When I got back from Israel, I received an unusual letter in my mailbox. Like most of you, I seldom receive meaningful snail mail. Personal notes usually come via e-mail and my snail mail is mostly a collection of bills, catalogues and brochures. The letter was from Ilissa Cappell, a good colleague and the associate director of the Schechter Day School Network. When I opened it, a huge smile crossed my face.

After doing some quick math, I’ve realized that with this current eighth grade trip, I have escorted nearly 300 students to Israel. It’s an incredible privilege as an educator to have helped connect such a large group of students to Israel, and, of course, each trip has its own special memories. As I reflect on each of the groups, I think about conversations with individual students, special stops that were unique to a group and the way that the groups bonded together.

What I don’t think about is the airplane flight.

I’ll be honest. The flying part of an Israel trip is my least favorite part. Being stuck on a plane with a large group of students for 12 plus hours is usually the part of the trip that I selectively “forget”.

That’s not going to be the case with the Gross Schechter Class of 2015. As you can see fromIlissa’s letter, our students were just phenomenal on the plane! The derekh eretz that they displayed so impressed this anonymous gentleman that he called the Schechter Network’s offices in New York to find out which Schechter school was on his flight and to share that he had noticed that our students behaved like mensches on the flight.

The eighth grade Israel trip is more than just an opportunity to travel to Israel and see the land. It is a learning laboratory for all of the skills that our students gain during their Schechter experience. They are connecting their lessons in Social Studies to their stint as amateur archeologists at “Dig for a Day”. While they may not want to admit it, math is constantly in use each time they pull out their wallet to buy a souvenir, converting between dollars and shekalim, and when we give them money to buy lunch on their own in small groups. Of course, their Hebrew skills are constantly in use, whether it is meeting their Israeli pen pals in Bet She’an for the first time or just checking out the billboards as we drive down the highway.

And, as we saw on the plane, it is an opportunity for our students to demonstrate the Jewish values that are integral to being a student at Gross Schechter Day School.

During this time of year, we study the chapters of Pirkei Avot, Ethics of Our Fathers, as we move through the days of the Omer from Pesach to Shavuot. Famously, Hillel is quoted as saying,

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14

Understanding that we treat others the way that we want to be treated may be the most valuable life lesson we can give our children. It shows that we understand that “others” are people as well, and that there is an urgency to treating other people with dignity. We put this into practice in our personal interactions, in our giving of tzedakah and in how we engage in Tikkun Olam.

I can proudly say that the Class of 2015 is learning this lesson well.

Shabbat Shalom,

Dr. Ari Yares
Head of School

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