AMHSI: Shabbat in Jerusalem

Arizona high school students who 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 are writing blog posts from Israel, which we are reposting here with permission from JNF. Here is one written by Allison Tarr, who is sharing her Shabbat reflections.

Shabbat in Jerusalem was like no Shabbat I have ever experienced. Friday afternoon we went to the shuk. There were so many people there buying so many different things. I believe everyone should go at some point even if they aren’t going to buy something. That night we went to the Kotel for Shabbat. I thought there was a lot of people the last time we went, but that was nothing compared to the Kotel on Shabbat. There were hundreds of people praying and singing and dancing. I don’t know how to describe the scene other than saying it was beautiful.

Saturday morning I woke up early to go with some other people to The Orthodox morning services. Being from a Reform congregation, it was an interesting experience to have the men and the women separated. The singing of the prayers had the feeling of organized chaos. I’ve never heard anything like it. After services we went to a park and later went on a walk through some more orthodox parts of Jerusalem.  The city was so quiet, with everything closed and hardly a car on the road. That Is something you don’t see back in America. That night we had a beautiful Havdalah service before heading back to campus.

Me on a thing at the park: https://youtu.be/LMRVYmEll5s

Early this we we learned a little bit about Hasidism and our teacher told us how often times they would sing nigunim, songs without words, and we proceeded to spend the next five minutes singing a nigun: https://youtu.be/J-dvkyYnvZw

This week started learning about the early Zionist movement and the first and second aliyahs. Today we went to the Kinneret and say where people of the second aliyah worked to reconnect the Jewish people to the land of Israel.

This Shabbat I will be at the Bedouin tents. I looked forward to that and everything to follow.

To read more of the student’s blogs, visit blog.amhsi.org/AZImpactFund.

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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


JNFuture: Inviting young adults to help make the desert bloom

Jennifer Starrett, Jewish News’ marketing manager, writes about her Israel experience with the Jewish National Fund Leadership Mission:

I grew up in what I consider a very Jewish household. I celebrated Shabbat with my family, went to Hebrew school and was always taught the value of tzedakah. However, even though I grew up knowing the importance of Israel for myself and my family, I never felt a connection to the land as a young teenager.

Neither my parents nor my grandparents had been to Israel, and my Birthright trip as a young college student was my first dose of what Israel was all about. During my second visit as part of a volunteer vacation, I met my husband and found even more reasons to love Israel. Yet, it wasn’t until this past August while on the Jewish National Fund Leadership Mission in Israel (JLIM) that I truly found my connection and passion.

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JLIM 2015 participants visit Halutza, a growing farming community near the Israel/Gaza border in the northwest Negev. Photo courtesy of JNF

Before I went on the trip, I knew very little about the work that Jewish National Fund does. Like many people growing up, I remember the blue tzedakah boxes and received certificates for trees planted in my honor during my bat mitzvah and wedding. I realized this summer that JNF does more than just raise funds and plant trees; they build communities and help connect even more people to the land of Israel through their own programs and partnerships. In five days, we saw just a fraction of the impact JNF has had on the land of Israel, but what was even more inspiring was the potential for even more great projects and partnerships that have yet to be started.

This new playground in Be'er Sheva was a Jewish National Fund project.

This new playground in Be’er Sheva was a Jewish National Fund project. Photo by Jennifer Starrett

We saw small communities being built next to the border of Israel and Gaza where young families were able to learn how to farm and build their own land and businesses. In the Central Arava, we saw a medical center that was built with JNF funds, but envisioned by the people in neighboring communities because they were worried that the two-hour drive to the nearest hospital would deter people from moving to the area. In Be’er Sheva, a town that formerly had 2,500 residents, we saw a newly built, beautiful river park that has made the area into a thriving city, home to almost 200,000 people.

On JLIM, we also had the opportunity to meet the people JNF has touched. We heard from students at the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training (AICAT), who traveled from all over the world including countries like Nepal and Vietnam to learn about the latest in agricultural techniques that they could take back home to their own communities. The impact that this school has had on students has gone far beyond teaching techniques and new methods of farming, but has also given them the ability to be advocates for Israel and the Israeli people once they return home.

We met with people who made aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh, a partner organization of JNF, who made the choice to live in the Central Arava and learn to farm and create communities from the ground up. Only about 3,300 people live in this area that is approximately 6 percent of Israel’s total land mass. These residents are truly pioneers building formerly unoccupied parts of Israel into prosperous and lively cities.

By the end of the trip, my head was racing. There is so much that JNF has already done, and yet, there is potential for growth and exciting new projects and partnerships. I came back from this trip with more of an understanding for what past generations saw when they first began to build the Jewish state of Israel. As a member of JNFuture, the young professional division of JNF, I am excited to share with my generation a glimpse of what they can be a part of as a member of JNF and JNFuture. Together we can make the desert bloom.

JNFuture is holding its Arizona Fall Kickoff next week. Here are details:

JNFuture Arizona Fall Kickoff
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13
Where: ASU Kerr Cultural Center, 6110 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Cost: Free event, but registration is encouraged at jnf.org/azkickoff
Learn more about the JLIM 2015 trip and how to get involved as a JNFuture member.
Hors d’oeuvres will be served (dietary laws observed).


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: 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.

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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


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