As a tribute to the ignorance that I personally had until this visit to Budapest - I had no idea there were two cities here once upon a time: Buda and Pest. They joined together in the 1800s with the building of the chain bridge (not made of chains - just called that because it chained together the city).
In any case, I've walked around this place SO much over the past few days. I visited Castle Hill, the location of famous churches and the central government offices. I went to the Budapest History Museum and learned that Jews actually have been in this area since the 1300s. Who knew? I participated in a Jewish walking tour of the Jewish quarter and went into the Dohany Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe (2nd largest in the world behind the Emmanual synagogue in NYC). And I took a night stroll with great pictures to that effect.
Probably the coolest thing so far, though, was the first night I arrived. I got into Moishe House Budapest at around 6pm (thanks again for hosting me!) and participated in Kabbalat Shabbat services with people from all different backgrounds, including a French girl, Romanian man, former resident of MH NOLA Gill Benedeck and his sister, and my friend Jenny with her bf Sham. It was great! The tunes were almost all the same and I felt totally welcome. I even thanked the leader who then asked me to do Kiddush. Of course, I put on a little flare to it and I think everyone enjoyed.
This whole experience, though, served to underscore the point I was making earlier. Americans are just not out there enough to notice commonalities in thought, experience, life, etc. The fact that I can go halfway across the world and have a common experience with someone who has one part of his/her life the same as me is important. Also, the fact that there are people over here who WANT to talk to me even if we have NOTHING in common is also important.
One of my major goals this year as a teacher is going to be exposing my students to things in this world they have never seen before. I am brining back numberous pictures of numbers in different contexts (with different languages around them) in order to share what I've seen. I think it will be good for teenagers in Philadelphia to think outside of their city (or neighborhood even) to explore the world. I am hoping that my connections over here can be strengthened so that some of them will be in touch with some people over here as well. If any of you reading this live in another state/country, please let me know if you are interested in that as well.
Tomorrow I take a train to Vienna and then Israel on the last day of July. If you are reading this and feel like letting me stay with you in Israel, let me know!