Shalom everyone. My name is Sophia Krentzman and I am from the state of Massachusetts in the United States of America. I am a third year college student at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst where my major is Anthropology and I am currently studying abroad at the University of Haifa for this semester
After two short visits to Israel in 2006 and 2007, once with my family and again on a Taglit Birthright trip, I felt that it was essential for me to take the opportunity to connect on a more personal level with the culture and people of Israel. At this point in my life, I am starting to realize just how important Judaism is to me as a culture, a religion, and a way of life. I feel that getting to know the land of Israel is integral to understanding the global Jewish situation and attitude. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to live and study here in this fascinating, beautiful, and complex country.
I first heard about the idea of the Building Future Leaders seminar when Yael came to speak to the Masa scholars at the University of Haifa. The idea of a leadership seminar focusing on Judaism appealed to me because I feel that our generation needs new Jewish leaders to contribute to the Jewish communities and continue to help to revive Judaism and keep it relevant. There have been too many times where I have seen people from my generation with apathetic attitudes towards Judaism and I want our generation to help change people’s minds about being Jewish. This leadership seminar has given us the tools to begin to move in that direction.
I decided to participate in this seminar not because I had a specific project in mind, but because I wanted to be in a group of people that were challenging their concepts of religion, community and the world at large. For me, meeting and getting to know the seminar participants and leaders from around the world has pushed me to analyze my concept of Judaism.
It has been amazing to hear about Jewish experiences throughout the world, and to be exposed to a different Judaism than the one I grew up with in my home in the United States. For example, one of my favorite learning experiences during this seminar has been the Friday night services where I was lucky enough to hear and learn the Sephardic tune to L’cha Dodi. It is beautiful, lively, and so different from my family’s tradition.
The knowledge that Jews throughout the world all recognize the same prayers, even if they have different melodies, is one of the things that I think is the most special about Judaism. It is a worldwide connection; the idea that a Jew from Italy and a Jew from the Middle East can still pray together, even if they can’t even have a simple conversation about the weather.
I have witnessed this worldwide Jewish connection through this BFL seminar and living and studying in Israel. Both experiences have given me an even greater appreciation of and respect for Judaism as both a religion and a culture. I now know with great certainty that I want to be involved with the Jewish community throughout my life and I know I want to work to make the community stronger, healthier and enduring. The ideas, tools and resources that we have gained in BFL have prepared us well to begin our Jewish leadership journeys.
This training has also helped me realize that just talking, just dreaming, just wishing, is not enough. We have to take what we learn here and convert it into reality, whatever form that may take. It is not enough to simply comment on the world’s problems; we need to work towards the kind of future, and more importantly the kind of present, that we want to see.
I challenge all of us, myself included, to take the enthusiasm and passion that we found and developed here and bring it back to our home communities. I challenge us to use our ideas to better the today that we live in and the future that we want for the Jewish people. I know this is possible because I have been inspired by the people that I have met here, the stories of their communities and the problems facing them, and the plethora of ideas that I have seen created and developed through this seminar.
I want to thank our group leaders for giving us all a safe, intimate space to get to know each other and to freely express our ideas. The atmosphere created in our groups was one of respect, help, acceptance and creativity, which was essential to each individual’s process of developing their projects and challenging their conceptions of Judaism and the world.
Congratulations to all of us for completing this three month training, and for developing amazing projects to take back to our communities. I know our generation of Jewish leaders will help to revive, strengthen, enliven and rejuvenate the Jewish people throughout the world, beginning in all the different communities to which we will be returning. Good luck to us all, and I hope to hear about all the amazing things each of us has accomplished as we keep this wonderful learning experience and incredible time in Israel close to our hearts and in the forefront of our minds.
Thank you and Mazel Tov!