In the spring of 2011, I studied abroad at Tel Aviv University through Masa Israel Journey. While I learned a lot of Hebrew in Ulpan, and learned a lot about Israel and business studies in my other classes, it was often the conversations I had with friends that truly helped me understand what it means to me to be a Jew – and how Judaism fits within my own life.
Previously, I had not frequently honored Shabbat. It wasn’t until a friend expressed surprise that I didn’t think experiencing Shabbat applied to me, because I was Reform, that I realized I had been missing an experience that would grow to become dear to me. This conversation was one of the first to change the way I viewed my relationship to my Judaism. I wanted to observe Shabbat – I wanted to be involved.
After I returned from my Masa program and went back to school at Brandeis, I frequently attended Shabbat dinners and took part in Jewish learning at the campus Chabad. When I graduated four years ago, I moved back to New York, and found most of my new friends through the Jewish communities at the Moishe House and Chabad of Young Professionals.
Six months later, I moved to Boston to begin my career in technology sales, and the same thing happened – I frequented the Chai Center, Vilna Shul, CJP, JPulse, Tremont Street Shul 20s 30s and other Jewish organizations’ events. Long after I’d left Israel, I continued to feel most at home in Jewish communities wherever I went, whether local in Boston or as far as Goa, India, or Buenos Aires.
Fast forward three-and-a-half years, and I am still active in the Boston Jewish community, cochairing the Tremont Street Shul 20s 30s Committee and sitting on the Masa Israel Boston Alumni Board. Although I already consider myself highly Jewishly involved, my roots in Masa Israel, which helped me realize the significance of Judaism in my life, continue to lead me to explore new ways to connect with my Jewish identity and community.
So earlier this month, with the help of Masa Israel and OneTable, I did something I’ve always wanted to do: I hosted a Shabbat dinner in my own home.
My original intent was to have no more than 10 guests; after all, my apartment isn’t that big! But 16 people showed up, including six fellow Masa alumni. In Chabad-like fashion, I could not turn people away. I upped the catering order several times and purchased new chairs to squeeze in everyone.
It was a diverse group of people – both men and women, ages ranging from about 22 to 40, and birthplaces in the United States, Russia and Israel. Some of the people I’ve known for years; others I met recently. One attendee I met for the first time; he moved from Puerto Rico to Boston two weeks ago to study at Hebrew College Rabbinical School.
After schmoozing, we sung “Shalom Aleichem.” A friend from Netanya, Israel, led us in kiddush, and a fellow Masa alum made hamotzi. Then we dined on hot pea soup, meatballs, knishes, tofu, London broil, roasted chicken and schnitzel.
In between dinner and dessert, we made a few L’Chaims with beer and Jameson and sung songs and niggunim. A few of us got up and started dancing a la Peretz Chein, the shaliach at Chabad of Brandeis, who is famous for standing up on tables and dancing to song. We then ate a smorgasbord of desserts, including chocolates, rugelach and a peach pie.
The company, food and conversations reminded me of the realization that I’d had back when I was studying in Israel: participating in Jewish traditions, even something as simple as a Shabbat dinner, makes me feel more connected to my Jewish identity.
Now, the next time a friend asks me about my Judaism, I can proudly say I’ve studied in Israel, found a Jewish community, and even hosted my own Shabbat dinner – all thanks to my involvement with Masa Israel.
Originally publish in "The Jewish Advocate".