by Sam Mahtani

The Jewish Cultural Avodah is one of the many Los Angeles experiences that Providence students are able to take advantage of. More specifically, it allows students to study Judaism in the historical context of the Bible as well as the tradition and culture of Jews in the 21st century.

hope-rhodesFor Hope Rhodes ’19 from Tulsa, Oklahoma, this experience had special significance. Reflecting, she said, “The Jewish Cultural Avodah assisted with a practical application of learning the common ground between Christianity and Jewish beliefs that has strengthened my faith and helps me to better understand issues in the world like the current Syrian refugee crisis.”

This Avodah experience began with chapel talk by guest speaker Tuvya Zaretsky, director of staff development at Jews for Jesus, an organization focused on Jewish evangelism. Later that day, Dr. Swanson, professor of biblical and theological studies, led an introduction on Jews and Judaism for participating students and discussed how to think critically regarding biblical perspectives on Jews and Gentiles.

jewish-avodah-windowDr. Swanson then led the group of students to the Pasadena Jewish temple, where they participated in a Friday evening Shabbat service, in which Jews celebrate the beginning of a day of rest. Included in the service was Kiddush, a recited celebration and blessing prior to a shared meal.

A few days later, Hope and the other participants toured University Synagogue and met Cantor Jay Frailich, who showed them a Torah scroll and talked with the group about the stained glass windows and the structure of the building, which is different from a church building. Cantor Frailich also recited a portion of the Torah called “Song of the Sea.” The image on the Torah scroll is a picture of the story in Exodus of the Red Sea being parted into walls of water.

jewish-avodah-mealAfter the tour and lunch at a Jewish deli, the group took a guided tour of the Museum of Tolerance, where they learned more Jewish history. The tour included a presentation from a Holocaust survivor, who spoke of personal experiences during the reign of Hitler and the dehumanization of Jews during her life. Hope said this experience made history and oppression today very real. “As a Christian, what is our role in the Syrian refugee crisis?” she asked. “We don’t want to get our hands dirty and we don’t necessarily do something about it because it’s seemingly a world away. We are not loving our neighbors in Syria.”

Hope and her fellow students are regularly challenged to think critically and creatively about the problems we face in our society. An encouraging story from this Avodah experience came when Hope was home over spring break. She met with her cousin, who is currently developing a mentorship program for Jewish youth, and was introduced to a rabbi. Her experience allowed her to engage and understand the rabbi’s concerns on a deeper level, she reported—something she would not have been able to do without this Avodah experience.