"Sarah, we need your help in Ukraine this summer. Can I count on you?" This question changed my life profoundly. I was asked to be a counselor on JOLT, Jewish Overseas Leadership Program, an opportunity to interact with young campers in an impoverished country and positively influence their lives. Little did I realize that this experience would impact mine so greatly.
JOLT, an outreach program, runs an annual overnight summer camp in Ukraine with counselors from the United States and Israel. These counselors are carefully selected because of the rigorous programming and the many physical hardships of living in Ukraine. Over one hundred local children come to Charkov to learn about their Jewish background. As one of the counselors, I had the privilege and extraordinary task of exposing them to the beauty of our religion and heritage.
I remember the anxiety and excitement that I felt as I exited the plane with twenty other high school students, embarking on my summer teaching experience, wondering if I was fully prepared. The moment the busloads of children arrived, I attached myself to a group of kids and started singing and dancing with them. Despite my initial fears, we began to form a bond. My role changed from that of a teenager to that of a responsible counselor. Not only was I here to teach them about Judaism through classes and activities, but more importantly I was acting as a role model. For the majority of Ukrainian children, we were the first Americans they had ever met and, therefore, were watched vigilantly and constantly emulated. This humbling realization made me feel rather self-conscious at first. However, their desire to imitate also heightened the impact of that which we taught them. They wanted to learn. Although an immense language barrier lay between the campers and me, we managed to communicate through translators, hand signals, songs, and broken English and Russian.
With the help of a book that contained both the Hebrew and Russian, I taught Hebrew to a group of ten children who had never before been exposed to Judaism. Glieb, a ten-year old boy rapidly rose to the top of the class. In addition to the mandatory hours of daily learning, he was motivated to extend these sessions. So often at night after the fun and entertainment, he and I would practice reading Hebrew and we discussed, in simple terms, aspects of Jewish ritual that fascinated him. It was with Glieb that I formed the deepest bond, one that relied not only on talking, for he spoke only a minimal amount of English, but rather on demonstrating our fondness through actions.
A few days before the end of camp, in broken English, Glieb explained that he had been working endlessly on a present for me. Similarly I had been trying to decide on something that I could give him. After hours of pondering, I decided to give Glieb what was most dear to me, my siddur(prayer book), which I had received upon entering sixth grade. I felt it appropriate to present him with his very first prayer book. For hours I decorated and transliterated the main prayers and on the last day of camp, before the kids left, we exchanged presents. He gave me his favorite key-chain of the "Sylvester" cartoon with an attached lanyard that he had made. Never had a gift had such a startling effect on me; I burst into tears. I handed him my siddur, and he stood there for a moment staring at his gift, and I at mine. Tears welled in his eyes as he continued to look at the siddur. I knew that he truly understood the significance of our exchange. We hugged goodbye, and I will never forget the feeling of his arms entwined around me with the siddur pressed against my back.
Who would have thought that I would go to Ukraine, make such a strong impression on the lives of a group of children and impact my own? The campers' naive yet deep questioning took me on a journey of self-discovery as I reexamined my own beliefs and practices in a foreign environment, spiritually void and materially deprived. This defining experience also taught me that I can make a difference. By continuing to work with people in my professional life as a nurse, I will be extending the passions I discovered during my summer experience. Just as I answered the call for help in Ukraine, I intend to respond to future calls for help — with action, kindness, and caring.
Other Sample Essays
Modern Rites Of Passage Essay
According to many scholars, such as Mircae Eliade, human beings can be described as creatures of religion and ritual. The appearance of ritual across the globe is one of the prevalent aspects of humanity that transcends all political, social, cultural and geographical differences. While ritual itself has many forms, one of the most regnant aspect is that of the Rite of Passage. This paper will examine rites of passage as defined by the anthropologist Victor Turner through examples of two modern Canadian rituals; the graduation from high school and the completion of undergraduate studies. From the sequences of the rites of passage to the modern examples of such, Canadian culture has proven itself to be full of ritualistic rites.
Cultures the world over have a variety of rituals that each use to find order and clarity. Ritual can be defined as a "a sequence of symbolic activities...closely connected to a specific set of ideas that are often encoded in myth". It is a significant action or sequence of actions that is repeatable and recognized by the society as a ritual. While ritual itself can be broken down into many different typologies spanning from cycles of natures and seasons to devotional rituals, one of the most important and widespread rituals is the rite of passage. A rite of passage is a life cycle rite which involves a community. They are highly symbolic, functional and meaningful rituals that are important to all cultures. They are the ritual in which "one or more members of a society are ritually transformed from one kind of social person into another". They are generally initiation rituals for adulthood, but can also be marriages, births and funerals. The anthropologist Victor Turner studied rites of passage in his book The Ritual Process. In his studies, Turner points out that most rites of passage follow three elements in a sequence. Firstly, there must be a separation. In this stage the person undergoing the ritual is separated from their normal every day lives. Next, there is a stage of transition, also known as a liminal state or period. Within this threshold stage, the person involved in the ritual has no status. They experience a loss of identity and in many cases, a loss of their childhood. The individual faces darkness, nature and loss during this element. They also experience a sense of learning, as they are tutored in the skills and knowledge that they will need once they obtain their new status. It is also during this state that a strong sense of comradery called communitas occurs between those involves in the ritual. This communitas is a state of intense bonding and a sense of equality between participants. The final element of the Rites of Passage is the reaggregation or reincorporation into the social world with the newly acquired status. Using Turner's schema, one can easily see many modern examples of rites of passage rituals across the globe, namely throughout the regions of multi-cultural...
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