JNF Fellows: From Yad Vashem to Tel Aviv and Israeli sweets

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Four of 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 (the fifth had to return home due to a health issue). 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, the students reflect on the past week.

Sunday, July 12

Not that other days were ever bad, but I don’t know if I’ve gone to bed this happy yet! It was another Sunday filled with class but for some reason it was different. We spent the day learning about the Holocaust.

I was disappointed with the brevity of the lesson, but that’s just the reality of a six-week program. I wonder how many other important facts I’m missing out on due to time constraints. With the help of many videos, we spent the morning talking about the lead-up to the Holocaust, while we addressed the action and aftermath during the afternoon session. After lunch, the entire campus gathered together for pictures, including family of alumni and students from each state or region.

Once class was out, I went to sign out with my madricha, Gai, with some friends from my dorm. Before I could even ask to do so, she asked if I wanted coffee and proceeded to make some before I could even answer. She is so amazing!

In town, I got my first Moshiko smoothie! Moshiko is a well-known smoothie stand about five minutes away from campus. Most people go there at least once a day. Any trip I’ve ever made was for someone else – but not this time! I got a strawberry/banana/mango smoothie. And no…it is NOT overrated!

Next we headed into one of the eight markets to get some chocolate for our midnight cravings. The last stop was at the bakery. Since I couldn’t decide which pastry to get, naturally, the only solution was to get one of each. I left the store with about eight baked goods and they were all gone within 24 hours. I couldn’t be more thankful for the amount of walking we do!

Following dinner, there was a series of Holocaust movies shown. I watched “Defiance” with Daniel Craig. It was very informative, and I was pleased to see a movie I had not yet seen. If a movie about the Holocaust wasn’t sad enough, Reuben left that night. Madeline and I walked him to the gate, while Gabe and his cousin, Rachel, escorted him to the airport. The whole campus was talking about how much he would be missed. I can’t even begin to imagine how he feels, but that just goes to show how amazing his experience here has been!

As the madrichim made their rounds during “lights out,” Yosef sang us to sleep. Our room had a sing-a-long as he played Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz songs on his guitar. While my Sunday blogs are generally uneventful, there was really something special about today.

– Madyssen Zarin

Monday, July 13

“Yesterday, we spent hours and hours in class learning about the Holocaust, a topic we are all very familiar with. Still, there is always more to learn, always new information to expand our understanding.

Today we went to Yad Vashem to hear and see bits and pieces of the Holocaust to solidify what we had learned, as well as get an even better understanding.

We had the privilege of hearing Reena, a Holocaust survivor, speak about her experiences. I had heard her speak last year and it was wonderful to see and hear her again.

Afterward, we ventured into the museum. Although an obviously grim topic, the curation of the museum blows my mind every time. Every item, every placement conveys the historic and emotional grief tied to the topic.

Walking through the museum after our class and speaker provided us with a deeper level and a deeper understanding of the Holocaust. While I can confidently say that I have a connection to the Holocaust and have learned a great amount, I feel as if I have only scratched the surface.

– Madeline Stull

Thursday, July 16

“Another early morning and late night with an amazing tiyul (class) taking up the time in between. Today was the infamous “Tel Aviv Day,” which lived up to all its hype.

We started the day at the beach where we sat facing the Mediterranean Sea and gazed upon the old city of Jaffa where it all began. We had a proper introduction to the city of Tel Aviv and then made our way into the first neighborhood.

We sat in the main courtyard of Neve Tzedek where we had a fascinating class about the beginnings of the neighborhood. Looking at a place that a group of brave and intelligent people created on a whim as we learned about it is such a crazy feeling.

Afterward, we stopped at a local, homemade ice cream shop where we had a delicious morning treat. Honestly Israel should be the land of delicious ice cream!

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Moving on, we walked to Independence Hall where we watched an educational video and then went and sat in the room that the declaration happened in. It’s set up exactly how it was on May 14. 1948.  At the historical spot, we stood with our arms around one another and belted out Hatikvah. To sing the song that everyone sang that historical day in the same place is absolutely moving. I can’t even begin to imagine what the spectators must have felt in that moment.

We then received an assignment where we had to ask local Israelis questions about being Israeli. Where were they from? What would they change? What are the problems? It was fascinating to talk to and interview the locals about their personal beliefs as this HSI (High School in Israel) journey is about creating our own beliefs.

During this free time we had the opportunity to go to the shuk (market) which is always amazing…and such a good place to spend money!

I also have to mention that I had the most delicious pizza I’ve had since I’ve been in Israel at a local Tel Aviv cafe. It was cheesy, and hot and perfect. After a filling meal, we made our way to Rabin Square where we had a class about the tragic assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in the place that he was murdered. It was an eerie yet inspirational class.

Now what? More food, of course! We had DOTS (dinner on the streets) and my friends and I decided on a delicious place called Waffle Bar. Perfect choice! Let’s just say some banana split crepes and cappuccino was the perfect way to end a perfect day in the central hub of Israel.

Our assignment for the night was to write an essay on “the ideal Jew” and what that means to us. We had to take a stance and write an opinion on what our idea of an ideal Jew is. It really makes you think. Is Judaism a religion? A lifestyle? A culture? Who defines you as Jewish? Anyone that identifies as a Jewish should ask themselves…what is an ideal Jew? And even more so…do you portray the aspects you believe characterize an ideal Jew? It’s a fascinating idea to think about and even though my essay is long done, I’m sure this is what I’ll be thinking about as I fall asleep.

This amazing experience is beginning to come to a close. But no one should be sad. The opportunities we have had on this program are life changing. I will never hear Hatikvah again without thinking of everywhere we have sang it. Yet, I’m looking forward to sharing these amazing moments and new-found ideas with my friends and family back home.

This experience changes you as a person and gives you the opportunity to share it with others. Who knows? You may change their lives, too.

-Rachael Weinstein

Friday-Saturday, July 17-18

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

My fifth weekend in Israel was incredibly relaxing and refreshing. I did not have anywhere to go on the open weekend, so I decided to stay on campus….and it was an incredibly awesome choice. Only two dorms had open weekend and with so many kids away, it really gave us a chance to bond with the other dorm and hang out with friends in the other dorm, as well.

My friend Emma and I went into town yesterday afternoon where we shopped, ate and bought some delicious food. I am really going to miss the bakeries when I arrive back in the States, they make for a delicious snack any time of day.

We then relaxed for a bit and got all dolled up for Shabbat dinner. The dining hall was set, the blessings said and dinner was served. Our oneg activity involved us “speed dating” the other dorm, which was just us switching people and asking questions.

Afterward, Emma and I devoted this Shabbat as a “movie weekend.” Yes…we did climb into bed with some snacks and watch movie after movie. Just being in Israel, watching a movie and having the ability to look out the window at this beautiful country was amazing. Doing something so normal as watching movies feels different here just because it’s Israel. The kids who went away this weekend should be arriving later tonight and those of us who stayed are taking advantage of a surplus of social time.

We only have one more Shabbat in Israel, which is rather depressing. These next 10 days are about having no regrets once we leave and making the most of every single opportunity we have while we are here!

Our last week is filled with tiyulim and finishing up our curriculum. For the last week, I plan on absorbing as much as I possibly can.

Just being in Israel makes everything better and I can’t express how wonderful it is to have a whole country as our classroom.

– Rachael Weinstein

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