Greetings from Israel !!! The eighth grade, two-week, trip to Israel has been a deep lesson for our students in Israeli and Jewish history as well as in identity exploration.
In our first week, we have already driven, literally, the full length of the country from a small yishuv on the Egyptian border where they maximize water used to grow delicious vegetables in the Negev desert, to the northern Golan where we stood at an old military lookout now used by the UN to monitor the Syrian border in accordance with a 1974 truce agreement. During these first days we’ve enjoyed the beauty of the country, appreciated its history, as well as the rich heritage and tradition that is at its root. We are beginning to explore some of the complexities of living in a small modern Jewish state.
The trip has been equally as social. Our students are joined on the trip by two other Schechter schools – from West Hartford, CT and Oakland, NJ – and have forged nice relationship with their peers from the other schools.
Each of our days has been filled, morning to night, with, outdoor activities, experiential educational experiences, and good sightseeing. To round it off, we’ve had a taste of delicious Israeli food like full course breakfasts, Schwarma, and falafel.
Most importantly this has been a trip focused on our students’ personal growth – as teenagers and as members of the Jewish and wider world communities. At each stop our veteran tour guide has framed that particular experience with the question “what can you take away from this experience that can help you better define yourself and who you want to be.”
The students’ experiences and responses have been varied but all have been truly positive and meaningful. Here are some of their reflections…
On student said, “At Neot K’dumim I loved feeling a connection to the land and at Shvit HaSalat tasting the fruits and vegetables. In school we learned the story of Abraham and how it was his responsibility to care for the land. And now I feel like I’ve got to do the same.”
Another student reflected on our Tuesday morning hike up Masada and commented on the amazing views from the top and how it was cool to see that they rebuilt the ruins in a way to recreate the original structure of the fort. Another noted that it was nice to see the real place after having already learned the story about Masada in school.
A couple of students noted that it was eventful to see the Hula Valley in person, especially after spending so much time learning about it in fourth grade, when they learned through an interactive unit about the debate that went on in the years of the chalutzim (pioneers) about whether or not to drain the swamp in the valley. To see the landscape and nature of the area in his own eye, now helped this student understand why there was a debate about it in the first case.
On a related note, a different student pointed out that the midrash that was shared by the Rabbi on Shabbat in the shul he attended in Jersualem was one that he had already learned with Reyzl in an earlier school year. That was a noteworthy experience for him and allowed him to better understand the Rabbi’s message that morning.
One student was moved by our Friday evening visit to the Kotel, where we first did Kabbalat Shabbat at the Azarat Yisrael section of the Kotel, where egalitarian tefilot are permitted, before moving to the main section of the Kotel for singing and dancing. “What I liked about the Kotel was how different Jews came together to dance. We danced with Ultra-Orthodox, modern Orthodox, Halachic Jews and others, and then on Shabbat we went to a Reform shul. They were all there together. Lots of Israelis who don’t think well of the other. It didn’t matter. Everyone was singing and dancing together.”
“Camel riding and a visit to a Bedouin tent was a very different experience,” said one student. She felt it was an opportunity to get to know, in an experiential way, about a different culture.
Life learning also came from our Israel experience. One student said that in rafting “everyone had to synchronize and communicate in order to go down the Jordan.”
All of these comments were insightful and give you a taste of how this trip has so quickly gotten the 8th graders thinking about their previous learning and future experiences. To sum it up, one student succinctly noted: “I’ve been to Israel a lot but now coming with my class I am getting a different perspective on the country which I consider my home.” I can’t wait for Week 2.
This week’s guest columnist is Gary Pretsfelder our Principal
Each week we feature the written work of our students. We hope you will stop by every week and see what they are writing and thinking about.
Kitah Aleph Gan
Kitah Aleph created “I remember” pieces of writing about their Pesach and break from school.
I went to a Seder.
My Dad led it. I liked the shulchan orech. I got to talk with my dad’s friend Patrick and his baby girl Charlie. I liked it.
My Dad led it again. It had 38 people. It was at my great uncle’s house.
I Went to Louisiana
I went to Louisiana in spring. When I was on the airplane, I was watching Moana. It was funny, When I got to Louisiana. It was the middle of the day and when the day was over we went shopping. The next day I went swimming in the pool day after yesterday, I went shopping and I bought a walking duck and a squishy butterfly and a sand kit and a bag..
The Tooth Slide
My wiggly tooth fell out. How did it?
I climbed up the slide and I slipped and my tooth fell out and my Mom ran to pick my tooth and me!
Students in Kitah Gimmel read biographies and synthesized the information to write an article that highlighted the person’s early life, important events, and why he or she is worth remembering and learning about.
The fifth graders researched an immigration topic of their choice and wrote research papers.