How Two Weeks Abroad Changed My Jewish Identity

April 17, 2024
Leah Berger

Calabasas, California, United States

Class of 2024

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Just a few weeks ago, I began my journey abroad with 14 other chosen students from my class to Central Europe where we’d take a deep dive into their society, culture, and most importantly, their Jewish history. We began our program in Budapest, Hungary, where we'd be staying in the houses of Hungarian teens we had just hosted in America a few weeks before. These students all attended the Lauder Javne Iskola of Hungary, a world-renowned Jewish private school, just like the one I attend in America. It was truly amazing to see a school whose values and teachings aligned almost directly with the ones I am reminded of at school every day. The biggest thing that stood out to me about Budapest is that it holds most if not all of Hungary’s Jewish population. We were also constantly told by different tour guides that many Hungarians are Jewish and unaware of the fact. After the Shoah, when people fled all over the world, Central Europe took a huge part in giving new homes to Jews. But naturally, people were still scared to say they were Jewish, so some would simply deny the fact and tell generations to come that they were not Jewish. Two people I met during my trip were the first generation in their family to unveil the fact that they were Jewish, and both of them, after learning this information, made Judaism an integral part of their lives. One of the amazing figures that I got the pleasure of meeting was András Borgula, who shortly after discovering that he was Jewish, created an incredible Jewish theater program called The Gólem Theater. On Shabbat, we attended synagogue but spent 30 minutes before in the temple’s teen lounge, which coincidentally, was filled with BBYO, AZA, and BBG Flags covering the walls. This surprised me but also didn't, it was a little glimpse of my home but in Hungary. I felt so safe even if it was just in a room in the middle of Europe. 

After 10 days in Budapest, we traveled by train to Vienna, Austria for a two-day independent travel. We enjoyed the beautiful architecture of St. Stephen’s Cathedral right behind our hotel as we started our journey each morning. I enjoyed the schnitzel, shopping, and coffee of Vienna, but my highlight of the leg of this trip was visiting Zwi Perez Chajes School. We took a tour of the K-12 private school and then had the opportunity to meet teens that were our age and discuss similarities and differences in Jewish culture and antisemitism in Austria vs. the US. It was truly inspiring to hear the way that Jewish teens around the world continue to celebrate their Judaism and that throughout the world our community is so similar in the sense that we stay proud of our heritage through such trying times. I even connected with a new friend who is a part of BBYO Austria, and a few girls who went on BBYO’s Israel Passport Journey in the summer of 2023! It is truly so special to be able to bond with teens from across the world that you just met, over this life-changing organization.

Before flying back to the States, we spent three days staying in the Jewish quarter of Prague, Czechia. Though we were all tired by this time, we had an amazing experience exploring the Easter Markets, Prague Castle, and of course, visiting Europe’s oldest active synagogue that stood right next to our apartment, The Old New Synagogue. 

This trip not only taught me more about my Jewish identity and how lucky I am to live in a place where I am not scared but Instead excited to show off my Judaism, but it also showed me the true power of being a part of BBYO can hold, whether that be at home or away. Knowing that you're always connected to this organization no matter where you go allows some sort of comfort in this chaotic world. 

Leah is a BBG from D'vash BBG #956, Pacific Western Region, and her favorite color is pink.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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