost of my plane tickets and spending money. Before I knew it, the time had arrived and I was on my way to Poland.


Attending Heritage Quest was a dream come true. From the moment I stepped onto the plane, I knew that this was the right decision. Throughout this trip, I have grown so much in my Judaism and I am now able to answer the question that I entered the trip with with a solid and positive “I don’t know.” Not the answer you were expecting, right? I now understand that we are merely a knot on the back of a beautiful tapestry; there is so much in this world that we don’t understand and sometimes, we have to go through horrible and painful experiences in order to create a beautiful life later on. The pain we go through sucks, and that’s okay. Once we can see past the twists and turns, we can understand the deeper meaning to life and find true happiness. I can now say with complete clarity that I am happy, strong, and hopeful in my life. It is the greatest blessing I could have ever received.


I would like to thank everyone involved in Heritage Quest for giving me such an incredible opportunity. This trip ultimately allowed me to find happiness in my life and answers to my burning questions. Words cannot describe how much I appreciate this opportunity and it is an experience I will never forget; the memories I have made and friendships will live within me forever. Thank you Heritage Quest for helping me discover myself.