As kids, we rarely dig deep into our beliefs and values.
Like most kids, I spent most of my childhood hanging out with friends and playing various sports. I never thought too much about my beliefs and values. I knew what my parents had taught us, but a deeper understanding was never high on my priority list.
Growing up in Newport News, there weren’t many Jewish people around us, so there was always a sense of pride in being Jewish, but understanding the history and power behind it was somewhat foreign to me.
That changed very quickly this summer for me.
I was fortunate enough to be selected to the Maccabi USA team for the 20th World Maccabiah Games in Israel this past July.
While an international competition was certainly an amazing experience, it was the days prior to the games that were life-changing.
As part of the games, most athletes are invited to participate in a program called Israel Connect, an experience that leads us to many of the historic spots around Israel, our homeland.
It’s tough to put into words exactly what this experience was like for me.
I stood and prayed at the Western Wall and felt emotions that I’ve never felt before.
I walked in complete silence through the Children’s Memorial at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
I stood in the Dead Sea, I stood on stage at a traditional B’nai Mitzvah program and we ate traditional Israeli meals.
At 20 years old, I was finally realizing a much deeper understanding of my beliefs and value. I was surrounded by people who understood those values and beliefs, we were understanding the history behind it all, which for us, is something that we’ll never, ever forget.
The games were an incredible experience, walking in with the American flag, being a part of an international competition was truly unforgettable, but it’s the sense of pride that I returned to the States with that truly changed my life.
Our Spider Swim & Dive team is a family. What makes our family so special is that we have people from all over the country, different races, different religions and different beliefs.
But yet, we come together with one goal in mind and support each other through the good and bad times.
Part of truly being a family is understanding what is truly important to one another, and this summer, it became clearly obvious that my pride in my Jewish culture is something that is truly special to me and something that drives me every day.