By Anna Dubey ‘21 and Raphi Gold ‘21
So much of how we experience the world revolves around where we live. We absorb the culture, the language, the idiosyncrasies of our society that we accept as the default. And so it’s shocking, in a way, to witness the cultural differences in other places, to realize that so much of what we experience is specific to us— and yet, at the same time, to recognize the similarities that cross cultural lines and unite us across continents. On our 10th-grade Vienna trip, we looked from Heschel students to Zwi Perez Chavez students and understood that beyond these tangled layers of similarities and differences, beyond the intricacies of Viennese and New York Jewish culture, was something that bloomed in all of us alike: friendship.
While in Vienna, we visited many synagogues, museums, and important landmarks in order to gain an understanding of the city and its Jewish community. We were particularly struck by how close-knit the Jewish community seemed to be and were awed by the sense that everyone seemed to know each other. Judaism in Vienna is largely non-denominational, which creates a sense of community more tangible than that of New York’s various congregations.
One experience that resonated with us was visiting Mauthausen, the memorial for the concentration camp that had once been housed there. As Heschel students, we have spent years studying the Holocaust and listening to the stories of Holocaust survivors, but viewing this piece of Austria’s history in person was unsettling. It emphasized the reality of all the abstract concepts we had learned in a classroom and made seeing the now-thriving Jewish community in Vienna all the more meaningful.
Getting to know the ZPC students was one of the highlights of the trip. Each student was uniquely charming and added a layer to our group dynamic. Befriending the students allowed us to glimpse Vienna not only from the perspective of archaic museums and dusty brick walls, but also through the eyes of teenagers much like us. We enjoyed visiting ZPC classes and comparing them to Heschel classes, noticing that the teaching style was very similar in many cases. While visiting landmarks taught us of Vienna’s past, spending time with the students showed us Vienna’s present and future.
When we boarded the plane back home, minds swirling with thoughts and teachings, we reflected that the trip had been highly educational: we had much fuller understandings of Vienna’s history, culture, and practices. Yet beyond that, the trip had been extremely meaningful in a personal way. We had befriended and connected with people our age who showed us a whole different side of Judaism, and even more than that, a whole different side of the world that we had not previously encountered.