This past week it has been hard to not have Israel on my mind.

The week began with a moving commemoration of Yom HaZikaron organized by the Federation and involving middle school students from Schechter, Agnon, and Mizrachi. Listening to our students sing Ma Avarech, a haunting melody whose lyrics remember a young man
 illed during the Six Day War, heightened my sense of loss as we commemorated Israel’s fallen and the price paid for a Jewish homeland.

Just as it does in Israel, Monday progressed from sadness and sorrow to joy and celebration in Cleveland as we marked the beginning of Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. What could be a better way to mark the beginning of the holiday than by joining together as a community, eating falafel and schwarma, and, of course, listening to the beautiful voice of Israeli superstar Noa? It didn’t end there. So many activities took place in and outside school from assemblies to parades to just feeling the vibe of the day.

That sense of longing for Israel drove me to look at the many pictures of our 8th grade students on Facebook as they tour Israel and then to their blog posts about their experiences. The 8th grade Israel trip is more than just a tour, though. It is an interactive educational experience that pulls together lessons learned throughout the students’ experiences at Schechter.
Don’t believe me? Here are a few of the highlights.
Students connect with the history that they have learned: 

  • As we walked through the museum and watched the videos our learning about Herzl suddenly came to life. Whenever the tour guide would ask a question we would be able to answer it. If she noted something important about Herzl we recognized it. Everyone was able to follow long since we had learned all about Herzl and his connection to Alfred Dreyfus at school and our visit to the exhibit at the Maltz museum….Without Theodor Herzl we would not have the life changing opportunity of spending three weeks in Israel. Thanks to him we are here today.

They see joy in being Jewish:

  • After celebrating Shabbat every week, the holy day can become somewhat humdrum causing people to under-appreciate the holiness of this particular event- so why did this past Shabbat intimate the total opposite? Was it the small and rare conservative temple located in Jerusalem? Or the bar mitzvah we were luckily able to attend the next day? No- although it was a cool experience it was the RUACH we generated.

They watched science in action:

  • Our tour guide, Ariel, also explained how the Banyan springs worked using my hat. He sprayed shaving cream on me because it snowed here in the winter. He had me fill my mouth with water to show how the water was melting into the rock. He squeezed the water out of my mouth and that was the spring.

And perhaps, most importantly, they grow as individuals:

  • In the end, I conquered one of my fears and had a great time. I am so glad I rode the donkey because if I didn’t I would have missed out on a great experience.

This is the 8th grade Israel experience.

Shabbat Shalom,

Dr. Ari Yares

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