Judaism Is the Bridge Between American, Hungarian Teens

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As part of the SOS International High School Morim and Limmud projects, my school, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, partnered with the Scheiber Sandor Gimnaziu in Budapest, Hungary. Last month, we entered the third phase of our program when our BT teachers returned to SSG with 12 of their students who were selected from more than 75 applicants.

“Hashem melech, Hashem malach, Hashem yimloch, li’olam va’ed!” Standing around the campfire with less than 10 hours remaining of our visit, the American and Hungarian teens had their arms around each other singing “Hashem Melech.” We weren’t singing in English and we weren’t singing in Hungarian. We were singing in Hebrew, the language of our shared ancestors. Shouting in Hebrew, “God is King, God reigns, God will reign forever,” I realized the importance of being a Jew and creating these connections with other Jewish teenagers around the world.

When I first learned about the Limmud Project, I was fascinated. Traveling to expand my Judaism, learning more about what it means to be Jewish and meeting other Jewish teens like me seemed like an unbelievably exciting opportunity. So as I began the application process, I remembered a rabbinics class. We discussed an article titled “Torah – The Cause of Reality” by Rabbi Akiva Tatz, in which we learned that the Torah acts as the world’s genetic code. Everything in this world exists only because the Torah speaks of it. Discussing this article, I began to think about Leviticus 19, Verse 18, where it says “ahavat yisrael,” love all your fellow Jews. I believe that the Torah created this amazing opportunity to go to Budapest so that Beth Tfiloh students could live up to the Torah’s commandment of ahavat yisrael.

Through the Limmud Project, I wanted to make a significant and meaningful change in my life, my family’s life, my classmates’ lives and my friends’ lives. I am extremely thankful to say that I have achieved my goal. I was able to learn about the similarities and differences between my Jewish high school life and the lives of Jewish Hungarian teens. I also learned what it means to be a Jew in Hungary. This trip allowed me to invest in my Jewish learning and expand my connection to God, the Torah and other Jews.

Before we left the U.S., we had classes to learn about Hungarian Jewish history, culture and current events. We also planned how we would teach and learn. We organized different games and activities for grade school Hungarian students. In the beginning, this was a challenge because the students did not speak English fluently. However, with some creativity, we organized matching games with American foods, dancing to American music and fun activities incorporating easy English words. We also planned a Shabbaton, which was our culminating event.

I was extremely excited to bring the feeling of community, the divrei Torah and the deep meaningful conversations to my Hungarian peers while also learning about their unique Shabbat traditions.

Saturday night, the last night of our trip to Hungary, came much too quick. We sang, we danced, we ate s’mores and sat around the bonfire. As the night was heading toward Sunday, we slowly began walking to our rooms.

“Molly, I want to thank you.” I turned to see Lillu, a Hungarian teen trying so hard to hold back her tears. I was confused. What was she thanking me for? “You helped me break out of my shell.”

I soon realized she was talking about her first Shabbat experience that I encouraged her to share on Friday night. Lillu explained that she has always been a shy person, a quiet person, but on this Shabbaton, she was able to step out of her comfort zone, speaking to an entire room of students and teachers.

Standing outside, we hugged. I never wanted to let her go because in that moment we became sisters, Jewish sisters who live across the world from each other. Through the SOS International Limmud Project, I have expanded my Jewish values and understanding, but I have also created true, lasting, meaningful friendships.

SOS International is a 501(c)(3) that strives to enrich next generation Jewish identity and values through international exchanges. Visit sosintl.org.

Molly Silverman is a student at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.

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