The day we visited Tel Aviv, a heat wave plagued the city. There we were, 26 Jewish teenagers from North America who had spent the past couple of days learning various texts in back-to-back sessions, and our first and probably only break was seeming much more like a descent into Death Valley. We were dripping sweat, out of water, and the walk to the beach couldn’t have felt further away.
Luckily, the majority of us had Coffix “ice kafeh” or ice cream in our hands to mitigate at least some of the swelter. I personally had a pareve mango popsicle; it was not my top choice, but I had just eaten meat and couldn’t consume dairy for another three hours.
It was on this walk, popsicle in hand, that my friend Eli and I began talking. He asked me something about Modern Orthodoxy, I responded curiously about his Reform Judaism, and the conversation segued straight into keeping kosher. I was frustrated that my snack option was limited to the popsicle, explaining that I view the Torah and halacha (Jewish law) as given from God, and thus binding.
Eli explained to me how he doesn’t keep all of the rabbinic laws of kashrut, but he does avoid pork, shellfish, and other inherently non-kosher meats. He also doesn’t eat red meat with cheese. For him, keeping kosher is less about halachic obligation and much more about finding the meaning behind various laws. He explained to me how it’s important for him to eat something with the thought “I am a Jew” at the forefront of his mind. When he goes out to eat with friends and doesn’t order the BLT, he’s reminded of his Jewish identity.
These two ideas of intentionality and meaning-making really struck me, and they characterized the rest of my Bronfman experience. I began noticing the prevalence of these concepts when I was making a blessing, and instead of just muttering some words under my breath, I focused on what they meant. I looked at myself in the mirror, and the weight of my skirt felt more deliberate and purposeful. I felt very conscious of my Judaism.
However, it wasn’t as if every one of my Jewish practices was magically enhanced; like Eli’s kashrut, some practices of my own required a bit of deviation from the halachic standard. One such change was to my daily recitation of mincha, the afternoon prayer.
It was Tuesday of the Mifgash, our week-long meeting with the Israeli fellows, and I didn’t want to say mincha, the afternoon prayers; I had a lot on my mind and wasn’t up for seven minutes of silent monologue to God. I told this to my friend Julian while we sat on my balcony watching the sun begin to descend slowly behind the Jerusalem hills.
Julian was understanding and receptive, and we decided to do our own form of mincha. I chose one song, he chose one song, and then we said what we were most grateful for that day. I chose “Ashrei,” a core prayer in the service, and we sang five verses call-and-response. Julian chose the Shema, a central prayer to Judaism, and we covered our eyes, the sun and hills disappearing behind our invocation of God as One. Finally, we spoke of what we were most grateful. Both of us mentioned the Bronfman community.
Conversations and experiences like these were the backbone of my summer experience on Bronfman. Centered around Jewish pluralism, The Bronfman Fellowship begins with five weeks in Israel, focused on intense text study and intellectual discussion. A place to really grapple with deep existential questions, Bronfman provided me a community that challenged me, inspired me, and never ceased to make me think.
While the Fellowship lasts for an entire year, culminating with a 5-day seminar in Washington, D.C., in the spring, I know it won’t ever truly end. Bronfman has permeated my life beyond just the programming, and being back in Atlanta after such an impactful summer has proven both a challenge and a gift. The Bronfman way of thinking—characterized by endless questions, complex understandings, and deeply relational dialogue—travels with me always as I navigate my life back home more critically and emotionally.
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