AMHSI: Students arrive in Israel

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Akiva, a teacher at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), leads students in the song “One Day” at a site overlooking Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of JNF

Some Arizona high school students are spending this summer at Jewish National Fund’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), through the Schwartz-Hammer AMHSI Impact Fund and the JNF Boruchin Educational Fund. The students are writing blog posts from Israel, which we are reposting here with permission from JNF.

The first week

This past week has been the longest week of my life – in the best way. Within days, I met people from all over the country who I can already tell are going to be lifelong friends. For the first time in my life, I’m surrounded by people my age who are equally passionate about Israel and forming our Jewish identities as teenagers.

Our week started out with an 11-hour plane ride to Tel Aviv and then a bus to Hod Hasharon where we met our madrichim and got our dorm and room assignments. Despite the raging jet lag, our first Shabbat was a ton of fun because we got to celebrate together as a new family.

Our first tiyul was to Tel Gezer where we learned about the ancient culture of the Canaanites. We got to see how they learned to farm and get water despite living in the mountains, and how they learned to defend themselves against enemies who wanted to take over their homes. We also learned about the binding of Isaac and how Abraham became the first Jew.

– Caroline Carriere

Feeling connected

This past week has been very interesting and eventful. At the beginning of this week I questioned my Judaism. I don’t believe in a god, so how can that make me a Jew? But my teacher Elhanan has helped me answer that question in just the first week! What I’ve learned is that it’s not about God, it’s about our heritage and our tradition. From the top of the mountain that Gideon tested his soldiers with a water test, I could see a Palestinian village that was separated from Israel’s authority. It wasn’t a god that divided us, it was 100 percent about our beliefs.

All of the beliefs of the Jewish people is what I try to embody in my life every day. Whether it is me giving money to the homeless because it is my Jewish duty and not charity or spending six weeks in the Holy Land.

A really big highlight of this trip so far is my trip to the Western Wall. As I said before I don’t believe in God, but I went ahead and wrapped myself in tefillin anyway. As I walked over to the wall that towered in front of me, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was connected to every other Jew in the world. The wall itself was nothing short of amazing. The outside of it felt waxy and all the cracks where cut into sloppy uneven bricks. I looked to my left and saw an old man rubbing his beard against the wall. He looked over at me and put his arm around me and it was the closest I’ve ever felt to God. My religion at this moment has finally become important to me.

 -Brian Grobmeier

New friends, ancient sites, great food

This week was full of new friends, ancient sites and great food. We took our first two tiyuls that traced the story of our ancestors. Learning about history in class and then experiencing it on trips makes each site very meaningful. I love being able to understand the significance of what I’m seeing.

The first tiyul was to Tel Gezer. I learned many archaeological terms as well as some very questionable pagan rituals. After the short hike, we were given free time to explore Hod Hasharon. I finally tried a Moshikos smoothie, after hearing about its deliciousness for days. The smoothie definitely lived up to the reviews. The next day, we were given free time in Herzliya. Being from Arizona, I was probably more excited than most for the beach and was happy to get to swim in the ocean without driving five hours first. Tuesday was the beginning of my favorite trip so far – the tiyul (trip) to Jerusalem. We started out in Har Gilboa. I expected to be struggling in the back of the group during the hike, but surprisingly many people had never hiked before and I managed not to trip over too many rocks. After the hike, we cooled off in the Sachneh. I explored the different waterfalls and met many natives who were nice enough to even share their food.

On Wednesday, we walked through the tunnels that King Hezekiah created to survive the siege by the Assyrians. We saw the snaking path that was a result of the different tunnel builders following each other’s voices. After the tunnels, our class got ready to visit the Kotel for the first time. It was incredible to pray at the same place that our ancestors wanted to visit so badly, but unfortunately oftentimes never made it to. Praying to the wall while touching it instead of praying toward the wall from thousands of miles away was very powerful. Seeing direct evidence of the Jewish people’s connection to Israel proved to me why Israel advocacy is so important. Because both college teens and international leaders ruthlessly condemn Israel, sometimes it seems hard to justify why Israelis put up with so much to be in a land that is surrounded by so many enemies. The Jewish people’s connection to the land of Israel is very apparent, especially in Jerusalem, and it is a miracle that after so many years of exile, the Jewish people get to return and thrive there.

After praying at the Kotel, we went to Ben Yehuda Street. Last summer, I spent a month living on Ben Yehuda Street while interning for the Ethiopian National Project. Going there with my dorm brought back so many memories. The best moment was when I went to my favorite jewelry store and the owner remembered me. He asked how my mom was because he remembered her, as well, and gave me a great discount without me having to bargain in my broken Hebrew. Jerusalem will always be special to me, and I had a great time learning the Jewish people’s history at the site where it all happened.

– Hannah Miller

Fulfilling a great-grandfather’s wish

I came to Israel to embark on a spiritual journey. Four years ago, my great-grandfather passed away. His funeral was on a clear December day. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. As we were reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish, a flurry of pink bougainvillea leaves in a dust storm crossed over the tent. When his coffin hit the ground, the dust storm stopped, and the leaves fell. I’ve always seen dust storms as a sign that he’s with me.

As we were driving to Jerusalem yesterday, I noticed another dust storm begin to form in the desert. I knew it was him telling me I was in the right place. His lasting regret was never being able to make it to Israel. Israel was mostly a figment of his imagination: He was always too stubborn to travel and he never had the money. I’m here in Israel, the first in four generations of my family, to fulfill his wish.

We were blindfolded as we approached the city limits of Jerusalem. When we arrived, we all staggered our way out of the bus, using each other’s shoulders as a guide. I thought of my great-grandfather as I lifted my blindfold, and tears formed in my eyes. We were overlooking the city, the gilded dome of Temple Mount gleaming in the sun. My friend Dani said to me, “You’re home now.” She couldn’t have been more right.

Today, we explored Jerusalem. We walked inside the famous water tunnel in the City of David as we studied King David’s lineage and emphasis on agriculture. It was an incredible experience, singing songs and walking in frigid water with some of your new best friends.

We then went to the Western Wall. I had brought my great-grandfather’s tallit with me in order to finish his journey to Israel. As I prayed with his tallit wrapped around my back, I felt connected not just to him but to Judaism. I cried again as I thought of him and how proud he’d be of me.

This is why I’m in Israel. These six weeks were about connecting with my religion and absorbing the culture and history. What I’ve discovered is a sense of belonging I didn’t know was missing.

– Josh Kaplan

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