Culture can mean different things to different people.  It can incorporate religion, tradition, and heritage.  For me, it is a way of connecting family, community and society.  It integrates many diverse entities such as the arts, clothing, buildings, laws, and moral norms of a civilization. In my mind, my culture is Judaism. One could argue that Judaism is simply a religion, but as a self-proclaimed atheist, I rarely think of the religious aspects of Judaism, but rather the traditions that have connected my family. My culture includes sitting around the Passover table with my entire extended family, chanting the songs in the Scottish tunes of my zaide, or grandfather, now long dead. My culture is helping my mom cut and chop the apples for the charoset, stealing the bits of rind that have apple still clung to them. My culture is watching my cousin become a bat mitzvah last weekend, not so much because it symbolizes her transition to adulthood according to the laws of Judaism, but because it is a chance for my whole family to come together to celebrate this milestone event, as they did for my two older brothers, myself, and my two other cousins thus far. Culture is the traditions that connect me not only to my family, but to other Jewish people near and far, not because I believe that God told me to do things, but because the things that we do feel like home to me. Whether it’s finally getting to place that little scrap of paper in the cracks of the Wailing Wall this past summer with other students I just met, or singing the four questions at our Seder table, my culture binds me to my heritage. Because you can’t truly know where you’re going without understanding where you came from.

I have been fortunate enough to have had lots of exposure to various cultures.  At the end of my junior year of high school, I traveled to rural Bolivia and was able to stay in two different home stays over the course of my time there.  Over my gap year, I was able to experience life in Costa Rica, Morocco, and Iceland, and this past summer I spent three months living in Israel.  All these experiences have broadened my understanding of the world and allowed me to grow as a global citizen.  Growing up, everyone around me was Jewish – it was the norm.  However, after beginning to travel, I realized that this was not always the case.  I was so fortunate to be able to grow up in a place where antisemitism was not a reality, however I realize that this had inadvertently caused me to grow up in a bubble.  When living in Bolivia, in a house without a roof, I was able to get exposure to a different way of thinking that was much different from the western way of thinking I had been taught.  I was able to learn the importance of respecting other cultures and trying to embrace theirs as opposed to trying to impose my own.  While the way they did things was much different from the way I did it, it did not make one way better or worse.  I continued to learn throughout my other travels as well.  In Morocco, I was able to learn the difference between a tourist and a traveler.  A tourist is someone who goes to a different country to simply see it but does not make any effort to try to understand the culture, whereas a traveler goes to a country to try to integrate into the culture and truly understand what life there looks like.  I now try to be an open-minded traveler in my day-to-day life.  I have learned that in differences there is no right way or wrong way, and that each person’s individual unique background allows them to bring a different perspective.  I hope to only continue to grow as a global citizen as I travel more in the future.