Jessica Giordano

January 2018

From One Home to Another

Coming home was something words can’t describe, but I can only try. To me, it was waking up from an unbelievably realistic dream only to not know where you are and wish to fall asleep again so as to re-enter the dream world. I haven’t been able to write about this for a while, because I guess it’s still a sore subject. The experience I had and the memories I made are unforgettable, and I often look through the “yearbook” we were given, but it’s tough to think of how I had to say goodbye to it all so quickly.

 I remember the last week we had, no one wanted to be apart, and we all spent as much time together as we possibly could. Along with the last activity we had with the madrichim; it made me feel so loved, and so thankful for the people I’ve come to call my second family. And the day we had to say goodbye to the first person to leave, it was Thursday morning, we were in Eilat and she was one of my roommates. Everyone said goodbye, there was a lot of crying, and hugging, and I realized there was only more of that to come within the next 24 hours. Fast forward about 10 hours to the airport, saying goodbye to those staying in Israel was tough, considering it was most of my closer friends, but saying goodbye to the madrichim was even worse. They had become our “whatever-we-needed’s” over the past 4 months, and we had to say goodbye to them before going through security, and it felt more real than before, having to leave them behind when they had become so prominent in our lives. Even more-so than when we were packing up the dorm, or having our goodbye party, or our last activity with the madrichim. I don’t know that I’ve ever cried so much in my life, but the point of this final blog isn’t to make you sad, it’s to express how amazing my time was and how it feels being at home.

That word, home, now has a new connotation to me. Before it meant here in America, with my parents in our cute yellow house on the cul-de-sac, but now I’m not so sure that’s my definition anymore. Now home is more of a feeling; my house feels like a home when its filled with noise like the dorms after an open Shabbat when everyone would talk about their weekends. My house feels like home when I leave for the day to go to school, it may not be walking across campus to get to room #4 by 8am anymore, but its still a part of my day. My house even feels like home when I get off that awful yellow school bus and walk down my street to get to the locked door, like coming back to campus after a long tiyul, just wanting to get inside so I can put my bag down.

My home may be here, but I feel like a stranger in my own house and at school, like I’m a museum exhibit. People look and stare, they ask questions from a distance to people who don’t know the answers, and to people who don’t want to see, I’m invisible. Just something to skip over. When people do talk to me, it’s the same questions. I’ve learned how to phrase “It was an unbelievable experience” into so many different versions so that it doesn’t feel as though I’m just an NPC in a game, repeating the same script over and over again. And when someone genuinely wants to know I don’t know what to talk about first. I have so many things to talk about and say that I just don’t know what they’d rather hear about, so I get quiet. Then there’s all the jokes that I have that relate to the program, of course no one here understands though, so I feel like I can’t mention them.

I miss it all so much and would go back in a heartbeat if given the opportunity. No one ever mentioned how hard it would be to say goodbye to something so amazing. The people I met, the places I’ve been, and every other experience in between are memories I will have forever. Its crazy to say, but I think Israel, this program, was my first great love. Coming home was like a breakup, not a bad one but still a breakup nonetheless. Every song I hear, the things people say, even social media makes me think of my time spent at AMHSI. It will forever be my home and will forever be in my heart, and no matter how much time goes by I will never forget.

Jerusalem if I forget you, let my right hand forget what it’s supposed to do.

For my house may be in the west, but my heart is in the east.

 

 

Netta Shpinner

Don’t waste a minute of it

How is there only one month left? Time has passed so fast. But even though there is only one month left,that doesn’t mean that the fun ends, in fact the fun continues and might even get better! The week that is approaching us is packed with activities, and it looks like an extreme amount of fun. But, before I get there I want to talk about my weekend.

This was a free weekend, and lucky for me my mom came and visited me and although it was only for 3 days, I still am very happy that she came. I got a lot of presents and letter from home that made me extremely happy. Seeing her made me so happy and actually made me very proud of myself that I made it so much time without my parents. It’s not an easy thing for a 15 year old to do. The weekend was pretty relaxed. We visited a lot of people; we visited my cousins and aunt and uncle, as well as my grandma and grandpa and we ended the tour at her sister’s house. On Saturday my mom and I saw some of our good friends and I also got to be with my cousins, who I usually only see once a year, so it was nice to be with them.

Going back to campus every Saturday evening is always hard, but I realized that that’s it I only have a month left, and I can’t waste it at all. I have to take advantage of what I have and what I’m doing and keep doing it until the absolutely last day, which sadly will come. I looked at the next two weeks we have and they are extremely packed with adventures! I am extremely excited.

Our first Tiyul next week is to Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is my home it’s where I was born, and I am extremely excited to learn and see how it became to be the city it is today. And I’m excited to learn more about my home city. The next tiyul is a long one; it is from Wednesday to Saturday. We are going SOUTH!!! I have never been to the south. Well I have, but I was two so I don’t really count that because I don’t remember anything. Anyway, I heard that we would be going to the Negev, hiking a lot, and going to Eilat! I’ve always wanted to go to all of those places and now I finally get to go and experience it, in a really special way that not a lot of people get to do.  We are finishing the week with a weekend in Keturah. Now to be completely honest I have no idea where that place is, and why we are going there. But I’m guessing it’s somewhere south, and I am all for it; getting to know a new place in this amazing country to be honest is one of the reasons I came here.

The following week is very very strict. It’s GADNA week. Well actually it’s four days but I’ll count that as a week. For those who don’t know what gadna it is this four-day army base trails that highs choolers get to experience before they actually go into the army. So I’m super excited, this might help me in a way get an idea if I want to join the army or not. It’s going to be very scary, tough, strict and hard, but also fun four days, and I can’t wait for it. I can’t wait to go into what looks like one of the most fun and best weeks in the semester!


Netta Shpinner

This week, we went to Acco/Atlit and Tzfat over the weekend. I loved going to Atlit, it was one of the most fun and interesting tiyulim I feel like there was so far. In Atlit we learned about the illegal immigration, and the D.P. camp. D.P. stands for displaced person’s camp. The first stop in Atlit was the beach. There we had a lesson and then an activity that connected to the lesson. The activity was reenacting what the Jews had to do and what they had to go through when they came or tried to come to Israel. A part of the activity was going into the water, which was surprisingly cold, to about knee level. We split up into our classes, one class went into the water and the other class was on land. The point of the activity was to show us what the Jews on the Boat had to do, and what the Jews on land did to help. The Jews on land helped take the Jews off of the boat onto the land, and help them pass the British, and if they were questioned they had to say “Ani Yehudi mi Eretz Israel.” So basically we did the exact same thing. I had to wait in the water for someone to come and help me and on the way out our teachers and Madrichim acted as the British, so they prevented us from coming onto the shore.

After the lesson and the activity on the beach, we went to the D.P. camp in Atlit. First of all I never knew that there was a camp of the Jews in Israel. When I learned that there was a camp I was shocked. Going to the D.P. camps was a really cool experience. As annoying as it could be to go through the whole process of getting to Israel and then when you finally get there you are put in a camp all over again, I thought that the camp was really cool. It was not as disturbing as the one’s in Poland.

After we went to the D.P. camps when drive to Acco. In Acco we went to A British prison and then to the shore of the beach where we hung around. And we ended the fun day with dinner on the streets. That day was extremely fun and interesting, and I won’t forget it.

We ended the week in Tzfat. Tzfat is a beautiful place. The whole city has a special vibe that I haven’t felt in any other city before. On Saturday after lunch, the entire group made our way to the old city. At the old city, we were split up into groups of three and were told to go out and explore wherever we wanted in the old city for an hour. The only rule was that we were not allowed to speak to other groups. Something my group and I did that was really peaceful was when we sat on top of a wall that overlooked the beautiful mountains and the city below. Since I have never actually been in Tzfat for a Shabbat, it was really nice to be able to go out and explore an unknown city.

Overall it was a pretty chill and fun week. But I have a feeling that the next week might not be like that, but you never know, I could be wrong.  

Jessi Giordano- Tzfat Shabbat

This past week we’ve done quite a bit after coming home from Poland. We got a sleep in day to write our essays and just relax a bit which was nice, but then we jumped right back in with a trip to Acco the next day. We started the day off at the beach where we learned about how the British tried to stop people from getting to the shore, and then we re-enacted it. Some people went into the water and others had to go save them and bring them to shore without getting stopped by the “British” aka our madrichim and teachers. It was entertaining at first, until a force rammed into you from the side toppling you and your partner, that you were carrying on your back by the way, over and down to the ground. Regardless of how much I fell it was fun to take part in, I only wish we could’ve stayed at the beach a little longer.

Afterwards we went to a displaced persons camp that still stood, and we toured it, exploring the place that people who were holocaust survivors went to afterwards, they were probably terrified, seeing that it looked similarly to a concentration camp. We heard stories of how happy the people were after they realized that it wasn’t like the camps they had come from, but one that would save them. Afterwards we went to Acco prison which used to be a prison for Jewish resistance fighters during the British mandate. That was kind of heavy as we saw the gallows of the prison, where captive Jewish resistance fighters were killed. Then we spent the rest of our time in Acco at another beach where we stayed until sunset.

The rest of the week we were on campus, except for Shabbat, we went to Tzfat where we stayed in an orthodox hotel and experienced a nice religious Shabbat. We hung out at the hotel for a bit, and went to shul at an outdoor orthodox synagogue. The service was nice but it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. When we got back to the hotel we had a group activity that me and my friend Katie lead, we played “Coke & Pepsi” and everyone enjoyed it a lot. Then the boys left to go to a Mikveh, and the girls had “Nashim” (women’s gathering) to do an activity with our Madricha. We talked about self-respect, and self-love, and it was really empowering, at least for me.

The next day we woke up at around 11 am and had an activity with Doni where we talked about prayer, and how we can get the most out of it, and whether it has to be out loud to count as valid prayer. Then we had lunch and free time to walk around the old city of Tzfat which was really cool but full of a lot of stairs. My group went down to the mikveh to check it out, and it was the furthest point away from where we started. After our free time we went back to the hotel to get ready for Havdalah. We missed Havdalah because we went to a cave to do I don’t really know what. But we experienced it all together which was nice. Then when we went to the synagogue where we had services the night before, we found that we had missed Havdalah. So, we started to walk back, but we heard a family singing in preparation for Havdalah, and asked if we could join them, and they graciously opened their home up to us. It was an amazing Havdalah experience that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

 

 

Yaakov Burger Weekly update:

Sunday:

(See Poland blog)

Monday:

We had the entire day Monday to write a 4-6 page essay about our Poland experience. I thought it would be really hard to write so much in just one day, but it turned out that I had so much to say that I ended up writing almost 9 pages. As long as you don’t procrastinate and manage your time well, writing it should be easy.

Tuesday:

Today we had a trip to Acco. We started it off by learning the history about the Jews trying to immigrate to Israel from Europe after the holocaust, and stories of the British trying to stop them. We had that entire class on the beach, and ended it off by pretending to be Jews trying to sneak into Israel from the water. Our madrichim stopped many of us and threw us into the water. It was so much fun and that’s just a regular class for us. Later that day we toured through Atlit, the British detention camp. After just coming back from Poland the camp looked too much like a concentration camp which is what many if the immigrants thought. We heard the story of the Palmach liberating the entire camp right under the British’s nose. We ended the day looking around the prison in Acco and saw the gallows where many Jewish “criminals” were executed by the British.

Wednesday:

Today was a pretty normal school day. Dani came back from America today and he brought us all candy which was pretty awesome.

Thursday:

Basically the same as yesterday, except today was extremely packed with classes. I finished at 6:15. At 8:30 we had a surprise activity which turned out to be a surprise birthday party for the 6 kids who had a birthday that week. It was full of fun, games, hilarious activities and pizza at the end. It was a long day but that’s okay because it was a really good day.

Friday-Shabbat:

After classes on Friday we headed over to the holy mystical city: Tzfat. We got all settled into the nice little hostel, and prepared for Shabbat. Shabbat started and we went to a Karlebach friday night services where we prayed outside so we could see the beautiful Tzfat sunset. After returning to the hostel and eating dinner, we split up into guys and girls. The girls had an activity in the hostel, but the 9 guys went down the mountain to the Mikveh of the holy Kabbalist, the Ari. We all went in the Mikveh one by one, and we each chose a number of times to dunk that felt important to us. I chose to dunk 10 times, 3 for each of my siblings, and 7 for each day of the past week in Poland. The water was freezing cold, but I still had an amazing experience. I came out feeling refreshed, clean, and really thinking about the way I live my life. I decided to start being on my phone less and to try to be present wherever I am and whoever I’m with. The rest of Shabbat was restful and inspiring especially when we walked around the city in groups of 3. I think it was one of my favorite weekends of the semester.

 

 

Netta Shpinner

The Truth is spilled

It’s been a week, I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, and I’ve learned. Poland was the hardest most intense experience I have ever had. It was also extremely fun but most of it was intense, at least that is what it felt like for me. It was an extremely to go on a school trip with really good friends, it was something that I’ve always to do. Aside from having fun with my friends we of course learned so much. What I liked about the way that my teacher taught us was that he didn’t focus only on the death of the shoah and how horrible it was. And I’m not saying that it wasn’t horrible, I’m saying that he also spent a good amount of time teaching us about the Jews life and the good part of their lives before 1939.

Poland is something that I’ll never forget. I won’t forget the camps we went to. I won’t forget the images I saw. And for me most importantly I will never forget what I learned. I learned information that made me sick to my stomach, not only that it made me think about why is deserved to be here after what the Jews went through. It’s a horrible feeling, and I never want to feel it again. I learned a lot of eye opening stuff that I never learned before. Basically I learned the truth.

When I was a little kid, and going to Hebrew school, I would learn about the shoah, we would even having ceremonies about it, but the information that I wasn’t taught was a huge amount. My teacher told me white lie. Up until we started learning about the shoah, a couple days before Poland, I never knew that there was a death camp, or a gas chamber where they would put Jews in a room with poisonous gas and after twenty long and painful minutes they would die. I never knew that the Nazi’s would take the Jews, tell them to strip naked, make them stand in front of a pit, and then shoot them into the pit.

After the week in Poland I realized that I knew nothing about the shoah. All I knew was the basic information, like the amount of Jews killed, and that they where in labor camps, and they where taken there by a train. That’s basically it, it’s not a lot a lot, and I’m mad at myself that I didn’t know more. But I get where my teachers and parents are coming from, you can’t really tell a kid that people where put in front of a pit and they would get shot. That kind of information is hard to tell a little kids.

While we where in Poland I was completely shaken from the information that I was taught and from the places we went to. Most of the days I was extremely depressed and down, but thankfully I had my friends to get me through it. Without my friends being there I would have not been able to get through the week. Some of the camps we went to where Maidanik, Auswitch, Birkenau, and Treblinka. These four camps where either death camps or concentration camps so it was extremely hard for me to be there. I was disturbed by everything I saw. I was disturbed by the gas chambers, by the pile of ashes of the dead Jews, by the “pizza oven” in the crematorium (where they burned the dead bodies), and so much more.

As hard as this trip was for me, I would not take it back. I gained so much from it, and I learned so much from it. I am so thankful that I got this opportunity, because without it I wouldn’t have been able to learn about the truth.

 

Jessica Giordano
From the +972 to the +48

We’ve been in Israel for about 2 months, and we’re about to leave for Poland. I don’t really know what to expect but I know it’s going to be a once in a lifetime trip. This is probably going to be my only time ever going to Poland, and I’m really happy to be going with the people I’m going with. Our group has gotten so much closer over the past couple of weeks as we all had to adapt under an unfortunate obstacle, and I feel so lucky to be going to Poland with these people. I’m hoping to get closer to some people who I’m not as close to, but I know that may not happen.

I’m a bit of a more empathetic person than most, and I’m extremely in touch with my emotions so I’m expecting that I’ll cry a lot. But you can never be sure when you’re actually in the moment. My teacher Doni says “However you feel in that moment, is how you’re supposed to feel.” And I think that is so important, because I know there are some people who won’t react the same way as myself, and I know I won’t always react the same as everyone else.

Anyways, I’m kind of nervous, this is only my second time flying without my parents, but I know it’ll help me in the future, and as long as I’m next to at least one person that I know I think I’ll be good. So more about what I’m feeling; I’m excited because Poland is on my bucket list of places to go. I have family ties to Poland thanks to my maternal great-great-grandmother, luckily my family got out of Poland before tragedy struck, however I still feel an emotional connection due to Jewish history. On this trip alone, I will have succeeded in crossing two places off of my bucket list; Israel and Poland. I know for some of the kids on the program this trip will be extremely difficult, I don’t know whether I’m one of them yet, but I do know that I’ll be there for those that need it, even if I’m struggling to deal with it as well.

There are so many thoughts rushing through my head right now, which is probably why this is so choppy. But I keep thinking new thoughts and getting sudden surges of emotion. Anxiousness, excitement, major nerves. I’m thinking ‘How will I get any sleep’, ’I hope I don’t forget anything’, ‘Should I bring my tissues’ (the answer is yes, I should bring my tissues) I just have so many thoughts and feelings and they’re all a tornado whirling around my mind uncontrollably starting up, and stopping within seconds. I feel prepared but also sort of like I left the house without putting on pants. It’s just a feeling I can’t shake, and I don’t yet know whether that’s good or bad.

After

Poland: Pride and Prejudice

I always thought learning about the holocaust in school was difficult, but that was maybe one day a year, two at the most, but nothing I’ve ever learned in school could’ve prepared me for this trip. I used to see the Holocaust as a reason to be upset without even understanding the major history behind it, and now that I have a deeper understanding of it I feel that, yes, it is something to be sad about, but it’s also a reason to be proud. Many lives were lost, and the Jews were supposed to be exterminated, wiped out completely. Yet here I am, surrounded by 32 other proud Jewish teens in the Jewish homeland of Israel as I write this. I feel that this past week has only brought me closer to my Judaism and given me a greater understanding of the history of my people.

        Landing in Poland all in its own was such an experience, we came down from the sky passing through miles of cloud and fog. The sky above the clouds was colorful, but beneath it was a dull grey with a crisp cold like autumn should be. I’ve never really been outside the U.S. except for this trip, and being able to go to Poland with 32 other people who are really like a second family to me was amazing. We visited so many places, many of them were intense, but I feel that learning about the Shoah in itself is an intense subject.

We learned about how Poland was before WWII broke out, and everything in between up until after the war and how it affected the jews of Europe, but specifically Poland. We walked around a lot; like in the cemeteries in Lodz and Warsaw the first two days, and especially in the camps we visited. I wished that some of the camps weren’t so museum-ised, but I  understand that for educational purposes its important to have a place for people to go and learn about what happened there. Some of the places we went to were more memorable than others, like the shtetl of Tykocin, and the forest.

The shtetl was adorable, with its cobblestone streets, and colorful houses, and all the stories of the jews that lived there. It was such a positive place to be. But right after we went to lopochova forest, where the jews of tykocin were massacred. I wanted to hate the forest because of what happened there, but it was so beautiful that I just couldn’t. And we received letters from our parents there, which none of us were expecting. As soon as I saw that it was from my mom I started crying. I didn’t realize how much I missed her until then.

The camps were memorable too, in the sense that they were numbing. Majdonek was not what I was expecting, but then again I don’t really know what I was expecting. Auschwitz and Birkenau were more along the lines of what I pictured a camp to be, but Auschwitz was so small. Birkenau was huge in comparison, and I feel that’s what stuck with me the most. There was a lake at Birkenau too, similar to the forest I wanted to hate it, but we got to it just as the sun was setting so it looked so beautiful, and even though I knew there were ashes of murdered jews at the bottom of the lake I couldn’t bring myself to view the lake in a negative way.

I know that I’ll be going home with more Jewish pride than I’ve ever had before. When we study the holocaust in school I will no longer feel like I deserve the sad looks from my classmates and teachers, but rather I will help to educate them to let them know that I am living proof that Hitler failed, and that I am so proud to be Jewish because of that. The best revenge is success, and I believe that by just being here right now, all of us are thriving and succeeding.

 

Netta Shpinner

The before

Learning about you past weather it’s your religion’s history or it’s your own, can be really hard. Really horrible events have happened in the past, and no matter what, you will learn about it eventually. I have always had trouble with learning about horrible events that have happened. For example when I went to Hebrew school whenever I had a Ceremony about Israel’s day of remembrance or a ceremony about Yitzhak Rabin it would be very hard for me.

The Shoah is something that I have learned ever since I was a little kid. I remember in Hebrew every year when we would have a ceremony about the shoah I would always have a hard time with it. During and after the ceremony I would start crying, I would never look at the videos and if I heard something horrible from a speech or a video I would put my hands over my ears. Luckily I always had my parents to sit next to and hug them when I needed them too.

The reason I am saying this is because we are about to go to Poland. Throughout the whole week we had a lot of preparations for Poland. We had a full day of Shoah studies, we went to Yad VaShem (the holocaust museum in Israel) and we saw Schindler’s list. All three of these things that we did to prepare us for Poland was really hard for me. But the hardest thing I felt for me was watching the movie Schindler’s list. I have never seen such a difficult and heartbreaking movie. Me and scary movies never really got along, but this was different this was watching something horrible that happened to my people, and seeing the Shoah come to life or having a vision of what it was like. Since I was not old enough to fully grasp and fully understand how horrible and painful the Holocaust was out of all of the times that I have learned about it I never imagined it being this bad, and this movie made the light bulb in my head turn on. I was in shock about what I saw in the movie and it completely broke my heart.

To be honest I was extremely excited to go to Poland, mostly because one I have never been there, two I have always wanted to travel somewhere with a group of friends, and I was excited to learn about the Holocaust at the place where it happened. But now after having all of the preparations for Poland and talking to my cousins who went a couple years ago, who said it was an amazing and unforgettable experience but also really hard experience, I am less excited and more worried. I am still excited to go there. But I’m worried that I won’t be able to handle it, and that it’ll be too hard for me. But just like I had my parents when I was younger here I know I have people who can help me and support me when it will get tough.

As hard as it is to learn about this kind of stuff, it’s really important to learn about it in detail, so this will never happen again. And in order to keep this memory going and to keep the story alive. Because if we don’t learn about this now, who will?

 

Boston Impact Fellows Fellows were tasked with interviewing their general studies teachers, check out what they had to say below!

Netta Shpinner, Teacher interview, Tasha- Math

What inspired you to become a teacher?

What inspired me to become a teacher was that I really wanted to help others.

How long have you been living in Israel/ what made you decide to leave?

I have been living in Israel for about 12.5 years. I decided to move here because my husband was making aliya. I also I thought that now it’s amazing opportunity to bring kids up here.

What is so amazing about working at AMHSI?

For me a really good part of it is the flexibility of hours and getting to know the group

What is your favorite part?

My favorite part is meeting all of the new kids and group and seeing the results at the end of it.

What piece of wisdom would you pass on?

My advice to others would be to live life to the fullest and don’t take anything for granted.

 

Ruby Russell

I sat down with my Spanish Teacher, Gisele Gros, here at AMHSI to learn a bit more about her. Here is a window into her amazing life, full of multiple professions, four countries, seven languages, and so much passion.

Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Israel?

I was born in France, but in my teenage years my family moved to the states, Los Angeles, and I lived there for several years. I met my husband there when I was very young and together we moved to Mexico. After more than twenty-some years later, I made decided to make Aliyah to Israel. I’ve always been very involved with Israel – I used to work with the Israeli Embassy and lead a Jewish cultural institution in Mexico – so I always knew I would eventually come to live In Israel. I’ve been living here for quite some time now, and I absolutely love it. From the first day I arrived, I felt home.

What made you decide to become a teacher?

I actually only became a teacher after coming to Israel. When I came here I was not fluent in Hebrew and the language barrier prevented me from getting back into the same line of work I was in before I made Aliyah. Despite not yet being fluent in Hebrew, I did know multiple other languages, including Spanish, French, English, and Portuguese. I used this knowledge to become a school teacher for international students. I now love teaching and being able to broaden the perspectives of my young students.

What is special about working at AMHSI?

There is a certain unique purpose to teaching at AMHSI. I teach my students more than just school assignments. I teach them a love of Israel. I get to introduce my students to this country that is so special to me and bring them closer to their Judaism.

What is one thing that you want your students to know about Israel?

This is our country. This is where we belong, nowhere else.

What type of music do you listen to?

Though I understand seven languages, my favorite type of music has no words at all. I love listening to classical music but really any music, anything that makes me move, I love.

 

Yaakov Burger
What’s your name and what class do you teach? Sandra gunner, and I teach mathematics

What inspired you to become a teacher?

My High School math teacher inspired me.

How long have you been living in Israel and why did you move here?

I’ve been living here for a year, and I moved here because of the political situation in Turkey and for the future of my child.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Being on the scene, and every day being different than the previous one

Whats is one of your hidden talents?

I’m a very good cook

What’s your spirit animal?

Cow… or horses because they are very noble.

If you could give only one message to your students what would it be?

Believe in yourself and the power that you have inside of you.

 

Teacher Interview with Doni Kandel; Adventurer. Teacher. Dodgers Fan.

Jessi Giordano

What inspired you to become a teacher?

D: I felt like I was only working to stay alive before teaching. I didn’t feel proud to tell people what I did for a living. And here I have the opportunity to be proud of what I’m doing. I feel like I’m really contributing to a future her, and that I can help to shape it for the better.

How long have you been living in Israel/what made you decide to live here?

D: I decided that I was going to live in Israel when I was 14 years old, but I never actually thought I would physically do it. I came to Israel for a gap year, and decided that I was going to move, so I did. I’ve been here for 11 years, and I’ve lived in two different places. I lived in a primarily American student town, and later moved to a primarily Israeli community.

What is one of your hidden talents?

D: I am a human encyclopedia of tv, movies, and actors. I’m also double jointed in both my thumbs, so I never lose at thumb wars.

Are there any current trends that are baffling to you? Why?

D: All of them that you teenagers start. But mostly snapchat. I just don’t get why it’s a thing. If you want to text someone why does it need a picture? Just send a regular text message.

Also fidget spinners, but they’ve pretty much died already.

What is your ‘spirit animal?’

D: Tess says my spirit animal is a quokka, whatever that is, apparently, it’s a really cute little animal that’s sort of like a koala. (Tess, I agree with you, I just looked it up – Jess) I would say that I’m more of a wolf, because I’m fiercely loyal to my pack.

What song do you know all of the lyrics to?

D: “Stand” by Eminem. You could also say that’s one of my hidden talents, because you don’t expect someone like me to know that song.

What do you love most about work?

D: As weird as this sounds, I love when a group gets on the plane to go home, because I know I’ve had a chance to be a part in shaping the future leaders of modern Judaism.

If you could have any superpower what would it be, and why?

D: Flight, but really quickly so that I could visit family in America and still be living in Israel, but not teleportation which is similar because then you miss the view.


Tel me about your Kehillah- Jessica Giordano

This past week we had a kehillah day, which none of us knew what to expect for, but it was a good experience that we were all happy to have participated in. For those of you who don’t know what kehillah means, it literally translates to “congregation” but it refers to your community. We went to three places during our tiyul full of kehillah; we went to Yad LaKashish (a retiree community), a food pantry, and an “archaeological dig.” At Yad LaKashish we toured the facility where many retirees go to be in a community setting and work in different areas of expertise such as textiles, metal work, and book binding. At the food pantry we volunteered and sorted food/boxes and made boxes full of produce to give to families in need. At the archaeological dig we learned how to sort through different ancient finds such as pottery, and glass, and even bone. It was all pretty cool, especially because it was giving back to the community.

Back home my youth group collects food for families in need every year around Yom Kippur, and then we go to the local food pantry to help sort it and put it away, so the food pantry part of what we did on kehillah day reminded me a lot of back home, and made me feel really good about what we did. The day itself was just an extremely satisfying day, going to Yad LaKashish in the morning made me happy to see that these people had a place to go and to be in a community that they could depend on and get into a normal routine again. At the end of the tour there was a gift shop, and I bought a cute strawberry hat, it reminded me of my grandmother and I wanted something significant to take home with me. The archaeological dig was pretty cool too, we dumped a bucket of dirt and artifacts onto a sifter thing, and sprayed it with a hose as we moved it around to clean it off and see what was in the bucket. My group that I was working with went through about 4 buckets, and we found a handle of a vase in one of them. It was just a really cool experience to dig through history, considering we had already learned about the place where the artifacts were coming from in our core class.

Later on in the week, we stayed in a hostel in Tel Aviv right across from Park Hayarkon. We went to Shabbat services Friday night. I went to a secular conform synagogue (a mix between reform and conservative) and we sang a lot. At one point we danced around in the open space at the back of the shul. It was really cute to see the congregants welcome us so easily and excitedly. We went back to the hostel for dinner and an activity starting at 7:30. We played a “theme” game. And my group’s theme was “what do the students know that the madrichim don’t” And so we went to our rooms because we knew where we were but they didn’t. On Saturday we slept in and then went to the park after lunch for 5 hours, it was really relaxing. Our Havdalah service was a really nice we all stood in a circle and swayed back and forth to the prayers. Then we went to dots afterwards, and I got a burrito which made me so happy because I miss Mexican food so much, and I got gelato afterwards which is totally kosher ?. That was my entertaining community service day and Shabbat spent in Tel Aviv.

 

Simchat Torah- Yaakov Burger

We spent Simchat Torah at the same youth hostel in Jerusalem that we stayed at for Yom Kippur, but it was a completely different experience. Yom Kippur for me was a day of introspection, thinking, and being really hungry. Simchat Torah was a day of amazing Jewish dancing, getting closer to many friends, and being way too full. The first night I went to an orthodox temple that was full of Jews that were slightly hippie and loved to sing and dance. As soon as I stepped into the Shul, I was overtaken by this crazy energy; everyone seemed so happy to let anyone dance and celebrate the annual completion of the Torah. That night I danced for hours around the Torah and felt so connected to everyone there, and to the Torah. The next day I got a much needed 8 hours of sleep, and because I loved the shul so much, I decided to return to the same Temple. That day was somehow even better than the night before; again I danced like crazy at the Shul, and I randomly ran into a friend of mine from school who happened to be there. At home I don’t go to Shul during the day, and when I go at night it is usually just to meet up with my friends. In Jerusalem, I went to Shul with an open mind and had a genuine spiritual experience. After services we had a nice lunch, and then we had a couple hours to relax and rest in our hostel. I spent my free time resting, spending time with friends, and exploring the youth hostel. I really wanted coffee, so my friend and I went looking for some. We looked everywhere and finally we found a bowl with coffee and sugar. We sat drank our coffees, and had a long meaningful conversation about life and our plans for after high school. I got even closer to her, and it made my favorite holiday of the year even better. That night we had a nice Havdalah ceremony, and it ended the holiday. We were all a little upset that the holiday had ended, but our madrichim told us that we still had some plans for the night. We were told we were going to have DOTS: dinner on the street, and I was trying to decide where to go to eat. I said out loud “wouldn’t it be cool if I saw one of my friends” and five minutes later I randomly ran into my friend that I had not seen in along time. We had dinner together, and it was really nice to see her. After dinner our group walked to a park, and listened to a beautiful jewish concert. We celebrated the holidays one last time; we sang along, and danced to the music. It was the perfect way to end the holiday, and to transition back to our regular life in Hod Hasharon.

Ruby Russell

This Simchat Torah, I learned that Jewish joy can spawn from all variations of Jewish tradition. There is no right way to find Joy. I took part in an orthodox celebration as well as a more modern, egalitarian, yet still traditional service. These two experiences were both completely different from each other and anything I had ever experienced. They were equally as fastening and unforgettable, allowing to appreciate diversity in Judaism in a way that I never had before and would never be able to in the US.

When our teachers presented us with the options of synagogues to attend for the Hag, I was unsure. I honestly wanted to go to them all. Ranging from an ultra-orthodox Yemenite community to a Reform congregation partnering with a home for people with special needs, each option sounded like a unique and incredible, only-in-Israel type of experience. I turned to my Jewish studies teacher for advice. I asked, “where will I find the best dance party?” From what I’ve experienced in the past, dancing is a nearly universal expression of joy, so I assumed, wherever I found the best dancing, I was sure to have a good time. He referred me to the same synagogue which I visited on Yom Kippur and had found to be very meaningful. This orthodox community integrates many Hasidic principles into their practices, using the power of song to enhance all of their services, whether it be solemn for Yom Kippur or festive for Simchat Torah. In addition, I was drawn to this synagogue because although it still stays true to the tradition principal of separating men and women for prayer, they truly respect the spiritual space and experience of the female members of their congregation. In most orthodox synagogues, the women are forced to sit far behind the men, often in a place where they are unable to even hear the Rabbi or see the Torah. Here though, the sanctuary is split vertically, allowing the women to stand and pray with the same proximity to the Torah as the men. Though it still irks me not to be able to dance with all of my friends, regardless of gender, I have a strong appreciation for this effort to equalize men and women in the sanctuary. It turns out, this separation actually brought a new dimension to the celebration of the Torah that was unexpected and extremely meaningful to me.

The dancing at this synagogue exceeded my expectation an went beyond. Using merely our own voices to create a wordless melody, the movements of our bodies synced up, moving to the same rhythm, forming one powerful pulsating mass, all with the same intention of appreciating the very thing that holds us together as Jewish people: the Torah. There was barely any room to move, but somehow we set our hearts and limbs free and within just a few minutes we had worked up a gratifying sweat and a tangible energy of joy, praise, and gratitude filled the air. We were ready to welcome the Torah scrolls into our concentric circles of horah.

Because it was an Orthodox synagogue, for most of the women in the congregation, Simchat Torah was the only time of the year they got to interact with the physical Torah. This made the occasion all the more impactful. As the Torah was passed from woman to woman, tears of joy trickled down cheeks, displaying just how strongly and deeply rooted the Torah is rooted in these people lives.

The following morning I went to a mixed gender service full of families and young children and was able to see how the Torah was embraced in a completely different setting. In this synagogue, I witness the love and appreciation for Torah directly passed down from father to daughter. I was shocked and in awe to see each Torah verse beautiful sung aloud by girls, all younger than myself. I can still picture in my mind the image of a little girl, just six years old, standing before the Torah. Her father stood behind her, his tallit draped over his own shoulders, falling to touch hers. He pointed out the starting mark of the final aliyah, and delicately placed the silver yad into his daughter’s hand. She sang without a moment’s hesitation or stutter until the very last verse. Finally, she looked up to find herself embraced by the beaming smiles her congregation that stood in before her and her father who stood behind her. The entire room felt the power of the Torah being passed from one generation to the next.

My experiences this Simchat Torah opened my eyes to different ways in which I can connect to the Torah and connect with others Jewish people. Most of all, this holiday emphasized to me how important and powerful the bond of the Torah is, holding together Jewish people is all around the world, regardless of our differences.

Yaakov Burger
This week at HSI was one of the least action packed weeks, but it definitely wasn’t boring. We had regular class days for every day of the week except Tuesday. On Tuesday we had a community service day. We drove to Jerusalem and went to a really interesting place. It was a non profit organization that gave work to the elderly that are below the poverty line. They are taught artistic skills like woodworking, pottery, and metalworking. They spend the first few hours of every day making different types of art that are later sold in their gift shop. The organization gives the elderly a hot lunch every day, and it gives them more of a social life. Most importantly, it gives them a purpose to get up in the morning and overall increases their quality of life. We toured through the different workshops and talked to some of them. We saw how hard they worked and how proud they were of everything they created. We ended that part of the day in the gift shop, and almost all of us bought something beautiful that they had made. All the money we spent went back into the organization and helped even more of the elderly have more meaningful lives.

We packed our own lunches, but we were given the option to buy lunch in Jerusalem so naturally we all bought our own lunch.

To continue with the conuntitt service we volunteered at a different nonprofit organization. This one was an organization that gave good to starving children. They feed 500 children every day. We helped pack and prepare food for about an hour. Bagging potatoes, packing groceries, and moving boxes we really made a difference to help the children of Jerusalem.

Most of the day was dedicated to community service, but we had to have some context to core class, so we ended our day at an archeological site, sifting through dirt from the Bar Kochba age. We all found interesting things, but the coolest thing we found was a coin from the Bar Kochba rebellion. Everything we found helps prove to the world that Jews have a claim to Israel and have been here for thousands of years.

The next few days were regular, relaxed school days. For the weekend the whole group traveled to Tel-Aviv. We spent a few hours at the port, and then prepared for shabbat in our youth hostel. We spent Shabbat hanging out at the hostel, and the beautiful park next door. I played ultimate frisbee and found myself competing in a wrestling tournament. I took a nice walk by the river with a friend, and that’s how I spent my Shabbat afternoon. For dinner we went to Sarona Market. There were so many different delicious restaurants to choose from, and the whole marketplace was really nice. By the time we got back to campus it was really late so I immediately went to sleep. This was the week st HSI where we did the least amount of trips, and it was still infinitely better than school in America. Helping out others, having a few relaxing days on campus, and the weekend in Tel Aviv.

_______________________________________

 

My final goodbyes with my family were unfortunately polluted by stressful visa logistics and overweight baggage. I ended up missing my flight and having to rearrange my trip. Still though, this came as a blessing in disguise. While waiting for my reschedules flight, I was able to enjoy one last meal with my parents at an airport cafe before hugging them goodbye with promises of frequent phone calls and lots of photos.

In an effort to get to know the area around my new home at AMHSI, I explored the town of Hod Hasharon with the three other Impact Fellows from Boston, Massachusetts. We discovered the local pool, hunted down the cheapest place to get falafel, and did our best not to get run over by crazy Israeli drivers.

On our first Tiyul to Tel Gezer, I stood in awe of the layers and layers of Israel that could be found on the tops of mountains as well and deep down in elaborate man made caves. In this photograph, you can see me entering a brilliantly thought out water system that allowed ancient civilizations to bring water into their villages from far away streams, without it ever seeing the light of day. This kept them protected from vicious enemies who could otherwise manipulate their access to necessary resources.

During my first Shabbat away from campus, I visited some family friends and their two young daughters (nine and eleven years old), who live near Tel Aviv. Together we lit candles and enjoyed a delicious home cooked Israeli meal. With the help of google translate, I talked with the two girls about the differences between my life back in the USA, and their lives here in Israel. We discussed the differences between Israeli and American Bat Mitzvahs and the way Jewish life differs between the two countries in general. We found common ground complaining about school work. They helped me with my Hebrew class homework and I assisted them with their English class homework. It was a beautiful introduction to Israeli family life and a honestly a much needed break from the hubbub of dorm living.

I shared a moment of satisfaction with a new friend as we summited one of many mountains we climbed during our Yam L Yam (sea to sea) trip across Israel. Being that we had nothing to do all day but hike and chat, I was able to get to know, and form strong connections with my peers.

After waking up at four in the morning to meet the sunrise at the top of Masada, my Jewish studies class spent the day hopping from patch of shade to the next, piecing together the story of Masada. Just before braving the steep descent back down the mountain, we stopped for a photo, capturing the pride we felt for ourselves and physical challenge we were conquering, as well as for our country, Israeli, and it’s past, present, and future.

On sukkot I tackled the Israeli public transport system to visit a camp friend of mine who lives a few hours north of AMHSI in Tiberias. We spent the night catching up in her Sukka and fighting off stray cats who came to munch on the leftovers of our holiday feast.

During the most recent Shabbat, my core teacher invited the class to his home town, Arad. It is a sweet, community based village nestled between the Negev and the Judean Desert. This Shabbat I elected to keep the sabbath ( a tradition I do not normally practice at home), putting aside all my work and electronics and simply soaking in my beautiful surroundings.

 Picture This:

This picture is from our first Shabbat in Israel. It was a closed campus, so everyone was together, and we all got dressed up nice as one does for Shabbat in Israel. We were all so excited about everything, we took so many pictures, this is just my favorite one. We had only been here for a couple of days, but already we felt like a little family. Even though we’re all extremely different, we all came together to share in celebrating Shabbat.

This is one of my madrichim, his name is Almog. He’s insanely cool, and an overall chill guy to hang out with. He looks a lot like how Jesus is supposed to look like, so sometimes we call him that, as a joke of course. Almog is also my hiking buddy; whenever we go on tiyuls I always hike with him. We talk about life and music, and sing to take our minds off the hike, sometimes we make “parodies” and replace a word of a song with a silly word like “Love” with “Lunch”.

This is a picture of my first shawarma ever eaten. Shawarma isn’t commonly eaten in Massachusetts, so I’ve never had it before coming to Israel. My friend’s and I went into town maybe the second week we were here, and since I had never had it before I didn’t know what to order, so my friend made it for me. He also got some shawarma, and we ate it back at campus, but before we did he got one of our other madrichim, Bat el to come witness me eat my first shawarma ever. She was so cute about it, she took a video of me, and asked me how it was, only after I had taken a huge bite of it.

This is a picture from the first time I went into town. There was a group of us who went, as we were still getting to know Hod Hasharon, and we felt more secure in numbers. We decided to get ice cream, and I didn’t have any money with me because we weren’t actually planning on buying anything. My friend told me she’d buy it for me if I ordered in Hebrew, but I don’t know enough Hebrew to even have a quick two-second conversation with someone, so I freaked out a little bit. Then my friend who does speak Hebrew asked me what I wanted and bought it for me. It was really sweet, and I felt a lot closer with that person afterwards.

So, I was trying not to name names during this, but I got permission from this person for this. This is my friend Alena, I didn’t know her before this trip, but we had been keeping in touch through social media for a week or two prior to coming to Israel. When we met in the airport we became fast friends, and we hang out a lot now during free time since we don’t have any classes together and we’re not roommates. One tiyul we had D.O.T.S. (dinner on the streets) in Jerusalem, and Alena and I were walking around looking at all the cute tourist trap shops. We noticed the Israeli flag boxers on sale, and immediately thought “We need those.” she paid for both pairs, because it was cheaper for two pairs than just one. So now we have matching Israeli flag boxers that we wear as pajama shorts.

So, as you probably know already from a previous blog we went on Yam Le Yam, which translates to “Sea to Sea” and was the four-day hike across Israel from the Mediterranean to the Kineret. It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to do, as I’ve never really seriously hiked or camped before and we had 4 days and 3 nights of both. It was such a satisfying experience to make it into camp every night, and know that we survived another day. The picture was from the last stop of our hike, when we had reached the Kineret. We had a final ceremony at the water’s edge before finally diving in, and completing our journey.

We made this during a group activity with our amazing Madrichim last week. The 36 of us on the program were split into 6 groups of 6 kids each and were tasked with making Shakshuka, a common breakfast food on campus. We got 20 shekels and were allowed to go into town to get stuff to better our shakshuka, I went into town with someone else from my group while the other 4 remained to start making it. It was later in the evening so a lot of stores were closing, and we had to run around trying to find an open supermarket. We eventually found one, but the one thing we wanted to get was 5 shekels too expensive, so we split the cost with another group of kids from our program, and shared when we got back to campus. My group came in second place, even though we should’ve come in first. Even the group who came in first place said we should’ve won. It was a fun activity though, because it let all of us have some friendly competition.

This photo was from our most recent Shabbat. We went to Arad to visit Aubrey, one of our core class teachers, and celebrate sukkot in a middle-of-nowhere town with only each other. Before getting to the youth hostel that we were staying at we met with Aubrey at the edge of the desert to have a moment to clear our minds and prepare ourselves for Shabbat. We were told to find a space to sit and think, and while we were having our time with ourselves my friend took a picture of me, and I thought it was really artsy so I decided to include it. While in Arad, we didn’t do much since we couldn’t leave the youth hostel, so we all just sort of relaxed, which was a really nice break to me. We visited Aubrey’s sukkah too, but his class visited Friday night after dinner, and Doni’s class, which I’m in, visited Saturday before dinner. While each group was at Aubrey’s the other stayed and did an activity with the Madrichim. We played a game that I can’t remember the name of, but it was similar to “steal the bacon” (super kosher, right) in the sense that we all sat in a circle and someone called out two numbers and whoever had that number had to get whatever was in the middle of the circle. The only difference is for our game we were in pairs, and your partner had to hold you back and you had to try to escape to get the candy in the middle. I got dragged twice when my partner tried to escape to the center. They always got there, but they technically never got out the hold, since I always went with them. Even though we didn’t do much, I think this past Shabbat (October 6th-7th) was one of my favorite Shabbats. 

Netta Shpinner

This picture was from our first actual hike in Gilboa, which is in the Northern part of Israel, south of the Sea of Galilee. This hike was amazing, it was a challenging and fun downhill hike, we had to jump over and down from rocks, along sometimes sliding on our butts in order not to fall. I had a lot of fun going this amazing downhill hike! 

After we made it down the amazing hike of Gilboa we drove south to Jerusalem. This picture was taken at an observation point (tazpit) where we got to look over Jerusalem. It was a very nice way to end our day, and it was also a great way to start getting to see and to know the city that we will learn about, as well as visiting it a lot. 

The western wall is always a big deal you go and see it. Here we were at the Western Wall for the first time in our program. I haven’t been to the Wall since I was a little kid so it was very nice to go and see it again.

Shabbat- a day of rest. This picture was taken on our first Shabbat here at AMHSI; it was a very special Shabbat. It was not open campus so everybody was all together and it was great. It gave us a chance to really get to know people better and to get closer to them. We had a nice kabbalat Shabbat with my teacher Aubrey, and then basically the rest of the night was ours. It was a very relaxing and fun Shabbat, looking back on it now.  

 This was taken at the start of our yam le yam hike. Yam le Yam was a four-day hike that went from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee. We started at Mediterranean, the border of Israel and Lebanon and walked all the way to the Kineret. These were very challenging four days, but I absolutely loved it. During these four days our group got a lot closer and a lot more comfortable with one another. This was my first backpacking trip, so it was very important for me and I am thrilled that I got to do it with my friends here in Israel. It got me ready for the big leagues. 

Having a little break a fooling around a bit is also kind of important. Here we were in Jerusalem, and throughout the day we visited different museums. In this specific moment my friend and I decided to ride a couple of really nice lions during our lunch break. I had a really nice laugh and time during our ride!

This picture was taken at the end of our time on Masada. On this day we woke up at four fifteen in the morning in order to see the sunrise on the top of Masada. We walked up the snake path which wasn’t that challenging it was just tiring because it was just a bunch of steps. After about an hour we reached the top and got to see the sunrise, it was beautiful. We had about four hours of learning and walking around, and that is where we got to learn about the story and see the place. It was breathtaking. It was an amazing experience, and it was definitely worth waking up at four in the morning. 

We work very hard during the week so it’s nice to have a little bit of rest and free time. This was like an open Shabbat, but it was actually during Sukkot. I chose to go and visit my family in Kfar Saba. This picture was with my cousins when we went on a little hike next to the Alexander River. We are standing in a cotton field just in case you were wondering. I don’t get a ton of chances to visit and be with my family, so the times that I do have with them is very nice and fun and I enjoy it a lot. 

This picture was taken in Zippori national park. This is where Rebbi Yehuda hanasi finished organizing the Mishnah. It is also filled with temples with beautiful mosaics from the Roman and Byzantine time period.

 

This is the place that the Roman emperor gave to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi so he could organize the Mishna in peace. Many Jews were buried in these caves. 2,000 years later, a group of 36 teenagers go to the same caves and play hide and seek among the sarcophaguses.

 

We were woken up at 4 AM. By 5 we started hiking up the mountain; it took us about an hour to get up to the ancient fortress. This is the beautiful sunrise that we saw on the top of Masada.

One of the first of many fellowship photos on Yam Liyam. This picture was taken after the second day of the 4 day hike across Israel. We were starting to really get closer as a group, and this hike really brought us together.

Our first campsite after a day of hiking on Yam Leyam. We were all exhausted after the 25 kilometers of hiking, but we were really proud of how far we’ve come, and how much closer we’ve become

This is the miniature model of Jerusalem in the time of King Herod in the Israeli museum. It displays Herod’s palace, the second ancient Jewish temple, and the rest of Jerusalem. Seeing this model gave me a taste of what it would have been like to live in Jerusalem during the second temple period.

The last day of our four day hike across Israel. We were all so tired, but the end was in sight. We all couldn’t wait to get to the refreshing water of the Kinneret, but first we had to get through these mountains.

The view from one of the tallest mountains in israel; Mt. Meron. It took us a few hours to climb, but the view was completely worth it.

 

Netta Shpinner,

Yom Kippur Blog

Yom Kippur, what comes into your mind when I say that word? Do you think of it as a day of rest, a day of fasting, a day for religious people, a day of praying or a day that doesn’t really mean much to you? What does it mean to you? I know that I am writing the one who is writing so I will tell you what it means to me. To me Yom Kippur is a day of rest but also a holiday that to me doesn’t mean that much. My family and I aren’t very religious so we don’t really go to Synagogue and we don’t fast. Now I completely respect anybody who does fast and goes to synagogue, but I personally don’t do it and I also don’t feel the need to do it. Basically, to me, Yom Kippur back home is just a day of rest, or sadly a regular school day. However, here it’s so much more than that.

I have had to same experience of Yom Kippur for most of my entire life, so coming here and doing something different, and seeing how much this holiday is important to this amazing country and how they treat, it was amazing. On the evening of Yom Kippur and throughout the day, we were in Jerusalem. Now people always tell me how amazing it is to be in Israel on Yom Kippur, but I would never understand why. But now thankfully I do. The entire country shuts down, and buy that I literally mean shuts down, nothing is open, everything is closed.

There are also no cars on the streets, and that is something really cool and special because not driving on

Yom Kippur isn’t a law, you are allowed to drive but people choose not to drive. It is something so special and I found to be extremely cool. Since there are no cars, you can walk freely on the streets and do whatever you want on them. You see a bunch of little kids just running around and playing in the middle of the street. You also see many people riding on their bikes and skateboards in the middle of the street. This is something that I loved watching it made me so happy.

Another thing that everybody does here on Yom Kippur is that everyone wears white. You see people in the evening and throughout the day wearing white, it looked like the middle of a winter storm. Ok I might be exaggerating a bit, but I promise you the streets looked very white and especially with all of the people wearing white and with all of the lights that were on the trees. It was a very pretty view.

Being in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur was very special. On the evening of Yom Kippur, we went to Synagogue as well as in the morning. Since I do not go to Synagogue going was an interesting experience. To tell you the truth it was very hard for me to sit through the service. However, I managed to make it through. But the service itself was very nice and it was nice do something that I’m not use to. And it was even nicer to be doing it in the Holy City and with my friends. It made it a lot more fun and special for me. Throughout the day, after we went to another service in the morning we kind of just chilled it as great. Then in the evening, we went to the Kotel. That was extremely cool. You see all of the people there in white and next to the wall, doing their thing. It made an amazing picture in my head that I will never forget.

Yom Kippur here is a lot more interesting and special here in Israel and I am really lucky and happy that I was able to be here for it.

 

Yaakov Burger

Spiritual. Unique. Calm. Those are the three best words to describe my Yom Kippur experience. All of Muss stayed in Jerusalem, and we were given the option of a few different synagogues to go to. At night, I chose to go to an orthodox synagogue with a lot of singing, dancing, and spirituality. At the synagogue it was really hard for me to connect to the prayer, so I decided to try something new. I walked outside and sat down on a bench by myself and tried to meditate for the first time in my life. I started by just trying to clear my head and focus on my breathing, but once I managed to do that I felt like I was communicating with God. I told Him about my worries and stress and in that moment I truly felt listened to.

After services, we returned to the hostel. It was a short walk, only 15 minutes, but it was amazing. We walked in the middle of the street the whole time, and lay down in the middle of a huge intersection. Nobody was out driving, no one was using there phones, and it was quiet. Every single person in Jerusalem respects Yom Kippur, and even if they don’t fast or go to synagogue, they still have a special day where they don’t drive anywhere.

Once we returned to the hostel we had a few hours to hangout, and I got much closer to people in the different programs. The next day I went to a reform service, which was a new experience for me. It was filled with singing, storytelling and some jokes. We started the 25 minute walk back to the hostel, and again, I was amazed by how quiet and calm the streets were. It was filled with people walking to and from different synagogues, but again no cars at all. At the hostel I wasn’t feeling so great since I was fasting, so I took a quick nap. I woke up feeling refreshed and energized, despite the fast. For the last part of the day we went to the Kotel. There were so many people that it was hard to walk around. I felt a connection to the wall for the first time in a long time, and I prayed with the rest of the people. When it was time to say Havdala and end the fast, we all surrounded a man who quickly said the prayer to transition from holy to regular days. HSI brought us some food, and we ate it all in an instant. We returned to the hostel where we had an actual meal, and that was it. We went home.

It was the first time that I felt so unified to the Jewish nation. It was the first time that I enjoyed the fast. It was the first time in a very long time that I felt connected to prayer and to God.

Jessi Giordano, Yom Kippur; Not so Fast

I consider myself to be a good person, but Yom Kippur is the time to really think about it, as we ask G-d for forgiveness on this day, but it’s not just that, it’s a day to reflect on yourself, and think about the type of person you want to be in the future. If I were at home for the holiday I would be helping with the Mazon food drive that my youth group helps with every year, and partaking in services all day with my Mom. But obviously I’m not at home; we spent Yom Kippur in Jerusalem at Beit Shmuel, along with all the other groups from campus. When we arrived, we had to choose which services we wanted to go to for Friday night, and Saturday morning. I belong to a reform synagogue back home, so I wanted to experience a similar service in Israel as to eliminate some of my sadness of not spending the holidays with my family, so I went to a Reform service both days, but on Friday I went to an Israeli reform service which was really nice. There was a woman leading services, and a lot of the prayers sounded the same as back home, but it was so crowded that we were sitting in “overflow” seating outside, so it got pretty cold about halfway through the service and those of us who went, sat inside when people left the service.

When we went inside we sat upstairs and watched the service from the balcony area above the main entrance, as it ended we all gathered by the entrance downstairs and got ready for the 30-minute walk back. The streets were empty of cars, but full of families with young children on bikes and scooters, everyone seemed to be getting out of synagogue just then, so more and more people were filling the streets. We were walking against the flow of all the people; singing “Hallelujah” and “One Day” as we walked the streets because that was what was stuck in our heads. We came to a stop at a roundabout where everyone was gathered waiting to go back to Beit Shmuel, everyone was talking, singing, and laughing with friends. It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life because unlike Israel, the United States doesn’t go silent on Yom Kippur.

The next morning, I woke up later than I normally would because I didn’t have my Mom to wake me up and take me to early morning services, so I went to the later morning services. I wanted to go to an Orthodox service but the group left before I could tell them I wanted to go with them, so I went to the Reform service at Beit Shmuel instead, and it turned out to be a good thing that I stayed. The service was upstairs on the 4th floor, and it was led by Rabbinical students on their year of studying in Israel. It was really nice, but it was really warm in there, and as I was fasting I wasn’t drinking any water, and the last thing I had eaten/drank was more than 12 hours prior. I ended up leaving the service early due to feeling sick, so I went back to my room which was on the 3rd floor and made sure I stayed hydrated throughout the rest of the day.

Due to not feeling good earlier I stayed at Beit Shmuel with 3 other kids and my Madricha instead of going to the Kotel for break-fast. I was so unbelievably upset with myself for not feeling well enough to experience that, but at about 7:10pm that night Bat El, my Madricha, gave the 4 of us Oreos and peach juice to break the fast, so it wasn’t the worst way to end Yom Kippur.

 


Ruby Russell, September 25th 2017

Back home, history is a page in a textbook. When a teacher leads us in a review, they may refer to a past lessons as, “chapter 3,” or “page 258.” Here at AMHSI when my core teacher Aubrey leads the class in a review, he says things like, “remember that water tunnel we crawled through last week?” and, “remember the ancient village we collected artifacts from?” We always remember.

Every week, I board a bus with all thirtyfive of my HSI semester peers, our three energetic madrichim, and our two passionate Jewish Studies teachers. Our bus become Miss Frizzle’s Magic School Bus, the teleporting fantasy vehicle I always read about as a child. But this time it’s not fantasy. It’s all real. When we study the Tanach, many of the stories can feel very fictional. It’s impossible to take all of the Tanach literally. However, what historians have been able to pinpoint in a concrete manor, is the locations where many of the Tanach’s stories take place. Today, we are able to walk on the same land as our forefathers and foremothers are said to have traveled upon and we hike up the same mountains as the valiant judges that brought forth our ancestors from times of hardship. Even if someone doesn’t believe in the actuality of these figures, it is undeniable that since the moment this land was declared holy in the Torah, our Jewish families, going back hundreds of generations have held it dear to their hearts and used it and it’s narratives to guide their lives.

In class, we’ve just learned about the building and destruction, rebuilding and again, destruction of the Beit Hamikdash (first and second Temple). We learned about how it was the center of all Jewish life in the time of the kings and how its destruction formed the way the Judaism functions today. In more modern news, our teacher explained that most Jews today literally pray in the direction of the temple’s remains. We then went and visited the site of the last remains of the Temple: the Western Wall/Kotel. After learning about how crucial this site has been to our culture, this tiyul (field trip) was deeply meaningful to every person in class. It touched us all differently but we all felt its impact in one way or another. Some said they sensed a strong force of energy radiating from the wall. Others found that being by this holy site allowed them to get in touch with parts of themselves that do not usually visit. I personally can’t say my experience at the Kotel was all that spiritual, but I can certainly say it’s something I won’t forget. I stood in awe of the great stone structure in front of me and imagined the booming society that it once encapsulated. A people so strong and loyal to one another and they past down their faith and connection for thousands of years, and finally, to me. Standing in this site I no longer felt removed from everything I learned about in class. I was standing inside of the history. This Tiyul and the many others I’ve taken with AMHSI have made me realize that really, everything I learn in class in some way has made a real impact on the Jewish life I live and the Jewish land I walk upon. This stuff is worth remembering. Memorizing for tests no longer feels like a bother, It’s just spending a little extra time thinking about things that are genuinely important to me. Here at AMHSI, history comes alive through the land, and I welcome the knowledge I gain here into my life as it helps me grow as a Jewish individual.

Netta Shpinner

Nothing Cooler

        Sitting in classrooms all day is no fun what so ever, unless you are doing something special, or fun and cool. But let’s be honest that doesn’t happen very often. Most of the time you have to listen to your teacher rant about something that sometimes you don’t even understand. Or your teacher is talking about something so boring you could fall asleep in the middle of class. Well that is why you come on programs like these. Don’t get me wrong I do sometimes have to listen to my teacher rant about stuff, but then at least I know I get to go out and see it. The whole point of this program is to learn more about Israel through your feet, meaning instead of only learning about the topic in a classroom you not only learn about in the class but then you get to go see it for yourself and learn about it outside the classroom.

        Back home in Brookline I found it so hard to sit in a classroom for an hour and literally just sit in the chair and learn. As much as I wanted to get up and walk around and get out of classroom, I didn’t because I would hate missing what we would learn about because even though I would only miss like three minutes of class it is three minutes of classwork, and notes that I would have to make up later and then I would be behind, and I hate being behind. It is really hard for me to catch up, so yes I would never really leave class unless it was an emergency.

Also back home the topics aren’t that interesting to be honest, so being here and not only learning interesting topics, but also traveling places and seeing the information come to life is so amazing and it is an amazing experience. It will definitely help me learn, and it will definitely make it more interesting and fun.

Going out and being able to learn about the topic at the place that the event actually happened makes the learning so much richer and so much more fun and interesting. For example in core class obviously a couple of weeks ago we were learning about King David, and that whole time period. So while we where learning about that we actually went to Jerusalem and saw everything. We got to see the western wall, and something that I found was extremely cool and fun was the water tunnels in the city of David. We got to see how it looks like, and how hard it actually is. I found it so cool and extremely helpful to the site that we are learning about. It gives me a new perspective of what we learn and vision for how it was created.  Going to Gilboa during our first week here also really helped me learn, because I got a really good image in my head about how it could’ve looked like.

Learning through your feet is so much more cultivating and helpful than sitting in a classroom and learning about it. It has helped me so much so far in the program and hopefully it will keep on helping me throughout the rest of the program. Because let’s be honest learning through your feet is so much cooler.

Yaakov Burger

Israel to America and Back Again

This week I came back to school after 3 days in America celebrating my brother’s Bar Mitzvah with my family. It just happened that I’m supposed to be comparing Israel and America in this blog, and since I have American thoughts fresh in my mind I will be able to compare them very well. When I was in America for my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, I realized how different Israel is. The people, food, culture, and landscape, are just so different. I’ll start with the people. In America the people are usually minding their own business; going about their day with a stressed out feel and rushing from one thing to another. In Israel, I feel like the people are more relaxed and friendly. Before HSI started I spent a few weeks in Israel, and one day I was taking the train home from Modiin to Raanana. I was trying to buy a ticket to Herzliya, which is the closest station to Raanana, but the machine didn’t have Herzliya as an actual destination and I had no idea why. I was about to just jump onto the next train and hope for the best when these two random guys offered to help. They explained that the Herzliya station wasn’t working that day.Thankfully I didn’t go on that train because if I did I would have ended up in the north, a few hours away from Raanana. Eventually, I went to Tel-Aviv and ran into the exact same people who helped me earlier when I was on a bus to Raanana. Their bus pass wasn’t working so I paid for them, and we went back to Raanana together. Nothing even close to that has ever happened to me in America. In Israel, everyone is happy to help and it’s such a small country that anything can happen. Of course, the Israelis are crazy in their own ways. Driving in Israel makes New York City feel like a quiet country road, and Israelis are some of the most stubborn people I’ve ever met. On the other hand Israelis can be extremely caring and helpful, but make sure not to insult them because they will not be quick to forget. The biggest thing I had to get used to about Israel is the fact that actual iced coffee is really hard to find. It took me awhile to adjust but now I’m satisfied with the Israeli version of iced coffee, which is a delicious coffee smoothie. The food in Israel is better in every way except for pizza, ice cream, and coffee, but the falafel, shawarma, and shakshuka definitely make up for it. America is a beautiful country with many different landscapes, but it pales in comparison to Israel. Israel is such a small country, but it still has so many different landscapes from desert in the Negev, all the way to snow on Mt. Hermon. In conclusion, I can’t say that one is better than the other. They both have things that the other does not, but personally I feel happier and more at home in Israel.  

Jessi Giordano

Our Living Classroom  
School. Even the thought of it has a negative connotation in my mind. It makes me think of a prison; a set schedule you have to follow all the time, set meal times, and free time for yourself when the supervisors permit it. That’s not how this school is though, it’s so different from any school experience I’ve ever had, and that’s saying a lot for me.
I go to a vocational school back home which I had to be accepted to in order to go, and it was extremely competitive which in a way makes it sort of like the fellowship. Almost my entire 8th grade class applied, and only 12 got in out of 300 students, but my freshman class at BVT (my high school) was 310 students, so my town made up only about 4% of my grade. My school is a regional vocational school, so there are 13 sending towns that send students to the school.
But like I said it’s a vocational school, which means that while I get my high school education, I also learn a real world job. My school offers 18 different programs to study, and at the middle of freshman year you choose which shop you want to be in. I chose Cosmetology, and it was one of the best decisions ive ever made. Your shop becomes your family, as you spend half of your high school career with these people. They’re among the few people that I actually miss from back home.
But coming here and learning on the road, like going to the places we learn about is crazy, and so not boring at all the way normal high school educations normally are. I’m so glad that I got the opportunity to come here and experience the program for myself. This program is a great opportunity to experience the world for what it really is, and not the sheltered version we get from our parents. We get to be responsible young adults living in a similar environment that college will provide, and we also get to go on field trips twice a week to the places we learn about. What school do you know of that do that? I don’t know of many, and I’m so happy that I’m a part of one that does. This learning environment really does make our studies come alive. Like last week for example, we had toga day because we were learning about the Hellinistic society that derived from the Greeks who took control of our ancient lands. What school do you know of that requires you to turn your bed sheets into a toga for the day?
I don’t know of many, but I’m happy that my school does.

Yaakov Burger- My living Classroom

I’m wasn’t the biggest fan of school. Last year I’d go to sleep dreading the next school day when I’d have to wake up at 6 AM to go to classes I never enjoyed. It was always so hard to feel engaged in the Jewish studies, since it was hard to relate or to feel connected to what we were learning about. The classes would often be lecture based, and after about 20 minutes I’d be close to falling asleep. I was disappointed; I wanted something more engaging, because I really want to learn more about Judaism and Jewish history, and I really love learning if it’s taught the right way for me. I had no idea what to do, but I was sure I would never like school; it would always be something I was forced to do. My classroom was the most boring place in the world. I couldn’t wait to get home every day.

When I got to HSI all that changed. I realized that I didn’t hate school at all, I just didn’t like the way I was being taught or the learning environment I was in. At Muss, all of Israel is our classroom, and every single thing I learn is so extremely interesting and I feel connected to it all. When I had a 2 hour class in Tel Gezer, the time flew by. The classroom comes alive. I could see exactly where everything happened which makes learning a completely different experience. When I studied in a classroom in America it was hard to see, understand, or believe everything that I learned about Judaism, but when I’m in Israel I see where everything happened, I understand exactly how they happen, and I have so much more belief that what I learned actually happened. The classes at Muss are definitely not easy, but the fact that they’re so much more engaging makes them feel easier, and I actually enjoy my classes so I don’t mind working hard to do well.

I have been at Muss for about a month, and already the amount I’ve learned shocks me. I know so much more about Israel, its culture, and its history. So far I’ve learned about Jewish History starting from Abraham, and ending at the Maccabees in less than one month. We went into much greater detail than I thought was possible for such a short amount of time, and it was fascinating every step of the way.

If you are someone who does not really like school, but wants a new experience that truly makes you love learning, then HSI is perfect for you. HSI is nothing like any of the 5 different schools I have gone to; it brings the classes alive and makes everyone able to relate and understand what happened when and how it happened. I surprised myself when I realized I was looking forward to my core class when I went to sleep. I looked forward to the morning quiz, and reading the Israeli news every morning, and I find myself wondering what interesting new information we were going to learn that day.

 

_____________________________________________________________________
Ruby Russell, September 11 2017
Eight Smoothies To Go

        Goals are ever growing, changing, and evolving. No matter what they are and where they lead, it’s important to track progress. For example, I keep a little punch card in my wallet. It tracks my progress towards my goal of buying ten smoothies from the local smoothie stand and then receiving a free one at the end of the semester. So far I’m ⅕ of the way to my free smoothie, on track to achieve my goal.

Though my smoothies are certainly import to me, what really sits high on my list of goals for this semester is finding out how Judaism fits into my life. This goal is particularly hard to gauge because I believe that religion does not need to be a set -in-stone type of thing. This may sound a bit ironic, cause, ya know, the ten commandments written on stone tablets. I certainly find the tablets to be meaningful but I, without question, do not find every Jewish law applicable to my life (for example, I don’t really need any laws to tell me how to do my daily sacrifices). This leaves me wondering: What Jewish laws should I follow? Why should I be following them? To what degree should I follow them? The answers to these question can shift as I grow older, live in different environments, and learn new things. Because of all the factors that I know will affect how I interact with Judaism, I can’t exactly declare when I have found the answers to my questions. The only thing I can do is make sure I listen and observe with an open mind.

Here at AMHSI I have the most magnificent resources for learning about Judaism in the life of a teenager in 2017: my peers. For the next four months, I get the privilege of living with Jewish adolescents whose religious identities have each been shaped by dozens of combinations of unique influences. We all come from different locations, family structures, and synagogues. The dorms of AMHSI become a beautiful collage of different ways of practicing Judaism.

On Friday nights, some boys were kippahs and some wear fedoras. Some girls wear full length dresses and others where miniskirts and Magen Davids. During Shabbat, some kids make a point of calling home while others refrain from using electronics all together. When I ask my friends why they choose to observe Judaism the way they do, I get a mixed bag of answers. Some people say, “this is the way my family has always done it,” and others say, “I was so tired of what my parents forced me to do, so now I do this.” Some of my peers have learned about their Jewish customs from their families and others have learned from rabbis, friends, summer camps, books, the internet, and even dreams. One universal feature of all the kids here at AMHSI is that we’re still trying to figure it out. Sure, we have our traditions but we as we learn about Jewish history and we learn about each other, our beliefs change and we question our behaviors. Nobody is sure of anything. And that’s okay.

I don’t know how my Judaism will look at the end of this semester and I have no idea what form in will take when I start a family of my own. I do know that as long as I listen lots and keep track of my smoothie punch card, I’ll leave here with a newfound confidence in my ever changing Judaism, and a fresh smoothie, free of charge.

Jessi Giordano, September 11 2017

Indoorsy Girl Learning to Love Nature

        When I originally applied for the Fellowship, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into- but over the course of these past two weeks I’ve started to get a better understanding of what exactly I am a part of. This past week we went on several tiyulim, including our first overnight tiyul. We went to Mt. Gilboa, and hiked down the mountain, which took about 2+ hours because we had class on the mountain. Afterwards, we went to a youth hostel for lunch and to swim in the pool they had which was amazing considering it reached 102℉. After that, we were blindfolded by our teachers, and were taken to Jerusalem where we proceeded to hear a story, and only after the story could we remove our blindfolds. We then went to our housing for the night which was a youth hostel in Jerusalem. The next morning, we took a long drive to Sataf, and walked down the ancient terrace farm. Then back to Jerusalem for a trek through Hezekiah’s tunnel in the dark. Then we went to the Kotel, and I was completely overwhelmed by emotions. As this is my first time in Israel, I didn’t know what to expect when I went, and I was so clueless as to what to do. I pressed my head to the wall, and was so overcome with emotion that all I could really do was cry. Later that day we went out on town in Jerusalem, and my friend and I got matching sleep shorts.

        Two days later we went on another tiyul to Megiddo, and Mt. Carmel. Megiddo was just like Tel Gezer, but Mt. Carmel was what I liked the best about that day. We had a short hike that day, and had class afterwards, where we did this really cool activity where we had to go off on our own and find our own connection to G-d. I sat on a table under a tree, and listened to the wind. I wish I could’ve stayed there for the rest of class, but after that we had to get back on the bus to go back to Hod.

        So far, this trip has been an amazing, life changing experience. I’ve gotten to know so many amazing people, and even made some friends with those not on my program. And I think I’ve even gotten decent exercise because of all the hikes we’ve been on, but that’s not what I’m looking forward to the most about the next 16 weeks. I’m really looking forward to making lifelong friends with the people I’m living with for the next 4 months, and for getting better at my Hebrew. I know a little bit of Hebrew, and can read and write it, but I can’t understand it, which is something I want to be able to do. I’m also really excited about Yam Le Yam, which is our four-day hike from sea to sea across Israel. The longest I’ve ever hiked was maybe 3 hours, on one of our tiyul, and I’ve never really been camping before either, so now that I get to do this with 35 of my friends it’s really exciting to me.

 

Netta Shpinner, September 11 2017

Wow what a week! It has been amazing. We went on our first actual hike, and our first week where we only had like 3 days of actual school.  During the week we had three trips. On Monday we went to Gilboa, which is up north. It was amazing, I had so much fun.  At first I was thinking that hiking here couldn’t be very challenging, but I was wrong. Gilboa is much harder than it looks. For me, the hike was more fun than hard. Back home in Boston my family and I would hike a lot so I wouldn’t say that the hike was hard, but I would say that it was harder than I thought it would be. Anyways, I loved it. Now since we are in Israel and it is extremely hot, especially on a hiking trip, we went to a pool. At first the plan was to go to the Sachne, which is a freshwater spring. It is one of the best places in Israel, I love it so much. But sadly we didn’t get to go. But it was ok because we went to a pool instead. It’s not as good as the Sachne but it’s better than nothing.

After the pool we made our way to Jerusalem. I haven’t been to Jerusalem since I was 7 so it was nice to go back there. The first stop was an observation sight. It was really pretty. Before we got off the bus our counselor’s made us put blindfolds on so we didn’t know where we were going or what was really happening. People didn’t really enjoy being blindfolded, but I enjoyed it. It was a nice little way to make us be amazed by the view. After the observation we went to the hotel to finish our night.

On Tuesday we woke up early and went to Sataf, which is also in Jerusalem. That was also cool. We got to learn more about what people did for a living and how they did it. While we were there we had a lesson of course, but it was really cool and helpful to have a lesson where we can actually see and imagine what was going on and how everything looked liked. After Sataf we went to the City of David, and to the water tunnels. That was one of the best parts of the day for me. Walking through the water tunnels was so much fun, we all had a blast. Later we went to the Western Wall. It was a very emotional time for some of us. I just enjoyed being there and seeing the wall for only the second time in my life. It was a very nice experience.

The last thing we did during the day was DOTS. DOTS stand for ‘dinner on the streets.’ It basically means that instead of going back to the campus to eat we eat on the streets.  So we stopped at a certain point in Jerusalem and went to eat. I also enjoyed that part of the day, it was nice to have a bit of a change from eating on campus all the time.

The last trip we had that week was on Thursday and is was to Tel Megiddo. Tel Megiddo is also in the North, kind of next to Afula. The place was very similar to Tel Gezer, the first place we went to the first week. Again it was very cool and very interesting to see the way people lived and how it changed over time.

Last week was packed but this week will be even more. We have yam le yam and I am very excited. Any week with a trip and new experiences is a great week for me. Well hopefully your week was as exciting as mine! Stay tuned for next week, you won’t want to miss it.

 

Ruby Russell, September 4th 2017

Just a few days ago, I was dropped off at the Boston, Massachusetts International Airport expecting a few hugs goodbye, maybe just a couple tears, and one memorable semester. Instead, I got three overweight bags, two hours of debate with TSA, and one missed flight. I guess it’s in tradition though; It’s never been easy for the Jewish people to get to Israel. Already in my first few days here at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, I have learned that quite possibly the majority of jewish history is about exile and return to Israel. The Tanakh talks a lot about travel. I guess it’s fitting that my flight to Israel was a bit dramatic. Lots of roadblocks, and stressors, learning moments, and yet still, plenty of new connection were made.

When I finally boarded my plane I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. I was relieved to be past TSA but still uncertain about who I would spend the next ten hours compressed beside, and who I would spend the next four months living, learning, and hopefully laughing with. My concerns about my airplane neighbors were soon put at ease when I found that the young couple sitting beside me were, just like me, passionate about Israel, vegan, and extremely exhausted. We spent most of the flight sleeping, recuperating from already strenuous travel days. The few hours which we spent away, we exchanged awkward “being the only Jew” stories as well as, “being the only secular Jew” stories. They advised me on the best ways to spend my weekends in Tel Aviv (concerts and beach days are essential). I ranted to them about my worries and anticipations for my semester abroad. They explained that for most dietary restrictions, when in doubt: Falafel. They informed me on all the best translation apps for English to Hebrew (avoid google translate at all costs). When we finally landed in Ben Gurion airport that assisted me in lugging my gigantic bags off of the baggage claim carousel, friended me on facebook, and waved goodbye.

Not long after, my uncertainty about how I would get along with my 35 brand new peers and housemates were also put to rest. I was picked up from the airport with a bus full of jetlagged but wide-smiling, eager teens all just as excited and anxious for the upcoming semester as I.

Our first night together was short lived. We all made our beds and settled right down inside of them, zoning our own quiet dreams. That night my mind wandered to the Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and back home again to Boston. I thought about the last dinner that my family enjoyed together. It was shabbat, a Jewish tradition that without fails to bring us together. I’m not going to lie, it made me a bit sad to think that I would not light candles with my family for another four months. Still though, I realize that in that time, I have no doubt my peers at AMHSI will become my family every night on shabbat and each morning when I grumpily roll out of bed. I have no doubt that in four months time I will find myself in the airport again, but this time, with a Jewish family 35 members greater and a whole country broader.

Netta Shpinner, September 4th 2017

Well the first week has past, and I am about to start a new one. There is a lot to say about this first week here at AMHSI so I’ll try not to make this too boring. The week started off with me saying goodbye to my parents and my two younger siblings. I was already in Israel before the program started so I don’t really have a plane story. I also said goodbye to the rest of my family here in Israel. Luckily I still get to see them.

Arriving here at AMHSI this week I had a lot of different emotions, and thoughts going through my head. I was worried, nervous, scared, excited, and sad, throughout the entire week. I was worried that I won’t make any friends. I was nervous to meet everyone, mostly because I am a very shy person. I was scared because I just always am when I start something new. I was excited because this is a great experience and of course I would be excited to start it. I was sad because I had to say goodbye to my family for four months.

The first day was a pretty boring day to be honest. It was basically an orientation day. We had a lot of information told to us. Apart from the amount of information we had to remember, it was the first actual day that we got to start getting to know everyone. For me it was very overwhelming just because meeting new people is not something that I am very found nor am I very good at it. But I did my best. The group is a really good group; everyone is really nice and fun to be around. This group connected really quickly, I was very surprised. It looks like we have known each other for years, at least for most of the people here. For me that was kind of hard to deal with, because it takes me a little while to get close to a person and feel comfortable around them. So I am still having a little hard time with connecting and getting really close to the group but slowly I am doing it.

Throughout the week I slowly started to get the hang of things here. I still have to get use to waking up early, having two and a half hours of core class before my main subjects even start and having really long days. I love sleeping and for me to get six to seven hours of sleep every night is really hard, my body has to get use to it.

The campus is pretty cool! It’s not that confusing thankfully and I learned my way around it really quickly. I also got to know the town Hod Hasharon pretty quickly. When I mean the town I mean the area that we mainly go to and the area that we are allowed to visit and walk around in. I’ve been in town a couple of times and it’s very nice there. You basically have everything you need a couple minutes walk from here, it’s very comfortable.

So that is what I have to say about my first week here at AMHSI. I hope I wasn’t too boring and that whoever is reading this enjoys this! I’ll let you know how next week goes.

Yaakov Burger, September 4th 2017
It hasn’t even been a week. In just one week I’ve already learned so much about Judaism and I’ve gotten a completely different perspective of what it means to be Jewish. I thought I’d be coming to a program that taught some fundamental Jewish history that I would basically already know since I’ve been in Jewish schools my whole life. I knew the teachers would try hard to make the class engaging, and to make the teens care about the class, but I never could have guessed how much a group of teens would really want to learn about Jewish History and Tanach. Every student is interested and engaged in the core class, and even though I know the Tanach, I get to learn it in a whole new way that I’ve never experienced before. In these few days I have learned so many incredible things about Israel’s history, culture and people. My core teacher, Doni, is perfect at his job. He’s funny and entertaining, and gives a mean motivational speech about our individual importance and part of Judaism. On our first trip, Doni managed to take every single thing we had learned already, and fit it into the trip. He showed us the different land masses, and I had a class in a tree, then we learned about the Canaanite customs and brought it back to Abraham who we’d been learning about. Every single student really cares about the class, and that’s something I’ve never seen in school in America.

On the program, there are so many ways to spend our free time, and there’s much more free time than I expected. We can chill in our dorm rooms, play basketball, go for a swim, workout in the gym, jam out in the music room, or best of all, go into town. The town has lots of nice little restaurants and shops. You can find any groceries or school supplies you might need. My personal favorite that I visit on a daily basis is Cofix, where everything is only 6 shekels, even the delicious iced coffee!

We just had our first Shabbat on campus, and it was amazing. We could sleep for as much as we wanted, and our curfew was an hour later than normal! It gave us all a chance to slow down and really get to know each other. After the first few packed days, it was nice to take a real day to rest, and just chill with everyone.

We are one, big, happy family. The madrichim are the parents who are slightly crazy, but strict when they have to be, and the best fake parents I could ask for. The Toranim (helpers) are the workers who do the daily chores; they get up early and wake everyone up, and make sure the common spaces are suitable for human life. Everyone has to be Toran on a different day.  We all have our own jobs, classes and assignments, but in the end of the day we all work together as a community and a family.

Jessica Giordano, September 4th 2017

Spoiler alert, I’ve never been to Israel before, so everything about it is really exciting to me. I got to the airport at around 7pm, Sunday the 27th, and I was a bundle of nervous energy the whole time I was there. Just waiting for the flight made me feel like I had a swarm of butterflies in my stomach. Would people like me? Would I get along with everyone? These thoughts were swimming through my mind as more and more people started to show up at the airport. As we went through security my heart was racing, my parents had left at this point, and I wondered if I would be stopped. Would they not like my answers, or would I be pulled away from the group?

Luckily nothing severe happened, and I stayed with the group the whole time, but no food places were open in the airport as it was about 1am. So I bought some beef jerky at the only available place to buy food from, as that was the only real food there. Then we waited to get on the plane, which was almost as stressful as waiting for the whole group to arrive. I was seated next to another girl who I had luckily connected with easily, so the plane ride was a fun ‘get-to-know-you’ experience. We shared pictures of our friends which we had brought with us to decorate our dorms, and watched Moana after breakfast. Even getting off the plane was a good experience, we took a bus to campus, and met our amazing Madrichim, and listened to Israeli music that was being played throughout the bus to get us in the mood of being in Israel.

When we got to our dorms, there was food waiting for us which was a blessing because I was so hungry after the 11 hour plane ride, even though they served breakfast. Then we got situated in our bunks, and I met my roommates, who are all really easy-going and fun to talk to. The next day was our orientation day; we got a tour of campus, and had our core class, then went out on the town that night.

We had our first Tiyul the next day, which was the 30th. We went to Tel Gezer, which was an archaeological site that we got to explore and learn the history of. It was really hot out though, which is to be expected as we’re in the sun all day, and I went through about 3 liters of water, which isn’t something I’m used to doing. We officially started academics the next day, and it was a struggle to find some of my classes. Along with that we took our hebrew placement tests, and I feel as though I’m somewhere in the middle. Surprisingly I had a ton of free time that day, but that changed quickly.

Shabbat in Israel was very different than what I’m used to back home. We got out of class at 12, and had the rest of the day off to prepare for shabbas. Everyone was dressed nicely and we took a lot of pictures before having Kabbalat Shabbat and dinner. After we got back from dinner we had free time and got to hang out with the kids from the neighboring dorm, which I thought was pretty awesome, because even though we’re on different trips we are still getting to know them.

All in all I’m really looking forward to the rest of the trip, and all the memories and friendships that I still have yet to create. And even though I’ve only been here a short while, Hod really is home.

_________________________________________________________________

Ruby Russell, August 20th 2017

This year for my birthday, my Baubie bought me two, huge, black, ugly pieces of samsonite luggage… and I could not have been happier! Any other year this type of gift would likely be met by a kind, but not so genuine smile and a polite “thank you”. This year however, This luggage means exploration, independence, and opportunity. This luggage is coming with me half way around the world to Israel, where I will spend four months living and learning at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI).

In my mind, I can picture myself standing in Ben Gurion airport in less than a month’s time. My luggage by my side and my mind ready to receive new ideas, friends, and memories. I imagine another image of my luggage and I, this time standing in Boston Logan airport. It is late December and my body, having become accustomed to the Mediterranean sun, is shivering in the frigid air of my home town in the winter. My suitiicases are no longer black and boring, but instead they are covered in colorful patches from various places I’ve traveled to during my time in Israel.

If I try to imagine what will go on between these airport visits, I can only invision a faint silhouette of what I will experience. All I know is that I will spend every second of these four months learning and growing as a jewish individual and as a global citizen. I will learn 5,000 years of jewish history in the core of my AMHSI curriculum. I will witness in real life the remnants of this rich history as it is preserved in the land around me as well as the evidence of social and political change that is still brewing today. I will experience Israeli culture in real time and gather a stronger understanding of the countries conflicts and areas of growth. In addition, through my fellowship with the Jewish National Fund, I will get a window into the inner workings of the organization which works to hold together the jewish populations, a religious and ethnic group which has been pushed apart for thousands of years.

When I return home, I have no doubt that my mind and heart will be adorned with as many new colorful patches, stickers, and stamps as my suitcases. I will have a stronger understanding of where I stand in the international Jewish community and the steps I can take to strengthen this community for the future, keeping in mind the past and present.

I now fill up my suitcases with T-shirts, shorts, anticipations, and curiosity. I cannot wait to fly into israel with an open mind and an ugly suitcase and soak up all the history, culture, and sun light that it has to offer.

Netta Shpinner, August 20, 2017

       Israel, well I only have one word to describe it; Home.

Israel is my home, even though I don’t live there. I was born here, most my family lives here, and it is where I am always happy and having a great time. But the problem is that I know very little about the place. I mean yes I know the basic information of the place but that’s it, and that bothers me. When I visit Israel during the summer I do travel around and see new places, but not a lot and I don’t do it very often. While I travel around especially in the northern part of Israel, my family is always telling me facts about all these places but let’s be honest – I don’t really pay attention, let alone remember the information. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I hope to learn more about my home country, and to travel more in depth and see more amazing things that this country has to offer.

       Every time you try something new you will most likely have something that you are afraid of. At least that is what happens to me. Well this is something new that I’m doing and I have some things that I am concerned about going into this experience, like making new friendships. Hopefully I’ll make plenty new friends but I had to express my concern. I’m also concerned about handling the work that I’ll have to do. There is so much work and so much to learn in a short amount of time. It takes me some time to fully absorb new stuff and really enjoy it.  I want to fully enjoy all they plan on teaching me here. I have a couple more concerns but I’ll settle with these two for now.

       New experiences not only come with some fears but also come with expectations. I always have images in my head of what I hope something will be like or turn out like, sometimes even images of what (?) something should look like. Since this is a new experience I obviously had different images in my head. The expectations that I have in mind might sound like everyone else’s but it might not. I expect first of all to have an unforgettable experience and make memories for a lifetime. I also expect to make new friends that will last. And obviously I expect to learn many new things, especially about Israel. So even though it might not play out exactly as I have it in mind, I hope it will come close to it.

       Before I finish I want to say how much fun I’m having right now. I promise I’ll finish after this. I am having one of the best summers ever so far. I have two weeks of surfing, I got to spend a lot of quality time with my cousins before they all get too busy with their duties, I got to do some traveling around the country, and I got to see all of my really good friends that I haven’t seen in a long time. To sum it all up, while I am having an amazing summer, I can’t wait to start my new adventure at AMHSI, even though that means starting school again.

Jacob Burger, August 20th 2017

I arrived in Israel on August 4th. I flew to Israel directly from Boston with my younger brother. The plane ride was fine, I slept through most of it, and there were some good movies too! When we got off the plane I had a hugely important decision to make. Falafel or Shawarma? Shawarma. Obviously.

   Then I had a real decision to make: do I go to the passport control for foreigners and show them my American passport, or to the Israeli line and show my Israeli passport? I was born in Israel so I have dual citizenship, but I moved to America when I was 2, so I don’t feel very Israeli. I don’t speak fluent Hebrew, and I was raised in the U.S. I’ve only ever been to Israel on vacation, so I’ve always felt like a tourist in a cool country with good food. I don’t feel like a real Israeli, so I decided to go to the foreigner’s line for us Americans. I didn’t want to wait in line with all the Israelis speaking in rapid fire Hebrew, and I didn’t want to get to the front of the line and to have the women behind the counter say “דרכונים בבקשה?’’ I’d have to say “sorry, English please”. I wanted to avoid that whole thing, so I waited in line with the other “foreigners”.This is a big reason I wanted to go to AMSHI. Even though it’s an American program, I hope that living in Israel for 4 months will make me feel more at comfortable in Israel, more Israeli, and more at home.

        After baggage claim, my brother and I were picked up by our 18-year-old cousin. He drove us back to his home in Ra’anana. No parents. Just the three of us in a car having a great time enjoying the Israeli countryside. Without anyone telling us what to do; I felt so independent and free.

I’ve been asked to write about my fears for the program, but the truth is I don’t really have many fears about the program itself. Sure, I’m worried about taking chemistry, and two Hebrew classes, but most of my fears are about the transition back home after the semester. I’m really just excited for the program to start, but I’m worried about coming home. What will I have missed while I’m gone? How hard will it be to go to a new school for the second semester of 10th grade? Even though I know the transition home won’t be easy, I’m still excited, and I can’t wait for the semester to start.

On AMHSI I expect many things. I expect to learn so much about Israel and the history of the Jewish nation. I expect to discover more about myself as a Jew and answer many of the questions I’ve had about Judaism. I expect to make lifelong friends, to have an unforgettable experience, and to grow and change. I feel so lucky to be going on AMHSI since it’s a high school semester that most people never have the privilege of experiencing.

Jessica Giordano, August 20, 2017

At the beginning of February, I got an email from my rabbi about the AMHSI program, recommending that I apply for the impact fellowship. So, I looked up the AMHSI website to get a better idea of what I might be getting myself into. I read through the blogs and immediately fell in love with the idea of being a part of this wonderful program. Which lead me to following my rabbi’s recommendation and apply for a spot as a fellow. When I got the phone-call telling me I had been selected I was ecstatic, I yelled so loudly that my dad, who was home with me, thought I had hurt myself and rushed downstairs. I think what made me the most excited about the incredible journey ahead of me is that my cousin actually went on the same trip when he was my age. He’s been telling me all that he can remember about it, and what I’ve been hearing the most about is the friendships he’s made; I even found out I have a 2nd cousin who lives in Tel Aviv!

Being in Israel for my first time ever, for 4 months, spending all of my time with these new people who will become my family is what I’m looking forward to the most, other than learning Hebrew of course. I’ve already become friends with several of the other students going on the trip, and I can’t wait to meet them in person. Even though I’m extremely excited to go, I can’t help but fear that I’ll miss out on a lot of things back home. What happens if when I get back the people I used to be friends with have changed? I hope all stays the same, but even if things change; the memories, friendships, and leadership skills I’ll bring home with me from this trip are things that I hope I’ll never let go of.

__________________________________________________________________

 

Hannah Katz

About two months ago I had to leave the most amazing group of people that I was blessed to spend four whole months with. The plane ride home was one last bittersweet moment, we got to spend twelve extra hours with each other while dreading the moment when we grabbed our suitcases and parted ways. Those first few days home were filled with tears and pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I loved having my group of impact fellows because without them, I do not know how I would have been able to handle the transition. 
After a month of recovering from the fast paced semester in Israel, I had to jump back into the reality of Newton South High School. I loved Muss because even though school work was still very important, I learned who I am as a person without hours of homework weighing me down nightly. I felt more prepared than I envisioned for school. The most difficult part of my transition was switching from my Muss friends to my friends from home. I had known them for over eleven years yet I came back a new person, rekindling my relationships took a lot of patience and tears but eventually we got back to the way we were before. I use my experiences that I was lucky enough to get from Muss every single day, whether it be deciding that I want roommates in college or how to manage my time without stress. 
I learned skills on the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program that I would have never been able to take away from my school. I am much more politically aware and I am able to take a different, more thought out view of my education. I hope to keep in touch with as many of my friends as possible but it is definitely a challenge. I miss Israel and the people I learned to love more than I could have ever imagine and can not wait to be back. 

Jack Pierce

All I want to do is go back. I wake up, go to school, sit through classes, and want to be back in Israel. I’ve gotten over the time and adjustment and the environment adjustment, but I’m not over living with 27 other people. At night, there was always at least three other people in the room. During the day sitting in the Moadon, there would almost always be at least one or two other people sitting quietly doing their work too. If I needed anything, the madrichim were there. I was never more than a five minute walk from classes. I miss it. I also just miss the people. Everybody there is in it for the group. We were there to make friends and have the best four months of out lives, and that’s what we did. Back in America, people are more absorbed with their own well-being. Everybody just needs to get to class on time, do their homework, and just make sure their entire life doesn’t fall apart. In Israel, or at least as Muss, we were a collective, a group. We were there for each wherever, whenever. There’s obviously people in America who care about me but not as many, and I’m not constantly around them either.

            I loved the three or four day week, too. Going to school five days a week seems to much to me right now. There’s also so much more work, whether from catching up or just that school in America is ridiculous. I’m not that far behind, but it’s still so much. My school is gigantic compared to Muss. There’s about 20 times the kids. It’s overwhelming.

            Thankfully, there’s four other kids in the greater Boston area, and there’s also technology. I’ve been able to keep in touch with pretty much everybody. I don’t know how long these long distance friendships can last, but I don’t know what I’d do without these people. Four months is such a long time.

Sophie Meltzer

Unfortunately, this blog is different from all the rest. Unfortunately, I am no longer in the land of my people, carrying on thousands of years of Jewish history in the land of Israel. Instead of writing this blog in the midst of one adventure or another in the land of Israel, my current adventure is sitting here in F period study hall, in Framingham Massachusetts. Attending Alexander Muss High School has made me realize just how different school in the states can be. There’s no four day hikes in the middle of the school week or fascinating field trips twice a week with your best friends. There’s no Aubrey and Benjy, or Adi and Urya.

AMHSI  has spoiled me. I forgot what normal school is really like. I forgot that normal school doesn’t have teachers that are there for you in class and at all hours of the day to guide you emotionally and spiritually through history. Normal school does not include living and exploring with your absolute best friends. Normal school does not include nearly anything that can be found at Muss.

However, this is to be expected, since AMHSI is not a normal school. The amount of knowledge, of Judaism, Israel, my general studies, and plain life that I have acquired still surprises me. I see something on the news,  in a book or on tv and immediately I am able to see it with a more critical and knowing eye than I ever thought I could. I am so proud of everything that I have achieved over my semester and I am so grateful that I was given such ample opportunity to succeed at Muss.

Muss has helped me not just who I am as a person today, but has helped me determine who I want to be in the future and how I plan on staying connected to my Judaism and to Israel. Although I still have no idea what I career I would like to pursue, Muss has helped me rule things out and consider new things. Muss has also helped me decide that I am not ready to decide. Over my semester I realized that I need to see more of the world. I have decided to take a gap year before college, traveling on a service year.

At this point in my life, I haven’t exactly decided how, but I know that Judaism will remain a vital part of my identity. In the next year, I will remain at home, and spread messages of love for Israel and zionism. In the next five years I will support Israel on my college campus. I will continue practicing Judaism despite future anti-semitism and remarks from fellow students. In the next ten years, I hopefully will prepare to share my Judaism with the next generation, possibly living in Israel, and definitely still sharing my religion as proudly as I have since the day I knew to call myself a Jew.

In relation to Israel, I hope to live there in the future. However, no matter where I’m living or what I’m doing, I will always be supporting Israel. I have no relatives there, and no one puts a very large significance on coming to Israel or making Aliyah. I am the only member of my immediate family that has traveled to Israel. I would like there to be a bigger emphasis on the importance of this land in my own family. However, being the only one with a connection in my family has only made it stronger. I made my own path here, not following in the footsteps of anyone, including my older siblings. I am often stuck in their shadow, however Israel is mine. Israel is my happy place, my second home, my connection to my Judaism. Israel is made ever more important to me because of the fact that I found my own way here. No one signed me up against my will. I pushed and persuaded and wrote my way here. I put my mind to coming and I might even put my mind to staying, I have not decided yet.
Overall, Muss has taught me too much to even say. What I can say for sure is that Muss has given me a passion and love for learning that I have never been able to experience before. Muss has challenged me, Muss has shown me true friendship, and Muss has changed me as a person for the better. I could not be more thankful that I had this opportunity.

            

Hannah Katz

We had a fairly eventful week, starting with a three night stay with my mother, a tiyul in Tel Aviv, a day filled with kehilla, thanksgiving dinner and ending with an amazing Shabbat in Jerusalem. I was able to give my mom some of the experiences that I am lucky to have while she visited. I drove into my favorite city: Tel Aviv. Once there I ran to my mom and we began our weekend of adventures, including walking around the city in search of new and improved Vegan food, heading to see my sister and best of all, relaxing. After a few days catching up with my mom, we met my group in Tel Aviv.

We began at independence hall for a day dedicated to learning how Israel became Israel. We went into the actual room where David Ben Gurion declared independence and were able to hear the first official play of hatikva! It was wonderful because we were able to grasp a small amount of how the Jewish people felt when finally announcing the Jewish state. We were in exile for over two thousand years, in foreign land where our blood was constantly spilled. Now we can live knowing we are safe. We then moved on to Rothschild Street where we had an interesting lesson. It was very noisy due to construction and shockingly it made the lesson so much more fun! After our lesson we were given some time to shop and I found a lime-mint popsicle that was like a taste of heaven! We then met back with the group and headed to the house of Joseph and Rebekah Bau, a married couple of holocaust survivors who were some of Schindler’s Jews and survived the Plaszow concentration camp. Not only did they survive the camp, they got married in it! We were able to Joseph Bau’s amazing story from his daughter. The daughters created a museum to commemorate their father, not by sadness but by his humor and creativity! He also happened to be the man who forged documents for the Israeli government. His life is absolutely amazing and if there is one place that I have to recommend visiting in Tel Aviv, it is the Bau museum. Shortly after we made our way to the Palmach museum. My mom and I were in the first group. The museum teaches by visual and interactive effects, such as sounds and spinning platforms! It was really cool and I am glad I was able to experience it.

The next tiyul we took was called “Kehilla” meaning community, it was very mysterious because no one knew what was coming for them. We drove to Jerusalem and began at Yad Lakashish- a place where the elderly and work with art to give them a purpose and a community while benefiting people with their amazing work. We toured around through the ceramics department, the metal department, the children’s department and many more. Almost all of the elderly were immigrants therefore they may not speak English. We saw one man with a tattoo on his hand. My teacher realized quickly that it was from a Russian work camp, they were very cruel and not all survived. At the end I bought some of what the metal workers made because it was all so beautiful! Or next stop was the Pantry Packers organization where we split up into groups and packed over 300 bags of rice! We were able to give a family food to place on their table so that their loved ones are well and it was such an amazing feeling!! We then drove to the Castel, the Castel is what inevitably won us the war and freed Jerusalem! We did so many cool activities that taught us about the war and how we won that land, and actually we were the first group to do it. It was really cool and I am so glad we were able to end our day with a lot of fun!

The day after kehilla day wasThanksgiving! It is my absolute favorite holiday to celebrate at home and I was upset that I was not able to do my traditional celebration. Lucky for me my mom was here and I had a Thanksgiving dinner with family! Although it was not my normal American thanksgiving, I got to spend it with friends and family and it was lovely.

Lastly for this week we spent our Shabbat in Jerusalem! We arrived a little bit late because the bus driver got lost, but we were still able to spend some time in the shuk. It is one of my favorite places in Jerusalem and I have so many fond memories there. We were given a challenge- to find an item in the shuk, no more than ten shekels, which tells a family story. I chose bagelech because my grandfather used to bring us fresh bagels all the time. We then got ready for Shabbat and headed to the kotel. I loved Shabbat at the kotel because the vibes were magical. I said my prayer, kissed the wall and prepared to head out. We finally made it back for dinner, and when we got back we see the group of Australians that finally made it to Israel! They went through Hong Kong and then some were split up to Russia, Rome and Switzerland! This happened because El Al pilots are on strike. We bonded through cards and accents, then eventually went to sleep. The next day we went on a walk on the walls of the old city, had DOTS(dinner on the streets) and then saw a projected show in the King David Museum. Overall, it was an eventful and amazing week and I could not be happier! There are only four weeks left and it has not really sunk in with me yet, my atmosphere is really going to change and I don’t want to go!

 

Sophie Meltzer

            Writing this week’s blog, it is hard to imagine that in a month’s time, I will be back in Massachusetts. In a month’s time I will have to say goodbye to my best friends, to my mentors, and to this truly incredible country to return to ¨normal life¨. No more class on the beach or entire weeks spent traveling and learning. No more shakshuka or falafel right around the corner.

            It feels like just yesterday that I was arriving, afraid and knowing no one. It is so insane that three months have flown by so quickly. Time has never sped up so much in my entire life. The days may seem long and full, but before I know it a week has passed and I am celebrating yet another Shabbat with the people I love.

            This week was one of those incredibly fast weeks that kept me on my toes. We had two Tiyulim, one on Wednesday, and one on Sunday. On Sunday, we traveled to Tel Aviv to study the declaration of independence and the independence war. We started our day at Independence hall, learning, listening to Ben Gurion’s speech, and singing Hatikvah along with the recording of those in the hall. This felt like an act of triumph to stand up and sing proudly along with our founding fathers directly after the Jewish state was finally declared.

            After our time at Independence hall we had some free time to spend in the heart of Tel Aviv on Rothschild street. Having free time on Tiyul days is so significant because it allows us to experience different parts of the country not only through learning, but through walking around and being able to embrace the culture, as Israel moves around us.

            After our free time, we headed to the Joseph Bau museum to hear the story of him and his wife told by his daughter. The tale of his undying faith, humor, and love was so incredibly inspiring. His story shows the true failure of the Nazis. He and his wife were married in the camp despite impending danger. He and his wife told their children about the Holocaust when they were young, teaching them that they went through these horrors, and survived, even when the Holocaust was never discussed. Joseph Bau used his art and humor to save him during the Holocaust, and to help Israel as it became a state. His story is so incredibly important and cannot be lost.

            On Wednesday, we had a different kind of Tiyul. We began our morning at the Lifeline for the Old in Jerusalem. This incredible center trains Jerusalem’s elderly people to make crafts that can be sold to visitors. The workers are given a monthly stipend, hot meals, and most importantly, a sense of purpose and a place to go every day.

            Next, we continued on to¨Pantry Packers¨, a nonprofit food pantry organization that delivers food to thousands and thousands of Israeli families in need every month. We were given aprons, hairnets, and immediately put to work packing bags of rice. Not only was the experience rewarding, and gave us a sense of accomplishment, but it was also really fun. We had a competition to see which station could pack the most rice. Although my group didn’t win, we still know that everyone wins when helping those in need.

            Finally, after a long week of classes and Tiyulim, we traveled back to Jerusalem to celebrate our last Shabbat with Aubrey. The fact that this is our last Shabbat with him,makes me incredibly sad. It makes me realize that this is the beginning of theend. The first last. Soon enough we will have our last shabbat, our last mealin the infamous chader ochel, our last asefa, and our last goodbye. I’m not ready.

 

Maor Ziv-Kreger

 

“Why does Israel occupy land that belongs to Palestinians?”

“Why does Israel have no regard for human rights?”

“I uhh…” my mind races to come up with an answer. I have learned so much over the past 3 months, I have done well in the quizzes and tests, but these questions were different than those on the test. I look around the room and see that my fellow classmates, my new family here at AMHSI, were equally struggling.

Frank Luntz was our guest speaker of the evening. Frank is an internationally famous American political consultant and pollster who teaches politicians and other public speakers how to use certain keywords and phrases to more effectively communicate their message. Frank also works with the Israeli government and helps them speak more effectively about Israel.

He was beginning our studies of Israel Advocacy by asking us questions we might be asked by anti-Israel students on college campuses in the not so far future, and it sure wasn’t easy. Basically we were learning Israel Advocacy from the person who teaches Israel Advocacy to the Israeli Government.

“Palestinians have been living in Palestine for hundreds of years. Why did the Jews steal the land from them?” Frank asks.

Although it was difficult in the beginning, with each loaded anti-Israel question that Frank asked us, we built off each other’s answers to respond more and more effectively.

“Why did Israel invade Gaza and kill thousands of innocent Palestinians?” Frank asks.

A student in my group attempts to answer: “First of all, it’s terrible every time an innocent person dies whether Israeli or Palestinian. Gaza had been firing missiles into Israel every day for many years, and Israel demanded multiple times that they stop, and they didn’t. Eventually as the rocket firing got worse, Israel had to defend its people and stop the missiles. Israel never aims for civilians, but since Gaza is so densely populated, there was unfortunate collateral damage.”

Once Frank was done asking us questions, he gave us some examples of his well-crafted answers, and then left us with some tips to remember.

“It’s okay to admit Israel has made mistakes. First admit that Israel is not perfect, and then give reasons for why Israel makes the difficult decisions that it does.”

“Part of the struggle as Israel advocates is that we need to respond to simple questions and accusations with complicated answers because the truth is complicated.”

“In order to get to the real truth, it is important to understand every narrative and point of view of the events that happen in Israel. Without a full understanding, you can’t argue anything.”

            Over the past three months at Alexander Muss High School in Israel, I have been intensely studying Jewish and Israeli history. Every time I learned about an event in history, my class traveled to where that event took place. Now that I am nearing the end of my stay at Alexander Muss, it is time I start learning how to put all that knowledge to use. Frank Luntz’s talk marked the beginning of this journey.

            I have and will continue to use my knowledge of history to develop and strengthen my religious and national connection to Israel and the Jewish people. However there is another reason to learn history that is equally as important. There are many misconceptions about Israel and the people that live in it. I know that when I get to college I will experience anti-semitism that is full of misconceptions of Israel, but I have also heard among my Jewish community misconceptions about the Palestinians that live in Israel. I look forward to continuing my education and sharing what I have learned with the world revealing one misconception at a time.

Rachel Selvin

This week, we experienced our first “last.” After returning home from Poland, there is definitely overarching sentiment of preparing to go home, while still savoring each minute here in this amazing country. I was lucky enough to spend last weekend with my parents where I got to catch up on some sleep and family time, but was happy to be thrust back into tiyul life on Sunday with our trip to Tel Aviv. We spent the morning in Independence Hall learning about the incredible day in 1948 when the Declaration of Independence was signed by the likes of David Ben Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin and more. It was really exciting to relive, in a sense, the excitement and long held anticipation for the dream of the Jewish state to be realized. Since we were in Tel Aviv, it we only fitting that we get a chance to have coffee on Rothschild Boulevard. I love how every street in Israel has a name with historical significance; you really feel as if you are walking on something more than just streets (in Tel Aviv it was once only sand dunes). Later in the day, we made our way over to the Joseph Bau house, which is a very special museum that combines an incredible love story, holocaust survival and resilience, life in early independent Israel, Mossad missions, art, animation, and more. It really tied together a lot of the themes about Israel’s attitudes, at least in her beginnings, towards the Holocaust and helped us all get a better understanding of the sentiment and mentality of the post holocaust Israeli. These characteristics are closely tied to Israeli lifestyle today! 

            In class, we have been working our way through the years. We have covered the Independence War: we learned about the Palmach, Israel’s underground army, the beginnings of border dispute, all the way up to the six day war. Everything we hear in class is so directly linked to the political, and social, atmosphere here in Israel. Especially in terms of the six day war, we truly are living in the wake of the liberation of Jerusalem and the occupation of the west bank. There are so many difficult questions and conflicts that plague this party of the world and with the help of our classes and tours, we too can be part of the dialogue and move for progressive change for Israel and her coverage in western media.

The complexities of Israel’s livelihood were very apparent this past week as incidents of arson set the nation in flames. While Hod Hasharon was not affected, we could smell the country burning. In the midst of senseless tragedy, there has been amazing aid from nations all over the world including Russia, America, and even Palestinian authorities teamed up with Israelis to put out the fires.

As I mentioned earlier, we had our first last. Yesterday we spent our final Shabbat in Jerusalem with Aubrey. It was an amazing Shabbat spent in the Old City. We experienced the hustle and bustle of Machane Yehuda on a Friday afternoon, and walked to the Kotel for a meaningful and beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat in the Old City. The night was followed by group activities and games. I looked upon our group and could not believe just 3 months ago we were all strangers. We have truly built a family here that I know will withstand long after Muss ends. Each member of our chutzpah filled group adds his or own special piece to our brightly colored mosaic.

Shabbat was spent taking a long walk around the Old City. Jerusalem never seemed as beautiful as it did yesterday surrounded by all my friends and mentors. We ended Shabbat at a friend of Aubrey’s home where we learned about Chabad Hasidism. It was really interesting, although I don’t know if I could handle 11 children. Shabbat closed with a warm Havdalah service followed by dinner on the streets in Jerusalem. I relished the moment I no longer needed to translate for my friends as they ordered. “Hummus, Techina, Shwarma, B’Laffa.” Such words flowed off the tongues of my peers so effortlessly they truly seemed like Sabras. The amount of growth and development that I myself, as long as my friends have experienced over these past three months is phenomenal. We have truly been through thick and thin together and each one has supported the other in countless ways. We said goodbye to Jerusalem as we returned to the Hod. We have a big Tiyul coming up and I am super excited, albeit a bit sad as I know the beginning of the end has begun. However, this period is also the prelude to the next chapter of where our Muss journey takes us which too will be full of fun and surprises.

I am going to savor this last month in this most spectacular country with every fiber of my body. Hmm..I’m writing as if I’m leaving tomorrow.a month is a lot and we have so much left to see and learn!

Until next week (given that I survive Gadna)

Jack Pierce

     After Poland and the huge essay, I was basically tired all of last week. I woke up tired, went to class tired, and went to sleep tired. This week, I finally got back into the run of things. I got to relax on Shabbat before we left for Tel Aviv Sunday morning. In Tel Aviv we visited Independence Hall, in what used to be the house of Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Mayor Dizengoff. From that very hall, David Ben Gurion declared the Independent State of Israel on May 14, almost 70 years ago. Next, we visited the house of Joseph Bau, a Holocaust survivor who had an incredible life after the war. He was married in a concentration camp, made aliyah, became an artist and animator, worked with Mossad forging documents, wrote a book, and held countless other jobs (some of which haven’t been disclosed by Mossad), and through all of it, he kept his magnificent sense of humor. His little house which his daughters have converted to a museum preserves his unbelievable story. That afternoon, we visited the Palmach museum. The Palmach, initially created by the British to fight Nazi influence during the Second World War, were the elites of the Haganah during the Independence War.

            On Wednesday, we had another Tiyul, also devoted to the Independence War; however, this time was more focused on the Haganah and their values. In the morning, we visited Yad Liashish, a charity where the elderly learn to do art and spend their days working and creating instead of withering away in solitude in their homes. Many have little or no background in art, but still manage to create masterpieces. Later that morning, we drove to Pantry Packers, a charity combatting poverty in Israel, specifically hunger. A couple of my friends and I were a unit; we worked as a well-oiled machine to sticker, stamp, fill, seal, and pack bags of rice into boxes to be sent all around Jerusalem for those in need. There was some competition between the three groups, but in the end, everything was for the hungry. In the afternoon, our teachers explained how this related to the I.D.F. (Israeli Defense Force): the values. The I.D.F. values leadership, unity, fraternity, bravery, and more. One main concept of the I.D.F. is when retreating, the privates leave first. The commanders have to cover their units and lead by example. Instead of sacrificing the infantry, this is how the I.D.F. promotes bravery and leadership. One major battle during the Independence War was at Kastel, an Arab town which was used as a base to control the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively isolating Jerusalem. As we worked our way up the hill, there were different games emphasizing different values. Additionally, it was windy and cold which many people didn’t prepare for. Until you go into the army, you can’t really understand what these soldiers went through for a free, independent, Jewish state, but it helps get a sense of their mindsets.

            For Shabbat, we returned to Jerusalem. We held services at the Kotel, which once again was incredible. I made my way to the wall and had a private moment before we left for dinner. On Saturday, we took a tour of the walls of the old city. We also met one of Aubrey’s friends, a Chabad who lives in Jerusalem but grew up in Scotland with Aubrey, and his family. He and his wife shared Chabad life with us as well as why they became so much more religious. It was interesting to learn more about Chabad culture. Most of what I knew came from seeing people on the streets offering to put on tefilin. We also spent some time at the Shuk Friday and had DOTS on Ben Yehuda Street Saturday night before returning to Hod Hasharon.  

 

 

 

Sophie Meltzer 

This photo was taken at the top of Masada. I believe this picture really exemplifies the idea of שנית מסדה לא תיפול, or Masada shall never fall again. Never again will Jews have to make the decision to die because of their religion. We can pray and practice openly as shown in this image.

I took this photo on the fourth day of our Yam l’Yam journey from the Mediterranean to the Kinneret. The huge hills rolling before us didn’t stop us from reaching our destination later that day, and finally feeling the cool waters of the Kinneret on our feet.

This picture was taken at the beach in Tel Aviv on a weekend Tiyul. We had an amazing time relaxing and splashing in the waves after a long week of classes on campus.

This picture was taken in the sand dunes outside the city of Ashdod. We had an amazing time rolling around, tackling each other, and running down sand dunes.

I took this photo at my absolute favorite place in Israel, Rosh Hanikra. After a long day of learning, we watched the sun set over the Mediterranean as a group.

This is a picture of the famous Schindler Factory in Krakow, Poland. The factory continued to run after the war, however now it is a museum.

This is a picture of the beautiful stained glass windows in the Beit Tahara of Lodz. The Beit Tahara, or house of purity, was used to prepare bodies to be buried and to hold the funeral service. The building is occasionally still used by the Jewish community of Lodz, however it´s prime use occurred before the war.

This image shows the once world famous Yeshiva of the Wise Men of Lublin. Opened by Rabbi Shapira in the 1930s, this was the first Yeshiva to have accommodations such as dining and dorms. Unfortunately the Yeshiva was left empty after the start of the war and has now been converted into a hotel.

This photo was taken at Treblinka Death camp. The camp was destroyed by the Nazis at the end of the war, however there are thousands and thousands of stones left to commemorate the communities that were destroyed in the camp.

This picture shows a haunting memorial to the Jews of Lodz. These massive tomb stones line on the platform of the past Lodz ghetto, a haunting testament to the horrors that occurred.

This easily recognizable picture shows the sign that rises above the entrance to Auschwitz. I have seen so many copies of this sign throughout my life, however I could never have been prepared to see the real thing.

Maor Ziv-Kreger

15139354_682850945212998_662006103_n.jpg

Aubrey: “This is a nice, calm, pretty lake right?”

Me: “Uhh sure…”

Aubrey: “Wrong”

This “nice, calm, pretty” lake was once a pit where many ashes of victims of Auschwitz were piled up. This lake was a symbol for much of our Poland trip. There were a lot of very pretty sites that were ruined once we learned their history. One example of that was the concentration camp of Plashav. Unlike some other camps in Poland, Plashav was turned into a beautiful park in which we saw couples going on romantic walks, and people walking their dogs.

This is the button I wrote about in last week’s blog.

Held at the memorial in Treblinka at the end of a long day.

15128546_682898405208252_381983272_n.jpg

Jewish and Nazi artifacts from before and during the war sold right next to each other at the same shop. This makes me uncomfortable, although it is difficult to explain why with words.

15139304_682898455208247_1413873111_n.jpg

This is the graveyard in Lodz, Poland. There are many forgotten graves covered up with Ivy and dead leaves. Nobody knows who many of these graves belong to, because the entire families of the people buried here died in the Holocaust. Here is Aubrey uncovering one of them.

We read the name of the woman buried here, and discussed that the people buried here were also indirect victims of the Holocaust, because their memory was lost.

A cave on the water in Northern Israel.

Arin and I sitting in a tree way back during the Yam Le Yam (sea to sea) hike.

Hannah Katz 

IMG_0227 (1).jpg

Me sharing my zeidi’s life at the memorial to his shtettle, Jagolnica, Ukraine. one day before Poland.

IMG_0941.jpg

My roommates and I happened to sit together on our way to Poland!

IMG_0946.jpg

Remaining wall of the Warsaw ghetto.

IMG_0947.jpg

An amazing view of old vs. new Warsaw.

IMG_0953.jpg

Standing in the 4 degree Celsius weather, while reading my Baba’s memoir on Pultusky street in Wyskow, where she grew up.

IMG_0965.jpg

Walking through the forest near Tiktin, where the Jews were slaughtered one by one and put in one of the three mass graves.

In what used to be a Jewish market in Krakow we saw a man selling “antiques”. We walked over to see that the it was possessions stolen from Jews, 70 years ago directly next to Nazi memorabilia.

Boxes filled with the gassed victims shoes of Majdanek.

Line of bricks marking where the Krakow ghetto used to be.

Oskar Schindler’s factory.

The Bet Tehera in what used to be the Jewish cemetery, now in Plaszow Camp.

Impact fellows in the Wawel castle.

Little Jews with coins

Being sold in market.

“Work makes you free” Iconic sign in Auschwitz 1.

Child’s drawing from Auschwitz.

Entrance to the Birkenau Camp.

I was wearing an Israeli flag, inside of Birkenau looking out at the train Platform. “The victory is that you can walk out.”

Jack Pierce

Creds to Ryan and Maya for making this awesome sweatshirt. It kept me warm the entire trip. 

This Tuesday, we went to Rosh Hanikra and caught an amazing sunset. 

During Shabbat in Krakow, we lit the candles in a Magin David. 

On the third day in Poland, we learned about a small community in a Town called Tictin. Here they rest in the Lopochova forest. 

The monument in Treblinka to the thousands of communities destroyed. Each stone represents a different shtetl. 

This is Majdenek, a camp almost exactly preserved as it was 70 years ago. 

Maor Ziv-Kreger

“Look!” Alison cried with so much excitement that I just knew it was a good find. She pointed down to my boot. I scanned the muddy ground with anticipation. There it was! I bent down to pick it up. Alison and I were standing in the middle of a field of ruins in an area of Auschwitz known as “Canada.” Just over 70 years ago, “Canada” was the richest place in all of Europe. Canada was where the Nazis stored the stolen valuables of over a million Jews that were killed in the Gas chambers and work camps of Auschwitz.

I stood up. In my hand, half covered in mud, was a small black button. However, to me, it represented more than just a worthless piece of plastic once used to hold someone’s pants up. This button belonged to a human being. A human being with a name, identity and a vision for the future that was ripped away from him.

—–

As a very logical person, one of the of the things I always struggle with while learning about the Holocaust is viewing the victims as individual people and not just as a statistic.

Towards the beginning of the Poland trip, we visited the mass grave of 2,000 Jews of the Shtetl of Tykocin who were shot into pits in August of 1941. On the one hand I was horrified by the story and I cried, but on the other hand there was a thought in the back of my head whispering “This is only 2,000 people. Only 0.03% of the victims of the Holocaust. Where are the rest?”

Later that day, we went to the death camp of Treblinka, one of the most cursed places of Earth where 870,000 people were gassed over the course of 13 months. We heard a very inspiring story of a rebellion where 68 people escaped. However, in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think that compared to the 870,000 people who were murdered in Treblinka, these 68 people were completely statistically insignificant.

The next day in the camp of Majdanek, I learned that an estimated 200,000 were killed in all sorts of different torturous ways; gassed in the gas chambers, shot for for target practice, or hosed down and left outside in the brutal cold of Poland’s winter to freeze to death. However once again, I couldn’t help but think “Okay yeah, 200,000 people died here, but yesterday we were in a place where more than 4 times that many people died.”

—–

However, as time went on, my focus shifted, and I noticed that I began to build a more personal connection to the victims and sites. Stories started touching me more emotionally. I specifically remember learning about Janusz Korczak who spent many years working as a director of a Jewish Orphanage in Warsaw. When his orphans were sent to the death camp of Treblinka, he was offered his freedom. However, Korczak refused to leave his children and stayed with them until the very end. Janusz Korczak was known to never lie to his children, with the exception of that one miserable train ride from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka. He told them that they were headed out to the country. He tried to cheer up the children with stories about meadows with flowers, berries, streams, and woods. Hearing this story, I asked myself what would I have done? Would I have saved myself and abandon the orphans? Maybe if I did, I would be able to help more children. Would I lie to the children and try to make their last hours full of hope, or would I tell the children the truth?

Standing at the entrance to Block 10, where victims were viciously experimented on in Auschwitz, I heard another incredible story. A Jewish prisoner of Auschwitz named Ovadia Baruch fell in love with a young women while being imprisoned, and they made a promise to each other to marry after the war ended. When the war finally ended, Ovadia wasn’t sure she make it out of Auschwitz. Eventually, by a miracle, they were reunited and he asked her to marry him. But to his surprise she refused. She had been experimented on while she was in Auschwitz and as a result was infertile. She told Ovadia that he should find himself a wife that could bear him children, but Ovadia refused. He wanted her. Months later, she found out she was pregnant. It turned out that the Doctor that experimented on her in Auschwitz was a Jewish doctor being overseen by Nazi officials. While he was operating on her, there was a nearby air raid, and while the officials ran to cover, he was left alone to carry out the operation. I tried to put myself in Ovadia’s shoes. How would I feel when I heard that my life’s love was infertile? Would I still marry her? I tried to put myself in the shoes of the Doctor. Would I risk my life to save those I was operating on? I later found out that that Doctor was eventually caught by the Nazis and executed. If I was the young woman, how would I feel that someone gave their life so that I could bear children, and I never got to thank him.

—–

 

While looking back at my memories of the trip, I realized that overtime I was becoming more interested in the stories of individuals than the statistics of the masses. I tried to identify with the victims and their dilemmas. I was looking for a more personal connection to the Holocaust, and that brings brings me back to the button. This button was the ultimate personal connection. The button that I picked up in “Canada” belonged to an individual person who was murdered. An individual with an entire world. A history, a name, an identity and a vision for the future.

Finding this button on the last day of my Poland trip put everything else in a new light. Although only 2,000 people died from the shtetl of Tykocin, that was an entire community and an entire world. Just because there were thousands of communities destroyed in the Holocaust, doesn’t mean that each one wasn’t unique, and important.

Although the 68 survivors out of 870,000 murdered in Treblinka are statistically insignificant, historically they are incredibly significant. They were able to tell the world about the horrors that happened in Treblinka, they were a living representation of the defeat of the Nazis, but most of all, they were individual human beings with identities.

Although the victims of Majdanek were fewer than of Treblinka, it doesn’t meant that there wasn’t unbelievable suffering and crimes against humanity committed in Majdanek. In Majdanek we saw a bunker full of hundreds of thousands of shoes. Those shoes aren’t a just number, they were hundreds of thousands of separate individuals also with names and identities, and with futures that were stolen.

            In my blog before Poland, I wrote that I hoped to use the terrible suffering that I would learn about as a motive and tool to bring new light into the world. I would like to add to that statement something more specific. If I am able to live my life as a giving, honest, kind, and moral person, and carry out the memory of just that one nameless individual whose button I found, that in itself would be a tremendous feat. There is nothing anyone can do to save the lives of those lost in the Holocaust, but the next best thing is to keep their memory alive. The Talmud teaches us “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world,” and that is my main takeaway of my trip to Poland. Over the course of my journey through the difficulty of the not-so-satisfying food, the terrible cold, and the tears, I too have come to the conclusion that every life lost in the Holocaust, was and is the loss of an entire world, and every life saved and remembered was and still is the saving of an entire world.


Rachel Selvin

I have returned from Poland both spiritually and intellectually enriched. My grasp on the complexities of the Shoah, including that of the Jewish world in Europe before the war, has increased significantly. My week in Poland was able to bring me to the depths of sadness as I soaked in the utter terror that was the Shoah, and then to the peak of happiness as I celebrated Jewish life. This trip has been the culmination of my life long relationship with the Holocaust. 

In all my studies of the Shoah, I have always felt like I was missing something, like I wanted something more out of my knowledge. Poland was able to provide that final piece of the puzzle. I see now that there was no one version of Jewish life before the war. The fine tapestry of Jewish life was so intricately woven that each kind of Jew added his or her own beautiful embellishment. As I watched the video of Jewish communities in Europe before the Holocaust in Auschwitz one, it hit me that THIS may be the biggest tragedy of all. Of course, the loss of human life and the horrible dehumanization the Nazis carried out against my people is utterly sickening, what twists the knife is knowing all that was and could have been for Jewish life in Europe and the world. I grappled with my religion as I questioned God’s existence during a time so dark. I cried for the descendants of Rabbi Elimelech of Ljansk, I cried for the students of the Yeshiva of Lublin, I cried for the lovers of art and music and theater and science, for the innovators, and the doctors like Janusz Korczak. I cried knowing the world stood silent while Am Yisrael bled out, and that the world is still plagued with genocide and hate. Yet, in the sorrow of my cries, I have uncovered hope and pride.

I will never let the Holocaust define my Judaism. Yes, every Jew I know is only a few degrees of seperation away from the Holocaust, but it’s what was before the terror that makes us who we are. We are strong and vibrant and resilient. We are never going anywhere. I sang the Hatikva in Birkenau then walked out and boarded a plane to the country I cannot wait to call my permanent home. My commitment to Israel has been kindled even more as I remember why a Jewish state is so important and intrinsically tied to my Judaism. As I made the beautiful Journey back to Eretz Yisrael I thought to myself, now what? It is only now that I have been able to answer my own question. I will dedicate my life to re-creating and relishing in all that was and is Jewish life. I will engage in dialogue across the masses over Israel and Judaism. I will try my hardest to chose love for no reason over hate for no reason. I will hold the tragedy of Shoah with me and fight for ethical and moral equality for all human beings with whom I share this earth. I will not let Hitler win. I am a Jew who will never forget what to remember. I am Jew not because of the Holocaust, but despite it.

 

Jack Pierce

I’m not going to sugar coat it; this was a long week. It started off by waking up at two in the morning last Sunday to catch a plane at six. I was able thankfully to make up a couple hours before we landed in Warsaw, and I slept a little more on the drive from Warsaw to Lodz. Then the first day began.

Lodz started with the Poznanski palace, but I honestly just couldn’t keep my mind off of the cold. I loved it. Although after an hour of taking notes, I wasn’t as excited about my numb fingers and toes. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the Lodz Jewish graveyard. Again, Poznanski left his mark by leaving the tallest grave in all of Europe. The wealth he exuded was incredible but wasn’t all we saw. Benjy and Aubrey walked us a couple minutes into trees and uncovered a forgotten grave. The difference was astounding, but at least both of them had their own graves. Thankfully, the victims of the Lodz Ghetto did too. The Hevra Kadisha (organization for death in a Jewish shtettle) did an amazing job with tracking down names and dates of victims. In the Warsaw ghetto, there are just three mass graves of the forgotten victims, same in the Lupochova forrest. The fields lasted forever. Thousands of people, many without any recognition, were buried. At night, we toured a museum dedicated to the Lodz Ghetto and Chaim Rumkowski, the controversial, Jewish leader of the ghetto. For the ceremony that day, my group put him on trial. Arin and I were the prosecution. There was no clear winner; even I haven’t made up my mind. Already frigid, tired, and hungry, I just wanted the day to be over. It had started to rain. The bus seemed like such a good alternative to the elements. Instead, we packed into a cattle car preserved from seventy years ago. I couldn’t see anybody. I found two people I later learned were Hannah and Rachel as we huddled to conserve body heat. I could only imagine what people would have felt like being ripped form their home and packed in like sardines waiting for the nightmare to be over. After a minute or two of taking in the silence, Benjy and Aubrey started singing. It was the usual songs, but this time was different. The songs were more powerful. We were making a statement; nobody would be getting a posthumous victory. The Jews we alive and strong.

That was only the first day. Every single day was just as packed, usually colder, and usually more emotional. Especially the camps, where thousands of people died, in Auschwitz millions. Some days we just stuck with the numbers: 1939, 1944, 17000, 3000000, 6000000. Other days, we tried to focus on one person. One person whose life was in its prime, or even before. One person whose life was force was snuffed out. That’s really how the tragedy set in. It’s easier to just lean back and state the statistics. Focusing in on one life make is so much more real.

A lot of times the point of these camps was to be the end of Jews and Judaism. So much work was put into ending this vibrant culture. Instead, we, Jews form around the world seventy years later, were walking into these living hells and walking out unharmed. Every day meant a lot, most brought me to tears at one point.

The hardest day, by far, had to be Majdanek. Although more people died in Auschwitz and Treblinka, Majdanek had one nasty twist at the end. There are rows of shoes, inhumane barracks, and incredibly horrific stories, but nothings compared to the Grey Dome. As the Red Army approached from the east, the Nazis decided to liquidate the camp. The prisoners were meant to dig huge trenches, which would be come their graves. Because the Nazis then decided they didn’t want to leave a trace of their grievous crimes,  they then cremated 14,000 prisoners, who were just executed, and fled the camp. Because they were in such a rush, they just piled up the remains of ash and human bone. Benjy told us this story, and then said we were going to the Grey Dome. My heart dropped. I knew exactly what was about to happen. We walked up the stairs and entered, and I saw it. The same mount of ash and human bone shielded from the elements piled up seventy years ago. These weren’t just the places where Jews were persecuted, stories about their tragedy, or belongings they left behind. These were the people, right in front of me. Suddenly, the entire tragedy was tangible. My eyes teared up. It was like one of those horrific car pile-ups you don’t want to see, but you can’t look away. I just stood there in shock. The rest of the day was just a blur until the Tisch that evening. A great night of singing, dancing, and storytelling at the grave of Rebbe Elimelech put the tragedies of the day in the back of my mind, but they never truly left.

By the end of the week, I was just exhausted, but somehow, that didn’t matter. I had gotten through Poland trip.  

Sophie Meltzer

Throughout our time in Poland, we saw many ups and downs. We saw beautiful communities, and we saw them destroyed. We heard the tales of incredible Jews, and discovered their downfall. We relished in the glory of pre-Shoah Poland, and mourned it´s unfortunate end. By traveling through Poland, one is able to imagine what life could have been if hate and anti-Semitism had not existed. One is able to imagine what life could have been if six million innocent Jews had been spared.

This week, rocked me to my very core. I saw not only the destruction of Jewish life, but what my life could have been. Without the Holocaust, I too would have likely lived in Poland. I too would have spoken Yiddish and lived amongst a majority of Jews. I too would have had a strong Jewish community around me, with hundreds of cousins and family. Yet, this is not the case. The opportunity for me to grow up like this was ripped from me sixty years before I was even born. I never had the chance to choose.

For so many years I have heard stories and tried to understand how the Holocaust could have taken place. I have spent hours and hours reading testimonies, and trying to wrap my head around it all. This week I was faced with images that will never escape me, yet I still do not understand how the Holocaust could have possibly occurred. How were so many Jews killed simply for their religion? How did Nazis look children in the face and see anything but innocence? How could one man look another in the eyes and see a sense of superiority as they committed the worst crime known to man?  How could people watch mass shooting from their rooftops and yet stay seated, becoming witnesses and bystanders to the utmost degree. It is hard for me to understand, how hatred can be so incredibly great. Hitler and the Nazis did their best to ensure that I would never have the chance to analyze what they have done. They did their best to ensure that if I ever entered Auschwitz, I would not be able to walk out. They did their best to ensure that I would not be here to remember all of the names and lives that they stole. But Hitler failed. Every time that I pray, or sing, or dance, I do it in spite of him. Every time I reach another milestone in my life, every time that I grow another year older, I do it in spite of him. I live my life, in spite of Hitler, and in spite of all those who have tried to destroy my people.

Although emotionally and physically exhausting, I am very glad that I was able to have this meaningful experience in Poland. Without this trip the chances of me going were not very high, however I know now that it is necessary for Jews, and for everyone of all religions and backgrounds to see. It is necessary to sear the images of hate and sadism into our brains to know exactly what the Nazis did to our people. It is necessary to hear the stories of survivors, to write them down, to record them. It is necessary to mourn the lives of individuals as well as the masses. It is necessary to miss the lives that never were created. Poland is so heart wrenching because of the immense greatness evident before the Shoah, and the immense anguish and despair present during and after the Shoah.

Throughout our time in Poland, we saw many ups and downs. We saw beautiful communities, and we saw them destroyed. We heard the tales of incredible Jews, and discovered their downfall. We relished in the glory of pre-Shoah Poland, and mourned it´s unfortunate end. By traveling through Poland, one is able to imagine what life could have been if hate and anti-Semitism had not existed. One is able to imagine what life could have been if six million innocent Jews had been spared.

This week, rocked me to my very core. I saw not only the destruction of Jewish life, but what my life could have been. Without the Holocaust, I too would have likely lived in Poland. I too would have spoken Yiddish and lived amongst a majority of Jews. I too would have had a strong Jewish community around me, with hundreds of cousins and family. Yet, this is not the case. The opportunity for me to grow up like this was ripped from me sixty years before I was even born. I never had the chance to choose.

For so many years I have heard stories and tried to understand how the Holocaust could have taken place. I have spent hours and hours reading testimonies, and trying to wrap my head around it all. This week I was faced with images that will never escape me, yet I still do not understand how the Holocaust could have possibly occurred. How were so many Jews killed simply for their religion? How did Nazis look children in the face and see anything but innocence? How could one man look another in the eyes and see a sense of superiority as they committed the worst crime known to man?  How could people watch mass shooting from their rooftops and yet stay seated, becoming witnesses and bystanders to the utmost degree. It is hard for me to understand, how hatred can be so incredibly great. Hitler and the Nazis did their best to ensure that I would never have the chance to analyze what they have done. They did their best to ensure that if I ever entered Auschwitz, I would not be able to walk out. They did their best to ensure that I would not be here to remember all of the names and lives that they stole. But Hitler failed. Every time that I pray, or sing, or dance, I do it in spite of him. Every time I reach another milestone in my life, every time that I grow another year older, I do it in spite of him. I live my life, in spite of Hitler, and in spite of all those who have tried to destroy my people.

 Although emotionally and physically exhausting, I am very glad that I was able to have this meaningful experience in Poland. Without this trip the chances of me going were not very high, however I know now that it is necessary for Jews, and for everyone of all religions and backgrounds to see. It is necessary to sear the images of hate and sadism into our brains to know exactly what the Nazis did to our people. It is necessary to hear the stories of survivors, to write them down, to record them. It is necessary to mourn the lives of individuals as well as the masses. It is necessary to miss the lives that never were created. Poland is so heart wrenching because of the immense greatness evident before the Shoah, and the immense anguish and despair present during and after the Shoah.

 

Hannah Katz

 

My entire life I have known and studied the Holocaust, being that both of my Dad’s parents are survivors. I have practically memorized the history, yet, I was not able to connect emotionally to the people. My goal for the Poland trip was to understand the individuals rather than the group, and find a new perspective on this catastrophe that I never understood.

I was gifted the privilege of reading excerpts from my Baba’s memoir on the exact spot where it happened. My Baba was born in a small shtettle in the outskirts of Warsaw called Wyszkov, on Pultusky street. She lived a normal, traditional Jewish life until the war struck in 1939. She had to witness her town go up in flames, two of her siblings passing away, her grandfather being stolen by the Nazis and so much more. I cannot describe the way that I felt as I read her memoir in her home town. I will never forget her heart wrenching story and of course, neither will she. Five days into the trip, Aside from my grandmother’s memoir, I still could not connect. I felt numb. While walking through what used to be the Jewish market in Krakow, I saw one man who was selling “antiques”. Out of curiosity, I walked over to his booth to check out what he was selling. I realized in a heartbeat that the items were stolen property from murdered Jews, such as; silverware, jewelry, cameras, and more. The most horrific part of the situation was that the items were placed adjacently to Nazi memorabilia. All of the sudden, every single emotion that I had been blocking out for the past five days came flooding in. Treblinka camp, Majdanek camp, Tiktin, all of the mass graves and so many more sickening experiences just reached me. I was able to connect my history with the actual people and as awful of a feeling it was, I owed it to the deceased. I felt sick to my stomach. I could not help but cry because even seventy years later, the hatred still lingered.

The rest of the trip my mind was opened. As we were walking out of Auschwitz-Birkenau where over one million lives were taken, Christian missionaries were selling bibles. It shocks me to see the ignorance in people, and frankly scares me that to some, that a death camp is just a museum with good advertisement opportunities. The night before Auschwitz, we had a talk with students in Krakow that recently found out they are Jewish. We were in the JCC and I was filled with joy to hear that they already have six hundred members. We were told that more than once a week, people come in exclaiming that they are Jewish. With that, I saw hope for the Jewish community in Europe. One of the students made an excellent point, stating that one can practice Judaism anywhere, not solely in Israel or America.  I believe that spreading Judaism throughout Europe is necessary; we need to make a statement that we are not weak. With the strength of Judaism around the world, we are more likely to thrive. My generation has to make that happen.

Rachel Selvin

 
1:45 AM. I’m sitting on the bus after a meager two hours of sleep on the way to Ben Gurion airport. People have been dubbing Poland “the beginning of the end.” I see it as a shift and hopefully a defining moment and culmination of these last two months here.

 

It hasn’t even hit me that we are finally going. Poland was one of the key reasons I decided to come on this amazing journey. The number of survivors of the atrocities of the holocaust is in decline. It is us to up to bear witness to our collective history and carry their stories with us for the generations to come.

 

This past week, we have been preparing in class for our “masa.” We have learned the history of World War Two, the thriving Jewish life that danced throughout Europe, and the sadistic means used to eliminate that life. In all our studies, I have contemplated many essential questions that plague us all: why us? Where was god? Why do bad things happen to innocent people? What is my role in the aftermath? As of now, I cannot answer these questions.

 

Yesterday we traveled to Jerusalem to visit Yad Vashem. The striking architecture and incredible location proved an impeccable background for such intense and historically complex content. I walked through the museum with a heavy heart; I tried to wrap my mind around one life lost, then two, and realized the number six million can easily diminish us into a statistic. I speak for everyone in the group when I say we are here to make sure six million is never a statistic; it is an entire world.

 

I know this week will be hard. I will be carrying the name of one of the one and a half million fallen children with me. I will rely on my friends for support. I will support them as well. I’ll admit it, I’m scared. However, I hope this week gives me that one more piece of this unsolvable puzzle.

 

In the midst of such sadness, I remember that I am here in Israel fulfilling the dreams of so many. They can destroy us, but we are never going away. The victory will be ours when we, as Jews, walk out of Auschwitz on our will, alive.

Jack Pierce

 

In fifteen hours from writing this blog, I will be in Poland. Before the trip, I didn’t think much of it. I would be going to Israel for 4 months, and a week of it would be spent in Poland. I knew it would be about the Holocaust and visiting all of the sites, but I don’t think I really understood how intense the week really would be. Every day, we visit a new village or camp and learn about what life was like there. Between the activities, we’re going to have long bus rides to catch up on sleep because I don’t think we’re going to get a lot of it. We’re going to wake up at 1:45 in the morning (7 seven hours from now) to leave at two for Ben Gurion. After spending about three hours in the airport, take off it at six. And the second we land in Warsaw, it’s off to the races. Immediately we go to Lodz Ghetto and learn about life there during the war. The day after is back to Poland, then Bialystok, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and we end with a couple days in Krakow. We’re spending the entire day outside learning. Thankfully, I’m prepared for the cold weather. I have my ski gloves, long underwear, and sweatshirts to get me through probably the toughest week of the program.

 

However, the hardships are going to make the weekend all the more real. I’m just spending a week in Poland. I’m might be a little cold or a little hungry at some points, but that’s nothing compared to what the people we’re learning about faced. Going on a sugar coated tiyul around Poland for a week wouldn’t begin to show life in Poland 70 years ago.

 

But I’m afraid I’m going to all these terrible sights is just going to hit me. Day after day of seeing terrible destruction is going to be too much. Even today at Yad Vashem it was hard. The actual museum part was hard, but the children memorial was humbling. In an almost completely dark room, there are a couple candles in the center which are reflected around the room by glass panes. You can’t see anybody in front of your face. You feel like you’re walking through the galaxy surrounded by stars. While walking through, the read off the names, ages, and birth-places of thousands of kids who were victims of the Holocaust. Aubrey asked us to remember one of the names and take it to Poland with us. I heard a Gershon, a six-year-old boy from Romania. Often you just hear about the masses, the statistics, the numbers, but just hearing just one name brought me back down to reality. These were real people with lives. I’m excited; this week will be incredible. However, it won’t be all fun and games. This next week in Poland with millions of stories like this is going to be near impossible.

 

Maor Ziv-Krieger

 

I just got back from Yad Vashem where we spent the entire day learning about the Holocaust. While touring the museum, the moment that spoke to me most was when we learned about one man who would play guitar in the Warsaw Ghetto despite the terrible conditions. When asked why, he said “As long as I am alive, I will keep on living.” We also heard from a Holocaust survivor an account of the terror she experienced as a ten year old girl in Auschwitz. To wrap up the day, after researching our European family history over the past few weeks, we each shared some stories about our family history in Europe.

 

I am now writing this blog at 7:00 pm. In precisely 7 hours, at 2:00 am, I will wake up, eat a disappointing tuna and white bread sandwich that has been out all night, go Ben Gurion airport, board a plane, eat another disappointing tuna sandwich and fly to Poland. I will spend a week in Poland studying Jewish life in Poland leading up to, and during the Holocaust. The days will be very long, very cold, and very emotionally taxing. The food won’t be great, and I won’t be getting much sleep. I hope to get the most I can out of this experience, and therefore, 6 hours and thirty minutes before I wake up tomorrow morning, I now write myself a letter to put myself in the right mindset, and to keep in the back of my mind while I am in Poland.

Dear Maor,

You are about to embark on potentially a once in a lifetime journey. There will be times where you will want to run away and hide behind your own wandering thoughts, and not open yourself up to learn about the terrible tragedy that was the Holocaust. On the one hand, it is important to be 100% present and try to really gain understanding, and connection, and to not distance yourself from the incredible experience that is being presented to you. But on the other hand, it is important to balance that with taking care of yourself and your needs and to not be so emotionally affected by the experience that you are too engulfed in mourning to learn.

I hope that you will be able to recognize the true magnitude of the terror that was inflicted upon your people and all of humanity. I hope you will be able to understand how very recent this tragedy took place and how it isn’t just another event in history. I hope your eyes will be opened to how every single victim of the Holocaust was an individual person and a whole world, and not just a statistic or number.

But most of all I hope that you are able to live your life carrying the pain, sorrow and suffering of your ancestors, but also have the ability to reverse that suffering and use it as a motive and a tool to find joy in life and bring new light to the world. Just like that guitar man in the Warsaw Ghetto, you will tell the rest of world and especially yourself that no matter how tough times will be, as long as you are alive, you will keep living.

This will not be an easy trip, and as cliche as it sounds, it will only be what you make it.

Best of luck,

Yourself.

         

Sophie Meltzer

This week, although spent entirely on campus, was one of great amounts of learning about each other, and the world around us. On Sunday, we spent the entirety of the day focusing on American Jewry. This included learning how Jews came to America, how Judaism was shaped in America, and how Jews held on to or abandoned their culture and religion. Also, the most interesting part of the day included hearing each other’s family stories.

 

It was fascinating to hear how everyone´s story was so different, yet there was so much that overlapped. Each person had a unique journey and unique difficulties, yet the themes of each story seemed to remain more or less constant. This idea allows us to understand the struggle of Jews as they immigrated to freedom on a deeper level. 

 

Sunday night, we had a banquet to end American Judaism day. It was full of eating, dancing, singing, and was the perfect way to finish off the long day of core.

 

As the week continued on, we started our preparation for Poland. This meant not just planning what to pack, or talking about the trip, but studying the time leading up to the Holocaust, Hitler´s rise to power, and on Wednesday, the Holocaust itself. On Wednesday we spent another full day in core class. We studied the Holocaust in a very chronological way that did not leave much room for confusion. This allowed us to put the pieces firmly together in our head of what happened when.

 

As much as we can attempt to prepare ourselves for Poland, it is clear to me that it will still be an emotional shock, and a very difficult, yet meaningful week. On this trip, I am looking forward to seeing Poland and am very interested to see exactly where the Holocaust took place. All throughout my childhood I was interested in reading about the Holocaust and hearing people’s stories. I think that seeing the exact place where many of these stories happened will be so beneficial to me and the rest of my group. These horrible murders somehow cannot seem real to us, however seeing where they took place changes this. Seeing where this tragedy happened will arm us with the devastating knowledge of the pain of our past, and allow us to shut down Anti-Semitism and stand up for the Jewish people.

 

Personally, I know that I am going to have a hard time emotionally throughout this trip, as will many of my fellow classmates. What keeps me going is knowing that I will have them there for constant support and love during the whole week. Our group has grown so close, and this experience will only force us to grow closer. I know that I can count on my friends to help me through this week. This trip, unlike our regular Tiyuls, is not meant to be fun. It is meant to teach us, to force us to remember, and to make us aware that these horrible acts of murder and genocide can and do still happen today.

 

Hannah Katz

 

This week was the first in the entire program that we actually spent every day on campus. However, that did not mean that it was without its adventures. We began to prepare for our upcoming Poland trip. In order to do this, we studied Jews in America on Monday, World War I on Tuesday, and finally, this led us to our full day of Holocaust studies on Wednesday.

 

On Wednesday we went through the entirety of the Holocaust. We started with focusing on Hitler’s rise to power, we then followed the stories of the ghettos, and discussed the horrors that occurred at the concentration camps. To finish off the day, we watched ¨Schindler’s List¨.

 

This movie is set mostly in Poland at various concentration camps, including Auschwitz. I felt such a strong connection since my family is from Poland and many of them unfortunately lived through, or died in the Holocaust. Because of this, the movie made everything seem that much more real to me and gave me a new understanding of the horrific tragedies and hardships that my family had to endure.

 

I feel as though this entire trip will only help me to better understand and appreciate everything that my family went through. I hope that it will help me gain a new respect for them and all those that died as I will walk in their footsteps in the coming week.

 

In addition to being a completely transformative week, I know that my time in Poland will be extremely difficult for me. My great-grandfather perished in Auschwitz and his name is written there. Walking through Poland I will have to face all that the family that never was. I will have to walk through the country knowing that I can leave, and my family was never that lucky. I walk through the country carrying their memory in my heart.

 

My teachers made it a point to stop off  in Viskov, the town where my grandmother was born and where her family perished. I will be reading sections of her memoir to the class. I am really looking forward to that because she is one of my favorite people in the world and after all that we have learned about the Holocaust in the past week really made me connect to her story. Her memoir is titled “The Girl Who Was Always Hungry”, that in itself shows me that in the past I’ve overlooked how people starved and not payed close attention to her story and now that I have the chance to study and appreciate it, I will. I hope that although this trip is filled with a lot of sadness, we will see the light at the end of the tunnel.

 

Today we spent at Yad VaShem. We traveled through every exhibit, I have done this in the past but today it was different. I was able to notice new artifacts in the museum while with some of my closest friends. We talked to a woman named Marta Wise who survived Auschwitz and horrible testing. She was the sweetest person and had the most amazing survival story that I have ever heard. I went up to her after our group talk and asked her if she had a tattoo from the Nazis. She replied yes and explained to me why they were there and the different types of tattoos done by the Nazis. As I was leaving she started to tell me that I need to enjoy my trip to Poland, even in Auschwitz because “The victory is that you can walk out.”

 

Sophie Meltzer 

I would like to preface this blog by saying, Simchat Torah has always been my favorite holiday. Ever since I was a little girl I have waited all year to see the Torah stretched out in front of me, held in the hands of my congregation. I would constantly ask my mom and dad when the holiday with all the dancing would come again.

Unfortunately, as I grew up, grew busier, and grew more distant from synagogue, my participation in Simchat Torah services came to an end. Until this week in Jerusalem, I had forgotten the joy, the love, and the sense of accomplishment and renewal that Simchat Torah could bestow.

Traveling to Jerusalem on Sunday, I could never have expected the amazing time I would have. I knew it would be very different and new, however I could not have asked for more. On Sunday night, I chose to go to an orthodox synagogue, known for their dancing and singing. Not only was the service for men and women, but the room was split directly down the middle. Each side had a Torah. Each side could hear and see the rabbi when he was speaking. Each side could rejoice in equality, which is an idea that is rarely present in Orthodox Judaism. This feeling of equality only allowed me to enjoy myself even more.

Stepping into the crowded, sweaty room, I was taken aback by what I was seeing. I saw women jumping, and dancing, and singing their hearts out. I saw women crying, and holding the Torah tightly in their arms. I saw a loving community of women, most of whom did not know each other, and many of whom did not even speak the same language. However I have come to learn throughout my time here that communication is not always speaking to someone through words. Israel is the proof that universal languages exist. On this night I communicated through dance, song, and my love for Judaism and for Israel. I danced my heart out, sweat like crazy, and left feeling the most connected to Judaism I have in a long time.

The next morning, I left for synagogue excited to continue the holiday, not believing that the night before could be topped. I could truly not have been more wrong. The service I attended was held at a center for Israeli people with special needs. As soon as I walked in, I was overwhelmed with happiness. I saw so many smiling faces, so much unadulterated, pure joy. Again we danced and danced. I saw how much this service meant to these people, and I believe that there should be more services like them in America. I would love to find a shul like this one in my area, and if there is not, I think it would be so amazing for so many people to organize one. This is something that I can see myself pursuing when I return home in the winter.

At this reform service, I definitely did not feel like I was in America, like in other services here, yet nothing felt foreign either. This feeling made me think of a quote taught to me by my core teacher. Franz Rosenzweig once said, ¨Nothing Jewish is alien to me¨. Until this holiday I did not understand this quote. However, at this shul with these people, I knew exactly what to do. I knew exactly how to act. I knew that, that was where I was meant to be in that moment. I felt at home, while still feeling like I was in Israel.

In this service, I felt so comfortable. I could take my sweater off without judgement, I could sit amongst the men, and most meaningful to me, I could have an aliyah. Until I was standing by the Torah, saying the prayers, I did not realize that it was my first aliyah since my Bat- Mitzvah. I was proud of myself for taking the opportunity when I so easily could have stayed seated, instead of reciting the prayers with a group of people that I did not know. I knew my mother would be proud of me for getting up by myself. During this short holiday, I gained so much, and felt so extremely connected to Judaism in a way that I don’t believe I ever have.

Hannah Katz

Chag sameach! I am so unbelievably lucky to have been able to spend my third religious holiday in Jerusalem; Simchat Torah! I really am not one who will jump on an opportunity to go to shul, although I have to admit that my last two experiences have changed me in the sense that I can now see how Judaism is not just about praying and G-D but it is mainly about the community and how it makes one feel.

 

While we spent the day in Jerusalem, I was able to visit two very different synagogues; The first one was an Orthodox synagogue called Raz, it was located in a children’s school hall about a twenty five minute walk from my Hostel. Raz is extremely spiritual, it was actually my second time going- the first was on Yom Kippur and I didn’t have the best experience- this time, although overcrowded, had all of the chairs removed and a huge circle of dancing as if you were in the club! My second synagogue was about a forty five minute walk from my hostel, it was a reform congregation where many people would come and dance with the developmentally disabled adults that live there. I had such an amazing time and just seeing the happy faces made my day. There were all types of people, babies, adults, Americans, Israelis and many more- we all came together to support those who don’t always get to have services with a congregation- I am extremely proud of my group for going and spending three hours with some of the coolest people I have met in a long time.

 

The night when we first arrived to our hostel- Bet Shmuel- my group and I decided to explore around. What we didn’t know is that the hostel is also a home to British gap year program and is extremely big. We met many people from London who amazingly I had some mutual friends with, it was so cool to see that Jews from all over the world are coming to Israel to experience exactly what I am receiving for a whole semester!

Often times our group spends Shabbos in different places around the country, this past weekend we were in my favorite place- Tel Aviv. We drove a quick half hour to Leonardo beach on the Mediterranean Sea where we had such a relaxing time floating in the glistening blue waves. We then drove to our hostel where I was able to meet my teacher Benjy’s wonderful family who came to spend Shabbos with us, I unpacked and headed to dinner in the sukkah. After we feasted on the buffet, everyone except for my friend Rachel and I left, we then began to bench with Benjy and it reminded me of my childhood when my family and I would bench after meals. That night we had such a sweet girls bonding activity and we all basically confessed how much we love the group and many deep things about ourselves! The next day I got to see my sister for the first time in a long time and it was so fun to go to Hayarkon park with my group along with my sister. It was an amazing week and I can’t wait for more!
Jack Pierce

For the most part, this week was pretty relaxing. I stayed on campus for Sukkot and spent the rest of the week in class. I got to catch up on my lost sleep. However, starting with Shabbat these past couple days have been amazing. Over the weekend, we were in Tel Aviv. After spending Friday afternoon on the beach playing football and volley ball, we went to a secular, Israel shul on the boardwalk. There was a great view of the sun setting over the Mediterranean. Lawn chairs were spread over a tarp covering the sand underneath. We arrived a little early to get chairs because, by the time the service started, people were already crowding in the back waiting for open chairs. They got lucky because we had to leave early. Most of the shuls we’ve seen in Israel so far have been orthodox, so this secular option was great to see. The next morning, Benjy let us sleep in until just before lunch. We studied a story about a man named Kohellet (really a pseudonym for King Solomon) who was wondering about the real meaning of life after living in the lap of luxury and now, at the end of his life, regrets not having something meaning (not wealth) to leave behind. After lunch, we spent almost the entire afternoon in the park playing Taki (a card game like Uno) and basketball. That night, we were set loose in Sarona Market. I had an incredible burger and then an even more amazing crepe. I probably spent a little too much, but it was definitely worth it.

Sunday, we had general studies in the morning before leaving for Jerusalem in the afternoon. We stayed at the same Youth Hostile we stayed at during Rosh HaShanah, Beit Shmuel. Quickly, we had to shower and get dressed for temple. We had a couple options, but I choses an orthodox shul called Raz. Basically, I spent the entire two hours I was there dancing. By the end, I was visibly sweating through my now-untucked shirt, and my kippa was barely on my head. But really, I didn’t care. That was awesome. The next day, I went back to Raz, but I didn’t have nearly as much energy as I did the night before; however, I was able to hold the Torah for a couple minutes this time. It was a lot heavier than I expected. After only a song I was done for the day. We had the rest of the day off until lunch that nigh. We hopped on the bus and drove to a mall near Hod HaSharon for DOTS (dinner on the streets). I ended up eating about 48 McNuggets before going to be early with a food coma.

Yesterday when we went back to core class, we started our zionism unit. Benjy prefaced the movement, but most of what we learned came last night during homework or this morning. Basically, we had one day to prepare a presentation, skit, song, and poster about one of the key founders of Zionism. I was in the group with Ahad Ha’am, who founded cultural Zionism. For our skit, we did an SNL spoof (shabbat night live). Me and Sophie hosted. For the other parts of the project, we had the weekend update (the presentation), the musical guest (the song), and the special artistic guest (the poster).  Aubrey and Benjy were laughing throughout the entire skit when we presented this morning.

Maor Ziv-Kreger

In general, I don’t have time to watch movies. I think that’s a good thing. It means I am too busy studying, hanging out with friends, and eating. Well last week was an exception. For some strange reason, a bunch of my classes were cancelled and I suddenly had the afternoon with nothing planned. I knew I could be using the time to review my notes, get ahead in my classes, or going out with friends, but I needed the alone time to catch up with myself. I had seen Boyhood before, but I was feeling this craving to re-watch it, so I did. The last words of the movie were “you know how everyone always says to seize the moment? Well I kinda think it’s the other way around. Like the moment seizes us.” The first time I watched the movie, my reaction was to roll my eyes at how cliché the line is. And my reaction the second time was… the exact same. But now, after watching the movie and hearing this quote for the second time, I am reminded of a lesson about Kabala, Jewish mysticism, I had almost three weeks ago in Tsfat.

I remember it vividly. It was after a long bus ride north to Tsfat. My class of 13 sat in a semicircle on top of a hill with our notebooks out. Aubrey, my Jewish history teacher, was about to open the lesson when he pulled an apple out of his pocket and bit into it. “Do you have another one?” I blurted out. This came as no surprise to Aubrey who by now knows how much I eat. He pulled out another apple out of his pocket almost as though he was expecting me to ask. He extended his hand and held the apple up in front of me. I reached out to grab it, but at the last moment, he yanked his hand away. Not knowing how to react, I stared at him blankly and let out a nervous chuckle. Everyone was looking at me. He held out the apple again to me, and I slowly and reached out to take it; this time with less confidence. Once again he jerked his hand back and didn’t let me take the apple. “Okay, Okay” I said smiling. “Let me try again.” This time when he extended his hand to me holding out the apple, I cupped my hands waiting for him to give me the apple instead of taking it. And he did. “Kabala is all about receiving.” Aubrey started as I bit into the juicy red fruit. “Everyone is always telling you to take the opportunity, seize the moment, and grab the chance. But Kabala is precisely the opposite. It is about quieting your mind of the all the taking, and open your mind to receive. Sometimes when we aren’t trying to take, seize and grab, we end up stumbling upon things of much more value than we could ever take.”

Up until two days ago, on Simchat Torah, the holiday in which we joyously celebrate restarting our weekly reading of the Torah, I never understood this whole “receive the moment” business. My theory for success has always been based around taking and making. More about taking the opportunity and making things happen, and less about receiving and letting things happen. But this Simchat Torah was a new experience and it opened my eyes.

My entire school stayed in a hostel in Jerusalem for Simchat Torah. There were lots of different options of synagogues and each student could choose one to attend. I knew right away where I was going. I was going to Raz’s shul.

Raz is a rabbi and a musician in Jerusalem who has been a friend of my parents since I was born. When I walked into the room, a wave of brotherly love and acceptance hit me. There were all sorts of Jews of all sorts of different ages there, all with one thing in common: everyone loved to sing and dance. I found myself swept up into the crowd in an instant. I jumped around and sang at the top of my lungs for hours, yet I have very little memory of the whole experience. I danced with all my might and sang with every bit of my heart and soul that night, but I wasn’t aware of any of it. My mind was somewhere else. I didn’t need to control my body, everything just happened. It was like my brain switched into auto drive.

I think I had a glimpse of what Aubrey meant when he talked about receiving instead of taking, and what the girl in Boyhood meant when she said that sometimes the moment seizes us.

As profound and eye opening as that is, I still think that life is what I make it. Sure it’s nice when good things happen to me, but I can’t just rely on that all the time. I think that if I lived life always thinking that I didn’t need to take any opportunities, and instead opportunities just happened to me, I wouldn’t get very far. Right now I am learning about the young Zionist pioneers that came to Israel in the early twentieth century and played a major role in founding the state of Israel. Their mindset was very much about taking opportunities and making things happen. They weren’t waiting for Israel to be given to them, they came to make Israel the amazing state that it is today.

This is the halfway point of my stay in Israel. Many great things have happened to me, and I have also taken many opportunities (including coming on this trip in the first place). I hope that I am able to find the fine line in between making things happen and letting things happen. The fine line in between seizing the moment and letting the moment seize me. The first two months of this program have been amazing and nothing like I have ever experienced before. I hope the coming two months are even more influential and thought provoking than the first. In two weeks I will be in Poland. When I return I will be studying about the modern state of Israel. I know there is a lot in store for me, and I trust I will continue to make the best of this experience.

 

Rachel Selvin

I have officially survived the chagim (the holiday season) in Israel. I may have gained 25 pounds, danced too much at Raz, and stayed up too late in Beit Shmuel, but I did it all with the biggest smile on my face. We spent Simchat Torah in Jerusalem again with every HSI group. I love being with everyone and sharing this experience with hold friends and new. Upon arrival, we spent some time at the shuk Machane Yehuda. A plethora of varied smells, sounds, and tastes lingered through the air. I pushed through hoards of people to taste a freshly made piece of baklava, yelled my order to a man with a steamy laffa and falafel (it’s true what they say, the Hummus in Jerusalem IS out of this world), and navigated my way through piles of kippas, dates, spices, and screams to reluctantly return to the bus bound for Beit Shmuel. That night, I returned to the Raz Minyan in Nachlaot for another glimpse of their unending ruach and catchy tunes. Boy was I in for a treat! The chairs were placed to the side leaving the women’s side open for dancing. And dance I did. The amount of spirit in that room was unsurpassed by any high school dance party I’ve ever been to. It was amazing to dance and sing with both my friends, as well as complete strangers as if we had known each other for ages. I left the synagogue feeling elated, excited, and a little sweaty.

 

The next morning, I took a lengthy walk towards a reform style temple that holds a minyan in a rest home for people with special needs. I was touched by the residents’ love for the Torah and Judaism and even more so when they would hold my hands, dance, with me and thank me for coming. Having two totally different synagogue experiences within 24 hours makes me think about how despite our factional differences, the values of loving thy neighbor as thyself and a genuine love and appreciation for our religion is what brings all of us Jews together.

 

I spent the rest of the day playing with whoever’s little kids I could find and resting up after a strenuous morning of walking and praying and walking again. Jerusalem is really one of my favorite cities in Israel; I love the serenity on Shabbats and holidays, the rich culture and history at every turn, the multifaceted population and the delectable food.

 

We have all really settled into our new home here. It’s hard to believe we are already halfway through the program. Poland is a mere two weeks away: I am nervous and excited for the journey to continue and take on new forms. I wonder a lot about how the dynamic of our group will continue to change. So much has changed from the first day! I can only imagine what wonderful and special moments are in store. I’m so happy I get to share each day with such amazing people. Wow. It is becoming clear to me that this program will be one of the defining moments of my young adult life and will influence my decisions in the future in innumerous ways..look out world! AMHSI is creating agents of change in the Jewish community with no end in sight!

 

 

Rachel Selvin 

On the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, my friends and I spent our day in the holiest of cities: Jerusalem. I had heard so much about how amazing and crazy Yom Kippur was in Israel but nothing could have compared to seeing it all first hand. At home, since I live in a pretty “jewish” area, I have school off. I try to fast and go to synagogue at least once over the course of the holiday. The rest of my area basically seems to go on as if it were any other day. That is simply not the case in Israel and especially in Jerusalem.

Every AMHSI group, semester (that’s me), Gann, American Hebrew Academy, and Barrack, were all housed together in the beautiful Beit Shmuel Hotel located just minutes away from the Kotel and Mamilla Mall. As one big group, we ate a final gigantic meal to prepare for the fast, which I was anxious to begin, composed of every food imaginable. It was really tasty and I was sure it could have kept me full for a week.

For Kol Nidre, we were given several different options for synagogues ranging from reform and Reconstructionist, to orthodox and traditional. Although I belong to a conservative temple at home, I decided to attend an orthodox synagogue that my core teacher Benjy recommended. Boy was he right. The Raz Minyan in Nachlaot was just a short walk from the hotel located in a fairly simple and small school hall. But the size of the space was overflowing with the number of people young and old (I knew I had made the right choice when I saw how many people were struggling to get a seat). I eventually found a seat and embarked on what was hands down the most incredible synagogue experience I have ever  had. The congregatio was so spirited; there was so much singing and dancing-this is called ruach in hebrew. The women’s’ side would harmonize with the low base voices of the men’s creating the most beautiful sound and atmosphere. I stayed in for the entirety of the service and was not bored once. I came out of the service feeling refreshed and on some sort of spiritual high. While I was praying, I thought about all I had done great and not so great over the past year and made a promise to better myself as I welcome in this new year.

 As we walked back to the hotel all together from synagogue, I was struck by how everything in the environment seemed to come to a total halt. There were no cars, no loud noises, no store lights, nothing. Just parades of people dressed in white walking down the middle of the moonlit streets.  My whole group sat down in the middle of a street, which would normally be teeming with traffic, to talk about our experiences of Yom Kippur in Israel and at home. I went to bed feeling slightly thirsty, and ready for what the next day would uncover.

 Although my group was given the option to sleep in, I decided to go to synagogue for Shacharit services. A small group and I made our way over to Yemin Moshe, a historic neighborhood overlooking the Old City, where we settled at a beautiful sephardic synagogue. While it looked pretty awesome for the boys, I felt a little left out sitting up in the balcony surrounding the men. Nevertheless, the tunes were scintillating and the atmosphere was warm.

 In the late afternoon, I took part in a little workshop with another core teacher named Akiva where we dug into what Yom Kippur is all about on a spiritual level. I came to the conclusion that Yom Kippur is a day to ask yourself that big question: Who am I? This trip is really helping me figure out how to answer that sometimes daunting question.

For Neilah, we walked to the Kotel to spend those final moments of Yom Kippur in the holiest site for the Jewish People. In spite of recent political decisions, standing face to face with Kotel in the very spot the Beit HaMikdash stood thousands of years ago is a life affirming reminder that we are not going anywhere.

The final shofar sound and while many ran to the snack table, I stood for a moment reflecting and basking in my sense of pride, accomplishment, and connection with both Yom Kippur and the land of Israel as a whole. This has been an unforgettable and meaningful Yom Kippur and has only reaffirmed my convictions to eventually build my life in the home for the Jewish people.

Hannah Katz 

I never thought that I would catch myself saying this, but I really enjoyed Yom Kippur in Jerusalem; The main reason that I am so reluctant to say that is because I have never fully fasted before and I felt pressure about being in the holiest city on this important Chag. I honestly was not planning on fasting but being my silly self I forgot to buy snacks, so there really wasn’t much of a choice, also I decided if I was going to fast I really would get into it. I did not drink any water, I had no food, I did not brush my teeth and did not shower! The way I expected to feel was actually nothing like I actually felt, although I felt very smelly and weak it was trumped by how proud I was that I succeeded in that triumph.

We began our fast after a huge dinner, I piled up about two plates with rib-sticking food so that I would not feel very hungry during that day, not to mention that the food was really good. I finished off my meal with a nice cup of nana tea- which is amazing- then proceeded towards the crowd of all four Muss groups. We were all staying at the same hostel which was extremely loud and fun, I love that we get to bond with so many awesome groups of people thousands of miles away from where we all are from. That night we were given six choices of shul- three orthodox and one conservative and two reform- I chose a synagogue called Raz which is very spiritual and had lots of dancing involved. I was extremely excited for it but when I walked in it was packed to the brim and I was actually pinned up against the bookshelf by my friend who was also looking for a seat. Once I realized that there was no way that a seat would open  up for me I walked out to find about twenty other muss kids in the same boat as I was in. Instead of spending the night in the typical religious way, I made it my own because I know that my favorite part of Judaism is the community, so I decided to talk to as many people as I could, I met an eleven year old boy who had pais longer than my hair, he was so funny and when people tried to ride on one of his razor scooters he would take it away and explain that they are over 120 pounds and would break it. I also met an Australian man who made aliyah about eight years ago, he had two kids and they were so adorable; His kids had Australian accents which for some reason I thought was the coolest thing. I was also able to bond with kids my age from all of the Muss programs and I really felt that we were just one big family, it really was an awesome atmosphere.

The next day I woke up at twelve and finished my remaining homework, after that I slept again until four in the afternoon. We all met up in the common area where we would then split up into classes with the core teachers. I along with three friends went to the AHA teacher named Yossi because he was teaching the story of Jonah which was the biblical background of Yom Kippur. We read through the chapter and discussed for while, after that semester (my group) and AHA began our fifteen minute walk to the Kotel. We walked through the Christian quarter and the Armenian quarter before we reached our destination, by the time we got the I was so exhausted that I just wanted a homemade meal and a nice bed to sleep in. We passed through security and found a meeting place, after that we were let out to explore the Kotel, kiss the wall and give your prayer. I was shocked on how few people there were there because when I was there on a Shabbat over the summer it was extremely crowded and not only the men’s side but the woman’s side were jumping and singing as one big group, it really touched my heart and this time I didn’t get that feeling, or so I thought. When it reached six forty we headed back to the meeting spot to break the fast and that’s when the feeling hit me; I was breaking my first fast ever of the most holy holiday of my people, in the most holy city, at the most holy site- how incredible! We made it back to the hostel and broke the fast with a huge dinner and once again I finished it off with another hot cup of tea. I have never felt so proud in my life and I am so glad that I was able to do it with my amazing group.

Sophie Meltzer 

This Yom Kippur was truly unlike any other I have experienced. I didn’t have to worry about any teachers assigning extra homework that I didn’t have time to do. I didn’t have to worry about driving to shul and trying to find a parking spot amongst the hundreds of cars. I didn’t have to worry, because the country made it so that I didn’t have to. Everything shut down. There was not a car horn to be heard, a radio station to listen to, or tv show to watch. We woke up to the streets of Jerusalem full of repentance, yet empty of its usual traffic.

 

Having gotten sick on erev Yom Kippur, I was not able to attend services that night to my disappointment. However, I did not miss out on the fun. I woke up bright and early on Tuesday morning and accompanied some of my fellow classmates to shul. At first we decided to walk to the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem, an orthodox service entirely in Hebrew. Trust me, this synagogue is accurately named. The great stained glass windows and intricate chandelier meshed and mingled with the voices of the choir, making it a truly spiritual and calming experience. Sitting in the women’s balcony, I watched the proceedings of the service carry on beneath me. I sat quietly, taking it all in, watching, learning, and reflecting.

 

Although the synagogue and service were very beautiful, there was not much participation from the congregation. I realized that this was normal for this synagogue, however one of my favorite parts of Yom Kippur is singing out loud along with hundreds of other voices. In search of a place where we could raise our voices, we left the Great Synagogue and traveled to a smaller, conservative service that was primarily done in English.

 

In this synagogue, men and women sat together, and it was normal for the congregation to sing along with the rabbi. The synagogue itself was a pretty and modest building full of bright colors. To me, this synagogue, felt extremely like an American synagogue that I could attend in Massachusetts. The entire service and sermon were in English, which was convenient, and made the sermon more interesting to listen to, however it also gave me the impression that I was not in Jerusalem.

 

After services in the morning, we returned to the hotel and rested for a good chunk of the day, sleeping away the fast. Late in the afternoon, we met with the rest of the groups for classes led by the core teachers. I chose to attend a class about the spiritual side of Yom Kippur. He told us that on Yom Kippur we fast, not to punish ourselves for the year’s sins, but because we are so focused that we simply do not need food or water. Our bodies are put aside and our spirituality takes over, filling our stomachs and coating our throats in a way that food and drink never could.

 

On the final leg of our Yom Kippur journey, we traveled to the Western Wall to hear the shofar blown and break the fast amongst thousands of other Jews. The atmosphere at the wall was one I have not seen yet in all my times there. I saw a lot of tears and pain, however I also saw immense amounts of joy, of praise, and an immense Jewish community that reached far beyond nationality, skin color, and especially language.

Maor Ziv- Krieger 

This past week I have been sick and I have spent most of my time in bed, or studying (or both at the same time). I don’t feel that I have much to write experience wise, so I have decided to share some of what I am learning in my Core Jewish History class.

We have reached the European Enlightenment in which Europe graduates the barbaric middle ages and starts thinking about science, math and philosophy again. This time period leads to an important change in Jewish life.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the Jews lived by this slogan: “To be Jewish or not to be Jewish that is the question.” It was a lose- lose. The only choice you had was to be Jewish and persecuted, or not to be Jewish and lose your tradition. When given the opportunity, many Jews chose to die rather than to convert. It was not a question of how religious to be. If you were Jewish, you lived with other Jews, probably in a ghetto and lived a 100% religious, isolated Jewish life.

On the other hand when the Enlightenment came around, the world’s attitude to Judaism went from “terrible” to “still bad but not as bad.” Jews suddenly had the choice of how religious to be. In the middle ages Jews were always separate and religious, but now they had the option to semi-assimilate to the common culture. There was a new struggle of how much can a Jew assimilate without leaving his or her Judaism completely.  In class we read a letter of a father to a daughter. In the letter the father told the daughter that she was Jewish but he had raised her Christian so that she could fit into society. (An interesting point: A higher percentage Jews converted when they had the option to semi-assimilate during the enlightenment than Jews during the middle ages when they were told to either convert or die.)

The struggle of how much to assimilate that started during the Enlightenment is still around today. In contrast to the letter that we read in class, we got an assignment to write a letter to our hypothetical children convincing them to stay Jewish instead of leave Judaism (except our child isn’t converting to Christianity, he/she just wants to not be part of any religion because that is “what’s in” today apparently).

Here is the letter I wrote to my hypothetical son:

 

Dear Son,

I am writing this letter because your mother and I have decided to raise you Jewish. I know you will inevitably struggle with Judaism during your life, and so I am writing you this letter to help you through those hard times. A letter in which I explain my thinking in why we chose to raise you Jewish and the values we see in a Jewish lifestyle.

The biggest thing that Judaism offers, is a reason for life. Philosophers and thinkers have struggled with the question “what is the meaning of life” for thousands of years. Many people struggle their entire life with the question of why they were put on this Earth. So many people find the question, “what’s the point of life?” so difficult and so un-answerable that they end up just ignoring the question and just living their life going through the motions. In this modern world sometimes it even seems that the main point of life is to amass fortune in order for your children to inherit it and then pass it on to their children.

But Judaism offers a different answer, a more empowering answer that leads to living a more meaningful and more enjoyable life. To give you this answer, first I must tell you a story.

There once was a Rabbi named Zusha. Zusha was on his death bed and his students asked him, “Rabbi, why do you look worried?” Zusha responded, “When I get to Olam Haba, the world to come, I am not scared of being asked why I was not as great as Moses, or Rabbi Akiva, or anyone else. I am scared about being asked why I was not as great as Zusha. Why did I not reach my full potential?”

And that is one reason according to Judaism that we are put here – to reach our own potential. We are here to be our best selves and to live a life guided by morals and principles outlined by the Torah and Jewish thinking. Every morning we say “Shiviti Hashem Lenegdi Tamid” “I swear that God is in front of me, watching me always.” We are here to live a life as if God, the Creator of the Universe, is always watching us. Living life saying this every morning, leads to a much more meaningful life than a life guided by impulsive behavior.

To be clear, I am not saying one who lives a life as a non-Jew doesn’t have morals. I think that one could live life as a non-Jew with all the same morals, I just think that Judaism and Jewish law has set a clearer path in a way that works, and has worked for thousands of years. And if one is interested in living a moral life, Judaism also offers a supportive community of people interested in the same lifestyle.

A second reason in Judaism for the purpose of life is to take care of the flawed world we are in, and to make the world a better place. This is connected to the first reason, because part of being the best possible person you can be is making the world a better place. This also plays into the idea of Jewish community. The Jewish community is a team in which all the players have the value of Tikkun Olam, making the world a better place.

Son, I have written you this letter not from the place of a father commanding his son how to live, but as a friend; sharing what I think to have been valuable in my life, and telling you about it because I think it is information that has the potential to change your life. I hope you read this letter carefully and I hope you make choices in your life that lead you to live your life as the best person you can possible be, I hope you make a positive impact on this world.

Love,

Your father

Jack Pierce 

 I like eating food, a lot. Just walking around from class to class, I like to have some snacks with me like a box of cereal or even just an apple. I tend to just absentmindedly eat all day. But last Wednesday, that wasn’t possible because it was Yom Kippur.

Tuesday after the Unit 2 Core Test (which I hope I did well it but we’ll see), we showered, packed our clothes, and got on the bus with AHA (American Hebrew Academy) to Jerusalem. Once we arrived at Beit Shmuel, we changed quickly and had a huge meal before the fast. Sometimes, I complain about the food not being edible (I’m usually being over dramatic), but that food was awesome. I had a couple plates. However, even that couldn’t prepare me for the next day.

That night, I went to Hebrew Union College’s reform service. At home I’m reform, and after going to orthodox synagogues for the entire trip I thought going to something a little more like home for the high holidays was nice. It was a nice service and lasted about two hours. Once it was over, we walked a little way to an intersection in the middle of Jerusalem, and we found a circle of students sitting down singing in the middle of the street. There were no cars except for the occasional police, so the kids just had the road to themselves. A couple friends of mine recognized people from their synagogues at home and sat down and began singing with the group. Some of the songs I knew; others I didn’t.

It was amazing to see how differently Yom Kippur is observed from America to Jerusalem, at least from my perspective. In America, it’s much more about apologizing and asking for forgiveness for the things we’ve done in the past year. But in a lot of the synagogues in Jerusalem, people were singing and dancing and smiling, having the time of their life. For them, today they could be cleansed and start the new year fresh. Finally, they had been forgiven for the wrong-doings of the past year. In America, it doesn’t feel like that happens until Yom Kippur is over at the “break-fast” meal.

Once we were back in the hotel, it was already pretty late. Most people who were going to synagogue the next morning went to be sleep pretty early. To be honest, I don’t think I could keep the fast if I woke up the next morning to go to synagogue. So instead, I tried to stay up as long as possible in order to sleep in the next day. Around two in the morning, I literally couldn’t keep my eyes open any more, and I went to bed. The next day, I didn’t wake up until eleven.

In the room, we played hearts until we were bored. That took about an hour. I then watched TV until I got bored of that (about another two hours). I left the room a couple times, but I found the more I stood up and walked around, the hungrier I got. So I ended just spending the majority of that day lying in my bed until four in the afternoon. At four, we had a mandatory class (which I nearly fell asleep in). Then, we went to the Kotel. As a group, we had visited the Kotel earlier in the semester, but it was just a regular morning and wasn’t very crowded. I could have spent hours at the wall undisturbed, but it was different on Yom Kippur. There were hundreds of people packed into the mens section. There were so many different types of services all going on at the same time lead by different Rabbis. I took a couple trips through the crowd to see for the experience, but I ended spending most of my time sitting down and talking. It was a really nice way to end Yom Kippur.

At 6:40, we heard the shofar blast, so we all shot up and ran over to our madrichim. As nice as the day had been, eating food would be better. They had arranged some cookies, orange juice, ice tea, and dates to break the fast. Although it wasn’t the feast I was expecting, I definitely would have gotten sick if they had given us proper dinner. Later that night around eight, they gave us the real “break-fast” fest where I ate way more than I should have. After dinner, we ran on to the bus to get back to the dorm.

The whole way back, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fast. I’ve done it since I was 13 (after my bar mitzvah) but never this committed. I usually drank water or at least brushed my teeth. But this year since I was in Jerusalem, the Holy City, I decided to do it right. At the end of the day I was definitely regretting it, but looking back, I feels nice knowing I accomplished something I definitely couldn’t have done before. 

Maor Ziv- Kreger, Academic Fellow 

In order to truly share my experience in Israel with my friends, family, and Jewish community back home and around the world, this week my blog is a little different. Normally in my weekly blog, I write about feelings and insights I have had in the past week. This week I will share some snapshots of special moments in my everyday life over the past 6 weeks that I have been here in Israel.

Although the cafeteria food isn’t all that great, the food in town is amazing! Each day we have two hours when we can go out to town to buy school supplies, toiletries, groceries and to eat out. Some days when we are on a Tiyyul we get 50 NIS each and we go out to eat at a restaurant or cafe. Some of my favorite places near school (in Hod Hasharon) are the falafel stand and the schnitzel sandwich place. If I want a treat, I go out to Cafeneto (A great breakfast café) or Agadir (a fancy burger place).

      

Above is a picture of the Boston Impact Fellowship students on our 4 day Yam le Yam (sea to sea) hike that we did 3 weeks ago. We are standing on top of Mount Meron, the second tallest mountain in Israel. This picture was taken on the second day of the hike. On the last day I looked back to the mountain and my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe how far we had hiked. It seemed like Mount Meron was a hundred miles away.

When we learned about ancient Greece in Jewish history class, we all dressed up in Togas and held our own AMHSI semester group Olympics. Above is a picture of the Boston Impact Fellowship students in our Togas.

 Above on the Left is a picture of me and my Venezuelan roommate Jack at the Dead Sea covered in mud. The Dead Sea is one of my favorite places in Israel and I had a blast there with my friends. Below is a picture of the sunrise on top of Masada. We woke up at 4:15 am and it sure was an experience.

In Israel there are cats EVERYWHERE. This was quite a shock to some of the kids on my program who have never been to Israel before.  For some kids it was difficult to understand that the cats have diseases and shouldn’t be touched and pet like housecats.

Above is a picture of a baby cat the size of a squirrel. I thought it was really funny how all the kids freaked out when they saw the baby cat. Some kids even wanted to take the cat home and raise it.

Above is a picture taken by my friend Ariel this last weekend in Tsfat. The Tiyyul to Tsfat was probably my favorite Tiyyul. We learned about Kabala and prayed Kabalat Shabbat in an orthodox Carlibach synagogue with a lot of singing and dancing. We had a beautiful view of the sunset setting over the mountains during the prayers. Another amazing moment in Tsfat was the sound cave. The sound cave is a huge cave in the shape of a dome. Saturday evening, over sixty Alexander Muss students all crawled into the cave and stood around in a circle with our arms around each other. We sang songs and because of the dome shape of the cave there was an amazing echo and amazing acoustics. The singing was really beautiful and it really felt like I was part of a big family.

Sophie Meltzer 

In the short time since my last blog on Rosh Hashanah, it feels like weeks have passed, when in reality it has been merely three days. However, these three days were not spent lounging around and studying in school. Instead, we traveled to Tzfat, a crusader castle, and we hiked through a river. Not your average three days. On the first day of our journey, we visited the crusader castle, learning all about the Crusades, the causes and how they affected the Jews. We sat and learned looking out into Israel, over the fog and out into the mountains.

Later in the day, we packed up the bus and headed to our next adventure. We threw on our bathing suits and began our trek through a river. This water hike was one of my absolute favorite experiences from the trip so far. We all enjoyed playing games, splashing and tackling each other in the water. On our way I was able to capture some of the fun in images, but no picture could have captured that amazing moment.

Finally, after our hike, we hopped back onto the bus and headed to Tzfat. As we stepped off the bus, we were hit with a wave of the fresh mountain air and our eyes took in the glorious sight of the sun setting over Mt. Meron, a view unlike any other.

Shabbat in Tzfat was so special and so spiritual. I truly had an amazing experience and I left wanting more. On Friday night, we went to a Kabbalat Shabbat service on a terrace, with the sunset in the background. There was so much dancing, singing, and life at the service that it overwhelmed me. I loved it so much that I couldn’t get enough, and went to services on Saturday morning with a few of my friends to experience the magic of Tzfat all over again.

This weekend, was a cumulation of a lot of my favorite moments so far. The essence of Tzfat was so peaceful and revitalizing, and prepared me for another spectacular week in Israel. 


Jack Pierce

After a nice break for Rosh Hashanah, we traveled up to Tzvat for the weekend. Before we got there on Thursday, we spent the day learning about the Crusades. In the morning, we saw a crusader castle called Bellevoir, now completely destroyed, but once a great castle, which was the last to fall to the Muslims. The enormous castle showed the opulence of the European crusaders, but their fall displayed how much they just didn’t belong in the desert with limited resource. After lunch, we had a nice hike through a river with lots of splashing and tackling. 

Afterwards, we travelled up to Tzvat where we spent the rest of the weekend. For DOTS (dinner on the streets) Maor, Ethan, Nate, and I had chinese food and then explored looking for some candy. The next day, we had more free time to explore the art district before talking with a Kabbalist, Abraham (Kabbalah is spiritual Judaism). He explained how he came to Kabbalah from Michigan and the true point of the practice. I brought two paintings from him before we went up to a park for lunch. For Shabbat, we attended an Orthodox synagogue called the Shul of Love and Dance. Yes, there was lots of dancing and singing. To be honest, I’ve never been to an Orthodox synagogue and this probably isn’t the most traditional, but I had a lot of fun. 

After a fancy dinner served by the hotel, Aubrey and Oriya took the boys to a Mikva used by Ha’Air, a great Rabbi from 500 years ago who put the Kabbalah in context people could understand. Instead of going all at once, we each took a turn dunking in the frigid water. Aubrey explained before hand different methods people use. I decided to do seven dunks (one for each day of the week) and use each to reflect on the day of the week. Before coming up from the water, I tried to imagine everything I did that day. On they last dunk, Shabbat, I just tried to clear my head and think of nothing. I ended up hearing. Those few seconds were the most peaceful of the entire weekend. I think that’s what Kabbalah is all about. 

The next day, I got to sleep in before having a half an hour to explore the old city. We were supposed to get a feel of the atmosphere without being in a tour group. We ended up finding some pretty interesting streets as well as stumbling on the places we had visited the day before (like the awesome candle factory). Two girls told us about the sound caves under a park. We learned the park was where we had eaten lunch the day before, but we didn’t have time to go to these sound caves before we had to report back to the hotel. However, we didn’t realize we would be going to the sound caves as a group after lunch. Along with Gann, we packed into the caves and sang a couple songs. For what ever reason, the acoustics were perfect, and the sound reverberated throughout the cave. It was astounding. 

Also thank you so much to Alison and Ariel for your photos.

Rachel Selvin

What an amazing weekend. As I breathed in the crisp air of the mountains, while looking over at the most incredible view of the winding old city roads, I realized there is no place I’d rather be than here in Israel. Our Shabbat spent in the northern religious city of Tzfat, was one of my favorite tiyulim (trips) yet. My friends and I had the chance to really explore the mystical city on our own. We learned about the teachings of Luria and Kabbalah right where it all began. I was fascinated by the intricacies of the more spiritual, and almost magical side of Judaism. The streets of Tzfat are flooded with living history through synagogues, art, food, you name it. The money i spent in tzfat was definitely the best money i’ve spent on such beautiful, and authentic art pieces the city has to offer. On Friday night, we got to experience one of the most amazing synagogues I’ve ever seen. Outside, overlooking Mount Meron (which just a few weeks ago we hiked on Yam L’Yam), we watched the sunset as we sang, danced, and prayed together. It was a beautiful moment.


Maor Ziv-Kreger- Academic Fellow

My eyes rest on the hazy sunset reflecting off the distant Trans-Jordanian mountains. I sit in the long evening shadow of the great fortress that is Masada. I breath in the salty lifeless air of the lowest place on earth. I know nothing can live in the Dead Sea climate, but the emptiness somehow fills me with life. It is Shabbat. I listen to the soft breeze and try to clear my mind of the mounds of information that I have acquired in the past month. I have been caught up in a struggle to balance on top of an ever-growing mountain of information, teachings, and stories thousands of years old, and I seize the quiet moment and hop off that mountain. 

 

I try to stay in the moment but it only lasts an invaluable minute. I am supposed to be meditating with an empty mind, but sure enough the thoughts start creeping back. It is surprising how difficult it is to think of nothing. I try to fight back the thoughts, but eventually I give in and let my mind wander. 

—————

The first place my mind goes to, is the not-so-fond memory of yesterday morning’s breakfast at a youth hostel at the base of Masada. It was four fifteen in the morning when my iphone’s alarm clock shocked me conscious and I stumbled downstairs to the worst breakfast of my life: White bread, non-dairy butter, and a cucumber. This had to somehow last me up and down Masada, through a prayer service on top of Masada at sunrise, and through a four hour class about the history and archeology of Masada, all the way until a lunch at a resort at the Dead Sea. I stuffed some clementines, nuts and raisins into my backpack. There is a hefty fine for eating on top of Masada, but if I wanted to get anything out of the experience, I knew I had to risk it.

My mind blurs past the dark hike up Masada, and past the breathtaking sunrise over the mountains. My mind flies past the prayer service, past walking through the ruins of ancient, palaces, bathhouses, and food pantries all the way until part way through my morning history lesson. I was standing at the Western cliff of Masada looking down at the ruins of an ancient Roman camp a thousand feet below me. I wondered what it would be like to be standing there one thousand, nine hundred and forty three years ago in the year 73 C.E. I stepped into the shoes of a boy my age also looking down at the Roman camp:

I look off the side of the fortress. I see the Roman camp. 10,000 Roman soldiers surround me. Jerusalem, my home, was destroyed. My family was killed in the rebellion. I escaped out of the city through the sewers. I am among the last free Jews left in the world. I am alone spare the mere few hundred on Masada with me. As far as I know, when the Roman soldiers come up to Masada tomorrow morning, there will be one final battle, and the last of the Jews will be killed. 

 

“But that isn’t what happened.” The voice of my teacher, Aubrey, jolts me out of the vision. “The there was no final battle. Instead, the Jews on top of Masada, all commit suicide so as not to be killed or forced into slavery by the Romans. When the Roman soldiers climbed up to Masada the next morning, expecting to fight a battle, rape women, plunder and win glory for Rome, there was nothing left of the Jewish camp except an eerie silence.”

Fast forward to the end of the lesson. It was already midday and the sun was hot. I stood with my group at the very southern side of Masada. There were mountains all around us. “Masada is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Israel.” Aubrey tells my class. “On the surface, the message of Masada is a very problematic message. The Jews of Masada gave up. They thought they were the only Jews left, and they killed themselves so as not to go into slavery. It is not a message of hope and faith in God, instead it is a message of despair and lack of faith.” My heart sank. Is that what I had come up all the way this mountain to hear?

    “But that is not the true message of Masada!” Aubrey shouts in his thick scottish accent. He has us all turn around and face away from Masada towards the surrounding mountains. “On the count of three, repeat after me as loud as you can!” he tells us.

    “Shenit Masada Lo Tipol!” (Masada will never fall again) Aubrey says.

“Shenit Masada Lo Tipol!” We all shout towards the mountains. 

We wait a few seconds in absolute silence, and sure enough back comes the most amazing echo I have ever heard. Every word bounces off the mountain clear as a crystal. 

“Am Yisrael Chai” Aubrey shouts.

“Am Yisrael Chai” We all scream as loud as we can.

“Am Yisrael Chai” The mountains call back to us.

“Those are the voices of the ancient Jews of Masada.” Aubrey tells us. “That is the true message of Masada. The Jews of Masada gave up once, but for the rest of time, the Jews will never give up again. Masada will never fall again.”

—————

Here I am sitting in the desert at the base of Masada. Meditating with the view of the Dead sea, and the pink sunset reflecting off the Trans-Jordanian mountains. I am filled with the strongest pride to be Jewish. Pride to be part of a culture, nationality and religion of people who never give up. I no longer feel dragged down and overwhelmed by the mountains of information I balance upon. I feel inspired.

It sure has been one hell of a weekend, and I am excited to begin this next week, the next three months of this program, and the rest of my life carrying with me the message of Masada. I will persevere and never give up.

 

Sophie Meltzer

 
Sitting here on my bed, I find myself rushing to squeeze in the time between activities, classes, and Tiyuls to write my weekly blog post. Although this seems stressful, with only fifty minutes remaining before the beginning of math class, I realize that it means that this program is giving me exactly what I expected. I did not come here expecting to have time to lie around and procrastinate on homework like I would at home. I did not expect to come here and ever be bored, and I definitely did not come here expecting to have extra time. Every hour is filled with excitement and knowledge, every minute teaches me to love Israel more, and every second is unique.

 

This weekend, we were lucky enough to travel to Jerusalem and Masada. In doing this, we were able to follow the story of the second temple and the Romans rule in Israel all the way through from beginning to end. In doing this, the story formed a more real image in my mind. I truly was walking in the footsteps of my ancestors as they struggled to keep Judaism alive, despite all the people that tried to take it down throughout history.

 

In Jerusalem, we discovered the secrets of the second Beit Hamikdash by studying not just the Western Wall, but the Southern wall and other seemingly insignificant parts of the temple. For example, together we walked up the steps of the Beit Hamikdash, hand in hand. The steps were purposely built to force reflection on those walking up. After each single step was a type of landing to force us to stop and look up at the temple after each step we took, embracing it´s beauty and significance. So many Jews in the past waited their entire lives to look up at the Beit Hamikdash, rising proudly in front of them. This feeling of looking at the Jewish past, present, and future all at once was overwhelming and simply breathtaking.

 

After discovering the secrets of the Jews in Jerusalem, we traveled to Masada to discover another aspect of the Jewish story. Originally a palace built for King Herod, Masada amazed me with its splendid views and palaces. However, the more amazing aspects of Masada were those that seemed bland and simple. These pieces,  show a record of the Jews escaping Roman rule on Masada and continuing to keep their Jewish values while watching the Romans dwell below them, knowing their inevitable fate.

 

Tragically, the Masada story ends with the mass suicide of the Jewish people. However, from this tragedy, comes a great message of resilience amongst the Jewish people. Standing on the edge of the mountain, we yelled out to the desert ¨Sheynit Masada lo tipul¨, meaning ¨Masada shall not fall again¨. This idea spreads the message that never again can the Jewish people be in a situation as dire as Masada. Never again can the Jews be forced to kill their own to protect their honor, and never again can the Jews be forced out of Jerusalem and into exile. Yelling this message into the never ending sky, we heard the echo of our voices ringing out through the desert, surpassing the bounds of time and sharing the message with our Jewish ancestors. This moment was so significant to me since to me it shows just how much the Jews have gone through, yet we are still here. No matter how many times Jews have been persecuted or hated, we are still here, and we are not going anywhere.

 Jack Pierce

After spending the day around Jerusalem seeing the archaeological site in the Old City, we spent the night at Masada. Out the window, we could see the great plateau towering above us, and the snake path crisscrossing up the mountain. That night we had to get a good night sleep because the day after we were racing the sun up Masada. By nine thirty, everyone was lights out and basically asleep (a couple hours early than normal). Tomorrow was going to be a really long day. And it was. 

In the morning, we woke up at four thirty. I packed my bag, filled my water, and walked down to breakfast like a zombie. My eyes were still half closed. I honestly can’t tell you what was for breakfast. All I remember is that I was excited. But by the time we got outside, I was awake. The moon was still shining down on us, leading us up the mountain. The ground under my feet was basically invisible; I was basically blind. Every once in a while, I would trip over a rock and had to steady myself on the person next to me, but I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I hadn’t seen a good sunrise in a long time.

Today was the day. I would look up and slowly the sky got brighter and brighter. It was incredible. After forty five minutes of hiking, my feet were sore and my tongue was dry. I had already half-finished my water bottle for the day, but I felt great. The sun just stared to poke out from behind the Jordan Mountains. At first it was a rich red like salsa, then it slowly turned yellow like a banana (if you couldn’t tell, I was really hungry). We had a little breakfast before we went on Masada, but we can’t eat in the park (at least not legally). But for a few minutes, I completely forgot about my stomach. It was breathtaking. There were several crows birds singing to us. Then Benjy and Aubrey lead a Shacharait service just as the sun was settling in the sky. I had never done a morning service before. I honestly thought it was going to be annoying, but it honestly was a great way to start my morning.

The rest of the day consisted of a couple hours of core. We learned about the Zealots last stand on Masada against the Romans. Afterwards, Benjy took our class to a cliff and told us to scream “Sheynit Masada lo tipul” (Masada will never fall again). A crazy echo yelled back to us after every word. I thought it was the other class standing next to us, but it was just the mountains. Benjy said it was the souls of those Zealots.

The walk down was a lot easier and more fun, and I could appreciate the view. Some people took the cable car, but I forgot my wallet down in my room. I also just wanted to see what it really looked like. Because of the distance and blue tint, the Jordan Mountains almost looked like holograms towering over the Dead Sea, where we spent the afternoon. I’ve never been before, so I got salt in my eyes a couple times before I realize I just had to keep my head high above the water. But I was floating just like I was sitting in a chair. Benjy held a service that night before went back to my room passed out from exhaustion.

Rachel Selvin

This past week had been nothing short of intense! We had a full week of classes (mind you they go until about 6pm), and then capstoned the week with a trip to Jerusalem, Masada, and the Dead Sea.I had some major tests this week and sometimes it’s hard to study when you’re surrounded by friends at all hours of the day, but I pushed through and got the grades I was hoping for.  

I had really been looking forward to our first venture towards Israel’s southern land so I was delighted to spend this past weekend in the Judean valley by Masada and the Dead Sea. We began our weekend at the Israel museum where we began to learn about Judaism in the Hasmonean Empire and what the Jews were up to while those reputable Greek myths were born. I learned that although I would have loved to be a Sadducee (who were wealthy), I am probably a descendant of a Pharisee as they were the only school of thought that survived after the destruction of the second temple. Pretty cool that I am able to say that!

After the Israel Museum we spent lunch in the Old City where I further cultivated my bargaining skills and had some yummy ice cream. We finished our time in Jerusalem at the remains of the temple and I began to contemplate what it meant for us to be post temple destruction Jews.

As we bid goodbye to Jerusalem we welcomed in the change of scenery that came with traveling through the desert towards Masada. I awoke from my nap on the bus to the most majestic view of sand clad momentous mountains and a vast blue sky. The contrasting colors looked like a painted portrait. That night we got a good night sleep as we would be waking up at 4:15 AM that next morning to climb Masada.

Sleepy eyed and groggy, I dragged myself out of bed and began windy slope up the snake path. Somehow, I ended up leading the pack and reaching the peak of Masada first. I felt so accomplished and strong. As i let my body cool down, I looked out into the distance and watched the sun peek through the clouds as it began to rise into the sky. Before I knew it, the day had arrived. I stood in awe at the wondrous world we live in with a multitude of friends by my side. In that moment, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

We spent the rest of the morning learning about the somewhat morbid history of Masada. I learned about the extensive community the Zealots had built for themselves perched high above common civilization. We finished the day by screaming out “Sheinit Masada Lo Tipol!” into the distance and heard the echo of our voices symbolizing that of the Zealots who fell for us.

After our descent from the mountain, we headed over to the dead sea for some floatation time. I  have been to the Dead Sea a few times but it is always so exciting to see how my body just refuses to touch the salty sea floor. It was really fun to hang out with everyone covered in mud. At this point on the trip, we have all grown into our most authentic selves and there is a great sense of comfort and dynamism within.

We spent Shabbat at the Hostel with housed some pretty spectacular views. We got to catch up on sleep, and just hang out and it was just what we needed after such a jam packed weekend. Each week brings something new! I wonder where we will go next, what I will learn next, and what amazing memories are yet to be made.

 

Hannah Katz

Now that we have settled in and the program has commenced, I will get to live the most exhausting yet spectacular part of my life. I am finally able to call Hod HaSharon home, I feel as if my group has become one big family. This past week we had classes for four days straight! That sounds like a joke compared to my school at home but every day is from dawn until dusk and by the end you are extremely tired. On Wednesday I woke up at around seven, had core class and then general studies until lunch , then general studies until dinner and after dinner I had a Biology lab. Although it was hard I made it through because of the fact that we were going on tiyul the next day! We woke up and then headed to Jerusalem followed by a drive to Mitzada “Masada” and the next day we would head to the Dead Sea.

Day one: We woke up extra early that day in order to have an ample amount of time to run around the old city of Jerusalem. Throughout the day we saw many cool things such as a hasidic bar mitzvah with shofars and dancing, we also saw the other not always thought of side of the western wall followed by seeing the southern wall. I love hearing the stories about the bible and connecting it to the real world that I can touch and feel. I loved going back to the same places that I have been with different people because each time it feels completely new yet more familiar. We then drove from Jerusalem to our youth hostel at Masada.

Day two: After getting no sleep whatsoever I had to wake up at 4:15 in the morning and prepare to hike up the snake path, which I walked down in July; as I was struggling to get down in the summer I said to myself  “I feel bad for anyone who has to hike up” and that ended up being me. The moment when I reached the top I felt a wave of pride, I then made my way towards my group and watched the sunrise from the ceiling of a two thousand year old building. After many hours of learning we drove to the Dead Sea where we had an amazing lunch and a painful yet wonderful floating experience. After a couple hours we went back to the hostel and prepared for kabbalat shabbat.

Day three: Thank god I was allowed to sleep in! After a long couple of days a recharge was much needed, I arose at eleven and had a hot cup of tea and a few too many croissants. After an entertaining talk from my core teacher Benjy we were all able to enjoy a nice swim in a pool with the most gorgeous view of mountains on one side and the Dead Sea on the other. My group took a short walk into the desert where we were able to lay on the Chalk Mountains and meditate. During my meditation, one girl’s foot slipped and half of the peak came crumbling down; that made it clear to me just how delicate the world is and how destructive humans can be.

 I had plenty of opportunities to bond with such an amazing group that I am blessed to be a part of. The dynamics are fantastic and I can truly call them my family. This past week a fourteen year old boy was trespassing on the railroads in my town and got hit by a passing train, within a second his life was over. That really hit home for me because there has been a lot of tragedy recently and I began to cry, not only did my roommates consul me but the entire group. I am so lucky to be able to live the life that I do with the most supportive people by my side; and to share these experiences and memories with them is unbelievable.

Maor Ziv-Kreger- Academic Fellow

Covered in dust and sweat I drag one foot after another. My off-balance, overweight backpack bounces from side to side with each step. I am lucky enough to be free of back pains and blisters, so I carry water and food for my friends; although in the moment I don’t feel lucky at all.

And then I remember. I remember that I am in Israel on a journey to learn about my country and my people. I remember that I am with 27 other amazing friends who are on the same journey here with me. I am hiking across Israel – from Yam Le Yam – from the Mediterranean Sea, to the Sea of Galilee. I lift my head from the ground, and I look how far I have come. In the hazy distance I see Mount Meron towering above the hills. I can’t believe that just yesterday I stood at the top of that mountain overlooking Israel’s northern border. In front of me I see the red morning sun glowing off the rocks. I reach up and pick a carob off the tree that is shading me.

I would love to write a blog about how much I connected to the land while living from a backpack for 4 days. I would love to write a blog about all the insights I had about my Jewish identity and relationship to Israel while journeying across the land that my ancestors lived in. But that wouldn’t be honest. The hike was hard, and so to keep my mind off the difficulty, I wasn’t focusing on the land and the history, I focused on being with my friends – working together to keep our mind off the heat, soreness and fatigue. We bonded over the challenge. We overcame adversity together and as a group I think we are stronger now.

There were hours where I kept my head down, just focusing on putting one foot after the other. Hours where I felt like the mountain kept going up forever, and hours where I felt the next meal would never come.

But there were also hours that flew by in an instant; where the phrase “time flies when you’re having fun” was an understatement. There were hours where the conversations were so deep that I was disappointed when the hike of the day ended, and hours where I felt that the friends I met three weeks ago have been my friends forever.

Every night when we got to our campsite, after a dinner of schnitzel and hot soup, we would lie under the stars and talk for hours. There were memorable nights of campfires, singing, guitars, and s’mores. There were massage circles to loosen up our stiff backs, and long conversations about what we miss most about home, and what we are happy to be far away from.

I don’t think the good times would have happened without the challenging hike. I am so thankful to be here at Alexander Muss in Israel, and I look forward to the next three and a half months of adventure and challenge that awaits me here.


Jack Pierce

Yom L’Yom, Lom L’Lom, Lama Lama, or anything else it was called, was crazy. There’s no real other way to describe it. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Beforehand, David Michelle had told us how we had to go to the bathroom in the wilderness, and I definitely was not looking forward to that part. But in reality, I had no idea what I was in for. Hiking was not completely foreign to me; four days just seemed like a lot. I was going into the deep unknown. 

The first day we woke up, loaded our bags onto the bus, made sure we had at least four and a half liters of water, and took off for the Mediterranean Sea. I slept for the two hour drive, and that was the best sleep I’d have for the rest of the trip. Then we arrived at the Mediterranean. Other than flying over it a couple weeks ago, that was the first time I’d seen it. We had our opening ceremony where we filled a water bottle with the salt water before we got back on the bus to drive to our starting location. Then we were off. We made our way through a river bed most of the first day. I made sure I had packed my hiking shoes, and we could just run up the river. Over the centuries, the water had carved its was through the stone. At one place, a natural spring had created a nice pool along the side of the trail we could swim around in. After lunch and afternoon tea time, we had the hour of hell. Aubrey asked us to think about different things, like the light, our heart beat, or the different kinds of rocks at our feet. Before we knew it we had gotten through the hour of hell, but I was as sore as I thought was possible I would later learn I was very wrong. At night, we set up our tents before having some of the hottest soup ever. It was delicious once it cooled down, but after the trip ended, people still claimed their tongue was burned. For the evening activity, we had one on one conversations. There were questions were supposed to answer about our lives, but about halfway through we gave up and just had a deep conversation about our life back home. Immediately after was tents in. Although it was hard without a pillow, I fell asleep right away from the exhausting day.

The second day was even worse. That day, my bottoms of my feet started to feel like stone, and my shoulders just cramped up. Four and a half liters of water is a lot to carry every day, not even counting all of the other things we had to bring for the day. But the view from the day was incredible and definitely worth it. We hiked the second tallest mountain in Israel, Har Meron. In the distance, we could see Har Heron (the tallest mountain in Israel), but we didn’t know what it was until Aubrey pointed it out to us. At first, we could just see the top, and, with its purple color that blended into the sky, we thought it was just another cloud. But at the end of the day, it was a lot of walking. While we were setting up our tents, we could barely see Har Meron in the distance. That campsite was by far the nicest: there was a bathroom. That night, instead of having a real evening activity, we lit a campfire. Oriya, our madrichim, and Gil, the medic, played the guitar. Benjy, who grew up in Great Britain, had never had s’mores before, so we had to teach him. Then we went to bed on the hardest day of the week.

However, the third day gave the second day a run for its money. We didn’t do as much uphill hiking, but we went farther in kilometers. Mostly, we followed a riverbed down towards the Sea of Galilee. That day, the sun decided to melt all of us. In the middle of the afternoon, we had a nice nap just off the side of the trail because everybody was about to collapse. That day, my bag felt like it was pulling my arms out of the socket, but I made it to the end of the day with my arms still attached to my body. At that point, I really wanted to go back to the dorm. I love hiking, but such a long trip was so draining. That night we had some free time I used to go star gazing, and with the almost full moon, we could see the landscape sprawling in front of us. I almost fell asleep just admiring the beauty.

But I had to go to bed because the next morning we got up before sunrise. We had to go about as far as the third day, but much easier. However, we had to finish the hike around lunch instead of five in the afternoon. It was nice hiking before the sun came up and would melt us, but it was way too early. I definitely slept walked most of the way until we reached the Sea of Galilee. Aubrey made us wait while we poured out the Mediterranean Sea water in the sand before we rushed into the water after our grueling week.

Shoutouts:

To Gil for being our best medic.

To Dalya for the amazing conversation the first night.

To Arin for another great conversation on the last night.

To Ethan for sharing a tent with me.

To Uriya for the great tea.

To Uriya and Adi for the hats, and also the survival kits.

To Benjy and Aubrey for the song.

To the soup.

To General Mills for the cereal.

 

Sophie Meltzer 

There we stood, at the shore of the Kinneret, wind in our hair, cool sand under our feet, the gentle lick of the freshwater dancing around us, inviting us in. Standing there, surrounded by friends that over the last four days have been a tent mate, or a hiking buddy, or most importantly, shoulder to lean on. Standing there, it was hard to believe that only four days earlier, we stood at the shore of the Mediterranean, looking out over the sea in anticipation of our upcoming journey, unaware of what adventures, laughs, and hard points it would bring.

 

As a whole, Yam l’Yam was an experience that I will truly never be able to forget, The ups and downs, the relationships made and deepened, and the sense of accomplishment that I felt after diving into the Kinneret, are all so valuable to me and my continued journey at Muss. This trip, although only four days in length, taught me so many lessons about myself, the people around me, and especially hiking. For example…

  1. 4.5 liters of water, even if it´s all you are carrying, is very, very heavy.
  2. Bring snacks. You will always be hungry.
  3. Get to know different people along the way, people that you may not have the opportunity to talk to as much as home.
  4. Watch out for low hanging branches, they will not move out of the way for you.
  5. Take in every moment, every view, and every laugh. Let yourself fly and don’t be afraid to fall.

Behind each lesson I learned, is a story and a memory that will never be forgotten. We put an emphasis on a few specific values through the course of the trip. Beginning with the theme of awareness, we quickly learned how critical it is to be conscious of both yourself and those around you. Also, we discovered the importance of taking responsibility on journeys such as Yam l´Yam, for ourselves and especially everyone else around us. The lessons that we learned will carry through the rest of our semester and help us all support each other, whether we are hiking eighty kilometers, or just studying for a test.

 

My amazing core teacher Aubrey described this trip as the ¨beginning of the end¨. No more first meals, first classes, first shabbats, or first Tiyuls. Although this idea saddens me, I realize that it’s true. Now we must travel through our trip, taking everything in until we will start our lasts. Although this journey left me bruised, blistered, and more tired than I have ever been, it was worth all of it. The pride I have in myself and all my friends for finishing is so immense and so great. At the beginning, hiking for four days may have seemed impossible, however with my friends by my side I felt that I could do anything. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second, I just might bring a few more bandaids, and some Ibuprofen.

 

 

Rachel Selvin

 

Wow. I can’t believe I did that.

Such words continue to echo through my head as I process the amazing feat I have accomplished: Yam L’Yam (Sea to Sea). Those four days hiking laterally across Israel felt like forever while I was there. Yet now that it has passed, all I want to do is relive the experience.       

We began at the Mediterranean Sea near Nayariah on Israel’s western coast. There, we looked out at the great open skies and listened to the crisp crash of the foamy waves. It was really exhilarating standing there all together as we knew it marked the beginning of our Journey to the next large body of water-one that would greet us four days later: The Kinneret!     

  

And then it all began! The hot sun and my heavy backpack weighed me down but I was lifted up by the constant laughter, singing, and conversation buzzing through our group. The first day started off pretty relaxed; we even got to stop in a little river for a refreshing swim. Then the harder trails began. We trekked up steep, rocky, slopes, and were met with incredible views of awesome foliage and landscape at each peak we encountered. Our core teachers Aubrey and Benjy would periodically stop us all for a “L’Chaim” where one of us would make a little toast to our accomplishments, it also kept us all properly hydrated.

Our theme for the first day was awareness so that was worked into many conversations The final stretch of the first day was actually one of the most spiritual moments I have had here thus far. We were climbing up a steep path to our campsite for the night in total silence as directed by Aubrey. In that silence, he asked us to focus on certain things such as our breath, feet, the colors of the leaves, and he even instructed us to let our minds go completely blank. In those moments, as hard as it was to stay focused, I was able to feel very attuned to my body and the earth around me. I felt very conscious of the Israeli ground under my feet, which was a surreal feeling.

Once we finally arrived to our campsite, which was essentially some open land overlooking an amazing view of various villages and valleys, we were greeted with hot soup and the task of setting up our tents. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say I wouldn’t completely consider myself an “outdoors-y” person, but with a little encouragement I was able to thrive in nature and set up my tent.

That night, the madrichim conducted a bonding game where we were randomly paired with another member of our group and were prompted with some thought provoking questions. It was really nice to get to know members of my group on a deeper level.

The next day we awoke at sunrise and prepared for the second day, which we were told would be even more strenuous than our first. I’ll admit I felt a little dirty having not showered the night before but hey, that’s what it’s all about right? We ate our breakfast then hit the road.

Aubrey warned us that the second day would be the hardest of all and boy was he right. We spent the majority of the day hiking down Nachal Amud, which was a steep, rocky, dry river bed that ended up prompting a coupled falls within the group. In a moment where I thought I had my foot placement right, I took a pretty rough tumble but I got right back up and carried on.

Our second theme was unity and it definitely showed as each and every one of us helped one another through every difficult step. It was really a beautiful sight to see a group of teens who were strangers three weeks ago, turn into one big family.  

The third day’s theme was responsibility. This day really made it evident how far we had progressed on the trail as we seemed to be able to take longer breaks; we were even awarded a much needed nap in the middle of a rocky enclave at one point in the day. During a “L’Chaim,” we spoke about what we personally feel we are responsible for in regards to the group. I said I felt responsible for always being there with a bandaid, hug, open ear, and ample hebrew when necessary. It was another moment during the hike that it became clear the beginning, where we were all giddy new friends,  had ended and we were all moving into a new chapter on our trip in which each one of us held a special place within the dynamic of the group.

We concluded our final night of Yam L’Yam with our usual hot soup followed by a delicious dinner and some reflections of the last three days. I went to sleep with a sense of pride in my journey to that point, excitement to finally see the Kinneret, and even a little sadness that the end was nearing.

The final day was probably the least intense but the most exciting as we were so close we could taste it! It was also one of the hottest days as we passed through flat farm land under the scorching sun.

Finally, at around noon time we arrived at the Kibbutz where we would get to dip into the pool of water we had waited what felt like an eterity for. However, before we could dive in, we had to take a minute to share and reflect what we felt we had learned from our amazing experience. I think I learned a lot about every person on this trip and what it really means to be a cohesive community. Additionally, I learned I can push my limits and truly believe that If i did this, I can do anything.

At last, we raced into the water and enjoyed a relaxing day in the sweet waters of the Kinneret. I was struck by the immense comfort I felt in Israel after completing the hike. Trekking across Israel made me see the country in a new way and appreciate all her beautiful little features that might get overlooked.

We ended the day with a delicious and nourishing meal and then caught up on sleep on our way home. 

Wow. What a week. What a group. What a country.

Hannah Katz

There is no way that I have been here for over three weeks, it still feels like I had just left home and headed to the airport. Quite the contrary though, I just returned from a four day hike from the Mediterranean Sea to the Kineret. I had been dreading that journey for a very long time due to my previous hatred for hiking, you can imagine my surprise when I fell in love with trekking across Israel’s diverse land. This hike changed my view on what I am capable of and how much a positive attitude alters a situation. Every morning there was a lingering happy feeling from the past day and a hope that the coming day would be even better; don’t get me wrong, I was extremely sore and grumpy come sunrise. By day four I could feel the essence of the Kineret and agreed to myself that no matter how tired or how unmotivated I would power through and leap into the warm waters of The Sea of Galilee.

Throughout my sixteen years I have had my share of hikes although I have never gone four straight days without seeing a proper bed. Even though I smelled like a decaying body I have never felt better; there were no competitions on whose outfit is the best or anything like that, it was more a competition of who looked the most rugged. I have a feeling that I won for a couple of days, except for one night where we all took sink showers. I gained a new appreciation for showers and toilets when I realized that my bathroom for the next four days was the land. I may have over packed my night suitcase so luckily I wasn’t really lacking in the clean clothing department.

The night before Yam l’yam I was pondering whether I was capable of it both mentally and physically; I genuinely feared getting on the bus that would taunt me for two hours as it drove to the Mediterranean. I expected to be walking straight up mountains for eight hours every day and that I would be too focused on not falling that I would never get to see the mesmerizing views. I wish I could tell myself before I went on the trip to just relax and loosen up because the good outweighed the bad, for instance while going through “the hour of hell” I was able to walk on the edge of a cliff holding only the handles screwed into the rocky edge. Although that experience was horrifying, I have never felt such thrill and I was able to receive the support of my peers when I felt that I was not able to finish. Yam l’yam crushed every expectation I had and instead gave me everlasting memories with Eretz Y’Israel and my amazing semester group.

Towards the end of day three I finally hit my breaking point, we were at the hardest part of the day and were crawling straight up a mountain just as I had feared. My feet were aching, my heart was thumping from fear, sweat was dripping into my eyes and I could barely stay awake; all of the sudden I felt extremely frustrated. I told my friend that I could not keep going and that I was going sit down until someone carried me to the camping site, she then looked at me with disgust while telling me to look around at what beautiful nature was surrounding me in the land that my ancestors were not lucky enough to maintain. That was the moment I realized the point of Yam l’yam, create a family with twenty seven strangers while stepping across the same land that our ancient family once thrived on.

After reaching the Kinneret and jumping into the perfectly warm waters with a view on one side of the Golan Heights and a view on the other side of how far we had come, I felt complete. My perspective of Israel has dramatically changed because I was able to understand how difficult it must have been to earn this stunning home. I would have never been able to complete this immense challenge if it weren’t for my amazing friends, teachers and madrichim.

 

Hannah Katz, September 12, 2016

I have had an inexplicable feeling of joy from this past week; we climbed down Mt. Gilboa, swam in the cool blue waters of the Sachne, explored the City of David in Jerusalem, hiked around Sataf, and so many more amazing things. I cannot believe that it has only been twelve days! I love my entire group and feel like I have known them forever. Although this program is exhausting, I have never been more happy in my life. We had our first free weekend starting Friday afternoon and ending Saturday night, I never could have imagined missing this group so much; one day apart was too much for us and I was able to realize that this is where I belong.

I was so lucky that I was able to be reintroduced to to “The Golden City of Jerusalem” blindfolded and with new knowledge of how lucky I am to be able to walk on those streets. I have always felt that the people are watching and judging me because I don’t always dress in the most modest ways. I thought to myself that many Jews throughout history have dreamed about being in Jerusalem and were never able to; I never have appreciated how lucky I am to walk in the land where my ancestors once were.

Who would have thought that I would be saying that I love school! The classes are oriented towards my learning needs and I am obsessed with the one on one style. All of my teachers are very understanding and I feel that not only can I talk to them with help in school but I can talk to them about anything. I still cannot believe that Israel is my classroom, during the lessons about ancient Tanakh stories I am feeling that same ground.

I have been a little bit overwhelmed lately with balancing school, social, exercise and sleep. Once I learn how to balance my time in a better way I feel that I’ll be able to loosen up and enjoy myself even more. The learning style at this school helps me learn about the subjects in a different ways. We have ample time to go past the surface of the subjects, for example I was struggling a lot in math last year and since I have been at Muss I’ve been ahead of the class.

I truly believe that I belong in Israel, not only for the people but the land and the history as well. The fact that after these four months I will actually know Israel is incredible to me. Many of my friends would tell me to be safe when I go to Israel; in reality I feel safer here than anywhere else in the world. These past twelve days have changed my outlook on the Jewish religion for the better, in the past I have neglected to understand who my people are but I now can relate to them. I do not think I will go home and start going to temple more often but I will switch my outlook on life and appreciate the little things that I take for granted.

Until next week!

Maor Ziv- Kreger September 12, 2016- Academic Fellow

The soothing breeze blows away the discomfort of my blistered feet and sweaty back. Here I am, a week and a half since I landed in Israel, sitting in a tree on top of mount Gilboa, with a breathtaking view overlooking the Jezreel valley. Both this tree and I were funded to come to Israel by the Jewish National Fund. The tree is deeply grounded in the land of Israel, and I too am here to discover my roots and ground myself to the land and the people of Israel.

I look down below my feet. There stands my teacher swinging his arms around wielding an imaginary sword. He is re-enacting the last battle of Saul, the first king of Israel. Saul and his son Jonathan get separated from their army and flee up the mountain. They make their last stand heavily outnumbered by enemy Philistines.  Jonathan dies, and Saul and his first servant escape to the top of the mountain where they know they only have a short time until they meet their end. “Take my life so I am not taken alive by the Philistines!” Benjy, my teacher, yells in the voice of Saul. “I cannot kill the king of Israel!” responds Aubrey, my other teacher, in the voice of Saul’s servant. And in one of the most dramatic moments in Jewish history, Saul pulls out his sword and falls on it. A deep silence falls over my 27 other classmates as we all sit in shock in the exact spot where the first king of Israel took his life.

In the past two weeks, we have hiked up and down mountains, and walked through pitch black tunnels built thousands of years ago. We have seen ancient palaces, army bases, and temples. We have found ancient pottery, winepresses, and thousand-year-old olive trees. My classroom is the land. When we learned about King Saul, we stood in the place where he died. When we learned about King David, we stood where his balcony would have been, overlooking Jerusalem where he saw have seen Batsheva bathing on her roof. When we learned about King Hezekiah, we walked through the tunnels that he built in order to access the water which was out of the city walls. Learning about history in the exact place where it happened totally changes my learning experience. Everything becomes very real.

In the beginning of my second week here, my teacher asked me a question: “how historically accurate do you think is the Tanach is?” I was taken aback by the question. For me growing up, learning in an air-conditioned classroom in Massachusetts, I never really thought about whether or not I believed the stories in the Tanach. When I learned Torah, it was always under a microscope – what does this interpreter say, what does that one say? But this week, I got to struggle with this bigger question.  What do I believe? To be honest, I am not sure and I’ll probably never be sure, but I think I did make some progress.  By traveling around Israel, I got to interpret, and more importantly experience many Tanach stories for myself. It feels like they are more a part of me than before. When I sat in that tree on top of Mount Gilboa, I felt more connected to King Saul, Israel, and the stories in the Tanach than ever before. I look forward to continuing to think about what I believe, and beginning this life-long journey of discovering my Jewish identity. I look forward to not just learning, but experiencing the rest of Jewish history in the next coming months, and making my people’s history my own.

Sophie Meltzer September 12, 2016

Since my last blog post, Muss has kept me and all my friends quite busy, and happy. This week, we had many new adventures including two Tiyuls, a few quizzes, and many interesting core classes in a variety of new interesting places. On Sunday, we had another full day of classes on campus. I had my first official Hebrew class. Although overwhelming, this class was so much fun. Even though I only learned how to say ¨Hi, my name is Sophie Meltzer, I am from Framingham Massachusetts, and I love ice cream¨, I am already so excited by the idea of learning more and being able to have small conversations by the time I leave. It was kind of surprising to me how much I remembered about writing and reading Hebrew, since I haven’t done it since I was twelve, and I am looking forward to gaining more knowledge.   

On Monday, we woke up extra early, packed the bus, and started our first two day Tiyul to Jerusalem. On the first day, we drove to Mt. Gilboa and had a class on the top of the mountain, looking across a beautiful view, and drinking some coffee. After our class, we began our long and very hot hike down Mt. Gilboa. Stopping along the way to take notes, we looked across the mountain and discussed the Tanach, staring straight into the valleys and over the land where many of the stories took place. This type of learning, on the site where the Tanach happened, puts me directly into the stories and allows me to absorb their messages and teachings in a new and different type of way, that I really appreciate. Learning like this is something very new for me and allows me to take in the information with a new eye.

After our hike down Mt. Gilboa, we traveled to some freshwater pools, ate lunch, and cooled off in the beautiful water. This was the perfect end to a very hot and sweaty morning. I love any excuse to be in the water and celebrating the end of a long hike in the pools was a perfect. After a lot of swimming, relaxing, and eating ice cream, we headed back to the bus and traveled towards Jerusalem.

Three quarters of the way into our bus ride, we were abruptly taken from our conversations, given blindfolds, and instructed to put them on immediately. Five (dark) minutes later we found ourselves walking out of the bus and out into the fresh air, holding onto each other’s shoulders for support. Finally, all at once, we removed our blindfolds and took in the splendor and beauty of Jerusalem for the first time as a group. This moment truly captured the essence of coming to Jerusalem and made seeing it even more special, since we were all seeing it at the same time.

After a fun night hanging around the Jerusalem hostel, we headed out again for another hike through Sataf and a journey through the City of David. My personal favorite part of the trip, was the water tunnels in the City of David. Although I´ve gone through the tunnels before, I had never done it like this. About halfway through, everyone turned off their flashlights and we spent the rest of the time relying on each other to find our way through.

This week was a roller coaster of activities, trips, and classwork and all of it has just continued to make Muss feel like my home away from home. I cannot wait to keep adventuring in this beautiful country with these incredible people.


Hannah Katz
 

Somehow I survived through my first successful week at AMHSI! Although I have been over exhausted, I have had the most amazing time and cannot wait for the rest to come. My first step on to the campus was dusty, the bus had caused the sand in the parking lot to go crazy. Being overwhelmed with the heat and twenty seven other people that I am yet to meet, I did not have the time to take a good look at our beautiful campus. Dragging my over packed luggage to the Friedman dorms and then lugging them up the stairs was an experience, I then unpacked and was able to get a feel for my room. It has an inexplicable home-like feeling in which immediately I felt comfortable in it and with my three roommates: Lily Jacobson, Quincie Esses and Shoshana Markel. They are all so welcoming and honestly I can tell them anything that comes to mind whether it is about school or the latest tiyul that we have embarked on. Overall my first seven days on the campus have been extraordinary and I can only see it getting better.

Being away from home has never been intimidating for me due to the fact that I have been attending camp since the age of six although, this is the longest period of time that I am not with my immediate family. I fear that while I am gone many things are going to change at home, such as a crisis or something along that line; luckily I keep close contact with my parents and siblings. My school at home has its first day on September sixth and I am afraid that I will miss so many things such as powderpuff- a game in which the girls play football and the boys coach- as well as the thanksgiving pep rally where once a year the entire school comes together and becomes one community. So far my classes have been amazing and very interactive especially core, I am worried that the workload will make me enjoy the classes less.

So far this past week has been mainly orientation and me trying to figure out what exactly my purpose here is. I have only gone out into Hod Hasharon twice and been on one tiyul; while on the campus you feel as if you have not left America because English is constantly being spoken and all you really see are the buildings of Mossinson and AMHSI. I am really looking forward to applying what I have been learning in core to the land of Israel so that I can create a deeper connection with the land and its people. Next weekend is our first free weekend and I am spending it with my close cousins in Reut, as city next to Modi’in. We have so many great adventures to come and they are all that I can think about.

On the first day, David Mitchell told us that we should have high expectations and to do our best to make the most out of our experience because you get what you give. With his advice I am expecting the rest of the trip to be life changing, I am going to do my best to unplug and be aware of where I am. Our people have striven for thousands of years to have this holy land and I am lucky enough to live here for four months. I believe that the classes will soon get more difficult but they will still be manageable as long as I put in the time.

Every trip that I attend whether it is camp, a school field trip or a long lasting adventure I create a bucket list in which I attempt to check each experience off. My bucket list for this trip is not very detailed yet, it will grow as the trip goes on.

So far:

  • Stay at the front during Yam L’yam
  • Unplug from my phone on Shabbat
  • Turn every negative thought into a positive
  • Stay in the Dead Sea longer than five minutes
  • Talk to a new person every day

Each item on my bucket list is a personal challenge that I hope to do by the end of my four months. At home my grades are great but I never feel like I am learning the material, I am just working to get an A; I want to earn good grades while I am absorbing the material so that I can return home ahead of my classes. There are many groups on the campus including Gann, Barrack, Semester and the Israeli school called Mosinson; I would love to meet the other programs so that I can be a part of my environment as opposed to a spectator.

I have many goals that I would like to fulfill which will make me a better person, student and explorer. Muss is the tour guide on my journey to finding myself although it can only do so much, I will have to contribute. This program will lay out opportunities such as one on one classes, a weeklong trip to Poland, a week at Gadna, a sea to sea hike and so many more. I have to take those paths which will keep me engaged and teach me how to appreciate the world I live in and the life I am blessed with. So far so good at Alexander Muss High School in Israel! Until next week

 

Sophie Meltzer 

After one hectic, and incredible week at Muss, I am so excited to spend another four months with these incredible people, at this incredible place. Getting to Muss, although it was a very long journey, was an experience in and of itself, that I will never forget. The welcoming and warm nature of all of the other students on the trip immediately made me look forward to the next days, next weeks, and next months. Even after twenty minutes waiting in line at the baggage check, or at security I knew that I would make friendships here that would last forever.

 

Once we finally got to Muss, it was so crazy to tour the campus and see things for the first time that I would see every day for the next few months and most likely remember for the rest of my life. Everyone was so friendly and made me feel comfortable as soon as we reached our dorms and began to unpack. Unpacking my closet and making my bed was such a nice and exciting feeling. I loved being able to spread out my belongings and make myself feel at home.

 

I am so looking forward to building on the many friendships that I have formed during this short time and continue to grow as a friend and as an overall person. Already, I am making plans to see people after we leave Muss. I am confident that these people will become integral parts of my life during my time in Israel and after.

 

In addition to new friendships, I am so excited to gain so much more knowledge about Israel, its people, history, and the Hebrew language itself. The core history class here is unlike anything I have ever done before. Being able to learn about my people´s intricate history by studying in the Promised Land is truly an unbelievable experience that I never thought that I would get to have. I have already learned so much from the core class and I look forward to all the knowledge I will have about Israel by the end of the trip. My teacher Aubrey, is one of the most energetic, and interesting people that I have ever met, and I know that he is going to teach me so much. I am also excited to gain a solid base in the Hebrew language. I have always wished that I had an opportunity to learn conversational Hebrew as a kid. To get to learn it in Israel makes the experience even more important and makes practicing my Hebrew much easier, and much more exciting. Having only gone to Hebrew school twice a week while I was younger, I learned how to read Hebrew, but never how to comprehend what I was reading. I cannot wait to put together the pieces of reading and comprehension.

 

I have already been impacted so much by this program and it has only been the first week. I wholeheartedly expect this program to change me as a person, and most importantly as a Jew. Just being in Israel, and learning through experiencing helps me put the pieces of Jewish history together. For instance, on our first Tiyul on Thursday, we traveled to Tel Gezer. This archaeological site could have been studied from inside a classroom with air conditioning in the United States. However, going out and seeing how people lived and collecting pottery from the time of the Torah is so much more meaningful than any picture or reading I could have done about the site. I cannot wait to continue learning by seeing history, and keep walking in the footsteps of my ancestors as I study them.

 

This first week at Muss was full of firsts. First meals, first classes,our first Tiyyul. I am looking forward  to experiencing more firsts here and make memories that will last forever.


Maor Ziv-Krieger- Academic Fellow 

 
I step off the bus and breath in. The lack of sleep, lack of food, and the fact that I have been sitting down for the past 20 hours all escape my mind. Normally when I walk out of air-conditioning into intense heat, I want to choke, but right now I couldn’t feel better. The heat, the palm trees, the patches of grass snuck everywhere possible into the otherwise concrete city, flick a switch in my brain and put me into an entirely new mood – a mood that has lasted me the entire week.

Israel isn’t my home away from home; it’s my only home. It feels so right to be back. I was born in Jerusalem, and although I have lived my whole life in Massachusetts, Israel is where I truly belong.

But this time it’s different. I am not surrounded by the family I was born with. The family I have visited Israel with countless times. This time when I landed in Ben Gurion airport, I wasn’t sitting next to my younger sister after a long plane ride of drinking seltzer and playing mad-libs. I was sitting with a new family. 28 of the most interesting, welcoming, friendly people I’ve ever met. For the next four months, I live with this new family. For the next four months I have the liberty of being a new person – person whose previous mistakes are unknown, a person who can live in the moment while carrying no baggage from the past.

Along with this newfound liberty, I also have many responsibilities for the next four months. There are the more basic goals such as doing well in school, building and sustaining relationships, and writing interesting blogs for my friends and family back at home. But there are also goals that I have never dealt with before, such as exploring and building my relationship with Israel and Judaism. These new goals are the ones that will be the biggest challenge for me.

My relationship with Israel, and Judaism has always been a big part of my life; being born in Jerusalem, growing up with an Israeli mother, and living in a modern orthodox family and community. But my relationship with Judaism and Israel has always been in the back of my mind, and I have never spent much time thinking about it. Because I live with a new family, and nobody knows me, now is the perfect time to begin this lifelong process of figuring out who I am as an Israeli and American Jew.

In these next four months, I will be learning about the past 4,000 years of Jewish and Israeli history. I will journey to many historical sites in Israel, and even make my way to Poland. But the real Journey will be within myself. What does it mean to be born in Israel? What does it mean to live and grow up in America? What does it mean to be a Jew? And ultimately, who am I as an Israeli, American Jew?

 

Jack Pierce
Benjy, my Core teacher, sat us down before we entered. We passed around slips of paper with letters from little kids. They were for the Kotel. One kid complemented the combination of orange and purple he saw in the sunset last Tuesday. Another asked if giraffes were meant to look how they did. Some asked about death. Others had personal problems that needed to be addressed. Some were funny; some were sad. After, I went through security and made my way to the Wall. There were some people begging for money; someone else asked if I would like to buy tefillin. I didn’t and kept walking towards the Wall. There was a nice crack where I put the letter from the little kids. On the back I had written my own letter. It was short and sweet, exactly what I wanted to say. But once I got to the wall, I had so much more to say. All around me people were leaning against the wall covering their heads with their arms. I did the same and then started to talk, talking about how life was going and some problems I was having. Nothing big, but stuff I wanted to share. It wasn’t a prayer; I wasn’t praising. It was just a conversation, a one sided conversation but a conversation nonetheless. I could feel someone listening.

We left the Kotel and spent some time on Ben Yahuda Street, and that was the end our time in Jerusalem. Earlier, we had crawled through the ancient water tunnels dug to save Jerusalem from the Assyrians. Although it was pitch black the entire time, and I smelled like sewage afterwards, that was one of my favorite parts of the day. The day before we had hiked the Gilboah and then swam in natural springs, but it wasn’t great for me because I had stomach bug most of the time. By the end of the day when we got to Jerusalem, I was feeling better, thankfully because the next part of the day was beautiful. The madrihim handed out blindfolds and then lead us out of the bus. We walked for a minute of two before they sat us down and against a wall. Aubrey, the other Core teacher, told us a story while we waited to take out blindfolds off. When the time came, it took my breath away. Jerusalem sprawled out in front of me. The sun gleamed off the Dome of the Rock. It wasn’t quite sunset, but the stones were already starting to turn gold. Aubrey told us the story of Yerushalayim Shell Zahav, and then we sang it as a group. Even though I hadn’t really heard that song before, I got the chorus quickly. It resonated with me. I didn’t need to know what every word in the song was to get the meaning. After the song we got settled in the Youth Hostile. The food was nice, same with the bed. It was a great Tiul.

This week, we also had a second Tiul. We spent time at Tel Migiddo where we learned about Eliyahu and Ahav, and great prophet and a great ruler with very different visions of what the Jewish state should be. After, we drove up to Mt. Karmiel, which is just outside of Haifa. Driving up, we got an incredible view over Haifa looking out over the port. At Karmiel, we finished the story of Eliyahu and had a great hike with some astounding views. But the best part of the day was driving back to Hod Hasharon. On the way, we stopped in a Druze market and had the opportunity to shop. We bargained with the shop owners and got some awesome outfits for really cheap. Because everyone who goes to Israel has to, we bought some I.D.F. tank tops. Additionally, a couple of us purchases some great Bob Marley pants. Later when we walked around Hod Harsharon with them, we got some great looks, but they were hilarious. One look would have told anyone we were American. We are American, and it was hysterical to play into it.

Rachel Selvin 
We have arrived! It’s a quiet Shabbat here on campus. In fact, I’m writing this very post from the comforts of a hammock inside a gazebo as I listen to Uriya, one of our madrichim, finger pick his guitar. Not a bad deal. I’ve already met such amazing people; I’ve listened to Benjy, my Core Class teacher, enthusiastically muse over Torah verses, laughed endlessly with new friends, and got settled into my new home for the next four months!

Ok, I’m getting ahead of myself: let me start from the beginning. I arrived at JFK filled with giddiness and sorrow; leaving my parents was admittedly difficult, but the moment I got the chance to meet everyone I’d be flying with, I felt at ease. The flight was long, but it was all worth it when that rush of excitement came over us all as we landed at Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv. There’s something about teenagers and bus rides that always gets everyone laughing, singing, and talking, so that by the time we arrived at home in Hod HaSharon (I’m already referring to our campus as home), a sense of community was already laid out. We met our madrichim (counselors), Adi and Uriya, and I instantly loved them! This week has proved just how dedicated they are to their jobs and to all of us. It’s really admirable and amazing to witness. I unpacked and moved into my room, and met my amazing roommates: Camryn and Alison.

Classes began early in the week and we were instantly engulfed into a world of Torah study which, for many people, was brand new. I loved watching my friends’ interest in Jewish thought and history develop in such a short time. My Core teacher, Benjy, instantly engaged our dynamic class with reenactments, readings, midrashim, and more! I am always so excited to go to his class each day. The general studies courses have been pretty engaging as well. It’s really nice being in classes with my new friends.

The evenings have been spent exploring Hod Hasharon: eating the delicious food (especially the smoothies at Moshiko’s: I’m already a regular), practicing my Hebrew, and just soaking up the sun with friends has been incredible! I love the city and still cannot believe I’m not just a tourist here.

The capstone of the week was definitely our trip to Tel Gezer, an archeological site located in the Judean foothills. We got to explore the remains of a stratum of civilizations. Benjy acted out all the interesting cultures of the years that came before us and we got our first look at the beautiful Israeli landscape. I couldn’t get enough!  

Maybe it’s the heat, but I am already feeling so enamored with Israel and the community my group has built together.  As this week ends and the next begins, I am looking forward to our next adventure. We will be going to Jerusalem on Monday, and I expect that will bring the whole group even closer together as we get to see Judaism juxtaposed with so many other cultures.

Although it has been an amazing week, there have been-and will continue to be-struggles. I wrestle with the fact that I come into this experience with a deep understanding of my commitment to Israel, and I am often frustrated by others’ lack of engagement and interest. On the other hand, I feel privileged that I get to experience Israel through the eyes of someone who sees every place, hears every word, and tastes every falafel as if it were brand new.  

I can’t believe it’s only the beginning; I feel like I’ve been here forever!

I need to head out to the store to pick up some decorations for my room 🙂

Signing off, Rachel

 

Hannah Katz

 As my summer comes to a close I must start to prepare both mentally and physically for my upcoming journey to AMHSI. From when I first began applying to the Impact scholarship I would try to picture what my experience would be like, who will I meet, what will my roommate be like, will I have trouble keeping up with the work. I have heard so many amazing things about Muss from alumni and I hope that I will get the same experience out of it. My expectations of the school vary from tough classes and long hours, although the learning style will be a break from my school, Newton South High. I am really looking forward to the interactive classes,  especially core where I will be able to connect the few Hebrew words that I know and my Jewish roots to my classroom; Israel.

 I am going with three other impact fellows and many members of Gann Academy, to be honest it is nerve racking to be thrown in with a group of people that have known each other for many years, yet, my past Israel experience in July has prepared me well for that. I went through BBYO on a three week excursion with my camp consisting on nine people and camp Jori consisting of 30 people. Breaking through their bonds to create a friendship was tough but worthwhile.

When I return home in late December I hope that my attitude towards school has changed for the better due to the fact that coming into school half way through the year will be difficult and if I enjoy my classes and feel prepared then I will be more empowered to succeed. I hope that I make life lasting relationships. Last January I had a ski accident resulting in minor memory loss, although I did not lose my memory for very long it was horrifying not knowing who or where you are; ever since that accident I have been trying to make more incredible memories and I believe that Muss will help me to retain even more because with every day the memories get sweeter. I chose to apply for this fellowship because when my brother was a junior in high school he went to Muss and had the time of his life, it has been two years and he still talks to his close friends that he made and about how much he loved it. I want to be able to come home and gawk to all of my friends about how amazing my trip was and convince future teens to apply like I did. I truly believe that these next four months will change who I am for the better.

Until next week.

Sophie Meltzer

When I visited Israel for the first time this summer, I was dazzled by the country’s beauty and splendor, taking in every sight, feeling, and even smell. I immediately fell in love with the versatility and spiritual connections that Israel had to offer me, and each day felt like the best day of my life.

During this incredible summer trip, I traveled the entire time. I lived on a bus, and out of a suitcase. I went from Eilat, to Jerusalem, to Tel Aviv in the blink of an eye. No time to really take in the amazing sights I was seeing for the first time. My world was fast paced and I never seemed to have gotten enough sleep to make it through an entire day without a nap.

Although this fast paced life introduced me to my love of Israel and its people, it also made me look forward to my upcoming adventure in the fall. I am so lucky to get to be not only a tourist in Israel, but to live in Israel. I am looking forward to experiencing Israel again, this time with time to soak up all of its beauty. I am so incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to spend four months experiencing the country through learning.

This trip is so unique and unlike anything I have ever done before. Before I started this process, I had never met anyone on the trip, not even the other Impact Fellows from Massachusetts. I am excited to form new friendships with teens from all over the country and even all over the world. I hope to make memories that will never fade and lifelong friendships.

I have been anticipating and counting down the days until I get to return to Israel since the day I left.  I know that this experience will be well worth the wait, and will be one that shapes me as a leader, a friend, and a person. Coming back from this trip I completely expect to have been changed for the better. The knowledge I will gain and experiences I will have would not be possible at my high school in Massachusetts. I cannot wait to make Alexander Muss my new home.


Rachel Selvin

As I begin to switch gears and prepare for my semester in Israel, I find myself looking back on my summer and this past year. A plethora of varied experiences have tested my limits academically, and my beliefs regarding Israel have been extensively challenged. Such moments have only helped me to understand the personal significance of this trip.

I will be a junior in high school; a year that is notoriously the most academically demanding, especially at my competitive high school. College is no longer a distant  thought but an impending reality. As a girl who finds comfort in routine, I’m nervous to leave. I’m nervous I will fall behind, or that I will return home somehow incompetent. Perhaps an irrational worry, but I fear my friendships will slip away, and I will return home to no open arms.

Throughout this summer, I worked at a social justice internship where my mind was opened, and my beliefs challenged, especially those surrounding the state of Israel. I found it hard to be unapologetically Jewish in an atmosphere that was so condemning of Israel and her right to statehood. I’m not one to back down from a challenge, and I engaged in many complex conversations with  people who did not see Israel the way I see her. I learned to be critical of Israel while also having immense love for the country that feels like home to me. I started learning how to express my Judaism in a way that feels authentic for me, in environments that may not be as accepting as I’m used to. I believe my upcoming experience in Israel will not only strengthen my Jewish identity and love for Israel, but also provide me with a community of people who support my views and aid me to become more knowledgeable about Jewish history. I hope to bring that knowledge with me into whatever circles I enter.   History matters.

For me Israel is love, and passion, and warmth, and freedom. I cannot wait to be engulfed in Israeli culture, eat the food, speak Hebrew, and see the land that I know we so are so infinitely tied with and, I believe, so richly deserve. Landing at Ben Gurion is going to be such an amazing feeling that can only be articulated by the image of kissing the ground. This is not my first time in Israel, but this is my first time being away from home for such an extended period of time. I am happy I will be at the home away from home for the Jewish people for four whole months. My love for israel and all her inhabitants simply cannot be confined to words. Israel is such an integral part of my identity as a person, which is why the impact fellowship appealed to me so much. I wanted to be an advocate and leader for Israel in my community and to understand my place in the Jewish continuity. This trip will change my life in ways I don’t even know yet, and I am so excited to experience each moment so fully with people just as passionate and curious about Israel and Judaism as I am.

These final moments of summer at home allow me to appreciate what a beautiful and rich life I’ve made for myself in my many communities. I am looking forward to making deep friendships and meaningful communities in Israel. The best is yet to come!

I better get back to packing…I can’t believe the day has (almost) come!!

Signing off.

Jack Pierce
The plane ride was rough. There is no other way to put it. Everyone around me slept while I stayed up for the entire ten hours. Afterwards, I could feel my eyelids drooping down. I was tired and a little cranky, but it didn’t matter. I was in Israel. I’d been looking forward to this trip for six months. Once I learned I’d been accepted in May, I couldn’t stop talking about it. People would be shocked I’m leaving from four months but then always ask, “Are you excited?” I thought there were referring to the four months away in a foreign country, but they weren’t. They were talking about going to Israel. And now after only a week here, I know why. I can’t really put my finger on what it is. Israel is different; it’s better. I’ve bent other countries, and they’re cool, but there is something special about Israel.

Maybe it’s the people. Maybe it’s because I’m living in a dorm with 28 people, 10 boys down stairs and 18 girls upstairs. It doesn’t matter than we’re on different floors, or that the boys are split up between three different rooms. Between meals, walking around Hod Hasharon, and talks at night, I’ve gotten closer with these 27 people than I thought was possible in just a week. Everybody’s friendly and just wants to have a good time. Nobody cares that we comes from a dozen different states and three countries. People would have thought we knew each other before we showed up a week ago at JFK. It started in the airport. We sat down and talked about where we were from and why we wanted to go to Israel. There were no social cliques or popularity like the schools we’ve been coming from. After the plane ride, we met up with the kids who were already in Israel. The Australians had come in on a different flight, and a couple kids had already been visiting their families in Israel. But even then with the new people, we acted like we knew each other beforehand.

Maybe it’s the land. I’ve been learning about Israel since I was a little kid in Hebrew school, but it’s so much better in person. A couple days ago, we went to a hill called Tel Gezer. A “tel” is a man made hill from civilizations rebuilding cities on the exact same spot because of the ideal geographical locations. Just from hiking up this small hill, we could see for miles, Tel Aviv on one side and the Judean Mountains on the other. The view was incredible. But even the everyday life is great. There’s a smoothie place about a five minutes walk from the high school, and it makes actually the best smoothie I’ve had in my entire life. Walking around the town even feels different.

Maybe it’s the language. I’m in a foreign place where I don’t understand everything. It’s exotic. Or maybe it’s just something that you really can’t explain. But what ever is making this place to special, I want to be a part of it for as long as I can.

Now for some Shoutouts.
Shoutout to Sam for keeping the preseason standings up to date.
to the Australians for teaching us Rugby and for teaching us Australian slang.
to Oriya for keeping all of the guys properly clothed.
to Benjy for the original memes.
to Moshika for the amazing smoothies.