The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Kayla Hamann '22 RGLP Reflection: Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

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When we think of “cultures,” we often think about race and ethnicity, but these aren’t the only aspects of culture. Last summer, I traveled to Poland with Dartmouth Hillel, the center for Jewish life on campus. While on the trip, the rabbi asked if we would like to attend shabbat services at the oldest synagogue in Warsaw but gave one caveat—it was an orthodox synagogue. The rabbi didn’t know if we were comfortable with this as it meant more conservative customs and made it clear we had the option to attend services elsewhere if we wished to. Collectively, we agreed we were up for it and off we went. Now, I’m not Jewish, nor am I even religious; the last time I stepped foot in a center of worship was probably when I was 10 years old. To say I was out of my comfort zone in a synagogue is an understatement, but I was willing to attend the services to learn more about the Jewish culture in Poland. Afte rall, that was the whole point of the trip.

I had never been inside a synagogue before. I worried I sat in the wrong spot. I worried I upset people by not repeating the prayers. I worried my actions were accidentally offensive. Additionally, I couldn’t understand the worship or directions, as everything was in Hebrew or Polish. And on top of these two obstacles were the regional differences. Polish customs are different from American customs, so even my Jewish peers who spoke Hebrew were still cautious with their actions. My uneasiness was the consequence of not knowing the customs of the intersection of cultures I was immersed in, but I was quickly put at ease by my Jewish peers’ guidance. Walking into a Polish orthodox synagogue was intimidating, but I’m a better person for it. My presence caused no harm and above all I was able to educate myself by experiencing a piece of the culture of a historically victimized community.  

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