The Summer of 2006

Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspiration

About 14 million people in the world identify themselves as Jewish, but what does that really mean? I struggle with this question because, to me, Judaism represents more of a culture than a religion. While I might say prayers and light the Shabbat candles at home, I feel a more powerful cultural force at camp, where Judaism serves as an open invitation to feel comfortable. Over the summers, I found that the weeks apart from my family facilitated my independence, and the school year became a countdown between summers. As I gained confidence and learned to be comfortable with myself, I also discovered that the quiet kid in the corner has just as much to say, and that my irritating bunkmate may just be insecure.

At sixteen, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel—an experience that opened my eyes. While I consider camp to be the foundation of my identity, this trip acted as reinforcement. I’d grown up learning about Israel’s establishment as the Jewish Homeland, of its many wars, and the never-ending terrorist attacks—yet I felt distant, and found it hard to relate. Finally, I had the opportunity to walk the streets of Jerusalem, run my fingers through the cracks of the Western Wall, and try to put thousands of years of history...

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