Sunday, May 4, 2014

Visiting our Friends at Gan Ner

On Friday, we traveled to our sister region near Afula to visit our former young Israeli emissary, Gal Ron, and the kids at Gan Ner. We were greeted with snacks which we ate hungrily. We are always hungry, even though we are eating really well! The kids arrived in small groups so they didn't overwhelm us, and introduced themselves. We played several games together to get to know one another. It was a lot of fun and we laughed a lot. After a very short time we were all friends. We broke into small groups for some other activities and an opportunity to really get to converse with each other.

At the end of our time there no one wanted to leave. However, we were heading to our Host Shabbat with much anticipation. Everyone is ready for a little change of pace and a little extra sleep. Have a great Shabbat.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Meeting Israelis and Making New Friends

... by Josh and Dylan

We started our day off early. After waking up at 6:15, praying Shacharit and having breakfast, we made our way to a hike to meet some 8th graders from Israel! "Practicing our hebrew on real Israelis was a blast!" said Josh. The hike was full of adventures and friendships that will last a lifetime. Our kids are now Facebook friends with Israelis! Our kids are really branching out and going out of their comfort zones to meet new kids everyday. After the hike and a delicious picnic lunch, we went on a bike tour. "It was hard work, but after we saw the views and the birds, it was very rewarding. I'm very happy I took part in this amazing opportunity to bike in this beautiful land," said Dylan. 

After the great bike tour, we drove towards the Kineret where we went on a fun disco boat. "The disco boat was an opportunity to bond with the other kids through the form of dance and music," said Micah. The disco boat's music was a entertaining mixture of Israeli and American music. It was a way to integrate Israeli modern society into our trip. Even though the disco boat was a lot of fun, we got hungry and rode the bus back to kibbutz Degania Bet to eat dinner. We had some free time on the kibbutz and then went back to our rooms to catch a good night's sleep before Host Shabbat. "It was amazing meeting the Israeli students. Socializing with them enriched my vvocabulary and it was amazing to compare and contrast our teenage lives," said Maddy. 

Our views of Masada by Maddy and Rebecca

Today was a phenomal day. Even though we do not enjoy waking up early, there was a rush of excitement knowing that we were going to climb up the historical Mount Masada and then swimming at the Dead Sea. We ate a nutritious and excellent breakfast made by the kibbutz. Then we were on our way to Masada. We hiked up the Roman Ramp. Tired and sweaty we prayed Shacharit. "We prayed with so much joy and kavanah, it was the best tefilot we have ever had!" said Rebecca and Maddy. We took a few moments to appreciate the significance of Masada and then we toured the top of the mountain. We saw many sites and we had a great understanding of the mountain's history after we toured the top. We made our way down the snake path. It was challenging, yet very rewarding and we would do it all over again. After the strenuous hike we drove to the Dead Sea. We were hungry so we ate a delicious lunch at Ein Gedi by the Dead Sea. We covered ourselves from head to toe with mud. It made our skin feel so smooth and regenerated our youthful look! We later floated in the Dead Sea waters which had an abundance of salts. After a long day we were longing for our beds.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Meeting new friends, dancing on the water

Today we went to Har Meron for a mifgash (meeting) with a group of kids our age from a school in  Nahariyah. We started with a few icebreaker activities to get to know a little about each other. We then went on a very long hike and practiced our conversational Hebrew along the way. The views were really spectacular and we exclaimed, "Wow, azeh nof hazeh!"  which means "Wow, what a view this is!" After our hike, our new friends joined us for a picnic lunch. With Facebook, we will be able to keep in touch with them when we get home.

We said our goodbyes and boarded the bus to the Hula Valley and the Galilean Hills for a bike ride
in a nature preserve. Everything is so green here, a welcome change from the brown of the desert. Everyone who wanted to got to ride a bike. If you didn't want to ride you could go in a golf cart. We made a few stops along the trail to learn about the migration of birds from Asia, Africa and Europe. We were fortunate enough to see many of them and other wildlife.

After riding, we took an ice cream break before re-boarding the bus and the much anticipated"Disco Boat" ride on the Sea of Galilee. We had a great time. We wobbled, danced, and had a lot of laughs. Even the teachers got up and danced. It was pretty funny!

Hannah Pliskin and Jason E. Buckman

The Golan Heights

Micah Glickman
Golan Blog  

Here we are are at Mitzpe Gadot in the Golan Heights. The view was amazing and we saw the vantage points that the Syrians had over Israel and the many kibbutzim and small villages in the valley. Looking around, I thought about how serious the place was. I thought about the hundreds of Israelis who died here at the hands of the Syrians. I thought about the active mine fields and retired trenches that surrounded us and their purpose. Ilan, our moreh derech, (guide), talked about a generation of Israeli children who spent their childhood sleeping underground in bomb shelters. I could not have chosen a more appropriate place to learn about how Israel captured the Golan Heights and the sacrifices of Eli Cohen, Israel's most famous spy. The quiet of the environment only added to the experience.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Dead Sea Floats!

The Lowest Point on Earth

After our visit to Masada, we travelled up the road to kibbutz Ein Gedi and a visit to the Dead Sea. This beautiful and lush oasis stands out in the desert by sporting green trees and flowers. We had a great lunch of schnitzel, chicken, or roast beef, plenty of salads, and lots of water! And speaking of water, the Dead Sea is so cool. We changed into bathing suits and headed for the tram to take us to the sea. Before heading into the water we coated ourselves with Dead Sea mud which smelled really yucky. But, once we got into the sea we forgot about he smell. It was so much fun to just float in the water. We had to be really careful not to splash anyone. We all floated for a while and had a great time.

Many of the kids went to the swimming pool for a swim and to cool off. Finally it was time to change and board the bus. We were exhausted, a little red, and tired. As we made our way up north many of us took the opportunity to nap and recharge.

Kibbutz Degania, look out, here we come!!

Our Day on Masada

Our Day on Masada
by Noah Ehrlich

After a "restful" night in the Bedouin tent, we were treated to a delicious breakfast. We all hopped on the bus and had a ride on road that felt like a roller coaster. When we arrived to the parking area we saw a replica of a Roman catapult and the lower half of a siege tower.  We began our climb up Masada via the Roman ramp. Upon reaching the top, we found a place under a tent and prayed Shacharit, the morning service. It was very meaningful to pray on the summit of Masada.
Ilan took the group to 9 important sites on the fortress and explained to us the story of the Jewish Zealots and the Roman army seige of Masada. After learning about the story we took a short walk to the side of Masada that faces another mountain. On the other mountain there were the very old descendents of the Zealots, and they would shout back anything that was shouted to them. It was cool to hear them shout back. We descended the mountain by the snake path, a long and winding path. Overall it was a great experience.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Monday in the Negev

Day 4: Monday in the Negev

Monday morning began with our students leading Shacharit services. Kol hakavod to our service leaders, Lillie and Maddy, and torah readers, Matt, Micah and Rebecca.

We took a short bus ride to Kibbutz Sde Boker and the Ben Gurion Institute and to visit the gravesites of David and Paula Ben Gurion. Our tour educator, Ilan, discussed with the students the significance of Ben Gurion's dream of transforming the desert and attracting Jewish settlers. The views were breathtaking and the students were amazed at the greenery and vegetation growing on the kibbutz which attracted hundreds of beautiful butterflies.

Our next stop was the hike at Ein Avdat. We hiked alongside a small spring and marveled at the strips of vegetation that grew from the spring. Hiking in the desert is hot and we stopped often for water breaks and to rest in the shade. One of our discussions was to appreciate the natural world around us, be shomrei adamah (guardians of the earth), and the spirituality and peace that can be found in the world around us.

The students prepared lunch on Monday. Playing a modified version of "Supermarket Sweepstakes" the kids were split into teams, given a list of food items to buy at the supermarket and then had to prepare the items for lunch. We enjoyed a delicious meal of cheeses, bread, salads, fresh vegetables, and drinks.

After lunch we headed farther south to Kfar Nokdim and the Bedouin tent. Camel riding was a hit. Everyone rode and had so much fun. We were then welcomed into the hospitality tent for traditional desert tea and coffee. Our host regaled us with tales of his life, four wives, and 23 children. We even had a turn to grind the coffee beans in the traditional Bedouin way. Our dinner was a delicious combination of meatballs, schnitzel, chicken, cous cous, salads, pita and tehina. Needless to say, the students are eating well.

As evening fell and the stars came out, our students, sitting by the campfire, played charades and had lively conversation. Bedtime brought them all into the tent, with the girls on one side, the boys on the other, and a partition in the middle.

Shabbat and Sunday

Day Two: Shabbat in Jerusalem

Shabbat offered everyone an opportunity to rest, relax, and recharge for the days ahead. Students were offered different options for Shabbat morning services. Some chose the Sephardic and Ashkenazi synagogues ofYemin Moshe, some went to the Agron Center for an egalitarian service, while others attended more traditional services. Upon our return, we gathered for Shabbat lunch and then had some time for a Shabbat nap. All rested we walked to Yemin Moshe to see the only windmill in Israel and to talk about the first Jewish settlement outside of the walls of the Old City, which was financed by Moses Montefiore and other philanthropists. We had a great view of the city walls and the hills surrounding Jerusalem. On our way back we stopped at a local park for some recreation. The boys enjoyed a competitive yet friendly basketball game which helped to break the ice. 

We held our Maariv and havdalah services outdoors as we felt Jerusalem awaken from Shabbat and begin to bustle. Before heading out for the night, we held a birthday party for Maddy and Hannah Pliskin as they celebrated their 14th birthday in the Holy City! "It was very special to have everyone sing Happy Birthday to us in Hebrew and to celebrate in a special place" said the girls. Then, off we went to Ben Yehuda Street. It is amazing how much money they can spend, shwarma they can eat, and fun they can have in an hour! "This was so much fun!" said Josh Shafer. There will be a lot of nice presents coming home!

Day Three: Sunday

What a day!  Our first stop was Beit Guvrin, the site of an archeological dig. We climbed down the centuries to dig in the dirt for fragments of history from the time of the Maccabees (176 BCE). Noah E. found many pottery shards, Dylan and Micah found pieces of wine jugs, and Zeke and Jacob even found the continuation of a staircase, proving that there is still more history to be discovered.  We formed a bucket brigade to get our finds out of the cave, passing bucket after bucket of dirt, rocks, and pieces of history from one to another. Once outside we actually sifted the contents of the buckets looking for treasures. 

Our day continued with "giving back" to the people of Israel. Leket Israel serves as the country's National Food Bank and largest food rescue network. Students headed out to the fields to pick turnips. "A philanthropist bought the land and farm specifically for vegetables and fruits to be grown, harvested, and given to the hungry," said Lillie Pinette. "It felt good to be able to do something to help other people and it was fun!" 

After our farming adventure, we continued south to the Negev for two nights. On our first night we stayed at a picturesque kibbutz called Mashabey Sade. After dinner, our madrichim Shiran and Eldad, lead a meaningful Yom Hashoah tekes (ceremony). Dylan and Maddy took part in the presentation and represented our school beautifully. We then broke up into our yachad or small discussion groups to process more about Yom Hashoah and our days in Israel thus far. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day One

We are having a most excellent adventure.  While waiting to board our plane at Newark the students from all the schools began to get to know each other, playing their own version of Jewish geography; "Which school are you from? "What camp do you go to? Do you know _____?" 

Friday, April 25
Our first Shacharit in Israel
Although encouraged to sleep on the plane, the students were too excited and talked all the way across the Atlantic and Europe!  We arrived Friday morning excited and anticipating the start of our adventure. After retrieving our luggage we we were met by our Morah derech Ilan and our two madrichim Shiran and Eldad. At our first stop, Latrun,  the Hartford students lead ShacharitKol hakavod to Matt Patchen and Josh Shafer.  

Planting trees
Afterwards, like the pioneers, we got our hands dirty and planted our own trees in Israel. Each student dedicated his/her tree to a family member(s).
Rebecca Gold said, "It was nice to be a part of starting a new forest in Israel."

Finally it was lunchtime. We enjoyed Israeli sandwiches, muffins, and fruit. After Birkat Ha'mazon we hiked the Burma Road to better understand the struggles the Israelis faced in getting to Jerusalem during the War for Independence. "The view from the top was amazing. The it was a struggle to get to the top, especially on our first day! We could really appreciate the struggles our ancestors went through to get to Jerusalem" said Maddy Pliskin.

At this point we were exhausted but had one more stop to make before we arrived at the hotel. We stopped at the tayelet for the most magnificent view of Jerusalem.  We said a shechechyanu and toasted our new adventure.  

At last we made our way to the hotel. Tired and dirty, we went to our rooms to shower and prepare for Shabbat. We went to an area where we could overlook the Kotel 
and pray Kabbalat Shabbat.  It was unbelievably special and we all tried to take in the moment. Rebecca said, "It was the most important moment of our lives and we should cherish it always." 
The Kotel plaza was very crowded and from our vantage point we could watch the Orthodox men, in black and white, praying, while the IDF soldiers, dressed in khaki, danced with joy as everyone welcomed Shabbat. You could really
feel the worries and the stresses of the week fade away as our voices rose in prayer. Shiran brought us rugulach to sweeten our Shabbat. Yummy!

Everyone was hungry for dinner and enjoyed a traditional Israeli Shabbat dinner and afterwards visited with our new friends. Satiated and tired, we made an effort to get to bed at an early hour.