Wandering Jews: Traveling with a Name Like That

My friend and I spent Saturday in the Israel museum which has vast collection of art and archaeological antiquities from around the world. Her parents are Israeli and she speaks fluent Hebrew despite having spent most of her childhood in the United States. We share a love of travel and have a world perspective; Every artifact we saw in the museum brought back memories of travel for each of us. An interior of a synagogue which was originally in Asia had a floor covered in sand which reminded me of a synagogue I visited in Italy where sand was also used to dampen the sounds of prayer, helping the Jewish community to keep a low profile. A display of menorahs from around the globe reminded her of her fathers family, who immigrated to Israel from elsewhere in the middle east. When we got to the Egyptian galleries, I reminisced about my adventures in Egypt. She said sadly that Egypt is a place she may never see. She explained that her name is a Hebrew word, which makes her a target for Anti Israel or Anti Jewish Harassment or violence particularly in the Arab world. She told me that as a kid her parents would tell her before getting on a plane to a foreign place not to utter a word in Hebrew, or talk about Israel for the entire trip. She didn’t understand why until she got older.

I feel safety in the fact that people don’t know that I am Jewish because of my name. Benjamin is a biblical name for Christians and Jews and Newman is British Anglo Saxon in origin. When I travel abroad, I employ a three step rule when talking with strangers; you need to ask three layers deep for me to reveal my Judaism. While I do believe that most people, especially those in the service industry are accepting, guarding myself is how I stay safe and have the best experience.

When I’ve chosen to share my Judaism with people during travel, I’ve learned a lot. My experience in Egypt was great; After a few days with our guide, who was an Arab Muslim we opened up conversations about our Judaism and trips to Israel, comparing our traditions with with Islam, ancient Egyptian traditions, and learning about geopolitics. In Vietnam, when my dad shared that we were Jewish, our flamboyant guide Li exclaimed with fascination “ohhhh you are ‘Jewit’, so you must teach your kids about money.” He wasn’t wrong. Kayaking through lake superior off of the great swath of homogeneic Anglo Christian America that is upper Michigan, my guide passed the 3 question test and when I said I was Jewish, to my surprise she said she was Jewish also. We talked about Zionism, Israel and the democrats, what it’s like being a Jew in an Isolated outpost.

When I have chosen to share my Jewish identity while traveling, I have been grateful for the conversations and insights I have gained. I am also grateful for my ability to conceal my Identity, a privilege that my friend and many others like her do not have.

My First Week in Israel: wow

I am currently writing this Saturday morning which is the sabbath day of rest. I am sitting out on the balcony in the sun with my coffee and peanut butter toast listening to the apartments across from me come alive. When Jono and I arrived in Israel we got a big hug by two strangers I had never met- such is israeli friendliness. For the first few days in Israel Jono and I stayed with those strangers who were of course his Israeli family. They brought us back to stay in their moms house outside of Tel Aviv. We had a great time at the beach, talking, eating local food (of course), and even making a song with Jono’s cousin who is a talented Jazz guitarist.

On Monday, we met up with the Aardvark program people and moved to Jerusalem to settle into our apartments. We are centrally located in nachlaot- a 5 minute walk from machne yehuda market. I live with 3 other boys, only one of whom knows how to cook… we have lots of learning to do about living on our own in addition to living in a foreign country. The past few days have been orientation; we’ve done explorations of the shuk; in the day when the vendors and commotion are exciting and in the night when the nightlife and music gives the place a wholly different face. For two days we took a trip to the north where we hiked and got to know to each other.

Back in Jerusalem for the Shabbas, we went to the western wall and prayed- a moving experience full of song, dance, and spiritual energy. The collective passion and prayer creates a power in the air unlike any other. The western wall is the holiest spot for the Jews because it is the closest place we can get to the holy of Holies- the rock upon the Temple once stood. This rock is the rock from which we believe the earth was created. I pressed myself against the wall and spent a moment feeling the connection between body and spirit.

Next week, we start classes and internships- so much excitement and new experiences await. Stay Tuned!

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