Reflections On Life In America
I sit back, relax, and play "Vienna'' by Billy Joel while I wait to arrive at my destination. I've done this many times before—usually, when my family drives to Schladming: a vacation town, 3-hours’ drive from Vienna. But this time, in October 2020, I was in the fuselage of a Boeing 767 with a year's worth of supplies in my suitcase. I was on my way to New York City, where I would attend MTA for the first time.
As someone who had lived in Vienna for 16 years, I was nervous in anticipation of my arrival. Before I had left, I was used to watching the news, where I would see catastrophes happening in the states, like extreme political division and COVID-19 spikes. I had been to the USA before, but only as a tourist; I had never actually lived there for a significant amount of time. I didn't know what to expect: would the people be nice? Would people accept me as a foreigner? Would talmidim have AR-15s in their pants? Thoughts raced through my head as I came closer and closer.
When I first arrived, it was very hard to adjust. I had to navigate the challenges posed by COVID, a different school system, social life, and living on my own (4,000 miles away from home). Truthfully, America is sometimes not the easiest place to live, at least compared to Austria. I had to live in the Heights, which is loud and smells. It's pretty expensive, and you have to work very hard to succeed. Moreover, COVID-19 complicated everything by a factor of ten.
As I got more adjusted, the year started becoming much better. It was right around when the vaccine was available for the masses. As I was invited to more and more families for Shabbos and MTA started having many more student activities and shabbatonim, I became much more socially active. I started participating in more extracurriculars and overall was enjoying myself much more.
The highlight of my Junior year came at the very end: the siyum, one of the best experiences of my life. The dancing and the singing with my friends and Rebbeim was uplifting, especially after a year of not attending any Simcha at all. As I write this article on my flight back to Yeshiva (one day before the deadline), I hope that b´gesindeheit, the upcoming year will be more regular than last year.
Even during the hard times, I had experienced great acts of kindness from the MTA community. My teachers and Rebbeim were always very supportive, very understanding, and helped me navigate throughout the year. I especially valued my Rebbe, Rabbi Gopin, who always asked me on Thursday where I was staying for Shabbos. I always knew finding a place for Shabbos would be difficult with COVID-19, but some families hosted me even before the vaccine was available. I thank all families that hosted me throughout the year for their hospitality, and all people who helped me find places for Shabbos.
I think it is these acts of kindness and generosity that define Americans. The shocking acts we see on TV are usually the extremes. When we see a fellow American in need, we don't question his political beliefs, we lend him a hand. An example that I like to use often is 9/11. Following the tragic attacks, the nation had never been more united. In New York, people rushed to Ground Zero in hopes of helping survivors. At night, citizens let strangers into their homes, and crime was essentially non-existent for the following weeks. I believe that the ability for us citizens to come together, regardless of political stance or race, and to unite against any common enemy is what separates us from the rest of the world. As someone from a different continent, that is what stands out the most for me.