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Reflections: Part 1

It’s hard to believe I have already been back in the United States for almost 4 months. Coming back home 5 days before starting my most difficult semester of law school was both a blessing and a curse. Having so much to do right away forced me to get over the jet lag quickly because I couldn’t take naps every time I felt a little tired, and I was so busy that any potential reverse culture shock never had time to surface. Instead of my old routines or favorite places seeming out of place or abnormal, they immediately regained their role in my life as the counter to school stress. However, the real purpose of this post and one to follow is to forget about law school finals, and revisit the highlights (and lowlights) of my summer in Europe. In this post, I will focus on my general travels around Europe. In my next post, I will focus on Albania, where I lived for 5.5 weeks.

Highlights:

Lippizaner stallions in Vienna

Our covered arena in Georgia is a far cry from their palatial training indoor arena! Don't tell my princess horse, she will be envious.

Paris! (This will always be on a highlights list for me)

Sarajevo: the East-meets-West atmosphere and the amazing homemade ajvar

Turkish hospitality. Actually, Turkey in general was amazing.

The food in southern France and Italy

Visiting the charming small towns of Polignano a Mare in Italy and Avignon in France

A surprise visit to Rome

The guy in Nice riding a scooter with a cat on his backpack. Probably one of the highlights of my entire life.

Lowlights:

Even delicious Turkish food gets old after 10 days of nothing else!

That 250 euro refund for my delay in Rome from Blu Express never happened…

Not enough time in Paris (there is never enough time in Paris during a single visit, as far as I am concerned)

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I took this panorama in the lovely city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, in July 2009. Dubrovnik is on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia on the Adriatic Sea. The old city is a walled fortress and you can walk around the entire city on top of its walls for a small fee. Though Croatia seemed like a less-frequented tourist spot from my American perspective, it was surprisingly expensive and quite busy. However, it was a truly amazing place to visit.

City walls of Dubrovnik

A view of the Dubrovnik city walls

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As Passover began this week, I’ve been reflecting a lot about the meaning of the holiday. I’m not a particularly observant or religious Jew, but I do identify with my religion as being an important part of my cultural background, and I think that a lot of Jewish holidays can provide meaningful reflection on our own lives. Passover is one of my favorite holidays, because it celebrates freedom from oppression, and there is a focus on transition and renewal.

I really like the ideas I have read in several Haggadot that proclaim that Passover is important because, though we use it to retell the story of the Hebrews’ Exodus from slavery in Egypt, it has relevance to every age. In every time, Jews have faced oppression and have eventually found a way to free themselves. Furthermore, every one of us has faced our own personal “Egypts” or “pharoahs”—things which oppress us, or which suppress our freedom. Thus, we tell the story of the Exodus, but we also reflect upon the many Egypts through which we have passed, both as a people and also as individuals.

The past several years have definitely been transitional in my life, as I returned to school to finish my bachelor’s degree. I found that I really identify with the idea of the personal Egypt. I have certainly had to find a way out of several Egypts in my life, many of them perhaps of my own making. Then, of course, I am about to reach another transition, when I graduate in May and have to figure out what to do next. Reflecting on Passover helps me focus my energy on figuring out what I need to do to be free from things which limits my freedom.

Passover also makes one think about all those who currently live under oppression and who truly are not free in the most literal sense of the word. Though I haven’t always followed the Passover traditions of eating matzah instead of leavened bread, and avoiding anything like pasta, crackers or other wheat products, I found a renewed interest in doing so this year. The mindfulness that focusing on these limitations requires helps direct my thoughts back to the fact that, as a person who enjoys freedom and civil liberties, I can choose to follow this diet because I have access to an unlimited range of food items, and because I have the freedom to practice my religion. Passover reminds me that freedom is not enjoyed by everyone in the world, and that I should not forget this while leading my comfortable life. As the haggadah says, “this year we are enslaved, next year may all humankind be free.”

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