Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Secret Lives of Interns: Intern Abroad!

A blog by Lindsay Waskow

As an undergraduate student at Drew University with a minor in Jewish Studies, I feel that having an internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland is very fitting. Not only do the information in the exhibits, the history of synagogues, and many of the objects in the collections both relate to and reinforce what I have learned in my Introduction to Judaism, Jewish History, and Zionism courses, but working in the museum also gives me an opportunity to appreciate the history of the Jewish people of Baltimore. Thus, while my courses have focused on Judaic studies from a broad and general perspective, interning at the Jewish Museum of Maryland allows me to explore the Jewish roots and history of my own hometown.

While it is incredibly interesting to learn about the experiences of the Jews of Baltimore, who lived right on these very streets that surround our Museum today, I also have become fascinated with studying and exploring different Jewish communities around the world. In fact, two summers ago I had the opportunity to travel to Uruguay, a Spanish speaking country located towards the very south of South America, and was incredibly surprised to find that a Jewish community actually existed there.

As a sophomore who was almost 100% positive that she wanted to major in Spanish, I decided to start looking for a study abroad program for the summer, since I had never visited a Spanish speaking country before. Very soon after I began looking around for programs, I received a forwarded email from my Hillel Director at Drew. It described the “Hillel Uruguay Spanish Program”, where students would take daily Spanish classes at the Berlitz language institute while at the same time becoming immersed in the Jewish community of Uruguay. I was excited about this program as it combined two of my favorite subjects: Spanish and Judaism!

Montevideo (on the other side of the water)

21 de Septiembre (one of the streets)

After asking my parents and showing them where the country of Uruguay is located on a map (as they did not have any idea where it was), I applied for the program and a few days later was notified that I had been accepted. Several weeks later, I found myself on an extremely long plane ride, first to a layover in Buenos Aires, Argentina and then finally to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, where the program was to be held. Upon landing, I found eight other people that were also participating in the program, who seemed really friendly. We were then shown around the city and the director pointed where the Berlitz Langugage Institute, the hotel, and the Hillel building, “Hillel Uruguay” were.

Our hotel

In addition to the wonderful Spanish class in which I was enrolled with two of the other students in the program, I very much enjoyed learning about the Jewish community of Uruguay. At first, I thought that Hillel Uruguay, the Jewish center in Montevideo that held many activities and also included a restaurant, was really the only place of Jewish life in the city. However, I soon found out that the Jewish community was much bigger as not only did I have to opportunity to attend Shabbat services in various synagogues, but I met native Jewish Uruguayans upon having Shabbat dinner at their homes. In addition to my discovery of the size of the Jewish population in Uruguay, I was also surprised that their Jewish traditions and practices were very similar to mine here in the United States. Although the tunes of the prayers in synagogue were somewhat different, the prayers they sang as well as the Jewish food they ate and the Jewish customs they practiced were quite similar to what I practice at home. Some of the families even spoke Hebrew and owned Spanish to Hebrew/Hebrew to Spanish dictionaries!

Hillel Uruguay

Sephardic synagogue

With additional trips lead by the program to the cities of Punta del Este and Colonia del Sacramento as well as to Buenos Aires, Argentina (which had a much bigger Jewish population than that of Uruguay), this program was truly successful for me because it gave me the opportunity to learn Spanish from native Spanish speakers in a Spanish speaking country and also allowed me to learn about a Jewish population that I never even knew existed. While the trip permitted me to practice my oral speaking skills in Spanish, it also made me realize how important my Judaism is to me. In this case, I very much enjoyed observing the many similarities between the Uruguayan Jewish community and the Jewish community here in America. It gave me a feeling of almost being at home, especially at the Shabbat dinners and at services.

Before going to Uruguay, I was very much considering a minor in Jewish Studies due to my love for Judaism that I have attainted throughout my entire life and especially during my four years of Jewish high school at The Shoshana S. Cardin School. Upon returning from Uruguay, I decided to make Jewish Studies my minor and have thoroughly enjoyed the courses I have taken so far at Drew. Thus, I think my enjoyment of my present internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland not only comes from the fact that I have a minor in Jewish Studies and that I am eager to learn about the history of the Jews in Baltimore, but also can be seen as a result of my love for Judaism.

The nine of us in front of “La Casa Rosada” in Buenos Aires, Argentina

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