Midwest to Mideast

Chicago native Leah Hurwitz recalls the opportunity of a lifetime: a semester-long trip to Israel to connect to her Jewish roots.

Exiting the plane from the outskirts of Chicago, Leah Hurwitz steps into an entirely new territory, but one which sits close to her heart nonetheless. She’s in the Judean Hills for the new year, right outside of the holy city of Jerusalem.  She will stay there for the next four months of her 16th year. Her Jewish roots and her suitcases are all she has to prepare herself for a journey which will teach 

Standing under the sample gates at Indiana University’s entrance, Leah Hurwitz is at the entryway to a school which hosts a multitude of culturally diverse students, something which isn’t new the Evanston Township High School Senior, as she reflects on her trip to Israel.

her the power of religion and culture—and also her core classes, such as science and math. She recalls 11 hour school days which were composed of Jewish history and Hebrew classes, a subject she had only limited knowledge of before traveling to the homeland of Judaism. Now she explains that she can hold a conversation in Hebrew, a skill not many people have the ability to claim. Although her days were filled with schooling, she met so many friends diverse in culture and in their American roots, that now she counts them as family, and Israel as a home to her. She explains she has always been close to her Jewish roots, but her excursion to Israel opened up a new world to her, full of new experiences and perspectives of culture from the eyes of people who lead a life halfway around the world. “Judaism is more than a religion: it’s a culture and a community”, she analyzes. Her voyage didn’t stop in Israel, however, that’s just where it began. Hurwitz also traveled to Poland to visit concentration camps—sites in which millions of Jews were systematically murdered by Nazis. Leah explains that these trips showed her how destructive and heartless the world can be, giving her the drive to want to change that by way of international policies to create a more united and accepting world. Even as a rising senior, Leah recalls the trip with a smile on her face as she reminisces.