By Zoe Terner, Mitzvah Corps Costa Rica 1B 2017 Participant
Above my bed at home, I have a huge world map with pins marking everywhere I’ve ever been. There are many near my home in Florida, a few scattered ones in the northeast, and a lone pin on the west coast, but not a single one outside of the borders of the United States. I went on Mitzvah Corps Costa Rica with the fierce desire to reach beyond the only places I’ve ever known and experience more of the world than I could yet imagine.
When we landed in Costa Rica, I was awestruck; a sloth hung in the trees above where we ate lunch, people shouted for each other in rapid Spanish outside of the San Jose airport, and artists displayed their crafts alongside bustling sidewalks in the National Park. As we walked into B’nei Israel Congregation for Shabbat services, I was prepared to continue experiencing new and exciting things outside of our usual comfort zones. We took our seats in the small synagogue, and the rabbi in front began singing the very same L’Cha Dodi I sing at my camp, Kutz, in Warwick, New York. In a thick Argentinian accent, he led us in Spanish, English, and Hebrew prayers I have been singing my whole life. The couple sitting next to us put their arms around us and swayed during Oseh Shalom, the very same way I’ve done for the past three years at NFTY events, and, when the last prayer had been sung, the children went to the front of the room to bless the challah, just like they do at my congregation at home. Of course, some things were different– the Rabbi’s d’var was entirely in Spanish and everyone sat for the Sh’ma– but everything, at the heart of it all, was exactly the same.
Even though we, as Jews, were not in the majority, we’d found one another and committed to making a holy community in whatever space we could find. I traveled the world to go farther than I’d ever been before, and yet, I wound up so much closer to home than I ever expected.