Vanessa Chalem is a 2011 Genesis alumna who is currently a high school senior in Florida and will be coming to Brandeis in the fall. Read her story below.
“Genesis is a magic box; you go in as one person and come out as another,” this is what our Community Educators (CEs) and Interns tried to emphasize during the last week of the program. However, I didn’t accept this as a fact until August 5, 2011 when I came back home and realized that everything and everyone were still the same as before, but I had changed for the good. From my Jewish beliefs to my perspectives on diversity and the importance I place on friendships, Genesis impacted every aspect of my life.
At Genesis, Shabbat was something that there aren’t enough words to describe. Apart from the good food and enjoyable singing, Shabbat was a time for me to connect better with my prayers, relax and spend more time with friends. Ever since I came back home, this aspect of my life is very different. Since my family isn’t Shomer Shabbat (observant of Shabbat), it is difficult for me to keep Shabbat like I used to at Genesis. However, sometimes I do go to the synagogue with my dad on Friday night or Saturday morning and I pray at home. I also try not to use my cell phone on Friday evenings once Shabbat begins and spend more time with my family. The small things that I do differently on Fridays and Saturdays compared to the rest of the week has allowed me to make Shabbat feel like a special day, and I hope to be able to keep Shabbat more fully in the near future.
At Genesis I also learned a lot about the importance of accepting diversity. During a program called “Squares and Circles”, as I listened to the CEs tell stories about aspects in their lives in which they faced the challenge of diversity and people accepting their differences, I realized how bad it is to generalize and put people into categories. Whether people are different in terms of race, religious practices, cultural backgrounds, or gender qualities, each person is unique and chooses to live their life in the best way for them. Ever since I came back home from Genesis, I recognize many differences that exist around me and I always remember what I learned in Genesis about accepting these diversities as well as refraining from talking badly about others just because they act in ways that are “not normal” to me.
The knowledge I brought home from my Journalism Course at Genesis is also something that I am reminded of frequently. In my Government and Politics Class we learned about the media’s influences on public opinion and I was able to then share with my teacher what I learned in Journalism and the article I wrote about public trust in the media.
The friends that I made at Genesis are like none other. It was very difficult to say bye to them the last day of the program, but after months of being back home, I am very glad we have been able to stay in contact! Now-a-days many of the texts that I get, conversations I have on Skype, and posts on my Facebook wall, continue to be from my Genesis friends. When we chat we laugh while remembering the good times had at Genesis, and we continue to share stories with one another about how Genesis has impacted our lives. Not a day goes by without me thinking about the incredible experience I had this past summer, and Genesis 2011 will always hold a very special place in my heart!