When it comes to connecting with one’s heritage, it may be hard to target an idea or belief that drives a person to do so. For those Russian Jews who yearn for that connection, who need something to look to beyond rabbis and Shabbat dinners with all flavors of kugel, there is a way.
I just graduated from college where I made many amazing friends over the years from a very different background than my own. I am now headed to South East Asia, where I will spend a month exploring the cultures and traditions of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos. While one chapter in my life comes to a close, another one has already begun.
As I look back on my adventures and look forward to another one, I know that it is meeting new people and sharing our beliefs and stories of upbringing that helps me mold my own view of myself. Personally, I feel very in-tune with my roots, and I believe that is due both to the religious and non-religious experiences I have had in my life. While inspiring speeches around a Shabbat table and trips to Israel ignite the meaning of what it is to be Jewish both traditionally and spiritually, I have also found it very valuable to go beyond that and to see the beauty and learn about people of different nationalities, heritage and religions.
Spending four years away from Brooklyn, NY, where every other block you will meet a Russian Jew, meant meeting people from all over the US and even some exotic places…like Canada. Yet every time I came home, I reassessed my beliefs, which only strengthened my connection with my upbringing. Even now, when I am about to embark on this trip, I know that I may be challenged, frightened, shocked, and surprised in addition to learning about a world that is so mysterious to me. But I welcome each experience (except maybe the humidity and bugs) because I believe that there is something to be learned about identity and my perspective of the world from the culture, traditions, and people I will encounter on the trip.
Rashel Noginsky, 22, whose family emigrated from St. Petersburg, Russia, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is studying Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University.