We Are One

8 years ago Leighest 0

By Samantha Rosenthal

What did it feel like for me to know I belonged? I thought I had it all figured out: family, friends, extra-curricular … everything seemed to fit together perfectly. Regardless of being a red-headed Jew, I had never felt out of place. I was always proud of who I was and from where I came. But little did I know, Facebook was soon to take me on a journey that would make me question everything, and in the end change me forever.

I sat around my living room table with three close friends from my youth group who had just returned from a small Orthodox Jewish suburb outside of New York City called Crown Heights. They attempted to explain their life-altering experiences to me, but they just could not seem to find the words to encompass the journey they had recently encountered. From their stories alone, I knew I had to start my own journey. Days later I was informed of a contest that would take me to Crown Heights. To enter the contest I simply had to post a status on Facebook about why going on this trip was important. The person with the most “likes” won, all expenses covered. From that moment on, my life was dedicated to constant marketing of my post explaining why going on this trip was important to me. After countless hours spent on social media and many restless nights, my post had gone viral. People from around the world, including Israel, were “liking” it! With over 500 likes, my post was no doubt the winner. At last I could finally rest knowing my hard work would soon be sending me on what would be the trip of a lifetime!

Finally, the day arrived when I boarded the airplane that would take me to a town that I imagined as the polar opposite of my city girl life in Dallas. A charter bus drove us into Crown Heights, and as we got closer, I noticed my surroundings starting to change. The language of the storefronts went from English to Hebrew as we entered the heart of the town. The men were bearded and wore dark suits, while the women were dressed in long skirts. I had seen people like this in Dallas my entire life, but never had I been completely submerged into an Orthodox Jewish community. I was in culture shock. I never expected to feel out of place in a town where we all shared something so powerful and binding: our faith. As the days passed and I met more people, the differences between their lives and mine (that at first seemed so drastic) disappeared. My mind was opened as I not only learned more about my religion, but how similar all people are, no matter where we come from or what we believe. That is when I realized I had overlooked the open arms I was greeted with from the start, and that I had been blinded by what I originally viewed as differences between us.

This feeling I was experiencing of a clear mind and an accepting soul was only the start of a new beginning. We can all most likely relate to the statement that having a passion and doing what we love is an amazing feeling, but realizing we share that passion with more than 2,000 others and doing what we love together is truly indescribable! On our last night, the entire youth population of Crown Heights gathered in the center of Times Square for a Havdalah service marking the end of Shabbat, or the Sabbath. With arms wrapped around one another, we sang ancient prayers in unison at the top of our lungs as jumbo screens lit up for New York City to witness. That is when I realized I had never belonged anywhere more that I did right there in that moment. A place that seemed foreign just a few days ago now felt like home. I had never been more proud of my roots and Jewish heritage in my entire life, leaving me to feel on top of the world with my 2,000 new brothers and sisters. My time in Crown Heights taught me many valuable life lessons, including that giving acceptance and living with an open mind only leads to greater opportunities. To this day, nothing has compared to the emotions I felt and the friendships I made on that special trip. The true feeling of belonging I experienced in my short time there assured me that if I ever find myself lost throughout my life, I will always have a home that will take me in and show me the way, even if it is halfway across the country.