NARRAGANSETT – Judaism is a new passion of mine, one that has existed since I first attended Alexander Muss High School in Israel two years ago.
Raised in an interfaith family – my father is a strong Catholic and my mother is a non-observant Jew – I experienced a powerful emphasis on God, but without pressure to follow any organized religion.
Attending Catholic schools and learning about my father’s faith left me feeling that something was missing from my soul. My mother, who had traveled to Israel when she was a high school student, seized the opportunity to educate me about her Jewish culture and faith and enrolled me in a two-month program in Israel focusing on an exploration of different religions.
Once in Israel at Alexander Muss, I found myself. I felt a higher calling – to be a better person and be part of the people of Israel. I learned that every strongly held conviction that I had arrived at independently was codified in Judaism.
These revelations in Israel gave my life a spiritual and professional direction. After returning stateside, I applied to the English-speaking school in Israel, the IDC Herzliya, and caused a ruckus at Prout, the Catholic high school I attended.
I spoke up repeatedly about Israel and Judaism in some classes, wrote about Israel in the school newspaper and attended pro-Israel demonstrations in New York City during school hours. In addition, I served as Prout’s only Jewish peer minister, a position something like a peer counselor.
Shortly before I was due to leave last summer for the IDC Herzliya to continue my spiritual exploration, I learned that I would not receive the financial aid I needed.
Heartbroken yet determined, I enrolled at the University of Rhode Island. At URI, I quickly began strategizing my next move – how else could I return to Israel? I enrolled in Hebrew classes and reconnected to the Jewish community on campus by becoming active with URI Hillel, attending Shabbat services, volunteering at nursing homes and making hamantashen for nursing home residents.
The wonderful, warm and welcoming individuals at URI Hillel embody the Jewish ideals of community that first caused my attraction to Judaism; they have helped me regain a sense of connection to my Jewish identity. I long to return to Israel to discover what else I have to learn about myself and my people as well as what kind of career and life I might have as a member of the Jewish people.
My heart tells me that my first journey was only an introduction to Judaism. That introduction, that spark, may lead to a flame of inspiration.
I have been accepted to Tel Aviv University where I hope to complete my undergraduate studies. For the first time, Tel Aviv University offers a program allowing international students to earn their undergraduate degrees in three years, not four. I could return to Israel, even without complete Hebrew fluency, and be surrounded by a culture and a people I love.
When God tells Abraham, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” Abraham acts with complete, unwavering trust in God by traveling to an unknown land. His action led to the continuing existence of the Jewish people.
I certainly do not envision myself as an Abraham, a father of nations with more descendants than the stars. Nevertheless, I cannot deny the calling I feel to return to Israel. I can only fulfill this calling if I raise enough money to attend Tel Aviv University beginning in October; with no merit or financial aid scholarships available to me, I am completely dependent on the generosity of others.
I pray that my dream may be achieved this year; however, I am certain that God will always light my way. In the words of the late Yonatan Netanyahu, I will continue my journey to discover where I fit on “the inseparable part, a link in the chain in the existence, and independence” of the Jewish people.
DONATIONS: Contributions (30 percent of donations are tax-deductible) go directly to Tel Aviv University. To help Marasco, visit http://action.jewishagency.org/page/outreach/view/journey/Saheeny14 or firstname.lastname@example.org.