Beginning my Operation Understanding Experience I did not think my religion would prevent me from participating in other religious practices. However, when our group visited Park 51 Community Center (also dubbed “the ground zero mosque”) in New York I found myself conflicted about saying the Arabic words required for the washing ritual in preparation for prayer. As I kept thinking to myself and the washing ritual came to a close, I was fighting my feelings of guilt as the prayer began. Once the prayer was finished and I had time to digest my thoughts and my experience I was very happy that I participated in the ritual and the prayer.

Participating allowed me to realize that my relationship with my God is not weakened because I am open to experiencing other religions. I also realized that my relationship with God felt stronger because I know he created thus earth with so many types of  cultures and religions so that I can learn from them. Participating in other religions allows me to become a more well-rounded individual and that is something that I believe everyone wants for themselves.

Going to Park 51 helped prove to me that knowledge is power and that it is acceptable to experience new things and not feel that you are straying away from your core morals and beliefs.

Brielle Brown, OU ’13, The Baldwin School ’14

1010689_10201596308854588_1853856062_n

Hello my name is Ian Zeitlin, a 17-year-old Jewish guy in OU ’13. As we travel by bus to Richmond, VA I reflect on what my favorite experience during OU has been so far. The LGBTQ forum assembled by GLASS (Gay, Lesbian And Straight Supporters) we attended at SCAN NY was a program that was very important to me due to the fact that I am very strong supporter of Gay Rights. My family has always taught me to be understanding of all types of people. With both a gay aunt and grandma, being an ally to the LGBTQ community is a quintessential component of my identity. What stood out to me was that panel was predominantly Black and Latino. When I sat down and saw this my heart immediately fluttered; this was a fantastic chance to learn something new. It seems to me that the experience of being gay varies from race to race and having only interacted with white LGBTQ people it expanded my horizons.  Also on the panel there was someone who could identify with each part of LGBTQ and even one straight panelist who was a student of one of our contact at SCAN-NY, Billy Green. They discussed homophobia within the gay community, in that even though they identify with being gay in some situations they find themselves using homophobic slurs along with others. For instance, one panelist said that although he knew he was gay he would still chime in when his friends made fun of flamboyant men they saw walking by. Listening to the story I could imagine how much he had changed from then to now and how much more comfortable he was now in his own skin.

After the panel a “ball” was put on. A “ball” is a mix between a fashion show and dance competition which was depicted in documentary “Paris is Burning”. I have never seen a performance filled with such amazing energy and talent. From start to finish I really could not stop smiling, it was so much fun and I would go see another in an instant.

– Ian Zeitlin OU ’13, Haverford High School ’14