“Hashem Melech, Hashem Malach, Hashem Yimloch, Li’olam Va’ed!” [G-d is King, G-d reigns, G-d will reign forever.]
Standing around the campfire with less than 10 hours remaining of our trip in Budapest, Hungary, 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 Jewish language, the language of our shared ancestors. Shouting in Hebrew, “G-d is King, G-d reigns, G-d 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 SOS International’s Limmud Project, which partners Jewish day schools in the U.S. and Eastern Europe for a student exchange program, I was fascinated. My high school, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore, partners with Scheiber Sándor Gimnázium in Budapest. Traveling across the world to expand my Judaism, learn more about what it means to be Jewish, and meet other Jewish teens just like me seemed like an unbelievably exciting opportunity.
As I began the application process, I remembered a rabbinics class that Morah Sova taught. We discussed an article titled “Torah — the Cause of Reality” by Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz, from 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 this trip to Budapest and 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, living in a place with so much Jewish history, specifically from the Holocaust. This trip allowed me to invest in my Jewish learning and expand my connection to G-d, the Torah, and other Jews.
Before Beth Tfiloh traveled to Budapest, we organized meetings to learn about Hungary’s history and to plan what we would do in Budapest. We organized different games and activities for teaching the Hungarian lower-school students. In the beginning, this was a challenge because the lower-school students do not know English. 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 for the Hungarians. Before I attended Beth Tfiloh, I did not know what a Shabbaton entailed. However, after participating in my firstShabbaton in ninth grade, I believe that everyone should be able to experience a Shabbat with aShabbaton. I was extremely excited to bring the feeling of community, the d’var Torahs, and the deep meaningful conversations from my previousShabbaton to the Hungarian Jews, while also learning about their unique Shabbat traditions.
Saturday night, the last night of our trip to Hungary, came quickly, but at the same time it felt like we had been there much longer. We sang, we danced, we ate s’mores, and sat around the bonfire. As the night grew darker, we slowly began walking to our rooms. Lillu, one of the Hungarian teenagers, approached me, trying hard to hold back her tears.
“Molly, I want to thank you,” Lillu said. I was confused — what was she thanking me for? “You helped me break out of my shell,” she told me. I soon realized she was talking about her first Shabbat experience, when I had encouraged her to speak in front of the group 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 go because in that moment we became sisters, Jewish sisters who live across the world from each other. Through the Limmud Project, I have not only expanded my Jewish values and understanding, but also created true, lasting, meaningful friendships.
To learn more about the Limmud Project and SOS International, visit http://www.sosintl.org.\
By Molly Silverman
Molly Silverman is a sophomore at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore.