Finding ‘truth’ at LimmudAZ

In preparation for last weekend’s LimmudAZ, I looked over the schedule a few days before to map out my day. With one exception, I chose to select whatever session called to me most, rather than ones that I thought I should attend for work purposes.

Because of the variety of offerings, both of topics and speakers, each of the approximately 400 participants had an opportunity to weave their own unique experience during their time on the second floor of Arizona State University’s Memorial Union on Jan. 31.


Ready for a day of learning at LimmudAZ. Photo by Joel Zolondek

In retrospect, most of the sessions I chose seemed to reflect the same theme.

The first session I attended was “Resetting the Balance Between Work/Family Responsibility: A New Point of View” with Dr. Ada Anbar. I had hoped for some guidance on juggling work and family life – because that issue is definitely something in the forefront of my life – but it was more of a look at the views professionals have about working mothers of young children. The speaker’s point of view was that since people have approximately 60 years in their adult life, from age 20 to 80, a parent should devote 10 years to “intense parenting” (meaning one parent should be at home with the child so that the child isn’t in preschool).

My youngest child is 5 and all three of my kids attended preschool so my first reaction was to feel defensive, but ultimately what she was saying was that children, their parents and society at large would benefit if children received intense parenting for at least the first three years of their life. And that society should make it easier for parents to devote more time to their children by providing support for families who want to have a stay-at-home parent with young children and that it should be easier for women to re-enter the workforce after staying home with their children. And who can argue with that?

There was no question about the next session I wanted to attend – “The Power of Sharing Our Stories in Song” – with Marieke Slovin, a performing musician, yogi, writer and songwriter in Prescott who leads song-writing workshops and composes original music from spoken stories. Since song-writing is one of my passions, I was interested in learning about her Story-to-Song method. It was a small group, which was great, and the theme of our song organically developed into one about our grandparents. We each shared a few words about a grandparent or grandparents and throughout the course of the hour, we wrote the chorus and she’s going to finish the song. A quote in her course description reads, “The great gift you can give the world is to tell your truth,” which created a lovely segue into my next session, “What Does it All Mean?” with Bruce Eric Kaplan, a television writer/producer who has worked on such shows as “Seinfeld,” “Six Feet Under” and “Girls” and a cartoonist for The New Yorker. He recently wrote a memoir called, “I Was a Child.”

The session was an entertaining therapy session, where he shared the process of writing the memoir – which dealt with the death of his father, and his feelings that he never really knew his parents because they never really shared anything about themselves with their children. Some of the Jewish mothers in the room offered their advice and analysis about his experience. Kaplan referenced the “truth” quote from the song-writing session – he had wanted to attend that one, but didn’t make it – and his message to the group was that while we are here in the world, we should all strive to be our most authentic self and share that authentic self with others.

Next was lunch, where everyone gathered together for the official welcome from Sandy Adler and Suzanne Swift – two of the volunteers that coordinated LimmudAZ both this year and last – and I was happy to run into some people I hadn’t seen in a while.

After lunch, I attended one session that I felt obligated to attend – “Israel in the News: How to Get Your Point Across” – because I’m a fan of the Honest Reporting website and thought it might be useful. Maybe it was because of the timing being right after lunch, but I had difficulty focusing during this one. But one point that did get across was that negative stories about Israel are outweighing the positive and that truth becomes irrelevant if the untruths are repeated often enough.

By late afternoon, the next session – “Four Senses Yoga,” taught by Cindy Rogers, a blind yoga instructor – was very welcome. I don’t often do yoga because I’m not very coordinated when it comes to all the different poses, so I liked the description, which read, “Experience yoga as you never have before. Blindfolded! Remove the sense of sight to fully embrace your other senses. This gentle practice allows you to connect to your true inner self.”

I was a few minutes late because I was chatting with someone in the hallway between courses so when I got there, the room was already dark. I received my blindfold, found my space then followed the instructions to breathe and move into different positions. I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right, as I couldn’t see anyone to follow, but it was OK because nobody could see me either.

My final session was a packed room with Rabbi Pinchas Allouche of Congregation Beth Tefillah, who spoke about living a purposeful life.

He shared his POPP (Personality, Opportunities, People, Places) theory with the group, asking: Are you using the skills you were born with? Do you use the opportunities you are given to use those skills? And reminding us that people come into our lives for a reason, as do the places we find ourselves.

So, with that in mind, I felt my day’s journey – as well as everyone else’s there – was the way that it should have been.

And I’d like to thank all of the volunteers who made it their purpose to bring LimmudAZ to life in our community.

Leisah Woldoff is managing editor of Jewish News.

JNF Fellows: Ben-Gurion’s house, the Golan Heights and lots of falafel


The teens in the Jewish National Fund’s inaugural Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are in the final stages of their six-week journey at 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 19

This very well might be the only Sunday in which we haven’t stayed on campus! The morning started off in the town of Sde Boker in the Negev. At Revivim, we learned about Ben Gurion’s dream of building up the Negev. We saw meteorological instruments and remnants of the first kibbutzim. There was a well-animated video expressing all of Ben Gurion’s aspirations and followed the region chronologically through its growth. It was amazing to see his passions and visions come to life.

Our next stop was his house. The rooms were fully intact and depicted the same scenes as the famous pictures. What a concept- such a visionary living so humbly.

At Ein Ovdat, we hiked through the beautiful landscape of the Negev. The dirt walls stretched from the clouds to the pools in the valleys. It was not an easy expedition but definitely worth it.

After a much-needed shower, I headed into town for dinner with a friend. We had a competition to see who could fit the most falafel into their pita. I think I won with a total of 10, but I’m pretty sure the record is around 17. My day was as jam-packed as my pita!

– Madyssen Zarin

Wednesday/July 22

Today we continued learning about the founding of the state of Israel, specifically David Ben-Gurion. We learned how twice in his life he abandoned comfort and security to devote himself fully to the development of Eretz Yisrael.

The story of him resigning as prime minister to move to a kibbutz in the Negev was surprising and funny. It was difficult for me to fully understand why someone would leave the most important job in Israel to develop a desert. In America, it would never happen that a president or anyone with a lot of power would resign to do a meager job in a seemingly insignificant place. But the true beauty of Israel, more than the physical beauty is the devotion of the people.

David Ben-Gurion realized that to develop a Jewish state, the Jewish people had to develop themselves to be better through hardship. The Negev presents the perfect opportunity for people to build themselves. I now fully understand why Israel is the leader in technological advancements they are today, they have to be. To survive in such a difficult place people must innovate to survive. David Ben-Gurion knew this in the 1950s and was completely right to build a Jewish state he must build the Jewish people.

– Gabe Friedland

Thursday/July 23

It saddens me to say that our last tiyul (class) has come to a close, but it’s with happiness that I say it has been my favorite tiyul at HSI. The past two days were spent in the Golan Heights, the northern most point of Israel. We had a jam-packed two days, but it was so worth it.

Yesterday we left campus bright and early and had a bit of a drive to the Golan. We had class atop a Syrian bunker, heard a fascinating speaker at thekibbutz that overlooks Lebanon and went rafting down the Jordan River. Yet, today was my favorite part. This morning we woke up, ate a hearty breakfast and prepared for a treacherous hike. The hike and sweat was completely worth it when we came across a magnificent waterfall. We all hopped in to the cool water where we had a fun swim while we cooled off. After the fun, we had to trudge back up the mountain. I have done hikes here that I never would have done myself. Knowing what I am capable of now is completely different than what I thought before this experience.

We stopped for lunch at a falafel place and then headed to the Syrian/Israeli border. We had another extremely interesting class (aren’t they all?) about the 1973 war while we looked out into The Valley of Tears where it happened. What an extremely powerful moment. From there, the next destination was a kibbutz where we watched a fascinating yet really helpful documentary about the war. Sitting there and seeing live action happening at the valley that we were just sitting at was absolutely mind-blowing.

tank2On our way back to campus, we stopped at an overlook of the Hula Valley where we split into classes and had a serious talk about our past tiyulim. Everyone said what their favorite tiyul was, what materialistic item they love and what intangible item they are bringing home.

It feels like I have been in Israel for months, yet I can recall the first day of HSI exactly. This is my last blog post and I can’t express everything I am feeling. I can’t even begin to sum up these six weeks…there is no “sum up.” Everything I have learned and seen will be with me forever. I have memories that will last me a lifetime. I truly feel like I lived in a different country, was immersed in a different culture and grew as a person. I hope to share everything I have felt and learned with everyone at home and maybe spark something in someone else. Being in Israel makes everything clearer, every moment brighter and every memory happier.

It has been the time of my life here in Israel. The people I met and the memories I am coming home with will be with me for my entire life. It has been such an honor writing for the HSI blog. I hope anyone who reads this understands that you don’t have to be religious, or a hiker, or good at school, or outgoing etc… to come here and have a good time. This program is literally for everyone and anyone. My life has been changed by living in Israel and I hope that can happen for many more people to come.”

Rachael Weinstein

JNF fellows: Exploring Kabbalah and discovering heroes

camelThe five teens selected for Jewish National Fund’s inaugural Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are now in Israel. 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.

Sunday, July 5

As every other day, we learned a lot! However, today was different. Today I learned about the HSI (High School in Israel) community and what it really means. At first, when we all learned that there were over 180 kids, many felt very overwhelmed. But let me just tell you: It’s amazing how fast word travels around here! Both Gabe and Reuben have been challenged with injuries and sad life events and it’s been amazing to watch the entire campus come together. Whether listening to side conversations or watching friends carry pints of ice cream to their doors, it’s so easy to see that we all really are one big family!

Instead of spending my free time deciding what to do, I now focus on figuring out ways to maximize it. I spent the afternoon making new friends in the Rapaport dorm and accompanying them to the local restaurant, Ofer’s. Later, I went to town with a couple of friends. Together, we stopped in every market in town – about eight – buying a few items from each place. Our purchases included: cookie dough ice cream, dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, strawberry-banana juice and Cap’n Crunch.

It’s really starting to feel like home. I can’t even begin to think about leaving!

Madyssen Zarin

Monday, July 6

Today we woke up early to go on an exciting tiyul (trip) in the northern region of Israel! We began by learning about the Crusaders, at the beautiful Belvoir castle.

After that, we swam in the Kinneret. It was nice to be back in the lovely waters of the Sea of Galilee. Although it was lovely, I wish I brought shoes! The heat of the ground paired with the sharpness of the rocks was quite painful.

After the brief swim, we headed over to Tzfat, one of my favorite cities in Israel. The beautiful stone paired with the bright colored doors enchanted by the spirituality of the city makes for a great time. Walking around the familiar city, buying jewelry, and showing newcomers my favorite places was nostalgic and fascinating. Additionally, I ran in to someone I know back at home. Crazy!

– Madeline Stull

Tuesday, July 7

This week has been rough one. Sadly, I broke my clavicle while playing football a few days back; however, I’ve still managed to have a fantastic time!

Today was a day to remember. It began with class. Once we finished, we were given the option to stay back and study or go to SACH. SACH stands for Save a Child’s Heart – a nonprofit organization that brings in children from around the world for lifesaving heart operations. I love working and playing with kids, so I decided to take up that option.

EthiopianMany of the children that we played with were from Ethiopia. I spent most of the time playing with my friend Rihad, one of the cutest and most fun kids I’ve ever met. I rolled him around on his little stroller and then played ball with him and some of my other friends.

We got back around six o’clock. I went to dinner and then studied for our upcoming exam.

‘Twas a great day!

– Reuben Nach

Wednesday, July 8

Today we continued studying the early Zionist movements in our core class. But I would like to focus more on the mystical city of Tzfat that we had the privilege of touring a couple days ago. Tzfat is considered to be a mystical city because the Kabbalah was developed there.

Beyond the beauty of the city and surrounding nature, I felt there was a deeper sense of community (kehillah) than in most places we’ve visited. I think that sense of kehillah may derive from the deep studies of Kabbalah. It was interesting to see the other side of questioning our universe from the Jewish perspective.

I appreciated that opposed to Hellenists, Jews focused more on what to do, what is right and what is wrong and how to be truly good people (most Hellenists never would have thought about how to be a good person if it didn’t involve slaves or some other morally iffy pillar of their culture). But I felt a bit disappointed that Jews never got into the truly exciting questions that many Hellenists struggled with. It has always excited me to think about philosophical questions and struggle with competing answers. That feeling of disappointment immediately disappeared after learning more about the Kabbalah.

It was difficult to really understand the Kabbalah from a single half-hour discussion – most Kabbalists study it for half their lives! But while speaking to a local artist, Abraham, I gained a more meaningful understanding.

During my conversation with Abraham I was transfixed upon the largest motif within his art – selflessness. Nearly every work had some representation of giving of yourself for the benefit of others as inspired by the Torah. I had previously learned a little bit about the levels of giving in Judaism, but in discovering the Kabbalah, I gained a far deeper understanding while being provided with even more fascinating questions.
– Gabe Friedland

Thursday, July 9

6:30 a.m.: *knock* *knock* “Boker tov”

We are up and ready for another long day of amazing sights and stories on our next tiyul. Our adventure today is “The Story of the halutzim of the second aliyah.”

It began at Kfar Giladi, where we had class on the roof of the museum of HaShomer (the Guardians). Before we even spoke a word, our teacher had us look out into the distance – both north and south – and to think of adjectives we would use to describe what we saw.

We all collectively wrote down terms such as: picturesque, vast, green, serene, breathtaking, etc. Only then did we begin class and travel back in time to when there was nothing.

After we learned about the brave pioneers who traveled to Am Yisrael from Russia in the years 1904-1914, we went inside the museum and watched the extremely informative videos. We learned about “HaShomer,” the first Jewish defense force and how they had to learn from each other how to defend their people.

From Kfar Giladi, we went and had delicious lunch at a spring. We ate, went swimming, and sat around and listened to Yosef and Phillip play guitar. From there, we had another 40-minute ride to Tiberias, where we had the most powerful class of the day at the Kinneret Cemetery.

cemeteryWe sat around the grave of Rachel the Poetess as we learned about her exemplary life. She was a pioneer who came to the land and then ended up going back to Russia where she helped out in an orphanage. There, she was infected by tuberculosis yet she didn’t know. She came back to Am Yisrael, made a life in the Kinneret, and wrote rather romantic poetry about the beauty and love she has for the Kinneret.

She was quarantined in an apartment in Tel Aviv where she ended up dying but even there she would write poetry based upon the memories she carried with her. After class, Phillip pulled out his guitar, and we sat around the brave pioneer’s grave and sang her beautiful words back to her.

The class gathered in a circle where we all shared who we thought were heroes, anyone we know personally or throughout history. Someone may be a hero in someone else’s eyes by the doing the smallest favor. The biggest heroes seem to be the ones who don’t believe they are. We had DOTS: Dinner on the Streets, where I got some delicious shawarma. Later, we went to a chocolate factory and had some amazing ice cream. There is nothing compared to the ice cream in Israel – it’s beyond amazing and refreshing!

It feels as if I have been here for months yet time is slowly nearing the end. This experience has already been life-changing and has given me memories that I will have for my entire life. Being able to learn our history exactly where it happened is something that everyone should be lucky enough to experience.

– Rachael Weinstein

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

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.


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

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

Concentration camp school activity

Word of a “concentration camp” activity in a Scottsdale high school class – modeled on the movie “Life is Beautiful,” in which a father acts as though their persecution by the Nazis is part of a game in order to shelter his son from fear – has sparked some activity on Facebook. Here’s an interview done on KTAR radio yesterday (April 30) with the Scottsdale sophomore who protested the activity to her school’s administration. The photo below shows the explanation of the activity. Click on the image to enlarge it. The school has stopped the activity, the ADL says. the camp game

Women of the Talmud?! Who knew?

It’s the kind of subject you might expect from a group rated by Slingshot as one of the most innovative Jewish nonprofits in the nation. “Women of the Talmud,” the latest offering from the Women’s Jewish Learning Center, will discuss the role of women during the rise of rabbinic Judaism.

“Like their descendants, our ancient Jewish foremothers were no shrinking violets,” reads a WJLC email announcing the special women’s study series offered in collaboration with Hadassah Valley of the Sun and the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center.

“Learn with us about some incredible women,” it goes on to say, and naming Bruriah, Ima Shalom, Yalta and Rabbi Judah’s maid as just a few of the subjects.

The series opens with 7- 8:30 p.m. session on Wednesday, Oct. 2 at the Valley of the Sun JCC: “Torah and Chutzpah: The Life of Bruriah.” Subsequent sessions are “A Force of Nature: Stories about Yalta,” 10-11:30 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 8; “Rabbi Judah’s Housekeeper: Wisdom in Unlikely Places,” 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014; and “Ima Shalom: Mother of Peace,” 10-11:30 a.m. Sunday, March 2.

Price per session is $20 for JCC, Hadassah or WJLC members, while the nonmember price is $25. The series price is $50 for members, $65 for nonmembers, according to the VOSJCC site. Register for each class individually or for the whole series through the VOSJCC.

— Salvatore Caputo, assistant managing editor