JNF fellows: Lessons at Masada, Bar Kochba’s caves and a Roman amphitheater

Masada-amphitheaterThe 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, all five students reflect on the past week.

Monday, June 29

This Monday, we got up bright and early to go back to Jerusalem. Our first stop was at my favorite museum, the Israel Museum. There, we learned about the Second Temple times while looking at the world famous model. After learning and seeing the city, we went to it!

In the Old City of Jerusalem we walked around, visited archaeological sites, and learned more about the Roman destruction. Afterwards, we had free time in the Jewish Quarter. My friend Julie and I walked around and visited the markets. It was so cool to see all the merchants and hear the Muslim call to prayer echo throughout the ancient pathways.

Then we took a long bus ride to our hostel in the desert and rested up for our early hike up Masada!

– Madeline Stull

Tuesday, June 30

Tuesday has to be the easiest day to blog about. Last Tuesday, we visited Jerusalem, and today, we toured Masada and the Dead Sea. It is safe to say that so far, our Tuesdays have been action packed!

Our day began at 3:30 a.m. That sounds horrible right? Well, the early wake-up call was well worth the beauty of the sunrise on top of Masada. I’ve honestly never seen anything like the sunrise at Masada. Watching the sun quickly rising over the Jordanian mountains was an unforgettable experience. You know there were some beautiful pictures too!

Before experiencing Masada, I never understood the history behind it all. Now I realize how important Masada was for the Jewish people. From home, I saw Masada as just a beautiful view and a tourist attraction but by learning on top of the mountain, I realized its cultural importance.

The view and learning were fantastic, yet my favorite part was listening to the echo from me and my classmates. Our teacher, Aubrey (Aubs) took us out to a special spot where our echo was particularly loud. We said various chants like, “Am Israel Chai.” At first, our echo surprised me so much, but after we got into it a little more, I realized the beauty in our chants. Aubrey told us that the echo could have been our ancestors from Masada chanting back.

After Masada, we went down to the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea! Although the salty water was painful, being in the water was awesome. I’ve never been able to float, so the Dead Sea was an easy place to learn.

– Reuben Nach

Wednesday, July 1

There is something oddly bittersweet about the first day back on campus after a tiyul (trip}. On one hand, it is nice to be back in one’s bed with some familiarity and have a more laid-back and relaxing day. On the other hand, the excitement of a tiyul and the in-depth experiences you can gain cannot be replicated in any classroom. Our last tiyul included a day in the Old City of Jerusalem, while learning about the destruction of the Second Temple and hiking up Masada in time for the sunrise. The bitter part of this morning’s class was not being somewhere where things happened and not being somewhere that symbolizes important principles for Jews. The sweet part was the familiarity of the class and predictability that comes along with it.

After class, the beach! More than 180 Jewish American teenagers descended upon a local beach to try and soak up some sun. Playing Frisbee, swimming with jellyfish, getting stung by jellyfish, and lying in the sun were a great change of pace from campus! It was a great bonding experience to run through the waves and enjoy our vacation on the beach, but the fun didn’t end there. Once we got back, a few friends and I went into town for some shawarma and ice cream. It was so enjoyable to sit outside in beautiful weather eating a delicious chicken shawarma – at that moment; there was no place I would rather have been!

Once back on campus, we were given the opportunity to chill and hang out in the dorm or go to a movie night. While the movie was cut a bit short, it was a fun way to hang out with some friends and relax before bed. It has only been a couple weeks but this has already been my most action packed summer!

– Gabe Friedland

Thursday, July 2

It was a typical day with studying and free time. We woke up bright and early for a cafeteria breakfast and four hours of class. We spent our class time learning more about the history of the Jews and Babylonian exile. It was interesting to compare and contrast the Jews in modern day living outside of Israel, with those in the ancient times living in Babylon.

After lunch, a few of us hopped in a cab and went to Kfar Saba. We started off at the mall, weaving in and out of stores like typical Israeli teens would. Then, we headed to the streets and shopped in the local corner stores. On the way back, I successfully got yelled at by an Israeli taxi driver and managed to squeeze out a few hasty Hebrew sentences. Combining my mediocre Hebrew and Israeli street smarts, I waved over a new taxi and directed him back to campus!

Back at the dorms, we had a group Asefa/discussion. We played a trivia game about Gai and Yosef and learned a ton of fun facts! For example, Gai was a tap dancer and Yosef worked in a pickle factory!

Whether in the classroom or making small talk, we’re always learning something new!”

– Madyssen Zarin

Friday, July 3
Every day here we experience life-long memories and jaw-dropping experiences. Yet, before I talk about today, I just have to talk about a unique opportunity I had yesterday. Back home in Arizona, I have a horse and have been riding practically my whole life. Horses take up the majority of my time and are my biggest passion in life. Here at HSI, the lovely Rona [Rona Melnik, director of operations], offered me a chance to ride while I’m here in Israel. So yesterday, I hopped in a taxi from the beach, and got to train on an Israeli horse. Afterwards, I took the horse on a run through the fields of Israel, surrounded by flowers, as the sun went down. It was an experience and moment that I will never forget.

The students learn at a Bar Kochba cave.

The students learn in a Bar Kochba cave.

As for today, we woke up and went to the Bar Kochba caves. We had a 30-minute class on top of the cave where we learned about the Bar Kochba revolts and what the caves were used for. Then, we entered. The cave was narrow and you have to position your body in a certain way in order to comfortably maneuver. At one point, in the middle of the cave, it opens up to a big room where the entire class went and sat. We turned off all the lights, and in complete and utter silence as we thought about the brave people who lived there, we began to sing “Od Yavoh Shalom Aleinu.” It was such a powerful moment to sing in the memory of the brave ones who fought to keep our religion alive.

From the caves we went and visited a Roman amphitheater. Our teachers re-enacted a battle with each other which was extremely intriguing to the story of why we were there. The girls and guys then played gladiator games and afterwards, we split up into classes. Yes … I got to have class inside a Roman amphitheater! These amazing real-life historical classrooms are what make HSI so magical. Being able to sit in the SAME spot where the story we are discussing happened is something that can’t even be put into words. It gives me such a strong sense of who I am and where I came from. Using Israel as a classroom should be the way everyone learns about Judaism.

We got back from the tiyul and got ready for our July 4th party … Israeli style. We dressed up in red, white and blue and had a stereotypical American dinner of BBQ hamburgers and hotdogs. Afterwards, we played some American “Jeopardy” and then had a dance party. It was really cool to celebrate an American holiday here in Israel. Learning about my Jewish roots this morning and then celebrating my American roots tonight made for another incredible day at AMHSI!

– Rachael Weinstein

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