AMHSI: Students arrive in Israel


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


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: From Yad Vashem to Tel Aviv and Israeli sweets


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!


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

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