Day 1 – Arrival
Hooray! We’ve made it to Israel!!! Our trip went smoothly from Logan all the way to Ben Gurion, and I think the kids should be plenty tired when they hit the hay tonight (translation: not much sleeping happened on the plane). The weather in Tel Aviv is gorgeous- hot and sunny, but we’re about to get a cold front that will being temps in the 60’s and rain. We’re on our way to reunite with our Haifa friends/family, and the kids are jumping out of their skin with excitement about the reunion. I’m sure we’ll have more to say about that tomorrow…
Pictures from the day…
Day 2 – Haifa
It rained cats and dogs last night, but the kids were nestled in their beds, comfy at their host homes. Everyone arrived to our morning of community service looking relatively bright eyed and bushy tailed. As you can see from the photos, we handled a lot of vegetables today! Every Thursday, kids from schools throughout Haifa gather to pack produce donated by Leket Israel to deliver to 300 families in Haifa in need of food. The whole operation is organized by teens. One of the teen organizers today is a current Diller Fellow and is good friends with a Rashi alum who is also in Diller! Our kids were part of working teams packaging up specific veggies, and then they formed assembly lines to package the produce all together. It’s an amazing experience, really fun, and everyone feels that they are making a difference in people’s lives.
After the food packing (which took almost three hours), we drove to the Grand Canyon, AKA the largest mall in Haifa (I had you wondering for a minute, right?). The Israelis showed your kids the mall, and many kids proudly displayed their new goods after lunch. We spent an hour of the afternoon doing a Jewish identity activity. The kids were broken into groups of 8 or 9 and given 14 Jewish values. They had to put them in order of most to least important, working as a group. The lists were each different and the discussion afterward was fascinating. I’ve posted a photo of one complete list and one partial list.
The kids and staff then went home for a bit of R&R before heading to the outskirts of Haifa for a night of pizza and bowling. They’re all mingling and having a great time. In fact, the reunion has been everything that I’d hoped it would be! The bonds that the kids formed in December are really strong, and getting even stronger here in Haifa.
On a different note, the staff from Rashi have already been awesome. They’re incredibly attentive to the kids without being overbearing, and they’re taking fabulous photos! We’re all having a good time. We’re also looking forward to a second night of sleep in a comfy bed!
Pictures from the day…
Day 3 – Leo Baeck and Atlit Detention Camp
This is always one of my favorite posts to write, because I will have come in after a wonderful morning with the students at Leo Baeck School and Atlit Detention Camp, then a relaxing lunch and a pre-Shabbat walk. Today is no different, and it is glorious! The sky is blue, the air is amazingly clear (it’s been rainy, so that is nothing to take for granted), there is a moderate breeze and the city is quieting down for its own day of rest.
The day began at Leo Baeck, where the kids visited all of the 7th grade classrooms to talk up our wonderful partnership. This is an important (and challenging) experience for our kids, because the classes at Leo Baeck are about 40 students! But, it is our best recruiting tool for next year’s group of amazing Israelis. You can tell by this year’s group that we attract the best of the best! After the visit, I shared the news of the rockets in Tel Aviv. I assured the kids that they are completely safe, and checked for questions. They asked none and then went off to see the craziness of the 9:30 snack break at Leo Baeck middle school (imagine 1200 kids on their own for 20 minutes, with loud music playing on the PA system!).
We spent the next part of the morning at Atlit Detention Camp, where the British detained Jews who entered Israel illegally during the the 1940’s until 1948 (during the British Mandate period). It’s a fascinating place that tells a painful story of a time when Jews were being denied entrance to Israel when we needed a home more than ever. The photo of the group in front of an old plane is also from that camp. The plane was used by brave Jewish pilots to fly into Iraq and rescue 100 Jews at a time, then fly into Israel, all without being caught by either the Iraqi or the British governments.
After Atlit, kids went off for a relaxing afternoon before Shabbat. The Rashi staff went out to lunch and did some exploring around town, and I met up with last year’s Shinshins Bar and Shira!!! They are both in their army service and had the weekend at home. It was wonderful to catch up with them, and to be hosted for a while in their city. This evening we will gather at Ohel Avraham, the Reform Temple affiliated with the Leo Baeck School. There we will enjoy Shabbat services and a delicious pot-luck dinner. It’s always a wonderful evening, and Bar and Shira are going to join us for a bit!
Tomorrow is a real Shabbat, a day of rest and fun for all. The weather is not screaming beach, but I know the kids will enjoy themselves no matter what they do. It’s lovely to see how much they enjoy being together.
Pictures from the day…
Day 4 – Shabbat in Haifa
Shavuah tov! Despite the rain, thunder, lightening, HAIL and wind, your kids all had a wonderful Shabbat! I saw them tonight at the party at the Leo Baeck school, laughing, joking with their friends, and looking great! Some of them had big adventures today like going to Acco, an Arab port city with lots of cool historical sites and shops or going to an awesome science museum in Haifa. Some had smaller adventures like going to a movie, out to lunch or for the best ice cream in Haifa. Most importantly, they are happy, safe, and secure.
The party tonight started with snacks and then falafel, made on the spot. It was really delicious and the kids gobbled it up. We added some pasta and pizza, just for good measure. After dinner, kids got t-shirts with a logo designed by Josh. The shirts are phenomenal, and every kid got a fabric marker and signed the shirts of every other kid. It’s a really fun tradition that we do every year. At the end of the party, we made announcements about tomorrow and said that at 3:00, the Leo Baeck kids will return to Haifa. We got loud and extended boos and hisses. To my Israeli colleagues and me, that is the ultimate sign of success.
Now the kids are home, getting packed and ready for bed. Tomorrow is a big day. We start in Tzippori, a Jewish city that assimilated to Roman culture as a way of surviving the Roman siege of Israel in the first century CE. It’s a fabulous place to see and explore, and it provides great fodder for discussion about assimilation and acculturation today. I’ve never taken Israeli kids there with Rashi kids, and I think it will be a cool conversation. After that, we head to the Elite chocolate factory, followed by lunch and farewells. The Israelis will head back to Haifa while we will make our way to Kibbutz Gadot, a beautiful and bucolic kibbutz on the banks of the Jordan River.
I’m delighted to say that things have been very calm here in Israel. The incidents in Tel Aviv from Thursday night are now past news, and though our travel company is still closely monitoring the situation vis-a-vis the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, it looks as though we will be able to safely continue our trip as planned. As always, the safety and security of our group is top priority, and we will make every decision carefully and with that in mind.
I hope that you have enjoyed your Shabbat, which I hear gave you better weather than we had here.
Pictures from today…
Day 5 – Kibbutz Gadot
Shalom from Kibbutz Gadot, a beautiful Kibbutz on the banks (Gadot) of the Jordan River. This place is a feast for the senses, with more trees, flowers and fragrances than any of us Bostonians have experienced in a while. I love it here, and I think the kids do, too.
We began the day in Haifa with the Israelis. An hour’s bus ride brought us to the clear air and stunning vistas of Tzippori. After a morning snack, we visited a 5th century synagogue. The floor is a Mosaic, filled with graven images and the zodiac! It doesn’t make sense since the Ten Commandments expressly forbid graven images… Until we learned that the Jews of Tzippori choose to assimilate to Roman culture rather than fight (and lose to) Rome’s massive army. This led to a phenomenal discussion about assimilation today (held in a Roman theater in the middle of the ancient town), where kids astutely observed that American Jews are more assimilated but often also more Jewishly committed than Israeli Jews. I was so proud to see all of the kids being so thoughtful about their Jewish identities.
After Tzippori we visited the Elite chocolate factory. The tour wasn’t fabulous (there were no Oompa Loompas to be seen), but it was salvaged when a huge pile of wrapped chocolates came falling down a chute for the kids to grab and enjoy.
From there, kids enjoyed a wonderful and weepy final hour together with lunch, hugging, and LOTS OF TEARS. It was an incredible, successful gathering, and I have no doubt that your kids have Israeli friends for life.
We took a tour of our Kibbutz before dinner, and now the kids are playing organized games with Cheli, our logistics and fun coordinator. Bedtime is early tonight as tomorrow brings a hike, some fascinating sites from Israel’s modern wars and conflicts, and plenty of fresh air.
Photos from today…
Day 6 – Tel Aviv
Shalom from Tel Aviv, Israel’s most modern and bustling city. Before I share any details about the day, I have our first student report. Read and enjoy! I’ll add some color commentary after.
Today is March 18. So far we have eaten a scrumptious breakfast of eggs, cereal, and avocado toast…mmmmmm. After that, we got on the bus and took off for our next adventure. On the way to our hike, we stopped at Mitzpei Gadot to look at the view of where the kibbutz we stayed at was located. After an hour of pure fun hiking, we decided to take a quick nosh break to fill our tummies. Yum! Next, we continued on with our hike and enjoyed a fulfilling view at the top. We then got back on the bus and stopped at the Syrian Headquarters from the Six Day War, which was truly an enriching experience! We all happily jumped back onto the bus where we traveled to our lunch destination, the best meal so far for many. This included shawarma, falafel, israeli salad, hummus, etc. Coincidentally, we saw Sean Wilder while we were scarfing down our meal-WOW! Currently, we are riding to our next destination, youth hostel B’nei Dan, located in Tel Aviv. We are positive we will have an extraordinary time there. We love & miss you all–don’t have too good of a time without us!By Talia and Sasha
Great day, right? Mitzpei Gadot used to be a Syrian bunker from which the Syrians lobbed rockets on the kibbutzniks below. We actually saw a giant hole that a rocket had blown in a building (back in the 1960’s) on our kibbutz.
The hike was along the Banias river, which, because of the incredibly wet and, on Mt. Hermon, snowy winter, was absolutely ROARING. Along the trail were fig trees just starting to produce their fruit, and more flowers than one can imagine. Because it was such a wet winter, Israel is in bloom like I’ve never seen it in all of my 20 years coming here. There are yellow mustard flowers as far as the eye can see, as well as bright red poppies and purple flowers that remain nameless to me. Even the grass looks greener and taller than ever. It really felt as if we were walking through Eden. The kids were spirited and happy on the hike, and the food stop was for delicious Druze pita filled with chocolate spread or the more traditional Israeli combination of labne, za’atar and olive oil.
After the hike, and another snack for the kids, we went to the Syrian army headquarters from pre-1967. The building is structurally sound but bombed out, and covered in graffiti. The view was incredible. First of all, the large white mountain that you will see in the photos is Mt. Hermon. Second, it’s so close to the Syrian border (probably a quarter mile or less) that you can really see right into the country. The kids marveled at how peaceful and bucolic Syria looked from our vantage point, knowing that the fighting was still so fierce in the cities.
I think the rest of the report from Talia and Amanda sums it up quite nicely. It was an awesome coincidence to see Sean Wilder and his sisters. It goes to show you just how small Israel can feel. On a related note, our bus driver for the past few days is a man named Chaim. Chaim LOVES kids- he is patient and kind and really loves being a bus driver. Not only has Chaim driven Rashi groups around Israel for the past 10 years, but he was actually the driver for Dave Rosenberg’s NFTY group when Dave was a teen, over 20 years ago. I request Chaim every year, and we are always so happy to see each other. Still, he was crestfallen when he found out that his buddy Dave was not with us this year. So, today we arranged a time for Dave to call Chaim so that they could catch up (entirely in Hebrew) for a few minutes. Chaim is also especially smitten with Patrick, calling him Ginger and saying that next year he should come on the trip with Dave. This is what happens when you come to Israel: you meet people and you become family.
With that, I leave you to enjoy the many photos of your kids and to imagine them enjoying an ice cream cone at Tel Aviv’s beautiful and hip port before hitting the hay for a good night of sleep. Tomorrow: The Blind Museum, lunch at the famous and fabulous Sarona Market, The Rabin Center and a special visit to the Jaffa Institute, run by Maayan’s uncle. Tired yet? Not us!
Pictures from today…
Day 7 – Tel Aviv
I’m delighted to say that our day’s authors summed up almost the whole adventure. I’ll tag on a bit after them.
It is Tuesday, March 19th, and our day has been nothing but eventful in the best ways so far! We started off with our first morning at our youth hostel in Tel Aviv and ate a delicious breakfast of eggs, croissants, fresh fruit, and more. Then, after making our way onto our bus, we drove to “Dialogue in the Dark.” This was a museum experienced in pitch black, mimicking the life and experience of a visually impaired/blind individual. It was truly a moving and unique experience that we all cherished greatly. We then headed over for an amazing lunch at a local food market with a variety of delicious cuisines! Next, we drove to the Yitzhak Rabin Museum and learned a lot through the experience. After the tour, we engaged in a group conversation where everyone got the chance to share their opinions on given topics. As the day proceeded on, we met up with Maayan Magaziner’s uncle, Yechiel, at the Jaffa Institute. There, we spent time playing around with small children and practicing our Hebrew skills from Rashi, too!! We closed off the day with a tasty meal at our hostel. Now, we are finishing our day by preparing and packing for our next adventures. We will see you all in less than a week!By Lexie, Abi, and Jill
One detail that the girls left out: when we got to our hostel, a family friend of Isaac and his family threw us a Purim party! Gila and her friend Shulamit are grandmothers (Gila’s grandson Michael Davis graduated from Rashi in 2010) who laid out such a spread of sweets for us, you wouldn’t believe it. Check out the pictures to see the spectacle for yourself. The kids were delighted and it was all lots of fun.
Now it’s off to bed for some much needed R&R ahead of our day in Jerusalem, our evening with the Bedouin and our night in a desert youth hostel, PLUS the next day climb up Masada, etc. Sometimes the cell signal is very weak out there, so you may not read a report from the kids and me tomorrow. I’ll find a way to check in with Jen so that she can tell you how happy we are.
Pictures from today…
Day 8 – Jerusalem
Shalom from Arad! It’s been an incredible, jam-packed day, and you’re stuck with my report because the kids are far too excited about climbing Masada in the morning to stop and write. We woke up early in Tel Aviv and were on the bus by 7:45! We drove to Jerusalem and began the day at The City of David. This is an archeological site that some believe was the actual Jerusalem palace of King David. You’ll see the incredible views of the Mount of Olives and the Silwan Valley that we had from the site, as well as the ruins of a 3,000 year old city. We actually saw, among many sites, an ancient toilet! Aside from being a bit funny, it also indicates how sophisticated that community would have been- in a time when most people did their business outside, these people had a primitive version of plumbing!
After learning the history, we walked through the 3,000+ year old water channel that enabled this city on a hill to flourish for many years. The walk through the tunnel is always fun. I walked behind a group of girls who sang one anthem after another, from “Let it Go” from Frozen to songs from A Star is Born to every pop song they could think of! It was awesome to feel their ruach (spirit). They also spent a significant amount of time wondering if Mr. Kerrigan was okay as the tunnel was not really built for him. I’m pleased to say that he loved it as well.
After this adventure, we headed into the excavation of the southern wall of the Temple Mount. There, we learned more about the ancient Temple and the siege of Jerusalem. From there we went to the Kotel, the western wall, where the kids spent a few moments with their own thoughts, and where they delivered the notes from the Rashi students. It was really powerful to see the kids take their mitzvah mission so seriously, placing each note tenderly into a crack in the ancient wall.
Next, we ate lunch. It was really hot, so many kids went straight for cold drinks and ice cream, then took care of real food. They really relish the times when we let them go and find their way a bit (always withing strict and clear parameters), and they come back with stories of what they ate, how they ordered or what they witnessed during the time. A 2+ hour bus ride brought us to the desert enclave of K’far HaNokdim, where they rode camels! Those photos will go up tomorrow as wifi is spotty here. The kids loved that experience, as well as our Bedouin style dinner and a Q&A session with a Bedouin man.
Now we’re bracing ourselves to go to sleep at 9 so that we can wake up at 3:30 and climb Masada! Tomorrow will be quite a day, but also quite a lot of fun. And, we’ll sleep on the bus and refresh when we get to Jerusalem.
Pictures from today…
Day 9 – Jerusalem
We’ve made it, to the last hostel, and the final stretch of our trip. I’m sitting in my hostel room, listening to a Purim party happening in the floor below, as almost every single one of your children is sound asleep. It’s 9:15! Read the message below (from Zack, Isaac, Avi, Wes, and Sam) to know why they’re all so tired.
Shalom from Jerusalem!
We have had a wonderful day from Masada, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem. With a very early wake up at 3:30 AM, we were able to eat a quick breakfast and start the hike up Masada. The whole group hiked up the Roman Path up to the top. It was crazy to think that over 2,000 years ago Roman soldiers were marching up the path planning to kill all the Jews living at Masada. We arrived up top just in time to see the beautiful sunrise over the desert. We had perfect weather with no clouds in sight. We learned all about the history of the Jews living on the mountain and were very impressed by the historic characters who came back from the dead! The hike down was much more intense on the Snake Path. Everybody made it and was excited to go swim in the Dead Sea.
It was a fun day, indeed.
When we swam in the Dead Sea, everyone floated without putting in any effort. The water almost felt like the experience of zero gravity, and the water did not even feel wet. Following the Dead Sea, the Rashi 8th graders all ate an amazing Israeli-style lunch.– Zack, Isaac, Avi, Wes, and Sam
When we got to Jerusalem, we found that the road to our hostel was closed because a VIP was visiting the US Consulate, located down the street. So, we walked a little more, with our luggage. The sense of perseverance among the kids was stellar, and they were happy to have 2+ hours to shower, unpack, and unwind in our new hostel. After an early dinner, we headed to Kehillat Har El, the oldest Reform temple in Jerusalem, for the Megillah reading. Not only were the kids really well behaved (which included making A LOT of noise when You-Know-Who’s name was said), but after it was done, they commented that the relatively small amount of schtick and then the really wonderful chanting of the whole megillah was actually pretty awesome, and, they said, better than what we do in America. While we may or may not agree, I appreciated that they were available to make such an astute observation in hour 17 of their day.
In truth, your kids have been sponges for much of the trip. They are listening attentively, thinking and participating in real and meaningful ways.
Tomorrow we will leave the ancient world behind for a historical and cultural tour of Tel Aviv. We’ll see some of the places where modern Israel began, and then enjoy the artisans of Nahalat Benyamin and the street vendors of the Carmel Market. It’s always a fun day as the kids enjoy the taste of modern life in the big city. And then, we’ll return to the quieting streets of Jerusalem for Shabbat at the Kotel (first a Rashi service on the egalitarian platform, then time at the Wall). I’m really looking forward to the peace and relative quiet of Shabbat, and to giving your kids a day of rest different than our typical Saturdays at home.
Pictures from today…
Day 10: Tel Aviv
After we returned to our hostel at 3 this afternoon, I slipped away for a few minutes to take a little walk as the city calmed down for Shabbat. On that walk, I saw Curious George, a caveman couple carrying a conked-out toddler over a shoulder (remember when your kids were that little?), several non-descript super heroes and a couple of clowns. The only child from among that crowd was the sleeping toddler!!! Israelis take Purim VERY seriously. I forgot to mention yesterday that when we visited the ancient synagogue atop Masada (one of only 6 found from the first temple period), we witnessed a bar mitzvah and Megillah reading. That was at 7:30 AM, which means that all of those men and women walked up there at 6:30 to celebrate a bar mitzvah and Purim in one of the oldest synagogues in the world.
Today was Tel Aviv. It was relatively quiet there when we arrived, and we had a wonderful walking tour of the original neighborhoods. The kids were especially impressed by two things. First, Tel Aviv was actually a sand dune with nothing on it. The founders of the city had some serious chutzpah to decide to build a city on sand, and the huge and bustling metropolis is a living, breathing monument to their vision and success. Second, they didn’t want to waste their money importing building supplies, so many of the original buildings are built from bricks made of sand and seashells, both of which were abundantly available a century ago.
After the tour, we hit the artist market Nachalat Benyamin and the open air market called Shuk Hacarmel. There, you can get every vegetable imaginable (with prices hollered over and over again). You can get all sorts of breads and sweets, falafel, Asian dumplings, smoothies, selfie sticks, inexpensive jewelry, sweatshirts, kitchen supplies, and the list goes on. And all of it is in the midst of a throng of people who are not rude, but definitely assertive about making their way through the space. The kids LOVED it and embraced it. Our tour guide Arbel gave them a mission to see what they could buy for two shekels, and the kids came back with all sorts of interesting finds and even better stories of how they found their finds. We also saw more extraordinary Purim costumes, though I was a bit dismayed to see not a single Mordechai, Esther, Vashti… Oh, well: modern times.
Now we’re getting ready for Shabbat. We’re all looking forward to a different pace for the next 26 hours. The kids slept like logs last night, and they have actually asked to have another early night tonight. The staff and I are happy to oblige!