Spiritual Shock This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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“Dear God, please let my great-grandmother be healthy …,” my pen scrawls. Sitting on the empty steps, I write a prayer in the Old City of Jerusalem. There is silence around me as others prepare prayers to be placed into the Kotel. I have never prayed before, I think, as my eyes scan the shops filled with Judaic art and jewelry.

I finish my prayer and the hairs on my arms stand up. Thoughts of my deceased grandfather stir in my head; I am in a state of spiritual shock. As much as I try not to cry, I can’t help myself. My close friends look worried, and I cannot find the words to reassure them, so I get up and walk.

As my sneakers pound the pavement to the Kotel, I think, Could this be a sign that I am connecting with my religion? I push through the crowd of Hassidic women to slip my prayer as high as I can reach into a small crevice of the wall to the right of a shrub growing out of this sacred space. I startle myself in my call to God. I lay my hand gently on the wall as if I am going to break it and I lean my head on it too. I recite my prayer and listen to the blessings being chanted around me. My feeling of isolation in this crowd bonds me to my faith and my family. I know that I will never be alone, for spirituality ties me to my family and God.

It has been four days since my encounter at the Kotel and I’m volunteering in Haifa with six teens from my trip. After a few hours at the day camp, I meet Israeli and Palestinian teens who are part of a peace program. Behind Yael’s thick eyelashes is a 16-year-old girl who would do anything for peace and loves her Palestinian friends. “I am pro-Israel,” Aseel says as we drink iced coffee. It never occurred to me before that there are Palestinians who are pro-Israel.

While discussing our common interests in peace, travel, music, movies, art, and nature, we form a unbreakable bond. Saying farewell isn’t ­really a good-bye because we have made a promise to see each other again. I will never forget meeting these Palestinian and Israeli teenagers. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that has left me more open-minded, with a desire to spread friendship, hope for our generation, and understanding of our cultures.

As I fly home from Israel and consider what I have learned, my experience in Morocco is in the forefront of my mind. While I was there, my eyes were opened to Arab culture. While my long skirt swept along the dirty, overcrowded medina, I realized the importance of valuing the freedoms I have as an American woman. The majority of Arab Moroccan women are not permitted to obtain an education, must cover their bodies from head to toe, and are not allowed to make their own decisions. Experiencing life in Morocco as an American Jewish teen challenged my values, my assumptions, and my ideals.

Before this trip, my religion did not have that much of an influence on me nor was I very interested in it. During my trip I realized how blessed I am. While experiencing new cultures with teens my age and forming incredible lifelong friendships, my priorities changed. I am more connected to my religion and my family. I learned that teens around the world in different cultures are more alike than I thought.

Seeing and experiencing how people in other countries live and the way they are treated taught me a lot. I cherish my family and my education more than ever. Now, my curiosity is piqued. What else can I discover about the world and myself? I will never forget how this trip changed my life, leading me down a path of questions rather than quick answers.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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Bethani said...
Jun. 15, 2010 at 9:45 pm
You've had a great experience. I believe in this kind of thing. Good for you going out of your comfort zone. 
 
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