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Being connected to Judaism and the Jewish world is not always easy

Jan 10, 2017

Earlier in our trip, we learned a bit about the Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism. Something that we learned was that there is this idea that everyone has his or her name for a specific reason. The Kabbalah believes that names hold a certain amount of power to them and everyone’s name is special in its own way. Today, we traveled to Yad VaShem, which translates to “The Memorial of Names”. Yad VaShem is Israel’s Holocaust museum and memorial to all those that perished.

Before we entered the museum, we walked to a seemingly normal tree with our tour guide. We then learned that every tree on the grounds of the museum is dedicated to a righteous gentile; a non-Jew that helped protect Jews from persecution during World War II. This tree in particular was dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg, a Swede who has been credited with saving a whopping 100,000 Jews due to his ability to create documents that would essentially grant them diplomatic immunity. Wallenberg was only authorized to print 2,000 of these such documents but ended up printing 20,000 as well as being credited with saving the other 80,000 Jews that were liberated in his area after the war ended. Something that was especially poignant about Wallenberg’s story was that one of the people that was saved was the mother of our tour guide George. Thanks to Raoul’s righteousness George’s mother was protected and thankfully survived the war.

Everyone had a different reaction to the museum. Some were more moved than others and some connected with the exhibits to a greater extent. I found myself connected in a different way. While we were walking through the museum, I felt a hand on my shoulder.  I turned around and saw a man extending his hand to me. He looked down at my chest and saw that my shirt said AEPi on it. I took his hand and did the traditional AEPi handshake with him, and he walked away. I did not say a word to this man and I have no idea who he is, but because he could recognize that I was a brother, I connected with him.

Being connected to Judaism and the Jewish world is not always easy. Anti-Semitism is growing on college campuses at an alarming rate and to be completely honest, there are some times that I am afraid to wear my letters around campus. The Greek community faces a lot of hate, especially the Jewish fraternity. There are some nights where I hear “f**k AEPi, f**k the Jews” from the street below my window at the house. When I wear AEPi emblazoned across my chest, much like the gold star badge that the Jews had to wear in Germany, it identifies me as a Jew. However, there are times that I wear this badge proudly. Being Jewish is a major part of my personal identity and is very important to me. I hope that there is a day where I can wear my letters on my chest and a Star of David around my neck without being afraid and this trip to Israel has shown me that this day in question is not impossible to reach, but far away in the future.

Dan Nelson
University of Oregon Class of 2019
Los Angeles, CA

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