This summer, I have made an effort to push myself out of my comfort zone as much as possible. I began the summer with my Birthright trip to Israel, moved to Chicago for a summer internship, and then embarked on my Classrooms Without Borders/Germany Close Up journey. This whirlwind of new experiences has been a refreshing change of pace following two years of keeping close to home between the pandemic and the demands of graduate school. In each of these situations, my Jewish identity has been on my mind as I’ve met peers and community members across the spectrum of Jewish identities and practices.
Last Friday, we attended Kabbalat Shabbat at Synagogue Fraenkelufer. While I grew up in a reform synagogue in Ohio, I was surprised at how much of this service and its melodies felt familiar and comfortable. The night was especially meaningful because it was the first time that this synagogue invited a woman (a fabulous lay leader with a lovely voice) to lead the service. The community at Fraenkelufer was also among the most diverse congregations I’ve ever visited; the interactions around us seemed comfortable and familiar, those of a tight knit community. At the dinner table afterward, several of us from the group with varied Jewish backgrounds dove into conversation, eager to compare traditions and explain Jewish customs to Oskar, one of our German guides.
During our final reflection as a group, many of my peers shared memories from this evening as a high point from the trip. Whereas much of the trip centered on the Holocaust and what had been forcibly stripped away from European Jews, this night was our closest encounter with the vibrancy and richness of current Jewish culture in Berlin. It was moving to witness and participate in the resiliency of Jewish life in Germany. While I came to Germany hoping to push myself out of my comfort zone, this Shabbat evening was a meaningful and surprising moment of recognition, comfort, and assurance.