Our family, even in Iceland

Two days ago, on the morning of my 18th birthday, I landed amidst volcano fields and orange beaked puffins in an exotic country I´ve longed to visit since I was young. I´m intrigued by bizarre people, bizarre places, and bizarre ideas; after two days here I´m confident saying Iceland is as bizarre as it gets. It´s another planet, a parallel universe of sorts.

English letters spell the Icelandic streets signs but to me they´re jibberish. Few Icelanders speak English, the horses have blond hair. There´s nothing familiar or intuitive about this place, it´s all new and quite overwhelming.

Although I´m tempted to write a travel review, a certain moment in a Reyjkavik supermarket earlier today spoke to my heart: I heard a family speaking Hebrew.

So imagine this: There I am, in Iceland, searching for just something recognizable, and I hear a family speaking Hebrew. Overcome with joy and relief , I almost instantaneously begin to cry of happiness. We spoke and we laughed.

I realized they were secular, but gave it shot: Asked if they’d like to sing a nice Shabbas L’cha Dodi. I scored: they invited me over to their rented apartment down the street to sing and light candles.

What a bizarre moment, let me tell you; singing shabbas songs with an Israeli family in a country in which supposedly no Jews reside. Call it identity, call it community, call it luck, call it Judaism. The feeling of being with your own among a people that aren’t is irreplaceable.

Next month I’ll at be at the Kotel on Shabbas, where thousands of Jews from the patchwork of our diverse society will unify, to pray yes, but more importantly to be together, to embody our family.

That’s what I’ve come to discover, through listening, learning, and traveling: It’s about the people. It’s always about the people.

Our family is strong, yet fragile. Keep it strong: treat each and every person with kindness, the way you’d like to be treated. Reach out, be generous. Life is short, if you enjoy it and help others do the same, once will be enough.

Now, why this all happened: I talk to strangers. It’s a habit. Some people I meet are interesting, others aren’t. But from each interaction I learn something and am better of because of it. I didn’t just hear the Hebrew, I was listening for it. All you need is a little chutzpah and you´re creative and think outside of the box, I guarantee unexpected, incredible opportunities will begin to flow your way.

Be open. See opportunities where others see normality. And have a great shabbas.

About the Author
Andrew Jacobson is a first-year student at Brandeis University and passionate Israel activist. He is involved with AIPAC and was formerly an MZ-Teen Intern at StandWithUs and a Diller Teen Fellow.