Shira Levine is a member of the Wexner Heritage Program San Francisco 06 group.  She is the Community Marketing Director for, an online person-to-person lending platform.  Shira can be reached at

In 1993, I had the opportunity to travel with a Hillel program called Bridges of Understanding to Austria to forge relationships between young American Jews and our Austrian non-Jewish peers. Before the trip, I was just another traditionally-raised Jewish young adult, and afterward I was profoundly changed into what can only be described as a proud Jewish zealot. 

In Vienna’s Judenplatz, we toured a museum that was once Freud’s home and office with the famous “couch” before he left for London in 1938. We learned that two of his neighbors at that time were Theodore Herzl and Albert Einstein. On the cobblestone streets outside the museum, it dawned on me that it could be coincidence that these three world leaders of the twentieth century happened to be neighbors in a time when enlightened European thought and culture were at their peak, but what could not be a coincidence was the fact that they were all Jews.

As I stood there contemplating this amazing reality, I began to grasp that being Jewish was not just a religious and cultural choice, but that it also was an opportunity to connect with centuries of revolutionary, world-changing thought. In my mind, these leaders, the three foremost thinkers in their fields of psychology, politics, and science, must have at some root level connected with their Jewish heritage to be who they became on the global stage. How ironic that I would have this transformation in a seat of Nazi rule, fifty years after the Holocaust. Not only did these leaders survive the Jewish people’s greatest nightmare to –in Herzl’s case—literally resurrect world Jewry, but the Jewish people themselves survived and rose again to great heights.

I vowed at that moment in Vienna to become another link in our collective chain: to be a Jew out of celebration, not of fear…to make good on the promise of never again by modeling my life after these cutting edge thinkers, starting right then. For me, being Jewish became not the story of never again, but one of always engaged.