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

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