The Mayanot Birthright Israel Program and Tulane University’s Chabad Community (1/2)

31 Aug

By Samantha Hilsenrod

As a student at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, I undertake a wide array of supplemental academic, social, and community service activities in conjunction to my everyday scholastic responsibilities. Suffice to say, these endeavors always prove worthwhile, often resulting in the formation of wonderful new friendships. In 2009, I had the opportunity to expand my understanding of Jewish culture and tradition as a participant in the Chabad Mayanot Birthright Israel Program. An incredibly fulfilling experience on multiple levels,  my involvement with the Chabad movement at home in the United States as well as in Israel has served as a foundation for exploring my personal spiritual beliefs and family heritage, a lifelong journey that I look forward to pursuing further.

During my visit to Israel with other members of Tulane University’s Jewish community, my peers and I employed our time in an enjoyable and intellectually edifying manner, simply relaxing and sightseeing on some days, while respectfully observing some of the most ancient facets of Judaism in practice on others. One particularly defining event of the Chabad Mayanot Israel Program that stood out for me was the Friday night our group spent at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Also referred to as the Wailing Wall or Kotel, the city’s Western Wall is situated in East Jerusalem’s Old Quarter, hulking in size despite the fact that more modern structures now engulf a large portion of the sacred artifact. Constructed from thick blocks of limestone, the Western Wall measures nearly 500 meters from end to end, its surface dotted with a multiplicity of tiny holes and crevices.

Upon close examination of these cracks, one will likely notice that many of the wall’s fissures contain folded pieces of paper, some still white, others yellowed with age. On these slips of paper, devout followers of numerous religions write down their prayers and lamentations, a physical rendering of faith with deep individual meaning for those who come to the Western Wall on a religious pilgrimage. As a communications major, I was pleased to discover that a free service now exists that enables people to Twitter their prayers, the digital messages then converted into print and inserted into the wall itself.

The Mayanot Birthright Israel Program and Tulane University’s Chabad Community, by Samantha Hilsenrod Part 2 – Published on BigSight

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