I recently came back from the opportunity of a life time. A 2 week subsidized and organized trip, with 45 people, to Europe and Israel, to see, learn, and experience what it means to be Jewish. The trip was generosily sponsored by a Gateways branch called Russian American Jewish Experience.
To say that this trip was life changing is an understatement, because it went far beyond that and left me touched, moved, and inspired, not just in my mind, but also in my soul.
The trip went through Budapest, Vienna, and Israel, and viewed both the historial Jewish locations, as well as the ancient biblical ones. This included, but was not limited to ancient synanogues, memorials, grave sites and other places of consequences such as the place where Eichman sat as he ordered the execution of 600,000 Jews in the holocaust. We even had a 45 minute Q&A with one of Israel’s heros Natan Sharansky.
The Rabbis on the trip, Rabbi Reuven Ibragimov and Rabbi Jonathan Shippel, were very knowledgable, clear, and enthusiastic whenever I approached them about questions of Judaism and questions of life. On this trip, more than ever, an underlying theme that I have been thinking about appeared over and over.
The State of Personal Development
Over the years I have read hundreds of books and articles on personal development. I do not say this to boast my accomplishments, but to show that I think from a place of diverse sources. Despite my reading, the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know, which is fine all the same. One thing that seemed true is that most ideas seemed to be a diluted, rephrased, or otherwise rehashed copy of something that came before it.
While I was born Jewish, I was born in the Soviet Union which did not alot me a chance for a Jewish education when I was young. Due to this fact I grew up secular, except for some traditional holidays such as Hanukkah. Like a magnet, in recent years, I’ve been attracted, and curious about learning where I came from and what is this Judaism that I’ve been labeled as.
I read a little bit, talked to a few people, consulted some rabbis, and one underlying theme appeared to me. This is the same theme that I mentioned I saw again during my trip to Israel. Most, if not all, personal development stems from Judaism. Judaism being the most ancient civilization alive today, is a civilization that brought with it ancient wisdom which has shaped the modern world and has given it mussar (character development), and morals as we know them. I learned that part of why Hitler wanted to eliminate Jews is because they made the world conscious of their souls, which meant they couldn’t act like animals without conscience.
Just to be clear, this wasn’t an article to say “Hey, I’m Jewish, I’m better than you, and I was born with ancient wisdom.” That’s not the case at all. I firmly believe myself to be an equal with every human being. This isn’t a “Hey, you should look into becoming Jewish.” In fact, I would advise against it, because it’s a much more difficult life as an observant Jew.
The point of this is to tell you I’ve had an awesome trip, I’m back, and I did in fact learn some tremendous things I will be sharing with you in the future. On the other hand, I wouldn’t discourage you from looking at Jewish self-improvement books by ArtScroll or Feldheim publisher.
If you’ve had a trip that touched, move, and inspired you, or perhaps taught you a huge life lesson, please share it in the comments below.