Blog  Costa Rica: Creating Sacred Space

Costa Rica: Creating Sacred Space

By Catherine Horowitz, Mitzvah Corps Costa Rica 2 2017 Participant
For one part of my confirmation, I wrote a poem about different times I’ve said the sh’ma and how each time, I didn’t feel as if God was really there. I still feel this way a lot of the time, and I still think a lot about how we can appreciate prayer without necessarily believing in all of it. During my trip to Yorkin though, I gained a new perspective on what it meant to believe in one God, to feel God’s presence, and to be religious in general.
I spent Shabbat last week in the middle of a jungle, sitting on a wood floor in a circle with the rest of the people on my trip. We had a short “service,” with rolls and Welch’s grape juice, and a dimly lit candle. The people on my trip were varied in their levels of involvement with Judaism, so not everyone knew all the prayers. But what almost everyone in the room did know- the only thing that was truly familiar in this jungle so far from my home- was the sh’ma. Everyone knew it and sang it without hesitation, without stumbling over the words. This group of people I had just met, that came from all across the country with so many different backgrounds and experiences, was briefly, yet completely, united.I experienced this kind of unity so many other times on my trip. While paving a cement floor, or planting gardens and banana trees, or building foundations of houses, the group I was in became a single unit, working together to achieve a common goal. We learned to communicate and to collaborate, not as different people with different motivations and goals, but as one coherent whole.

One of the most meaningful Shabbats I’ve ever had was the week after the 2016 election. I attended a peaceful protest outside of the White House, where I held candles and sang songs with hundreds of other people. I remember watching the sun set as I listened to the people around me singing, and realizing, wow- it’s Shabbat. It was almost perfect that I used this time of reflection, of thought, to speak out about something I believed in and contribute to repairing the injustice in the world. I can’t help but compare that experience, and the solidarity I felt, to my 10 days in Costa Rica. Even though I don’t necessarily believe in one actual God, I do believe in singularity. I believe in becoming one whole in order to sing outside of the White House or to plant trees in the jungle. I believe in letting Judaism, or commitment to action, unite people. So when I sang the sh’ma with my new friends last week, I may not have prayed to one God, but I did contribute to one family- one whole. And to me, that’s just as sacred.