Student Thoughts: Discovering the non-Jewish connection to Israel

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By Shayna Lewis, University of Southern California, Bus 5 Every one of my six trips to Israel have had one thing in common: the butterflies when the plane touches down. What makes The David Project's Israel Uncovered trip stand out among these different experiences is that the itinerary was not Jewish-centric. My other trips sheltered me from the connections that other communities have to Israel. Israel Uncovered was my opportunity to explore these connections and learn about the relationships that non-Jews have with Israel. It was a chance to discover Israel holistically and see all it has to offer.

Our first day in Jerusalem started off with a journey to the Western Wall. It is a place I have visited numerous times. Although each time is just as incredible as the last, this time was different. Why? Because Israel Uncovered is different.

I was in the presence of students who had never been to this sacred place. I felt it was my duty to show them why this place is so meaningful to me. At the Kotel I prayed the Jewish morning prayer service from my siddur (prayer book), and then I took a few minutes to add in my own prayers. I looked up to see a non-Jewish peer from my bus standing next to me with a siddur, just looking through the pages, not understanding a single word in Hebrew, but still somehow finding meaning in the prayer. I began to cry as I left the site. I felt as though I had connected to my religious faith and everything around me to the fullest extent, and that I had helped others appreciate the holiness of the Kotel.

Immediately after the Kotel, our bus walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a very holy site for Christians. I had never seen such detail and beauty. As I walked around, I felt a sort of discomfort. I felt out of place, almost as if I were an intruder. I remained in the church for a few more minutes, but after some time observing those around me, and seeing how spiritually connected they felt, I took a step outside. I had just been crying at the holiest site in the world for Jews, yet I had never fully comprehended the connection Christians can feel to Old City of Jerusalem. I gained a completely new perspective of what Jerusalem has to offer for not only Jews, but also for Christians and people of all faiths. My view of Jerusalem is now more holistic than I ever thought possible, and I feel a new level of connection to the place I continue to call home.

One of the most important aspects of The David Project is bringing together Jewish and non-Jewish students to help one another in developing holistic relationships with Israel. Non-Jewish students got to experience Jewish holy sites, and Jewish students were exposed to Christian sites that are often overlooked on many Jewish trips. The day I got to view Jerusalem and Israel more holistically is a day I will hold on to for the rest of my life. It shaped my relationship with Israel and it shaped my personal Jewish identity.