Ayala Broide and Samantha Meade met at the first March of the Living class in 2017. At first glance, they knew they came from different backgrounds. Sam was wearing athletic shorts and a tank top, while Ayala sported a long skirt and a three-quarter sleeve shirt. Their free-flowing conversation and huge smiles were signs of the friendship to come, and their bonding began over chapstick.
Ayala: “The March of the Living was an experience I had been counting down to for as long as I can remember. The experience surpassed even my high expectations, but not just for the reasons I had assumed. Something I didn't focus on before the trip was the group of people I would be traveling with to Poland and Israel - a group of teenagers who, if not for this trip, I probably never would have come into contact with.
When I met Samantha it was obvious we were a little different. But at the end of the day, we’re the same age, same religion and have similar interests as well. Both extremely curious, we spoke about our lives - about different things in the life of a Reform Jewish girl or in the life of an Orthodox Jewish Girl. When it came down to the life of an American Jewish teenage girl, it was incredible how easily we could relate to each other.
A few weeks before the flight to Poland, Samantha and I began talking and wanted to know more about each other. I took her for lunch to Mozart cafe, her first experience at a kosher restaurant, and we started talking about some of the things we do, or I guess now ‘did’ in high school.
Every shabbos afternoon since freshman year, my best friend and I have played with an adorable and smart autistic boy, Yossi. Yossi is a huge part of my life, so, naturally, I was so excited to talk about him with Samantha. As I was telling Samantha about my shabbos routine and that she was invited to come over for shabbos whenever, she responded with, “No way! I also work with special needs children at a program called Fit and Fun at the JCC. The cutest boy there is also named Yossi!!!” I pulled out a picture of my Yossi and she was like, “That's him!!!!” It turned out we worked closely with the same child and bonded even closer over something so special.
It made me realize how incredible this Jewish community is. The fact that this girl, who was then a stranger, out of all people, volunteered to play with the same little boy that I am so close with. What're the odds! I realized then that it doesn’t matter that we practice Judaism differently, because we both share the same values of giving back to the community through tzedakah and chessed.”
Sam: “Every day in Poland and Israel, we attended morning services, either the reform service I was more familiar with or the orthodox service. I loved the musical aspect of the familiar service, but knew I had a special opportunity to gain a new perspective if I attended the orthodox service. Rather than feel uncomfortable as an outsider, I felt welcomed by Ayala and my other orthodox friends, who not only encouraged me to join their community, but also openly guided me and explained all of these new practices I’d never encountered.
Soon, my friends and I were spending hours on bus rides, comparing and learning from each others’ customs and practices. Rather than shying away from each other because of them, they brought us closer together.
I am so thankful that the March of the Living has left me with such tight-knit bonds. More importantly, I could have never expected that this powerful trip would also teach me so much about Judaism and help me gain much more respect for our religion and for those who follow it differently than I do.
I will always be deeply grateful for my experience on the March of the Living for broadening my view of the Jewish world and my love for the Jewish people. And for showing me how, especially as we traveled from the depths of the Shoah to the joys of our homeland, that more unites us than divides us - and that we are far stronger together."
Ayala: “My dad likes to say, love a Jew different from you. I never really appreciated that until now. Samantha and I continue to hang out and learn from each other and truly love the lifelong friendship we've created. I encourage everyone, no matter how young or old. Go out there and love a Jew different from you. It'll change your perspective and change your life as it has changed mine.”
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