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Senior Capstone Trip Blog

Dahlia Lehman
Dahlia Lehman '17

Week 11
by Dahlia Lehman '17

After a beautiful Shabbat at Kibbutz Yahel in the Arava region of the Negev, this week started the best way possible: with ice cream! After Shabbat ended, our madrichim took us out to the kibbutz that famously houses the best creamery in all of Israel. Even the most lactose-intolerant members of the group indulged, and I must admit that it was a delicious start to an amazing and packed week.

Fish pedicure in Israel

Sunday began with two hiking options, Har Tzfachot and Har Shlomo, both of which ended with beautiful views of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt. After trekking up, we dove down, snorkeling in the Red Sea. Some of the group's boldest members even opted to upgrade to an entry-level scuba dive. But the day had only just begun. We traveled to the Eilat boardwalk and were given a full afternoon of free time during which people chilled on the beach, went boating and parasailing, and shopped. I personally took the opportunity to get a fish pedicure at a not-at-all sketchy kiosk in the Eilat mall with some friends, which wasn't quite as glamorous as they made it out to be on Teen Nick. The day ended with a disco boat party on the water -- think bar mitzvah meets cruise ship -- which was a blast.

On Monday and Tuesday we continued to explore the Negev region, visiting the Red Canyon, Ben Gurion's house in Sde Boker, a Bedouin tent (yay camel riding!), and the "salad trail" where we tasted all sorts of freshly grown produce. Gotta make up for all of that kibbutz ice cream somehow!

After returning to campus in Hod Hasharon, on Wednesday and Thursday we took a different kind of trek. We explored the extremely complicated topic of geopolitical borders in Jerusalem, learning about the topic inside the classroom on Wednesday and then going out to the physical places about which we had learned on Thursday. And of course, we couldn't go to Jerusalem without visiting the site of an even more charged conflict, the basketball rivalry between Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabee Haifa. The game was an absolute blast, and we all left cheering, "Yalla Hapoel" like born-and-bred fans.

On Friday we chilled on the beach in Herzliyya and got ready for a much needed restful Shabbat before Yam el Yam, the cross-country hike that looms ahead. Fittingly, our grade decided to have a pajama-themed Shabbat where everyone sported their favorite and most comfortable PJs. As my roommates and I got out our elephant pants, however, it was hard to ignore the elephant in the room (no pun intended). "Can you believe that we only have ten days left here?" one of my friends finally said. And it's true, the end of this incredible journey is finally nearing. But given the amount of adventures that we've been able to fit into just one day--**cough cough** this past Sunday--I have no doubt that these last ten days will be nothing short of remarkable.


Camel riding

sand dunes




Joel Vardon
Joel Vardon '17

Week 10
by Joel Vardon '17

This week was full of transitions. We kicked off the week by returning from our free weekends to our kibbutzim and commemorating fallen soldiers and the victims of terrorism for Yom Hazikaron. It's quite difficult to flip the switch and fathom the tragedies of war twelve hours after you were slurping down a slushie at Herzliyya Beach. This made me question the "proper" way to remember and cope with death. Am I a bad person for not crying when the person to my left is? I realized that is not the correct mindset. When the siren sounded, I wasn't feeling sad, but I was feeling love. That's bizarre right? Israel does a tremendous job of finding a balance between glorifying death and being overly mournful of death. I did not want to treat the soldiers like martyrs because I feel if everyone did that more soldiers would be encouraged to die. I was also not overflowing with negative emotion because the truth is I don't think the people who died want us to be so outrageously sad for them. I have the right and the blessing to stand next to my best friends in the best country on earth (I would say tied with America) because of their sacrifices. Those soldiers want the people to feel intense passion for the State of Israel. Overall, death is a place where the mind struggles to go, and maybe that's why I always have internal conflicts on days like these.

Yom Ha'atzmaut in Israel

The following day was Yom Ha'atzmaut, which was another quick transition from a day of remembrance to a day of celebration. Israel goes hard. Let's put it like that. The night before the actual day of Yom Ha'atzmaut was an experience of a lifetime. Kibbutzim Hazorea, the kibbutz I was on, and Givat Oz went to a concert in Haifa. There was not a block that wasn't covered in blue and white. On 4th of July in America, families usually do their own thing by having barbecues or attending firework shows and baseball games. Those are great traditions, and I am not bashing them whatsoever, but in Israel everyone comes together to celebrate. The street we were on, you could barely walk with ages ranging from 4 to 70. The dancing was so much fun, the food was delicious, and the incredible turnout proved just how much Israelis love their country.

I can tie the theme of selflessness to my overall experience at Kibbutz Hazorea. There is a significant difference between how I live my life back home to how I lived my life at the kibbutz. Everyday at home I wake up with the motivation of myself in mind. I fix or buy all three meals for myself, maybe go to the gym, shoot some hoops, read a book or watch a movie. None of those actions are to be considered selfish, but it is a mindset that is not compatible with the kibbutz life. Every morning the reason I woke up on kibbutz was to do something for the community or other people. I was either painting a fence so the kibbutz can look a little more colorful, creating new paths to allow the community to get around more efficiently, cleaning a cemetery, or in the kitchen making meals for the group. I just imagined how this lifestyle could be translated to the world around us. What if everyone woke up with the incentive of helping other people? How much better would the world be?



Annie Grimley
Annie Grimley '17

Week 9
by Annie Grimley '17

So far, the volunteer period has been incredibly relaxed at my kibbutz, Giv'at Oz. We've had many movie nights, bonding exercises, and homemade dinners. It feels like the closest to home I've gotten in the past two months, even though it is such a different lifestyle than the one I normally lead. Rather than learning all day, doing homework all night, and eating whatever I am given, I work in the morning, relax in the afternoon, and help provide dinner for everyone. Being a part of such a close-knit community has been a vital, strangely satisfying experience.

We began this week with Erev Yom HaShoah, the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day. My kibbutz job at the granola factory was cancelled due to a power outage, so my first day of work became my first day off. That night, we all attended a tekes (ceremony) organized by the kibbutz, which was founded by Shoah survivors. Surprisingly, considering the origins of the kibbutz, the tekes held little meaning for me. It seemed oddly natural for the residents, rather than a once-a-year type of ceremony into which we put so much effort at JDS. There was also the language barrier, which kept me from understanding at least half of what was said. Even so, it was interesting to see the Shoah from another point of view—one where the Shoah is so present in everyday life that a tekes feels natural. In a place like Kibbutz Giv'at Oz, every day is Yom HaShoah because one is constantly surrounded by survivors.

Working at the granola factory

The next day was Yom HaShoah itself, during which I finally had my first day of work. I met my boss, put on my hairnet and apron, and got to work packaging granola. It's a relatively easy job and our boss is lenient, so we are allowed to talk and listen to music while we work. Unlike people working some of the other jobs, we are allowed to have afternoons off whenever we want, so my week has been very relaxed.

The morning I got my job, a siren sounded throughout the kibbutz. At first, having admittedly forgotten about Yom HaShoah, I wondered if the siren signified a fire or an air raid. Then the whole world seemed to stand still. After a minute, we all went back to our jobs as though nothing had happened. I didn't realize it at the time, but in hindsight, this was a giant punch in the face to the Nazis; we remembered and mourned our dead, but we did not let our past deter us from working.

Even on this day of remembrance, we played our part in running the only Jewish state in the world. I believe that that action wholly embodies the spirit of Israel, which rose from the ashes of the Shoah and continues to function normally every day in spite of threats from its enemies. For me, that realization was more enlightening than any tekes I could've attended. I'm glad I got to be in Israel on Yom HaShoah, and I hope everyone else had a day as meaningful as mine, whether it was here or back in the United States. I look forward to another amazing week at Giv'at Oz and Yom Ha'atzmaut in Haifa!

Paintball at the kibbutz




Miriam Minsk
Miriam Minsk '17

Week 8
by Miriam Minsk '17

After what felt like a short break and a pretty easy Passover (probably because of all the potato bread available in Israel), it was exciting to return to Muss on Tuesday afternoon. I really enjoyed spending time with my immediate family and my cousins over the holiday and came back prepared to take on our next Israeli adventure: volunteer period.

For volunteer period our grade split up into four different groups, three of which went to various kibbutzim, and one which went to work on an ecological farm. Since Wednesday I've been living on Kibbutz Kramim, which is just northeast of Beer Sheva, with 18 of my classmates.

Volunteer period at Kibbutz Kramim

We had a tractor tour on our first day at Kramim, where we were introduced to the fields, horses, solar panels, paintball, community center, chadar ochel, and informal education buildings and drove by homes of many of the kibbutz's residents. Kramim is a relatively new kibbutz, established in 1980, and currently has 80 families living here. After a lovely introduction to the kibbutz we cooked dinner for ourselves and prepared for a day of work in informal education, landscaping, and the fields.

On Thursday night we ate dinner and played a game with the mechina (Israel pre-army program) that lives on the kibbutz, and I found it interesting to interact with Israelis who are around our age. The ones who I talked to were curious about my plans for the future and were excited to share their experiences studying and traveling with the mechina as well. One mentioned that he is enlisting in the IDF for seven years since he will be holding a very elite position that requires intense training. This caught my attention because while we're obviously familiar with the mandatory IDF draft for Israelis at the age of 18, it was interesting to see firsthand how Israelis are enthusiastic about pausing their lives to serve their country, while back in America we will be preparing to go to college.

On Friday afternoon we were welcomed into the home of an American family who made aliyah in 2004 and lives on Kibbutz Kramim. There we baked challah with the mother and her daughter, which was relaxing and also smelled so delicious. While at their home I noticed that the kids, and even the dogs, were running around the kibbutz without adult supervision, which I found to be really beautiful. Because Kramim is such a tight-knit and secure community, there's a unique sense of freedom and independence that the children experience at such a young age.

We had Shabbat dinner at the same house as a group and split up for Shabbat lunch to go to a few different host families, where we had the opportunity to learn more about families' motivations to move to Kramim and their experiences since they've arrived.

The Kibbutz Kramim community has been super welcoming so far, and I'm looking forward to enjoying everything else it has to offer over the next week!



Jared Horwitz
Jared Horwitz '17

Week 6
by Jared Horwitz '17

"The enemy is 130 meters away!" our commanders shout, and I immediately drop flat to the ground, legs positioned for maximum balance as I was taught only a day before, weapon nestled against my shoulder, aimed straight ahead. The commander asks us if we are on target, and a moment later comes the key command: Fire! I squeeze the plastic water bottle I'm holding to my shoulder and mimic the firing motion of a gun. Nearby, I hear a fellow "soldier" make sound effects to himself as he pretends to shoot. The desert sun is beating down hard on my neck and the front of my standard issue uniform is covered in dirt.

Class of 2017 Gadna training

This week at Muss was the much anticipated Gadna (Israeli military experience) week, plus one day spent exploring south Tel Aviv and volunteering nearby.

Gadna was an interesting experience, which had its positives and negatives like anything else on the trip. I would never try to deny the negative aspects: there were many hours spent waiting in the hot sun, a number of below-average meals, uncomfortable beds, and a lack of real physical challenges or fun activities, not even to mention that some people's wallets and phones were stolen. But even in the face of these discomforts and drawbacks, there were many good takeaways from Gadna, and those are the moments I want to remember.

I want to remember the nervousness and excitement of shooting a gun for the first time. I want to remember the pride and camaraderie I felt when I saw units of kids I've known since I was 5 years-old snap into attention like trained professionals. I want to remember sitting in army fatigues, drinking chocolate milk out of a bag, complaining about military inefficiency like real Israelis. Gadna was uncomfortable, intentionally uncomfortable, and the last thing I want to remember about it is the feeling of relief when we finished and finally drove away.

Class of 2017 Gadna training

The day after Gadna ended, we had a fun but hectic volunteering effort with Hoops for Kids. The kids ran all over the place, and we gained new appreciation for our counselors as we tried to keep them in check. Then, we saw south Tel Aviv, learning about the more impoverished neighborhoods and at-risk youth. As we had our summarizing discussion, a random little boy from the playground joined our circle. He would make faces to entertain the group, and became so fond of our teacher Elchanan that when we got up to leave, he hugged on to Elhanan and wouldn't let go. It was a cute scene, but we did finally head off in our buses; it was time for Pesach break! Thanks for reading!





Joel Vardon
Joel Vardon '17

Week 5
by Joel Vardon '17

This was a momentous week for me as for the first time I really started to feel immersed in Israeli culture. As an American tourist I really only see Israel through a narrow lens. However, the goal of this week was to enlarge our lenses and understand the different perspectives of Modern Israel. Our week kicked off with a visit to Givat Haviva, a non-profit institute devoted to creating peaceful Jewish-Arab dialogue and an eventual shared society. It was important that we put aside our political agendas and focus on the message that every citizen of Israel matters regardless of race or religion.

Save a Child's Heart

On Monday, we visited three different spots of Israel. We toured the Shafdan wastewater treatment plant in Rishon Lezion, which has significantly contributed to solving Israel's water problem. We participated in Dialogue in the Dark, which was an exhibit that forced us to experience what it is like to be visually impaired. And finally, we met with Save a Child's Heart, an organization that operates on kids from developing countries with different heart diseases that cannot receive adequate treatment. What all of these sites had in common is that they were started by one person's idea, which was inspiring for our generation to take action on our ideas.

We had a similar experience the next day as we heard from an American entrepreneur living in Israel and toured DSP, an Israeli high tech company that designs wireless chips.The chutzpah engrained in Israeli society is extraordinary and not a coincidence. I thought to myself that it required a lot of chutzpah to gain Israel in the first place as the only real investors and developers of the land were ourselves. Jews built Israel from the ground up to what it is today because of sheer hard work and a sense of innovation.

Rocket casings in Sderot

On Wednesday, we visited Sderot, a small town along the Gaza border (around 1 kilometer away) with a population of approximately 23,000 people. I was really impressed with the residents Sderot. Over the last 8 years, 10,000 rockets have been launched in the direction of sderot (sderotmedia.org.il). I feel the citizens of Sderot are making a very important statement and epitomize true zionism. If Hamas can't kill Israeli citizens, they want to affect the lives of as many Israeli citizens as they can. However, Sderot remains unfazed. In fact, housing prices there are skyrocketing and there is new construction throughout the city. Getting back at terrorism does not necessarily mean firing as many rockets as we can into Gaza but living our lives normally in the brink of terror can be the best revenge.

On Thursday, we met with a representative from J Street, a representative from the Likud party, and a representative from Peace Now. Without delving into my personal politics or what each platform stands for, an interesting thought went through my mind. I find it wild how heated each side gets when they both want an end goal of peace. In my opinion, being Pro-Israel is supporting peace regardless of how you think we can achieve that peace. The second half of our day was a meeting with Jerusalem U, which prepared us for the rising anti-Semitism on college campuses and how to combat that anti-Semitism. For basically my whole life, I've been with people who share my views and support Israel, so to potentially face a large crowd that has completely contrasting views of Israel will truly test my love for Israel.

Shabbat in Tel Aviv was incredible. We had Shabbat services and Havdalah on a platform overlooking the beach for the Friday night and Saturday night sunset. I will leave it up to your imagination to what that looks like, but it was stunning. Additionally, we were given a lot of free time on the beach, which allowed me to do some self-reflection. I was dipping my feet in the Mediterranean Sea as I wondered what it means to be thankful. I am standing in one of the most beautiful spots in the world with perfect health, I have the most amazing people standing right behind me, I am about to go to college for the next four years, and I have two parents who love me. Who do I thank? How do I properly thank someone? Is just saying thank you fair compensation for all of these blessings? I challenge people to be really thankful for what they have and figure out what it truly means to be thankful, because I have no idea.

Sunset in Tel Aviv


Annie Grimley
Annie Grimley '17

Week 4
by Annie Grimley '17

The emotional roller coaster of Europe officially continued on Sunday as we began our week with Auschwitz after a mellow Shabbat. This day was very personal for me and many others, as a relative of mine, Lucie Gottlieb, was murdered in Birkenau. From the very beginning, a dark cloud hung above my head. I tried to remain calm on the bus, but my eyes were drawn to the train tracks that paralleled our path to Auschwitz. The first part of the day was a tour of Auschwitz I, the part of the camp reserved for prisoners, led by one of the museum's guides. Many of us did not appreciate this part of the day for its focus on hard facts over individual stories, especially in such a disturbing place. At one point I ran through a particularly terrifying room full of human hair from Shoah victims. I waited outside for everyone else, trying to fathom the thought that my relative's hair might have been stacked carelessly in that pile.

When we finished Auschwitz I, we took the bus to Birkenau, the part of Auschwitz notorious for the extermination of over a million people. The first place we went was the latrine, which still bore a stench I can't quite describe. We were told many prisoners committed suicide by drowning themselves here, so much so that one would usually find at least a dead body a day. Next were the women's barracks. The building we saw smelled of sickness, and I could tell why: The bunks had three levels, lacked mattresses, and were meant to fit so many women that one couldn't roll over without crushing a fellow prisoner. Next, we made the long trek from the train tracks to the gas chambers in total silence. The air seemed to swallow us, and the wind blew spirits through the camp. Suddenly, if I looked hard enough, I could see my family and all those who had walked the path before me. As I was guided along the trail to death, I wept for those who never left the camp.

Next, we reached a small, eerily beautiful pond. It turned sinister when we realized that the ashes of thousands of Hungarian Jews were concealed in its depths. We sat around the pond and mourned. For many, this was the most difficult part of the day. Afterwards, we left stones on graves and went to see the remains of the Nazis' storehouses. In these buildings, they kept various items stolen from Jewish victims. We were told that it is still easy to find items lying in the dirt and warned not to take anything (it's now an offense that warrants jail time). You can decide whether we heeded that warning.

Finally, we concluded the day with a tekkes, a ceremony. A few classmates shared family stories about the Holocaust and lit memorial candles. At long last, we hauled our freezing limbs along the tracks and to the buses. It took a long time to warm up.

The next day was Majdanek, a camp that was arguably more cruel than Auschwitz and harder for some to visit. After a long bus ride, we walked into the creepiest place I'd seen in my entire life. Majdanek was mostly intact, which made it easier to picture the disgusting forms of torture the Nazis would inflict on their prisoners. We walked through a gas chamber and saw a large pile of bones and ash left by the Nazis. As I looked out into the distance, I could spot a town on one side of the camp and a cemetery on the other. We were told that the town's residents witnessed the atrocities and did nothing, which made me wonder why their dead had been buried with dignity and ours had been tossed out like trash. All I felt the entire time was seething anger.

Our last day in Poland, following a night in Lublin, began with a four-hour bus ride to Warsaw. When we arrived, we walked around a cemetery and saw various historic Jewish areas. The last site we visited was a double-sided memorial. One side depicted the orchestrators of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and symbolized the Jewish community's small victories in the face of peril. The other depicted Jews walking to their deaths in the camps and symbolized our devastating losses. On the latter side, there stood a small child who looked back at us and pierced our souls. His gaze sent a message: Enjoy Israel, but don't take it for granted. Don't forget me and the future I could have had. When we returned to Israel the next day, I kept his silent words in my head. The moment we passed over Tel Aviv, I felt a rush of emotions. I felt fortunate to have a country that would protect me unconditionally, yet sad that those who perished in the Shoah never got to see it. I thought of my family, the families of my classmates, and the countless others who were deprived of the view I had from the airplane window.

Just when I thought we'd escaped Europe, we visited a British Displaced Persons camp to learn about Aliyah Bet. The camp was disgustingly similar to the concentration camps we'd visited, and its presence in Israel reminded me that our journey as Jews never ends. We might escape danger one day only to face it the next in a new form. The difference nowadays is that we have the State of Israel, and therefore the ability to fight back. Our final stop for the week was Independence Hall, where Israel declared its independence. I felt proud and secure as we sang Hatikvah, but once again, I saw the little boy from the memorial, reminding me never to forget the past. I have no doubt that Europe has changed us and given us a better appreciation for Israel, but even so... See you never, Poland.


Miriam Minsk
Miriam Minsk '17

Week 3
by Miriam Minsk '17

From celebrating Purim in Tel Aviv last Sunday to visiting a destroyed synagogue in Tarnow shortly before Shabbat, this past week was truly an emotional roller coaster. And, as much as we prepared for our trip to Europe by learning about the Holocaust in Jewish history class sophomore year and discussing our expectations during our visit to Yad Vashem last week, our Europe trip thus far has been more powerful and mind-boggling than I could've ever imagined.

Obviously we've done a lot this week as a grade, but I want to focus on two moments specifically, the first of which was our visit to Terezin on Wednesday. Terezin is located an hour and ninety minutes outside of Prague, and was a ghetto camp to which most of the Czech Jews were sent in 1941. Jews weren't exterminated there, and instead many of them died from starvation and illness because of the horrific living conditions. What was so shocking to me, though, was that Terezin was a beautiful town. It was colorful and well-kept, contrary to the previous conception that I had of the Holocaust ghettos and concentration camps from all of the white and black pictures that I've seen over the years. During WWII the Judenrat actually had some level of control in Terezin, to the extent that one Jew was mayor of the town for two straight years, so it had a strong culture of spiritual and religious resistance.

After walking around the town, we all squished into a small hidden shul where the Jews prayed in secret everyday. There we davened mincha together, and sang "אם אשכחך ירושלים, תשכח ימיני" ("If I forget Jerusalem, forget my right hand"). These words were written on the wall in the synagogue, and were proof that even in the darkest parts of Jewish history we've always remembered and looked towards Jerusalem. This was moving for me because only two weeks ago we stood at the Western Wall together, the place to which the Jews in Terezin sent their prayers. And now, we sang in memory of those Jews who couldn't live to see Jerusalem or the kotel. Singing together and bringing life back to that now empty shul was such a powerful spiritual experience.

A few days later, we visited Buczyna Forest in Poland where 7,000 Jews and Poles were murdered. There we had time to reflect individually and walk around the mass graves that remain. Of course many thoughts went through my head as I tried to comprehend the fact that the tall, beautiful trees I saw as I looked up were the same ones so many Jews saw immediately before their death. In Judaism trees represent life, "עץ חיים," so it seemed odd to me that what should've be a forest full of life and happiness was instead plagued by death.

800 of the 7,000 people who were murdered at Buczyna were children. After our personal reflections, we gathered as a group to discuss and commemorate the lives of the children who perished there. ",ילד של אבא" a song that many of us learned in Hebrew class that discusses a father's hopes for his son, was playing in the background from other Jewish groups that were visiting the forest as well. That song, which always represented happiness and growth for me, now prompted negative emotions as I commemorated the lives of the children who couldn't grow up and accomplish all of their dreams.

Before we left Buczyna I read my parents' letter to me about how successful Jews have been in the last seventy years since the Holocaust, and the mark that Jews have left and continue to leave on the world. Despite the tragic events of the Holocaust and WWII, we must let our Jewish strength and resilience serve as the defining moments of our identity.

This week was not easy, but as we continue onto our last few days of this Eastern European journey I look forward to learning more about myself as a Jew, furthering connecting to my Jewish roots, and continuously strengthening my Jewish identity.



Bennett Bramson
Bennett Bramson '17

Week 2
by Bennett Bramson '17

Sitting in total darkness on a rock in a cave from the time of the Bar Kochba revolt, all I can think is that my butt hurts. Our tour guide, Elhanan, told us to remain silent for one minute. When the minute elapsed and I thought I could move, Elhanan began to sing. At first I was annoyed because that meant more intimate time with the rock, but then something changed. Soon enough, similar to our experience in Hezekiah's Tunnel, everyone was singing. For fifteen more minutes, we sat in the cave on the rocks singing every Jewish song we know. I was so invested in the moment that I forgot about that rock. By the end of the exercise, I felt more connected to the land than ever before. And that is how our second week began.

2017 Senior Trip - TzfatThe next morning we visited Beit Shearim and the tomb of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the compiler of the Mishnah. We then went on an amazing spiritual journey in Tzfat. We met with a local man, Avraham, who is a Kabbalistic painter. He taught us about the Kabbalah and pushed many JDS students to find a spiritual connection through the Kabbalah. Later that night, we had a meaningful conversation about what we really thought. Some people, like me, reject the Kabbalah completely; others accept it all; and some people value some concepts but not others. Although the conversation did not change my mind about the Kabbalah, it gave me a new appreciation for JDS. The fact that we were able to have a thorough conversation about an advanced topic in Hebrew (HEBREW!!!) speaks to the intellectualness and overall preparedness that a JDS education provides. That day ended with free time and a sleepover in Tzfat.

Nahal Tavor

As what was supposed to be our first hike got rained out, Tuesday marked our first real hike of the trip. We hiked through the Nahal Tavor, a valley in the North, and went cliff diving. While hiking, we had a brief run in with a herd of cows. All I can say about that is many of us saw things that no person should ever have to see. Anyway, at the end of the hike, we had to climb an extremely steep hill. I was convinced our madrichim were trying to kill us, but once we got to the top I realized it was worthwhile. What. A. View. Here is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote later that day:

As I sit on the edge of the cliff...I keep looking around, searching for a sign of Israel, but instead am reminded of everywhere but Israel. Then I...listen. I hear the sounds of Israeli children playing and talking. That is when I realize that Israel is a collection of different cultures and people from around the world who have come together for one reason: we are, for the most part, all Jews.

Wednesday was "pluralism day." We met with a Hasidic man, a reform rabbi, and a founder of the Women of the Wall group. Each provided a different perspective on Judaism. The Hasidic man challenged all of my basic beliefs about Judaism when he told us that it is better not to be a Jew at all than to practice non-Haredi Judaism. On the bus ride back, we talked about his presentation and concluded that we cannot judge him as he truly believes that everything in which he believes is the word of G-d. Haredim choose faith over logic and that is a choice we have to respect. I related more to the other speakers as they were more progressive and spoke to my personal beliefs.

Thursday we visited Yad Vashem. This was my third visit, so I did not expect it to be emotional. While I was right in that most of the content did not overwhelm me, I was wrong in that it was emotional. At one point we stopped to watch a video of first-person accounts of the camps. One woman's story stayed with me. She revealed that upon discovering she was pregnant, she tried to kill her baby. She explained that she could not tolerate the crying of the babies already alive in the barracks. Eventually, despite her efforts, the baby was born. I wonder if that baby survived. After an extremely sad and moving day, ironically the nightcap was our Purim party. I was shocked at how quickly we were able to move from solemn and depressed to joyous and energetic.

The next morning we exchanged goodbyes and left for our first free weekend!

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Don't forget to also check out two photoblogs from members of the Class of 2017:

Family, Faith & Falafel by Joey Rushfield and Ezra Gershman

2017 Senior Trip by Mollie Milchberg and friends

Dahlia Lehman
Dahlia Lehman '17

Week 1
by Dahlia Lehman '17

Shavua tov from Kvish 6!

As I write this on the bus from Jerusalem back to Hod Hasharon, the buzz of reminiscence surrounds me and my sleepy friends. So much has happened in the past five days, and I'm definitely not alone in my feeling that we've already been here for weeks.

Welcome to IsraelThis past week and the coming week are meant to kick off the trip by providing a foundational understanding of Israel, its landscape, and its history. We started off the week on Tuesday hiking Tel Gezer and learning about the ethical dilemmas of Abraham. The next day, we hiked Mount Gilboa and swam in hot springs in the north. On Thursday, we learned about the ancient temples in Jerusalem and meditated in the Negev, and on Friday we hiked Masada and floated in the Dead Sea. But the itinerary alone can tell about the broad range of things we have done and seen in the past few days. What is less apparent at a basic glance is their role as a culmination of our JDS careers.

While the unique closeness of the Class of 2017 has been clear for years, the beginning of our Israel trip has solidified my personal appreciation for the spirit of our grade. In this vein, several moments from this week stand out to me, the first of which took place on Wednesday. The weather that day happened to be slightly less than "sababa," but that definitely did not keep us from having an amazing day. While we were unfortunately unable to go to Sachne springs because of the cold and rain, our amazing teaching staff and madrichim arranged for us to change plans last minute and go 50 minutes east to the Hamat Gader hot springs. What could've become a weather crisis for another group turned into an exciting and spontaneous adventure for our class. And as we all swam through the hot springs, I don't think anyone was disappointed about the last minute change of plans.

Hezekiah's tunnel

My second highlight is from the day after -- our historical tour of Jerusalem -- and similarly shed light on what makes our grade so special. As we trudged through Hezekiah's tunnel, a water tunnel in the City of David, one of our tour guides, Elhanan, proposed that we all turn off our flashlights and revert to complete darkness. What had already been a somewhat scary experience for me and several others became that much more difficult, and each person had to rely solely on the person in front of them to guide the way through the narrow cave. With one hand behind me and one hand in front of me, I was encouraged to trust my peers and classmates more than ever before. But as I exited the tunnel over 700 meters later, I realized that that sense of trust was not just solidified in the tunnel. Rather, it was taken from years of learning beside and from the same people who held my hands and led me through the dark tunnel that held so much meaning for our heritage. In hindsight, it was that sense of culminating trust that made the experience so special.

Hiking

The open and supportive atmosphere of our grade was further called upon the following night, the night of our first Shabbat in Israel, at the Kotel. With a sense of comfort from the friends surrounding me, I and many others were able to be completely vulnerable at the Wall. Following what was an emotional opportunity to pray at the wall, our grade's coherence took center stage as we all gathered at the main plaza of the Kotel. What began as a circle of members from just our grade singing "Od Yavo Shalom" quickly turned into a gigantic dance circle involving other tourists from all walks of life. We continued in song and dance for a while, and as we did, I couldn't help but think of the story that our tour guide Doni gave before we entered the Kotel plaza. He told us that, whether or not we believe in G-d, what makes the Kotel so unique is its role as the epicenter of Jewish unity. In that moment, as we celebrated Shabbat and Judaism with people who spoke different languages and came from different circumstances, I was utterly amazed at the capacity of our religion to unify and the capacity of our grade to welcome and engage.

As I reflect on our first week in Israel, it makes more sense than ever why this is our "capstone" trip. In both the sense of our grade community and our Jewish education, I anticipate that this trip will not only be a fun experience, but a true culmination of the last thirteen years. I can't wait to see what is to come, and can't wait to share it with all of you. Thanks for reading!

View of Jersusalem

Family, Faith & Falafel: Photoblog by Joey and Ezra
2017 Senior Trip: Photoblog by Mollie Milchberg and friends
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