JNF fellows: From an ancient village to Tel Aviv’s White Night

The five teens selected for Jewish National Fund’s inaugural Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are now in Israel. They will share their experience with Jewish News readers through the newspaper’s JN Blog. Their six-week journey began on June 16; they are attending the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), a college-preparatory summer abroad program that uses Israel as the classroom. Here, Gabe Friedland and Rachael Weinstein share their experience.

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June 24

The last two days have been incredible, leaving me in a state where I don’t know where I can possibly begin. Which site and activity deserves to be mentioned first? While all are significant to my people, is one more important than any other? I believe there is and my answer surprised myself. The ancient village of Sataf.

Sataf was an ancient village from the time of the Judges after the Exodus. The time period of the Judges was one of turmoil and immorality, yet the struggles of the period failed to reach Sataf. Why? Why did Sataf flourish in a time of moral disparity? My people worked together. When faced with the seemingly impossible task of farming a steep mountain side without water, the people began terrace farming and digging into the mountain to get water. To survive in such a difficult place, each member of the society had to continuously sacrifice his or her own needs for the good of their people. We have been discussing the historical accuracy of the Bible and the teachings we can therefore derive. Sataf is a monument to humility and selflessness, Jewish principles that I try to hold dear to my heart.

Then, the Kotel, the epicenter of my people. My teacher mentioned he had a friend who was not religious, yet loves the Kotel more than anything. This love is because for more than 2,000 years, every Jew prayed toward Jerusalem, every Jew in Jerusalem prayed to the Old City, and every Jew in the Old City to the Kotel.

I was standing where generations of my ancestors couldn’t, where all Judaic prayers are sent to and a place I don’t have the words to describe and maybe never will. While other words fail to describe what or how I felt, I know that I could not have come close to experiencing it in Arizona.

— Gabe Friedland

June 25

“Wow, today has been such a long, fun and tiring day. It all started when we woke up, stressing about our first Unit Test here at HSI. As everyone gathered in the dining hall, it was last minute studying mixed with panic. I walk into the classroom, sit down, grab my pencil….and begin.

Happiness bursts through me as I hand in my test and walk out of the classroom. How do my friends and I celebrate? We obviously go into town and by some freshly made rugalach and iced coffee. After our lovely and delicious celebratory snack, we made our way back to campus, for the remainder of what was yet another amazing class.

However, the most amazing part of this lovely Thursday was “White Night” in Tel Aviv. It was a lit-up party in the middle of the city but because you can’t play loud music there, it was a headphone party. That means that everyone wears a headset and the DJ comes through the headset, and if you take them off…everyone else looks ridiculous because they are essentially dancing to silence.

Dancing like crazy, in the middle of Tel Aviv made it really feel like the start of an amazing program. It was an incredible feeling to be part of a local event whereas not just a touristy thing. Talking to Israelis and making new friends just adds so much to this already wonderful program. Well…White Out is over so time for light’s out.

– Rachael Weinstein

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JNF fellows: A week of firsts

Reuben Nach puts on tefillin at the Kotel. Photo courtesy of JNF

Reuben Nach puts on tefillin at the Kotel. Photo courtesy of JNF

The five teens selected for Jewish National Fund’s inaugural Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are now in Israel. They will share their experience with Jewish News readers through the newspaper’s JN Blog. Their six-week journey began on June 16; they are attending the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), a college-preparatory summer abroad program that uses Israel as the classroom. Here, Madyssen Zarin, Maddie Stull and Reuben Nach describes the first week of the program.

Sunday, June 21

It’s a week of firsts.

Each dorm follows a slightly different schedule in order to enable greater personal experiences. Since my dorm, Wohl, went on our Tiyul to Gezer during the week, we mirrored the other dorms and had extra class. Our morning session was four hours long. Let me just tell you, four hours of anything is always too much, but everything has a way of working in Israel. Tell any teenager to sit in class on a Sunday for four hours, and I bet there will not be much of anything happening, except from the periodical naps. Except not with Phillip. (Twenty of us have Phillip as a teacher, while the other 20 have Mordechai as a teacher).

In Israel, passion just flows from the seams. From the honk of the horn on the streets, to the tears at the Kotel, the meow of the cats or the joy in the teachers’ eyes- it’s always there, always present. As a Jewish teen who has attended Jewish day school for a majority of her life, I cannot even begin to explain how many times I have heard the story of Abraham. No discredit to my teachers back home, but four hours here was nothing! I could listen to the story again and again if it meant I was in the land of Israel, learning about my ancestors, from people just as passionate as I am.

After class, we were given free time. During this time, people usually sleep, snack or go into town. Like many of my friends, I walked off campus, turned the corner and found myself in the heart of Hod HaSharon. I successfully asked the shopkeepers where I was able to find various items in town. The next day was my madrich’s birthday and I couldn’t wait to give him his presents, which included, of course, a balloon that said “Go Diego Go! Feliz cumpleanos!” That night we hastily prepared for our next tiyul, Gilboa. I remember feeling nervous about the intense hike, but so excited to experience another part of Israel. Despite maintaining the five-mile radius, every day is an adventure!”

 First Shabbat: June 19-20

The first Shabbat was incredible! After cleaning up for Shabbat, we went to the Moadon (our lounge/hangout room). All the girls gathered together, lit the candles and said the blessing. This was one of the first glimpses of the connection to Judaism. Despite our different upbringings religiously, socially and geographically, we were all able to connect on a level much deeper than superfluous conversation. As we entered the dining hall, we were greeted by neatly set tables, smiling madrichim and tons of food. Loaves of challah, bowls of soup, dishes of rice, trays of chicken, bright green napkins in clear cups- the table was covered. After dinner, my Madrichim, Gai and Yosef, set up an oneg. We had an assortment of classic Israeli treats including rugalach, Bisli and Bamba. We spent our evening doing ice breakers with others in our dorm and really getting to know each other.

Since it was Shabbat, wakeup wasn’t ‘til 11:30! Most of the campus enjoyed the extra hours but I, along with another kid from the Friedman dorm, went to the Orthodox synagogue down the street. Both of us are Conservative but we loved experiencing Shabbat in Israel.

The walk was nice and it was comforting to see all of the other Jews in the street making the same journey. We were pleasantly surprised to see a soon- to-be bride and groom celebrating their wedding with an aliyah. Once we returned, we relaxed for a few hours. I spent time talking with girls in my room, kids from my dorm and my madrichim. In between the snacks and the giggles, we squeezed in a few rounds of cards. After dinner and even more free time, we had a campus-wide Havdalah service. Seeing as Havdalah is my favorite Jewish custom, I readily volunteered to hold the candle. Aside from the fear of burning my fingers from the wicks that topped the nub of the candle, it was beautiful to see and hear 200 people singing together. Afterward, our madrichim attacked us with war paint and we headed across the street for a “proper induction” There was a bonfire and music playing. We all took an oath to commit to our AMHSI family. (If I ever find my phone, videos and pictures will come!)

It’s hard to communicate feelings into words but the experience is absolutely unforgettable. I have no doubt that this phrase will frequently appear in my journals and blogs, but it is the truest statement I have ever heard. The first Shabbat was amazing; not because it was Jewish, not because it was in Israel, but because it was true to AMHSI and the family we have here!

First Tiyul: Gezer- June 19

After a short class and a quick breakfast, we boarded the bus and went on our first Tiyul (trip) to Gezer! For those of you who speak Hebrew, no, it is not a carrot. Turns out, it’s biblical Hebrew. We didn’t learn about the significance of the site until we got there, which really just heightened the experience. When you hear about the history and the blueprints, it just seems like additional facts that teachers try to get you to memorize. But learning and seeing simultaneously does so much more. Maybe it’s a psychological phenomenon or it just simply is easier to understand, but either way, Phillip and Mordechai have it down!

It started off as a little nature walk. We were smelling Israeli air and stepping on Israeli rocks, as we had done in Hod HaSharon. As soon as Phillip began explaining where we were and what we were looking at, it all fell into place. I was standing on a site that was easily 3,000 years old. The number itself is hard to grasp, seeing as I have only lived for 3/500 of that time, but it was remarkable. I was standing atop of a Canaanite children’s altar.

Aside from the irony of being a living child thousands of years later on the same spot, I was able to really appreciate being Jewish. I realized then that I was born into a great people. Instead of using the youth to do the bidding to their gods, Jews saw children as the future. This realization was affirmed as we walked further up the site and saw one of the oldest pieces of Hebrew writing known to man. Known as the Gezer Calendar, the ostracon was inscribed with a nursery rhyme that taught the children about the agricultural seasons. Instead of killing children for their survival, Jews taught their children for their survival.

It was great to be off-campus for the first time and drive through the country. It was great to learn the history of my people and the others in the land. But most of all, it was great to connect my past, with my present and really appreciate all Judaism has to offer!

– Madyssen Zarin

June 21

This Sunday, we woke up bright and early for a full day of class. Although it was long, we learned so many amazing things about Judaism and the history of Israel that I didn’t know before.

One of the coolest things we learned was the origin of the Shema. Essentially, the Shema is the 11 children of Jacob (not including Joseph) telling Jacob that they are ready for ethical monotheism, they are ready to continue on as the people of Israel. The silent part after is Jacob’s response, saying yes, you can all continue on as the people of Israel. To finally learn the meaning of a prayer I have said every day for the last 10 years of my life was refreshing.

Additionally, we learned all about the theory of historicity. By providing an example of historicity, my teacher was finally able to answer a question I have posed for the greater part of my life: are the stories in the Torah real? By teaching my class and me about real documents that we have never heard of before, my faith in the Torah has been renewed. The education I have learned thus far in the program has not only made me more confident in my feelings of Judaism, but has given me more pride and legitimacy to be a Jew.

Before I believed Israel belonged to the Jewish people because that was what I have been told my entire life. Before I believed the enslavement of the Jewish people was by happenstance. Before I believed in theories of which I knew of no supporting evidence. Now the veil has been removed and I haven’t married the wrong bride (I know, hilarious joke about Jacob). Now I can confidently argue for the Jewish case without the binding chains of blind ignorance. To put it simply, being educated feels good. Being educated feels comfortable.

Later in the evening, Madyssen and I went out to town to buy a birthday gift for our wonderful madrich, Yosef. Going out to town, talking to vendors, and just being in Hod Hasharon with my friend was a blast. I can’t wait for the learning, friends, and experiences to come!

June 22

This Monday, we were on a tiyul. It began with a long descent down Mt. Gilboa. There we learned about the Book of Judges, while looking at the landscape as it was weaved into the story. Seeing and learning at the same time is something I have never experienced before and certainly helps solidify the knowledge, as well as create memories.

After the tedious hike down the face of the mountain, we had a refreshing dip in the natural springs, Gan HaShlosha (Sachne). I had been there the year before and returning brought back fond memories. There my madrich, Gai and I swam around and talked. Afterward, we took a long bus ride to the wonderful city of Jerusalem!

Once we got there, we went to a view point and sang Yerushalaim Shel Zahav. Looking over the beauty of the city while hearing the beauty of the song was magnificent. Looking at the beauty and then experiencing it helped build a very strong connection. Driving through my favorite city while thinking about my future (college, etc.) made me realize I want Israel to be a big part of it. Maybe I will make aliyah next year!

— Maddie Stull

 

June 23

My first week on HSI has been action packed. We spent a few days learning in the classroom. Later on in the week we visited various beautiful cities and attractions, and learned off the land. Today was one of the best days we had yet.

The highlight of the day was definitely visiting the Kotel. Immediately, my expectations came to reality. All of the beautiful pictures and postcards of the Wailing Wall were nothing compared to experiencing it in person.

At the Kotel, I put on tefillin, and prayed beside the wall. While I was praying, an unreal idea that my teacher shared was going through my mind. This idea was that we were standing at the point where all the Jewish people in the world turn to during prayer. This thought was amazing; it enhanced my prayer and experience. Seeing the Kotel with my own eyes was an unforgettable experience.

This first week, and especially today, were amazing to say the least. I can’t wait for the rest of the awesome experiences that await me.

— Reuben Nach


Students begin JNF Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program

The five teens that are currently in Israel as part of Jewish National Fund’s Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program  are, from left, Madeline Stull, Madyssen Zarin, Rachael Weinstein, Gabriel Friedland and Reuben Nach. Photo courtesy of JNF

The five teens that are currently in Israel as part of Jewish National Fund’s Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are, from left, Madeline Stull, Madyssen Zarin, Rachael Weinstein, Gabriel Friedland and Reuben Nach. Photo courtesy of JNF

The five teens selected for Jewish National Fund’s inaugural Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are now in Israel. They will share their experience with Jewish News readers through the newspaper’s JN Blog. Their six-week journey began on June 16; they are attending the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), a college-preparatory summer abroad program that uses Israel as the classroom. Click here to learn more about the fellowship.

Here are the initial posts by two of the high school students: Gabe Friedland and  Madeline Stull.

The journey begins: Getting oriented

Beep beep beep! It was 4:45 in the morning on Tuesday and I was off to the airport. After meeting with my friends at the Phoenix airport and sleeping the whole way to New York, we realized we were about to meet the kids we would be spending our summer with. We were collectively tired, excited, hungry, and maybe a bit nervous. It took time to find where we were actually supposed to be but once we did, we were engulfed into a room full of card games, laughter, introductions, reunions between old friends, and finally, food. The five-hour layover flew by and quickly we began to board the plane.

After a lovely nap on the plane to Tel Aviv and waiting in the lines at passport control, we were whisked onto buses and taken to the dining hall on campus. The long trip was finally concluded with a meal of pasta and hummus. In the dorm, we set up our rooms, showered, and either passed out from exhaustion or stayed awake the entire night.

Onto a lovely orientation session in which we were shown the campus and explained the rules of the program, but far more interesting than that was our first class. After 11 years and various summer programs and classes, I have only seen a teacher with as much passion for teaching their material twice before. A simple introductory game turned into a funny, vivid explanation for the importance of history to Jews. I have been in Israel for about two days and I can already tell that I will learn more than I ever have in six weeks, and I will have a great time doing it.

 – Gabe Friedland

Thursday morning we had orientation. At orientation the rules and regulations of the program were explained to us in detail. More than just the rules, we were told all the freedom given to us on this trip. I was so excited to learn how frequently we can go into town, where we can go, and all that we can do. As compared to other trips, this amount of freedom is absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to use it!

After the formal orientation, we had our first class. My teacher is Mordechai and he is wonderful. Already on our first day we learned so much. We learned about the Torah, the Tanach, and about Abraham.

Our homework was to read the Enuma Elish, the Mesopotamian creation story and read the first three chapters of the Torah, the Jewish creation story. Then we had to compare and contrast the two and the values they both put across. By reading the Enuma Elish, we can see the cultural values that Abraham was raised in, then compare it to the religion’s values that he was the father of. The difference was astonishing.

  – Madeline Stull


Bnei Menashe to settle in Golan Heights

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A young oleh from Manipur arrives at Ben Gurion Airport. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel

A group of 78 Bnei Menashe immigrants on aliyah from the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, which borders Burma (Myanmar) and Bangladesh, arrived in Israel today, through the work of Shavei Israel,  an organization that reaches out and assists Lost Tribes and “Hidden Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people. Absorption Minister Zev Elkin greeted the immigrants upon arrival.

These new olim will be settled in Katzrin on the Golan Heights, which was the tribal patrimony of Manasseh in biblical times. This is the first time that Shavei Israel is settling a group of Bnei Menashe on the Golan, some 2,700 years after their ancestors were exiled from the land.


Arizona IDF reservist releases new thriller about terrorism

9781498430982_p0_v1_s600Last summer, Dan Gordon, an IDF reservist from Arizona, was a guest blogger for Jewish News, sharing about what life was like along Israel’s Gaza border during last summer’s conflict. We just received word from him this week that he is headed back to Israel for another shift of reserve duty.

He also let us know that he recently published a new book, “Day of the Dead Book 1: Gaza,” which is now out on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The thriller its about radical Islamists, criminal gangs and their victims.

Gordon was the head writer of the hit TV series “Highway to Heaven” and his screenwriting credits include “The Hurricane,” “Wyatt Earp” and “Passenger 57.” He is also the author of the stage adaptations of “Terms of Endearment” and “Rain Man”; co-founder of the Zaki Gordon Institute for Independent Filmmaking in Sedona; and has been a guest lecturer at Columbia University School of the Arts, USC School of Cinematic Arts, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, and Tel Aviv University.

According to his bio on Amazon, Gordon left home at age 16 and wound up on a kibbutz in Israel, where he attended high school. He returned to the United States to attend the UCLA College of Fine Arts and sold his first screenplay at the age of 20. After moving back to Israel he was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces in 1973, in time to serve during the Yom Kippur War. “Gordon has worn the uniform of the IDF ever since, in a variety of roles. He recently started serving with one of the IDF’s most elite combat units, The Givati Brigade, which was the most highly decorated combat unit of the last Hamas/Israel War.”


Honeymoon Israel: Packed itinerary and Shabbat in Jerusalem

Twenty couples from the Valley are currently in Israel as part of Honeymoon Israel, a trip to Israel for couples that is being piloted in the Greater Phoenix Jewish Community by Valley Beit Midrash. Larry Hirsch, one of the participants, is sharing his experiences from the trip as a guest blogger. Here is his final post.

June 5

Our final night in Jerusalem was spent having Kabbalat Shabbat at a park overlooking the hills of Jerusalem with Rabbi Shmuly, planned guest Avraham Infeld and surprise guest Rabbi Jeremy Schnieder of Temple Kol Ami in Scottsdale.

This was followed by Shabbat dinner at the Dan Panorama Jerusalem and an hour with Avraham Infeld – who was, easily, the single best speaker I have ever heard on Judaism and Israel.

Now tracking backward, the last few days have included the following: touring the Machaneh Yehuda market in Jerusalem and then cooking lunch with a local chef; meeting Ketubah artist David Moss and creating our own works of art; Western Wall tunnels; Masada; floating and cocktails at the Dead Sea; a lecture by professor Reuven Hazan regarding the Israeli political system and the differences from American-style democracy; touring the Jewish Quarter of the Old City; visiting Yad Vashem; learning about the Druse people on Mount Carmel outside Haifa and eating Druse cuisine in a home overlooking the Haifa port and surroundings; visiting Majd al Krum, an Arab village in Israel and meeting with high school kids and families to get their views on being an Arab living within the Jewish State; exploring Tzfat and having a chance to meet with Kabbalah artist David Friedman; kayaking down the Jordan River; driving to the top of Mount Bental and looking down on the Syrian conflict; and dining in a mango orchard in the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee. And by the way, there is a plenty that has been left off this list.

The trip has been an experience of a lifetime. It has been awesome and tiring and special and thought-provoking. It has been, as the slogan for Honeymoon Israel suggests, all about the journey.


Honeymoon Israel: Tikkun olam project and headed north

Twenty couples from the Valley are currently in Israel as part of Honeymoon Israel, a trip to Israel for couples that is being piloted in the Greater Phoenix Jewish Community by Valley Beit Midrash. Larry Hirsch, one of the participants, is sharing his experiences from the trip as a guest blogger. Here is his third post.

June 1

Time is limited, but that is only because Honeymoon Israel has been such a fantastic morning-to-evening experience thus far.  Yesterday we went to the Jaffa Institute in south Tel Aviv and helped pack boxes for economically challenged families.  A very eye-opening experience to learn about the struggles of so many immigrants to Israel – and the Jaffa Institute is committed to helping this disadvantaged part of the city, whether they assist are Jewish or not.  I highly recommend that readers learn more about this agency.

The evening prior to that we had dinner with members of a congregation in Tel Aviv and the experience was, well, very Israeli as the service at the restaurant was more like a negotiation.  Yesterday we took a long trip up to the North and we now find ourselves in the Golan Heights, Kfar Blum to the be exact.  In a few minutes, we are off to Tsfat and then kayaking down the Jordan River.

More to come in a longer blog post later….will catch up the readers on Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, the Old City of Jaffa and today’s activities as well. Off to tour the kibbutz……