January was a very exciting and enlightening month for me as I spent almost its entirety abroad in Portugal, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates. While each trip was unique, all had the common theme of learning about the Jewry that resided there. In Portugal we walked the streets of Lisbon, Porto, and Tomar, and visited dozens of beautiful castles and landmarks. We also had time to meet with the Chief Rabbi to learn about the Jewish expulsion during the Portuguese Inquisition and the modern community that has come back to live there. We met with a group of Jewish Portuguese college students to hear about their everyday lives and how their religion fits into that. It was interesting to see the contrast between what life was like for Jews during the Inquisition as opposed to it now.
The next week in Morocco we explored four different cities and each was fascinating in its own respect. Walking through the Marrakesh markets filled with spices, goat heads, jewels, and daggers allowed me to immerse myself in a culture unlike any I have ever encountered. We visited a Chabad house (a Jewish community center) to speak with the Rabbi about the current situation of Jews in Morocco. As many of my friends on the trip were of Moroccan descent, hearing about their ancestors’ history first hand was a truly special experience. Watching people I care about being able to connect to their heritage heightened the trip in ways I never could have expected.
Lastly, in our trip to Dubai we met with deputies in the Israeli embassy to discuss the current relations between the UAE and Israel. These relations are quite new, only having started in 2020 when the UAE signed the Abraham Accords. But in the three years since then, so much progress has been made and the Jewish life there has begun to bloom. I was very grateful to hear about the ongoing discussions between the two countries and how they hope to develop their relationship.
Traveling through these beautiful countries has given me a new appreciation for different communities and a more nuanced perspective on my gap year.