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My Spiritual & Professional Journey Through Paris

By on July 24, 2014

La Vie Parisienne (2 of 3)La Vie Parisienne (3 of 3)

Baguettes, bérets, Le Tour Eiffel, mais oui! Paris, the City of Light and love. Adored for its extraordinary architecture, charming cobblestoned streets, and mysterious romantic allure lying under its grey skies. Many of its treasures, however, remain undiscovered by the common traveler. Having the opportunity to live in Paris, I was not only able to uncover the many facets of the city, but of myself as well. Living so far away from home, I soon realized, was the greatest catalyst in reuniting me with my Jewish identity. Sometimes life will get you completely lost in order to unexpectedly find yourself.

As a student, I have always been intrigued by learning new languages and cultures. Attending my daily French class, my reveries of passing delightful sidewalk cafés and uncovering the endless rich history of Paris would linger in my thoughts. My innate love for adventure told me this was something I had to explore. As I researched various opportunities of going abroad, I couldn’t help but contemplate the questions that constantly swirled my mind; could I live so far away from home? Would I be able to assimilate into a completely new environment? Would I be able to keep my Jewish values intact?

Yet, despite my doubts and uncertainties, I felt this was a path that could not be left undiscovered; that inexplicable feeling was urging me to look beyond my fears and simply trust in the outcome.

As my applications went out, the responses flew in. Several anxious weeks later, I sat at my desk with my acceptance letter to my first choice interior design school starring back at me. Despite my apprehension, I allowed my emunah to conquer my fears, as sometimes life’s greatest passage is just a leap of faith.

Living amongst the largest Jewish population in Europe, I immediately felt right at home within the effortlessly chic Parisian community—a large melting pot of Moroccans, Tunisians and Algerians. As acquaintances soon became friends, I realized that no matter where I am in the world, as a Jew, we are all intrinsically connected to one another. Although so far away from home, I couldn’t help but feel that I was exactly where I was meant to be.

Descending le métro, walking to school each morning with my pain au chocolat in hand to the breathtaking sight of Le Jardin du Luxembourg covered in freshly fallen snow. Or taking a stroll along La Seine at dusk passing the accordion players and local artists was something I thought only existed in the films. But no, this is Paris.

Yet, as I soon realized my thirst for all things beautiful and scenic had been quenched, my desire for Torah learning laid yearning. I quickly sought out shiurim of local Rabbanit who were more than welcoming to l’américaine. Learning Torah in French? Formidable!

Listening to the Meghilla read during Purim in the oldest synagogue in the city was indescribable. The Agoudas Hakehilos synagogue, built by famed 18th century Art Nouveau architect Héctor Guimard is rested in the quaint, but never quiet, Jewish quarter, Le Marais.  As I strolled down one of the most aged districts of Paris, each step served as a reminder of the indentation the Jewish community has made on the city throughout history.

Walking along the Rue des Rosiers on the eve of Shabbat, the excitement in the air is palpable; the smell of fresh baked challah and pastries from Le Korcarz boulangerie, listening to the mothers rushing to pick up their children from the corner Hebrew school and wishing one another a ‘Chabbat Chalom’, or the endless line at the exceptionally popular L’as du Falafel.

As a lone traveler, I appreciated the opportunity to immerse myself in an entirely novel culture. Being completely detached from my a comfort zone, to a place where I felt truly inspired, yet completely misplaced at times, it challenged me to stay faithful to my belief system. I reveled at the prospect of living in an entirely new setting, as it confronted me to introspect into my Jewish identity when absent from all other exterior forces: my family, my friends, and my home community. It further pushed me to stray beyond my boundaries, open my mind to new ideas, and try something new each day that made me a little nervous, even. As it often stated, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

Living abroad has been one of the most rewarding experiences both academically and personally. I have been so fortunate to live in a flourishing city I love, and where so many of my passions intertwine one another; the breathtaking architecture and scenery, as well as a richness of Jewish life and culture. It has not only inspired me professionally, but has created a large spark in reviving my spiritual connection.  By removing myself from my place of comfort to a pool of uncertainty, yet striving as my heart told me to never object to my fears, the sentiment of emunah is now truly engrained in who I am.

It is only now that I unreservedly understand the storybook lesson Le Petit Prince taught me as a child, “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur.” One only sees clearly with the heart.

Oui, c’est sûr.

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About Rebecca Aframian

Rebecca Aframian completed her master’s degree in interior architecture and design at L’École des Beaux-Arts Paris American Academy in Paris, France. She is currently working as a residential designer with a firm in Santa Monica, California.