Heritage Quest Changed Everything

5 months ago Shai Fichtelberg 0

By Allan Feldman// CTeen of Palo Alto, California

I am not very religious. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t shy away from attending Shabbat services on Saturday mornings, but for the most part I grew up secular. When I had the opportunity to go on the CTeen Heritage Quest, I felt it was my chance to explore my religion and expose myself to a more religious environment for three weeks. This trip changed everything I thought I knew about Judaism.

We were certainly a powerful group of Jewish teenagers together. In our first week in Poland, seeing the concentration camps made us stand together in unison. I vividly remember one day singing in front of the very own ashes of our Jewish people from the Holocaust, and as I looked around, I noticed how we, as a group, were able to show each other and those around us the power of Judaism. We showed that the Jews will always continue to live on. Despite the hate that we may have received and the anti-semitism that prevails, we are still here today.

The strength and pride we had together continued during our two weeks in Israel. When we visited the Kotel, everybody joined to pray at the wall, write a note to stick inside the cracks of the wall, and dance with all the Jews surrounding us. During Shabbat, we walked to Shul for however long it would take us—almost an hour sometimes—and, ignoring the pain in our tired legs, we would dance.

Experiencing the energy and strength within our group showed me the only thing that is important when it comes to spreading Judaism: being Jewish. At the beginning of the trip, I had thought that by wearing a kippah, I was being a “good Jew.” But what really is a “good Jew”?

What the CTeen Heritage Quest trip has taught me is that there is no such thing as “good Jew” or a “bad Jew”. If you are Jewish, you have a Jewish soul. No matter how many mitzvot you do, you still have the same soul as someone who has never done a mitzvah in their life. Wearing a kippah may be a mitzvah, but the importance in wearing one is remembering that we are always under G-d. I had been so caught up in trying to act religious that I did not actually feel religious or understand the meaning behind religious customs. I only looked at others to see if they were wearing their kippot, and when they weren’t, I felt superior.

I realized a lot from these small moments in the trip. A religious person doesn’t just carry out religious customs in order to be religious. Instead, they completely view life in a different way. They surround themselves around a different understanding of G-d. In carrying out mitzvot, they don’t just want to help themselves, but they want to help others around them as much as they can. (No wonder my CTeen rabbi is so kind!) 

I also learned to look at Jews equally and as one entire family. Being secular isn’t something to look down upon. It doesn’t matter how religious one Jew is compared to another, because we are all the same in the eyes of G-d. 

After this trip, I did make efforts to become more religious, but not in the goal of becoming a “better Jew.” I wanted to keep my Jewish identity strong. Seeing how powerful thirty Jewish teens were together made me want to realize that in my own life. 

I am very grateful to live in an area in Northern California where there are a particularly large number of Jews. With anti-semitism becoming more and more threatening, it is even more important to constantly spread Judaism. I now try to attend Shul more often and to volunteer at my local synagogue once a week. I have even started to say more morning prayers, and I try to put on tefillin in the morning more often as well. 

After Heritage Quest I wanted to become more religious, but I wanted to go further than just that. I decided that I would not just do Jewish customs, but rather I would think and feel more Jewish. And this time, it won’t just be for three weeks, but for the rest of my life. 

And yet, the impact of this trip doesn’t stop there. Along the way, I have met so many different people and made so many friends, from America, England, and Canada. I was able to share my experiences with them, and the memories we made are irreplaceable. It was the first time I had visited our homeland, and it certainly will not be the last. 

I may have visited Israel and Poland for only three weeks, but the experiences I have kept with me and the people I have met will forever impact me. Thank you Chabad and the CTeen Heritage Quest trip for allowing me to explore Judaism with others just like me and for giving me lessons that I will live by for the rest of my life.