“What is your neighborhood?”

It wasn’t what I had expected, not even close, the physical thing maybe, but the thoughts it stimulated and the people I shared them with was completely unprecedented. I started realizing it at the synagogue, a place which I had never really prayed in before, merely a venue for ceremonies and bar mitzvahs, I listened to the ancient language of Jerusalem and how well the people knew its song, and I could feel myself in its old hymns, I felt a part of me that had once existed. It didn’t stop there. I looked to my friends on the other side, the ones who had never been to synagogue before, who knew nothing of the Jewish customs, and I saw them stand up when it was appropriate, or bow their heads in respect when it was needed, I saw them excitedly get out of their seats, hold hands with people they knew not, and dance elegantly around the halls as the music flowed out to them. It made me feel as though our group was more complete. It hit me again a couple of days later, we had left New York and entered the tight-knit community of a Baptist Church in Virginia. The synagogue had been much more high maintenance, our bags had been checked and people had thrown us many looks that said “outsider” as we walked in, until of course the Rabbi told them of our mission. Here was different, immediately when our bus came to the parking lot, a man wearing a warm smile came out to greet us, and told us to get situated. We proceeded into the church, which was quite modern and surprisingly small, and many came to shake our hands and bid us welcome, with some of the most sincere smiles I had ever seen. I was feeling pretty good as we sat down and then instead of just passing us in mentioning, the pastor made sure all visitors stood up and introduced themselves. This made us all feel a lot more appreciated. After some singing and an amazing sermon by the pastor, about things that people of any faith could relate to, we had breakfast and talked some more to the people. It was a good thing to see people of such different background engaged wholeheartedly in discussions about their definitions of God or levels of spirituality, some things could be very revealing and it penetrated all our surfaces, opening our minds. I think it all came together on our next stop that day, the holocaust museum in Virginia. We pulled in not knowing what to expect, I mean, who’s heard of the Virginia holocaust museum? Not me. The tour was given to us by the director’s grandson, Ben Ipson, whose Grandfather was a holocaust survivor. We began in the bunkers, and then we saw some of the torture methods Nazis used, but none cried, we were all still recovering from the bus ride, and I was angry that I had forgotten my glasses. Soon we all had to crawl down a potato whole, where we saw many disturbing things, and when we reached the other side, there was a TV screen. To this day, I still don’t know what moved everyone and myself so much about that screen. There was no groundbreaking information or discovery, it was merely pictures of Jewish children who were killed in the holocaust, they came one after another, floating by, as a voice spoke each ones names. The children were so sweet and innocent in their pictures, like any other child, and maybe it was that realization which made us cry, because nothing brought us closer to the reality of the holocaust then that instant, in which we were actually able to relate to it. So, after about 5 seconds, we all burst into tears, blacks and Jews, it didn’t matter, we were all hugging each other and weeping, and it felt cathartic. Some time later, the tour guide left his professional self, and told us we were easily his favorite group so far, no one before had responded so well and payed so much attention to him, and he was our age. It took us a while to stop crying, some longer than others, but we were all there for each other. Later we met with the director and holocaust survivor, Ipson himself, and asked him many questions which he answered very eloquently and I was surprised seeing as he came to America knowing six languages that were not English with only 25 dollars to spend. He had many interesting stories, and he was a well rounded individual, someone we could all look up to. At the end, when we had no other questions, he asked us all one? He asked, “what is your neighborhood?” We all tried to answer but we couldn’t tell if he meant our city or our community, and then he told us, our neighborhood is the world, and as the leaders of tomorrow, we have to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

Nicolas Sessler, J.R. Masterman HS, OU 2010

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