Senior Trip Blog Post

Abby Alter '21 & Adam Alter '21

Wow, what an amazing week we had exploring the south of Israel! After arriving at Kibbutz Ketura late Sunday night, we began our stay in Eilat with a beautiful 2.5 hour hike on the Tzfachot trail. There was a point during the hike where our incredible teachers Danny and Reuven pointed out that we could see four different countries at the same time, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. After the hike, we had LOTS (lunch on the street) in Eilat, where we were able to choose from all different types of foods. After lunch, we went snorkeling and saw some really colorful and cool fish. We then relaxed on the beach for the rest of the afternoon and explored the vibrant Eilat boardwalk. We ate dinner on the boardwalk and then got back on the bus to spend the night at Kibbutz Ketura. When we arrived back at the kibbutz many of us laced up our sneakers and played soccer under the lights with some of the residents of the kibbutz. It was really cool to meet members of the kibbutz and connect with them by speaking Hebrew and playing soccer. After an exhilarating day, everyone went to sleep early as we had a 6:00 am wake up the next morning for one of the more rigorous hikes of the trip.

After eating a quick breakfast in our rooms, we had a 6:30 am departure from Kibbutz Ketura in order to begin our hike up הר שלומו before it got too hot. We hiked for around five hours, making a couple stops to stay hydrated and nourished with sandwiches we made the night before. It was a challenging hike, but it was a great experience as everyone in the grade pushed through the heat and the steep inclines and declines together. As Jake Rulnick said “hikes such as these make our grade closer, as we all had to be there for one another. Like when we encountered steep declines, we had to indicate which rocks to step on, helping each other navigate the terrain.” After the hike, we made a stop at Kibbutz Yotvata, where we all indulged in ice cream, iced coffee, and the famous שוקו that is produced at Yotvata. Stopping at Yotvata was a special full circle moment for Abby and me as our parents lived and worked at Yotvata for seven months in 1993/1994. After enjoying the refreshments from Yotvata we made our way back to Ketura where we were given time to shower and unwind after the difficult hike. We then had a lesson with Danny and Reuven about David Ben Gurion’s vision for the Negev and why he decided to be buried in the middle of the desert, fully away from civilization. After the lesson we went on a tour of the kibbutz with a resident named Bill, who coincidentally was from Bethesda, Maryland. After the tour we had an awesome pool party and barbecue, which wrapped up another incredible day in Eilat. 

After getting up Wednesday morning, and eating breakfast, we went on a quick bus ride to the sand dunes. At the sand dunes, we slid down the hill, did flips, raced, and just chilled out on the soft sand. It was so much fun, and a really cool experience. After the sand dunes, we drove through the Negev and saw some incredible red canyons. We then drove to the beach in Eilat and everyone got on a boat, where we all listened to Israeli music, danced, relaxed, and took in the incredible views. After the relaxing boat ride, many of us participated in water sports, going water tubing and riding banana boats. After spending the rest of the day at the beach, we went on a quick drive to the famous Ice Mall in Eilat where we ate dinner and shopped, and some of us even ice skated. We ended the day by packing our bags in preparation for our week of volunteering. 

Early Thursday morning, we had a great last meal at Ketura before heading to Hazeva for a change of scenery and the start of our one week volunteer period. After an hour and a half bus ride, we had a brief meeting and then lunch upon arrival. Despite the heat, we went to the farm and harvested onions for a few hours before watching an incredible sunset in the fields and celebrating our hard work with refreshing watermelon and popsicles. After cooling down before our first dinner at Hazeva, we headed to sleep early before our 5:30 am wake up and first full day of volunteering. 

We woke up at 5:30 am, and harvested the onion field until around 9:00 am. We then had free time before lunch, and heard that there was a slight change of plans, due to the heat. We got packed and had our last meal at Hazeva, before loading the bus and heading back to Ketura. There, we all enjoyed a pool day filled with volleyball, soccer, swimming, and relaxing. After spending time at the pool, our lovely driver Eyad picked us up and we headed to a new location, the Hazeva field house for a picnic shabbat dinner. To end the day, we had a night time meeting with our new madrichim, Shachar and Daniella.

After an unforgettable week,we enjoyed a late wakeup Saturday morning. We woke up scattered from 8:00-11:00 am, to a breakfast from our madrichim including bread with many spreads, a variety of fruits and vegetables, and cereal. Many of our classmates exercised, relaxed, played board games, and enjoyed each other's company. We enjoyed a fulfilling lunch at Hazeva, and then had classes in the afternoon with our madrichim Shachar and Daniella. After our classes we had free time until dinner and Havdalah and prepared for our final four days of volunteer work.


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Talia Kraner '21 and Sasha Trainor '21

This week was an eventful one regardless of spending each night on campus in Hod Hasharon. We began the week early Monday morning at Cohavei Yarden national park. There we were able to tour the ruins of a huge crusader castle that they built to defend themselves against the native Arabs. That afternoon we made our way further North to Sfat, where we toured the city and learned about the history of Kabbalah and more mystical Judaism. We had the exciting opportunity to learn from an American Jewish artist who made Aliyah after learning the practices of Kabbalah. That evening we were given free time near Sfat to explore and eat dinner out at a nearby shopping center. After returning to campus very late that night, we were both shocked and thrilled to find out that the following day would be our Gadna simulation. 

In years past, seniors of the Israel trip would spend multiple days and nights at the Gadna army base where they would feel what it was like to be a soldier in the IDF. Due to Covid reasons we were not able to make the trip and instead our madrichim planned a diluted version in which we learned about what it means to be in the Israeli army, the history of the organization, and even learned the different positions necessary to shoot a gun. (Don’t worry mom, we were using badminton rackets, not real guns). The day culminated in a competition between the three groups in which Group 1 (aka the best group aka my group) won the prize. (Disclaimer, the prize was strictly bragging rights). And, although our simulation was nothing in comparison to actually being in the IDF, most of us ended the day with a series of battle scars in the form of rug burn. On Wednesday we visited a beautiful overlook of the Kinneret in the north of Israel, and learned about the history of Kibbutzim and socialism in the state. After visiting the site of one of the first Kibbutzim and learning about some of the women specifically that lived there, we were served a shnitzel lunch with a side of Israeli salad, a meal we are quite familiar with as that was our fourth time having it in half as many days. Following lunch we made our way to Galita Chocolate factory, where we got to make our own chocolate bars before heading to an off-the-trail white water creek where we got to swim and play to end the long and hot day. 

On Thursday morning we woke up bright and early to go back north and hike Gilboa mountain. It was a very hot day, but with three liters of water each on our backs we hiked down the mountain in about three hours with minimal casualties. We went straight from Gilboa to swim at Sachne, a popular natural spring with many pools. The water was a beautiful turquoise, and even though we got yelled at in Hebrew by the lifeguards, we jumped off the rocks and had an amazing time. On Friday we visited the Latrun army base and learned about the tanks used in the IDF in the past and currently. We also learned about the 1948 war and how Israel came to be a state of its own. We then visited a cemetery dedicated to soldiers who fell in the War of Independence protecting the Jewish right to self determination. We returned to campus early that afternoon to get ready for our first real Shabbat on campus. Following Shabbat dinner we played a game as a grade planned by our madrichim, and while it wasn’t intended to be, it did get physical, and because I don’t lose I (tied) for first place, and only had to shove Oren Minsk off the top of a human pyramid once. Following the exciting night we go to sleep in and spend Shabbat day on campus and in Hod Hasharon one more time before leaving on our two week trip to the south of Israel. 


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Alex Landy '21 and Oren Minsk '21

In our first full week out of quarantine, our adventures took us across Israel, from Ein Gedi in the South to Tiberias in the North. After spending ten days in small pods, it was truly great to be able to traverse Israel together as a class and grow closer together on our long-awaited tiyulim (trips). 

Beginning in Jerusalem, we explored the Jewish Quarter and toured the Old City, where we saw firsthand the ruins of the City of David and the Temple Mount. This part of the trip brought our Jewish history lessons to life, having learned about King David and the destruction of Jerusalem in courses throughout middle and high school. We then toured the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which tied into different religions’ and empires’ battles over Jerusalem that we learned about in history classes.

At night, we explored the modern aspects of the city, walking around Ben Yehuda Street and Shuk Machane Yehuda during our free time, where terrific Israeli cuisine awaited us.

Midway through the week, we traveled South to Ein Gedi, where we hiked up a mountain oasis with waterfalls that were particularly enjoyable in the middle of a heat wave, with temperatures around 100 degrees fahrenheit. We concluded our day with camel-riding and sang songs during a bonfire in a Bedouin village. Sleeping in tents that night, we woke up very early the next morning to embark on a hallmark experience of the Israel Capstone Trip: hiking Masada. Our alarm clocks rang at exactly 4:30 a.m., after which we took a short bus ride to Masada. Just before 6 a.m., we were at the top of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea, the foggy Jordanian mountains, and the beautiful sunrise.

Together, we recited the Shema prayer and learned from our teachers and counselors about the historical significance of Masada to the Jewish people and Israel. After spending over two hours touring the top of Masada, we took a path down the other side of the mountain. Tired from the early rise and the intense heat, we took a much-deserved drive to the Dead Sea to cool off. That night, we drove back to the AMHSI campus in Hod HaSharon to rest and prepare for our next trip the following day to the Bar Kochba caves (south of Jerusalem). There we learned about the Judean rebels and their quest to hide from the Romans in underground tunnels and caves, which, while tightly-packed, were incredible to experience.

Later in the day, we drove north to Givat Avni, a small town southwest of Tiberias, one of the four holy cities of Israel. The next day we hiked up Mount Arbel, which gave us a terrific view of the hills of Northern Israel, and tested our climbing abilities on the way down the mountain. We then drove to the Majrase nature reserve, where we had a water fight in a cold river stream.

Having just begun the trip, our class made countless memories this past week and is so excited to continue our chronological tour across Israeli history and see the sights that have been critical in the establishment of the modern Jewish State. Stay tuned!


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Carmel Coombe '21

Sundown marked the end of Yom Hazikaron and the start of Yom Ha'atzmaut. Everyone got to experience firsthand the switch between mourning and celebration. On erev Yom Ha'atzmaut, our grade started feeling the Israeli spirit alongside our madrichim as the holiday began. In the spirit of Independence Day, we were served the most authentic Israeli dish, falafel. People started playing Israeli music and everyone excitedly ran to the common room to sing and dance along. In addition to the dance parties inside, people hung out outside. We could hear the fireworks and see strobe lights in the sky as people were celebrating the day all around us. That night we hung around our section of the gorgeous HSI campus surrounded by grassy areas and fruit trees. People played football, card games, and made bracelets while enjoying the beautiful weather. 

The next day there were Yom Ha'atzmaut based activities for us to do. The different quarantine capsules competed in ping pong tournaments and banner paintings. Everyone enjoyed the activities, and had a good time dancing and singing along to the Israeli music. After the carnival everyone prepared to end bidud. Forty seven negative covid tests marked the end of bidud. Thanks to our incredible madrichim and the entire AMHSI staff, we were able to end quarantine safely and see our friends for the first time in ten days. We got to cut down the plastic barriers right before the barbecue. As soon as the plastic was cut, everyone rushed to hug their friends and cheered out of excitement. After ending bidud we got to have our dinner outside together for the first time as a whole group. The barbecue on Yom Ha'atzmaut was a crowd pleaser, as well as a way to experience how Israelis celebrate the chag. There were blankets spread out on the grass for the barbecue and Israeli flags and decorations hung all around us. That night was our first official experience in Israel, and a great way to start the trip. 

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Sami Himmelfarb '21 & Ainsley Lerner '21

Though arriving in Israel is always very exciting for JDS seniors, this was the first year our arrival was deemed a notable historic event. After weeks of anxiously awaiting a departure date and extra covid precautions, we were finally given the news that the JNF succeeded in chartering a flight and securing student visas for all AMHSI students. Even while Israel was on lockdown, AMHSI and JNF staff tirelessly fought for us. Throughout our long day of travel, we remained in high spirits because everyone in the airport was acutely aware that our departure was a monumental event. There were photographers and reporters in the airport, and when we landed in Israel, everyone rejoiced and sang Hebrew songs. Members of Knesset came aboard the plane to welcome us. Even before stepping off the plane, we already were developing an understanding of the hope and resiliency that Israel and its citizens represent. 

Despite having to quarantine for ten days, AMHSI wasted no time in showing us the rich history and culture of Israel. Our wonderful teachers Danny and Rueven led interactive conversations about the effect of geopolitics on Israeli culture and Avraham’s calling to find himself and settle in Canaan. This sparked conversations among our peers that lasted throughout the day. Our madrichim teach us about the Israeli food we’re going to eat and encourage us to learn new words in Hebrew. On Yom HaShoah, we dressed in white and listened to the siren that can be heard everywhere across the country. It was so powerful to be united in a moment where all of Israel stops to honor the lives lost in the Jewish homeland. Later we participated in an activity that placed us in the shoes of Jews in Nazi-occupied territory and helped us better understand and empathize with the impossible day to day choices they were forced to make. 

Time in quarantine has also allowed new connections with our peers to flourish. Our madrichim facilitate fun icebreakers and competitions where we have forged new friendships and strengthened existing ones. On Shabbat, we dressed up, prayed, ate together, and discussed our excitement for everything to come. We are enjoying the time unplugged, especially after having to live our lives virtually for the past year. In our free time, we enjoy playing card games, volleyball, football, and just hanging out and chatting in the sun. With all that we’ve learned and the relationships we’ve created, we are so excited to come out of quarantine and fully immerse ourselves in all the land has to offer. Shoutout to Jack Weitzner for some of the group photos.



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