Jimmy Zhou, who recently transferred to Olin from Arts & Sciences, wrote this for the Olin Blog.
When I first arrived in Israel, it was a big culture shock. The way people lived was completely different from in the US. The most memorable experience during the trip was the weekend trip to Jerusalem and celebrating Shabbat. I’m not Jewish and have had little interaction with Jewish traditions and culture. I was unfamiliar with the meaning of Shabbat and only thought about how inconvenient it was for everything to be closed for an entire day. My opinion changed after the trip to Jerusalem.
The change first started with our visit to the Western Wall in the hour before the sun went down and Shabbat officially started. It was amazing sight. The wall was packed with people, and the atmosphere was one of a kind with everyone dancing and celebrating. I got the opportunity to join a prayer circle in in front of the wall. At first, I felt out of place as I didn’t know the words or how the prayers went. As time went on, however, I started to feel immersed in the festivities and religion.
Dinner with an orthodox family
The next part was celebrating Shabbat dinner with an orthodox family. I learned so much about the history and the traditions of Shabbat, like the handwashing ritual that signifies purity. After the visit, I now know a lot more about the meaning and focus of the dinner. At first, I thought it would be a more religiously oriented. I was surprised to learn that the focus is to spend time with friends and family and relax. It made me realize how important it was to not overwork myself and to take breaks.
After that visit, every time Shabbat came around, I would take a break from doing homework and just value the time to spend with friends, whether it’s grabbing food or throwing a frisbee around on the beach.
It is a lesson I will carry with me for the rest of my life, and it’s all because of ISBA. I am so grateful to have been a part of this program and hope everyone gets a similar chance.