What does an AMHSI program look like through the emails of a program participant?

One of the hardest questions our students and alumni ask is, “how do I even begin to convey the experiences I had at AMHSI with my friends and family back home?” 

Hannalee, a recent alumnus of our April 2018 program, shared with us her weekly emails to her friends and family back home throughuot the duration of her program. Through her correspondances, we can get an idea of what the layout of our program looks like and additionally, how she balanced her studies and social/personal life at AMHSI. Take a look to find out!

We are excited to share with you snippets from her correspondances, and offer you an insight into Hannalee’s experiences and thoughtful reflections. Thanks Hannaless for sharing these letters with us!

 

Week 1

My new school is located in a small city called Hod HaSharon, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Hod HaSharon literally translates to “Glory of the Lilies” as the city is apart of the Lily region. We often talk about being in the “Hod” here, and it sure feels like being in the glory!

On Thursday, it was Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. To commemorate the lives that were lost in the Holocaust, everything literally stops all across the country for an entire minute. As a class, we walked out to the street, heard the sirens go off, and watched as all of the cars stop. Every stood up and stayed silent as the siren continued to blare. It was an incredible ritual to watch, especially as the state of Israel was created coming out of World War II.

Later, we as a group went to Tel Gezer, a national park nearby which was home to the Canaanites many years ago. Overtime, the groups who lived there changed. This created a large hill, which has been and is being excavating overtime to discover more about what occurred there. This was an amazing trip to explore Israel as apart of my journey!

For our first shabbat, my group of thirty high schoolers from all over the US came together and played many bonding games while observing this tradition. We are all sharing a very special experience, and I can already tell that our group is going to leave this experience completely changed.

Tomorrow, we are heading to Jerusalem for an overnight trip, and later in the week, we will celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary. I hope to send another email like this one next week with more details!

 

Week 2

On Sunday, we left campus early in the morning and headed towards the Gilboa mountains, where Saul is said to have fought the Philistines. Hiking down the mountain was challenging and very beautiful. I loved getting to see the landscape of Israel from above. Once back at the bottom, we went over to a natural spring and swam. The water was so blue, it didn’t look real! Also, throughout the waters there were small fishes which ate the dead skin off your feet. All of my friends laughed and yelled as we felt the fish approach us!

To end our day, we went to the Western Wall for a short visit. I felt privileged to deliver a couple of messages from home to this site, along with my own hopes and wishes. I appreciated going to the Wall but was filled with questions about sexism while there as well.

Another amazing part of my stay was being able to celebrate Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day. The two days are back to back and the juxtaposition is incredible. On Wednesday, we attended a memorial service for all of the fallen soldiers. This experience was very meaningful for all involved. Then, within hours, the mood completely changed later that night when the sun went down. To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the nation of Israel, we went out to a concert at a park nearby to our school and listened to local musicians perform!

 

Week 3

I miss everyone back in the States and hope that these notes are finding you well. I’ve been truly enjoying writing the updates, and I would love to hear from you on what is happening back home!

We began our hike up Masada in complete darkness. It was an incredible experience. Slowly, as we made it up the mountain, the light began to emerge behind the clouds. At some points, the hike became very difficult for me, but being able to just stop where I was and admire to beauty that surrounded me was crazy cool. Once we made it to the top, we spent a good 4 hours or so exploring all the mountain had to offer. (I would like to point out here that we climbed a difficult mountain and made it to the top before 6:30 AM, something I am very proud of.) One of the best parts was getting to yell “Am Yisrael Chai” as a group across a big valley and hearing the echo response.

Immediately after Masada, we drove over to the Dead Sea. I loved getting to see as the elevation went down, from -100 meters all the way to -430 meters. Once there, it was incredible to float with the waves and take photos covered in mud! The Dead Sea was super cool, and totally unlike any other beach day. The water in the Dead Sea has a salinity of approximately 34.2%, which basically means it is super salty. To put it in perspective, the average ocean has 3% salinity. While the Dead Sea experience was amazing, getting the water on my face was not a highlight.

After the trip, we went back to campus for classes on Thursday and Friday. This weekend, I will be hanging out on campus where I hope to relax a bit before another long and exciting week ahead! Below I have attached a few images from my travels to Jerusalem and Masada!

 

Week 4

Later in the week, we had another trip to the north of Israel to explore a crusader fort in Belvoir. I especially enjoyed getting to reenact what it would be like to be a crusader at the time. The whole class took our pens/swords and textbooks/shields as we made our way through the fort to the palace. It was so fun! Then, at lunchtime we stopped at the Sea of Galilee for a quick swim. The Sea, which is actually the biggest lake in Israel, was beautiful, and might have been my favorite activity we have done so far.

Wednesday was Lag Baomer, the yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who helped to lead the Jews through the Second Temple Era. The holiday is during the period of time between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot. For tradition yartzeits, many usually light a candle; to commemorate the life of Rabbi Shimon, bonfires are made all over the country. Due to the extreme heat and winds, we were told by the police authority that we couldn’t partake in this symbolic nationwide event. Instead, we circled around a “fire” made out of red, orange and yellow pieces of felt, ate marshmallows on skewers, and played a fun game.

On Friday, we had our second unit test. The tests cover everything that we are doing here, and as we spend all mornings in our israeli studies class and every trip day taking notes, the test is very long. After all of my classes on Thursday, I spent the rest of the day studying, but took a needed break to celebrate the birthday of one of my roommates! On Friday, I took the test. In total, the multiple choice section along with the 2 essays I had to write took me over 3 hours! I am glad the test is over, and can’t wait to keep learning more in the weeks to come! After the test, I made all of my friends pancakes and we watched movies to celebrate our success.

 

Week 5

It is hard to believe that I have been hear for a month at this point. I am loving Israel and all it has to offer! I hope all is well at home and that everyone is having a lovely start to May!

This past weekend I stayed on campus, but got to head out with friends to see a movie and walk around an Israeli mall. Then, on Sunday, we went on our first trip of the week, where we got to explore some nonprofits in Jerusalem. This week we are focusing on zionism and community, so throughout the course of the week. We started at Lifeline for the Old, which is a nonprofit that gives retired citizens in Jerusalem an outlet to work and make art. We got to tour the studios and watch all of the amazing artisans make beautiful pieces. Then, we went to a food distribution center which helps deliver meals to the homeless population surrounding Jerusalem. It was very meaningful for me to help pack up food there, and it was also pretty fun! I liked getting to work with my friends to do something great for an underrepresented community.

On Tuesday, we continued our volunteer work of the week by working with an organization called Leket Israel, which takes food that has not been touched from restaurants or crops and uses the leftovers to give to the hungry. At their facilities, we sorted through fresh fruits and vegetables which could not be sold but were perfectly fine for eating.

 

Week 6

On Saturday, I woke up early and went to the Jerusalem Great Synagogue to experience part of an Orthodox service. This experience was quite different than my normal Shabbat services at home. While it was odd to sit in the balcony with the other women, I did enjoy getting to hear some familiar prayers and the Torah reading. Also, the mayor of Jerusalem was there, as Sunday was Jerusalem Day! On our way back to the hostel, we walked past the American Consulate, which will become the US Embassy on Monday.

On Tuesday, we headed North to explore what it was like for Holocaust survivors who chose to move to Israel following the Holocaust. We started the morning at the Newe Yam beach, which is one of the locations where the boats filled with Jewish immigrants would land. The only issue was that between 1945 and 1948, the British did not let Jews legally immigrate to Israel. This made it difficult for the Jews to reach Eretz Yisrael, but they persisted. Many would switch clothing with the native Israelis to trick the British officers into thinking that they too were locals. To help us understand this, we all wore 2 t-shirts, got in the water, and had to switch one layer with another person to simulate this. Afterwards, we got some time to swim in the beautiful water.

This weekend, I will be spending time with my distant relatives who live in Israel. I am excited to get to meet them and spend the holiday of Shavuot with them! Below I have attached some photos from my travels to Tel Aviv and the Israeli-Lebanese Border.

 

Week 7

This weekend I spent time with my distant relatives to moved to Israel from Argentina about 20 years ago. I loved getting to meet them and spending the weekend with them and their 3 year old son. As my time here will soon come to a close, I am thinking of the many things that I will miss from Israel. One thing that does not make this list is having school on Sunday. Luckily, this week we got to have Sunday off as it overlapped with the holiday of Shavuot. I feel very fortunate that I got to spend this extra time to meet with my family! To celebrate, we had a nice lunch with their friends.

On Wednesday, we learned about the current conflict with Gaza and the lifestyle of Israelis who are not Jewish. In the morning we went to Sderot, a town next to the Gaza Strip. While there, we got a great view of Gaza, which was less than a mile away. Sderot is the bomb shelter capital of the world, and it was clear! As we drove around the city, we saw bomb shelters everywhere. The most creative bomb shelter we saw was integrated into a children’s playground. In Sderot, over 75% of the children under 18 years old currently experience PTSD. Because of this, the Jewish National Fund has invested millions of dollars into making playgrounds and other areas for kids to play and relax in the stressful climate.

After exploring Sderot, we went to En Rava which is an Arab village outside of Jerusalem. There, we met a Muslim women who talked to us about what it was like to live in Israel. We started our tour in the local mosque, where she told us about Islam and its customs. Then, we had a conversation about the role of women in Islam and how she felt about Islamic terrorist groups. While I did not agree with all of her beliefs, I enjoyed getting to hear why she believed what she did.

My time on campus this week has consisted of me trying to finish my school work in preparations for finals which will be next week. I am looking forward to being finished with school and starting summer soon!

 

Week 8

During the start of the week, we took our finals for our classes back in the US and discussed Modern Israel.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we went on our final overnight trip to the Golan Heights. It was a long drive from Hod HaSharon to the North of Israel. Once we got there, we took a stop at Mizpe Golani, where we got to see bunkers from the 6 Day War. After getting to learn and explore, we headed to the Hagoshrim river where we got to rafting down the river. I loved getting to do this and getting to just be in the moment with a bunch of friends.

After this, we went to Kibbutz Misgav Am, the northernmost Kibbutz in the land of Israel. The kibbutz had a beautiful view of Syria, Lebanon, and the Mediterranean Sea. While visiting, we had a discussion with one of the men who lived on the kibbutz, who gave us a new perspective to the Israeli-Palestinian debate. His views did not align with many people in my group, but understanding his background and beliefs helped us to get a sense of the complexity of the situation.

We spent the night at Kibbutz Gadot. It was so cool to not only see a Kibbutz but get to stay on one for a night! I loved getting to run around in the lawn and play games like hide and seek and tag with my friends. What a perfect end to a great first day of the trip!

I am closing up this email from New York as I wait to get on my flight back to North Carolina. This experience has been truly life changing, and I would like to thank each and every one of you for sharing this experience with me through these emails. I deeply appreciated every single kind reply and I am looking forward to seeing you all back in the States sometime soon.

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