Base Ten

Sarah Burns recently finished a year at SYA Spain. She came to SYA from the University Preparatory Academy in Seattle, Washington.

When I arrived in Spain, I brought one suitcase, a duffel bag, and my backpack. Each was stuffed with my favorite clothes and most important objects. Yet I did not immediately recognize the most valuable thing I brought to Zaragoza: my Jewish identity. Nor did I anticipate getting involved with the Jewish community; I am not religious. However, that quickly changed. 

Several pictures of people enjoying dinner

My perspective of my identity changed when I saw four swastikas and learned I was the first Jewish

person my host family had met. In Seattle, my hometown, swastikas are immediately removed and talked about in the community. Whereas in Spain, there are fewer people who begin that conversation. 

Soon after, I attended my first Jewish event in Zaragoza and discovered how much we had in common. I attended a Shabbat dinner with two other Jewish SYA students in the Centro Sefardí; a small building shared by religions other than Catholicism. It is tucked away near Plaza de San Francisco and has no plaque for security reasons. Eight people sat around a large table, four of them were Jews. We recited prayers but were unable to perform the classic Kiddush because there were not ten Jews to form the Minyon. 

The contrast of living in the United States with many observant Jews to a Jewish community with just seven members was unsettling. I learned that if Zaragoza members of the Jewish community want kosher food, you have to order products from Madrid or Barcelona. If you want bagels, you make them in your private home. You live with anti-semitic traditions such as the Semana Santa celebration called “Matar judíos”, which means, “Kill Jews”. Five hundred years ago, Jews made up 25% of the population in Zaragoza. Their former synagogue is now a theater. 

Each year, SYA students arrive in search of new cultural experiences, but they solidify and discover valuable parts of their identity. In a time when so much in my life felt new and different, the Centro Sefardí created a sense of familiarity. 

Future Jewish students can help this community grow and practice new prayers regardless of whether or not the students are religious. This base ten, circulating every year with new SYA students, is important to maintain. Our presence here is valuable, especially after five hundred years of absence. 

  • Campus Reporters
  • SYA Spain
Ha Sido un Placer

In her final blog, Camus Reporter Meredith M. reflects on the letter she wrote to herself at the beginning of her year abroad.

The Revolving Door

In her final blog, Campus reporter Isabelle M. describes her year abroad in France as a revolving door.

Time Travel

Melinda D. reflects on her final weeks abroad and how she and her peers have changed at SYA Spain.

Four people stand in a line smiling at the camera amongst a row of trees.

Campus reporter Camila F. writes about saying goodbye to Rome and shares the music that defined her year abroad.

Thank You

Julia A. expresses her gratitude to her host family, friends, and parents for her time at SYA France.