Julie Womack, ICC/IYC Alumna, 1998-2009
I was 13 years old and had just had my Bat Mitzvah (a religious ceremony for a Jewish girl to mark her Jewish adulthood) when I took my first tour with the ICC. I had never travelled out of the country before, and we were going to the Czech Republic, Russia, and Finland.
Upon our arrival in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, the first place we visited after leaving the airport was a concentration camp called Theresienstadt. I had been learning about the Holocaust for years in religious school, from survivors at my synagogue, as well as in my public school. The bus pulled up to the cemetery right outside Theresienstadt and I saw a huge Star of David. I immediately started crying and was overcome with so many emotions. Suddenly, all of the stories I had heard and learned about the Holocaust came flooding into my head. I was in front of a concentration camp where I very well could have been a prisoner had I been living in the Czech Republic during WWII.
While there, I felt a sense of connection and belonging to the entire Jewish community. I had never felt this connection before because growing up, I was the only Jewish girl in my public schools.
This newfound passion remained inside me from that day on. About five years after that trip, I realized that I needed to use my voice and music skills to help people, particularly those within the Jewish community. I began leading Jewish Sabbath services as a college student and realized there was nothing else I wanted to do with my life. It was so meaningful for me to help people pray, heal, and celebrate life events. After graduating from Indiana University, I went straight to graduate school to become a Cantor, the Jewish musical and spiritual leader in a synagogue. I would not be where I am today without my experiences and the guidance gained through my time with the ICC.