Photo courtesy of Abrena Rowe | OpEd Editor Abrena Rowe (above, third from left) discusses her trip to Israel and how it changed her perspective on helping people. Rowe: “The Israel trip showed me the importance and power of helping people, even when it doesn’t seem like much.”
I am by no means a religious person, and I definitely follow the Kardashian/Jenner clan more closely than I follow foreign politics. However, I spent 10 days of my winter break in Israel on a study abroad trip focused on how religion affects foreign policy and the culture of Israel. With that in mind, you’re probably asking yourself, “Well, why did you go then?” As I sit in a hotel room somewhere in New Jersey at 4:45 a.m. writing this article, part of me wonders the same thing.
Leading up to the trip I would excitedly tell people, “Right after Christmas I’m leaving for Israel!” In turn people would try to engage in theological conversations about the importance of seeing where Jesus lived, or they would ask questions about my own faith. My excitement quickly faltered as these conversations continued.
How could I tell people I’m not Christian, or religious, for that matter, while they’re babbling about their jealously over my trip to the land where their faith originated? This made me wonder, “Why am I going?” “Do I really want to go?” “Is this trip right for me?” “Is this opportunity going to be wasted on my non-religious, lack-of-faith-having self?”
Naturally, when people asked me what I hoped to gain from the trip, I replied, “I hope to walk away with a deeper conviction in my faith” — an adaption of the many religious-sounding phrases I have developed over the years.
Fast forward to the first day in Jerusalem: I’m standing in front of the Western Wall (the holiest site of the Jewish tradition) and felt like I was just staring at a wall. My hopes of having a religious awakening quickly faded.
Religion aside, I thankfully was able to find meaning on this trip. Considering the richness of history and culture I was surrounded by every day, it would almost be impossible to walk away from this trip without some kind of newfound appreciation or understanding of life.
My “aha” moment occurred during our visit to Yad Vashem. For those who don’t know, like me until two weeks ago, Yad Vashem is the international remembrance memorial and museum for the Holocaust. It is meticulously designed, and everything has significance, from the architecture of the building to the type of flooring throughout the museum.
“Remember the ones in the millions,” our tour guide repeated throughout our time at Yad Vashem. Nearly 6 million people were murdered during the Holocaust, a number so large the human mind can’t physically comprehend it. So we must “remember the ones in the millions” and pay attention to the individual lives that were cut short.
In a broader sense, I took this as a guide for lending a helping hand. When I look at the statistics for homelessness, poverty, sexual harassment, untreated mental illness, etc., I become overwhelmed. I think that as a broke college student who doesn’t know her own next step in less than a year, I can’t help. I believe that there’s nothing I can do to make a difference, but that’s not true.
The tour guide shared the story of their grandmother, a Holocaust survivor who went on to have two children, who each had five children, who then had more children. That family line will continue on for years to come, showing that saving the life of one person can create life for hundreds.
Similarly, if I can help ONE person, I can help many more people than I might realize. All it takes is one step and one act of genuine care and kindness. Helping one person might not make the whole world different, but it’ll make one person’s world different, and if we change individuals, we will eventually affect the world as a whole.
To answer why I went on this trip: I needed to and didn’t even know it. I didn’t know I needed advice on how to utilize my capabilities to better help people.
This experience was incomparable and ranks in the top five of my Xperience. Take advantage of study abroad opportunities while you can. There will never be another time in your life when you can travel with a group of like-minded people who are all just different enough to push one another academically, intellectually, philosophically and socially. This trip changed me, so go to the Center for International Education and find the study abroad program that will change you.
Abrena Rowe is a senior psychology major and the Opinions and Editorials Editor for the Newswire from Cincinnati.