Senior Capstone Trip Blog

Maia Zimmers '22 and Maytal Polonetsky '22

Sunday May 15th

Following a fun and restful Shabbat in Tel Aviv, where we had fun on the beach, relaxed by the rooftop pool, and got into a little kerfuffle after Kabbalat Shabbat (don’t jaywalk, folks!), we woke up super early on Sunday morning to head up to the Galilee and the Golan Heights. At our first stop, we walked through an old Syrian bunker and learned about Israeli intelligence agent and war hero, Eli Cohen, as well as the Six Day War. Then, following our last cooler lunch (we’ll miss you, packaged deli meat), we went kayaking – or was it rafting? Some people tried to sabotage each other’s rafts, but it was all in good fun.


Sunday May 15th

Following a fun and restful Shabbat in Tel Aviv, where we had fun on the beach, relaxed by the rooftop pool, and got into a little kerfuffle after Kabbalat Shabbat (don’t jaywalk, folks!), we woke up super early on Sunday morning to head up to the Galilee and the Golan Heights. At our first stop, we walked through an old Syrian bunker and learned about Israeli intelligence agent and war hero, Eli Cohen, as well as the Six Day War. Then, following our last cooler lunch (we’ll miss you, packaged deli meat), we went kayaking – or was it rafting? Some people tried to sabotage each other’s rafts, but it was all in good fun.

After drying off and eating knock off Take Ones (our favorite snack – a delectable and usually stale chocolate wafer!), we headed off to our last stop of the day: Kibbutz Misgav Am, which is located right by the border with Lebanon. While literally looking straight down into Lebanon, we learned about the wars between there and Israel. Finally, we got back on the bus and drove to Kibbutz Gadot where we stayed for the night. The kibbutz was so beautiful and it was the best last overnight, filled with basketball games, TikTok making, and lots of texts in the group chat asking for snacks.

Love, Maytal

Monday May 16th

Today we had an early morning wake up in the beautiful Kibbutz Gadot. We hopped out of bed, packed, grabbed breakfast, and prepared for the day ahead. Our first stop was a beautiful spot called the Valley of Years where we learned about the Yom Kippur War. We learned about Avigdor Kahalani and Tzvika Greengold as we gawked at the breathtaking views and shivered from the chilly northern weather.

Afterward, we went back on the buses and ventured toward our hike for the day. As we approached the spot, we discovered there were many groups ahead of us and, therefore, our teachers made the decision to cut out the two and a half hour hiking section (this was good news for many of us with blisters remaining from Yam Le Yam). Instead, we hiked down a steep climb for thirty minutes to reach a magical waterfall. It was enormous and pooled together for a fantastic swimming spot. Although the water was absolutely freezing, we braved through it to swim, take pictures, and go under the waterfall. On the climb back up we met many enthusiastic Israeli teens who bombarded us with questions (gotta love the Israeli spirit). After reaching the top, an ice cream stand waited for us by the buses.

Although the ice cream was delicious, it did not satiate our ravenous teenage appetites. Luckily, it was lunch time! We headed to a pizza shop and ate endless amounts of pizza hot from the oven. Next up was the Gamla Nature Reserve where we split off into classes and reflected on our time here in Israel. Surrounded by lovely scenery, we shared how we’ve grown and some groups wrote letters to their future selves. It was meaningful and made many of us emotional. Personally, I reflected on my growth as a more adventurous and spontaneous person who is no longer afraid to take risks. 

Then, we bussed back to campus. I slept peacefully on the bus and, luckily, did not make it onto the 2022sleepers Instagram account (yay!). At Hod we had sign out time to grab dinner or Wolt. It was a chill end to a very busy day. As I write this, I am watching some of the girls and guys pull pranks on each other on the first floor. Water guns are involved. Just another day at Hod. Goodnight!

Love, Maia

Tuesday May 17th

We had yet another early morning wake up today, with breakfast at 7am! Luckily, as we arrived at the dining hall, we discovered that we did not in fact have bagged lunch, but cooler lunch instead (yay! We love cooler lunch!). Then we hopped on the buses and headed off to Jerusalem, because, after two mishaps earlier in the trip that delayed this tiyul, it was finally Christianity day! On the way we stopped for bathrooms and refreshments at a nice rest stop. Some of us got in line for coffee, and then we were told that we must take food from the cooler lunch and turn it into bagged lunch for later. While we were upset that we were not in fact having cooler lunch, we were satisfied by the fact that we still got yummy schnitzel and real Take Ones! (Take One? You mean take five?)

When we arrived in Jerusalem, we quickly split into two groups at a lookout point on top of the Mount of Olives. We took a tour of a number of different churches and monasteries, and, after a super quick stop to eat lunch in Mamilla Mall, we took a walk through the Christian Quarter of the Old City that ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We spent a while walking around the beautifully detailed church, learning about different Christian practices and the history behind the place. It was a very meaningful and informative morning, learning about and being respectful of a different religion.

Following our morning/early afternoon focused on Christianity, we got back on the bus and switched gears. We headed into East Jerusalem to talk to Mahmoud, a Palestinian man who works at the Educational Bookshop in Jerusalem. He talked about his views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, and it was very informative. We really appreciated hearing his opinion. 

Afterwards, we boarded the buses for the final time of the day and headed back to Hod. The bus I was on, however, ended up overheating! We had to stop on the side of the road twice to let the bus cool down. The second time we stopped, the driver got out to add water to the engine. We’re still not sure that this is the correct solution to an overheating bus, but it seemed to work for the last twenty minutes of the drive, so we’ll take it.

To our teachers' dismay, because of the bus mishap, we had missed dinner by the time we got back to campus. Thankfully, the lovely kitchen staff decided to give us our dinner to go, so we were able to eat our yummy stir-fry noodles back in the dorm. Following dinner, we headed into the chamber for a meaningful activity that our madrichim had planned for us. They instructed us to write sincere letters to each person in the grade, which we would then put into envelopes labeled with their names. These notes will be read after the trip. We got so into the activity that our madrichim were surprised and made us take a break to go start packing for the airport (yikes!). We were allowed to continue writing letters in between packing, and that’s exactly what we did – late into the night.

Love, Maytal

Wednesday May 18th

Today we got to sleep in until 8:30am (yes, that is considered sleeping in on this trip) before bussing to Old Jaffa. For the first two hours in Old Jaffa we had free time to grab food and shop around the flea market. I was able to buy a nostalgic mood ring for only five shekels! Many of us enjoyed shawarma, malabi, or other local cuisines. 

After free time, we split off into two groups. My group first went to the Peres Center for Peach and Innovation where we learned about Shimon Peres, different start-ups, and even played with VR headsets. The VR was legitimately so cool, although I may have accidentally hit the people around me as I was enamored by the virtual world (sorry Jaime!). Then, we went back to Old Jaffa for a tour while the other group switched and came to the Peres Center. We explored Old Jaffa and got scrumptious gelato. 

Next, we headed back to campus to get ready for prom (basically a casual party where we watched a short film made by some people in the farming volunteer group, thanked our teachers and counselors, and watched culminating videos of the trip). People dressed in casual funny clothes. For example, I ironically wore my “this is what a yeshiva student looks like” shirt that I bought from Pardes during our volunteer period. Although our outfits were silly, the subject was not. Many tears were shed as we faced the reality of leaving tomorrow. 

To have one final hurrah, we had an ice cream and dancing party. Half&Half, our local rap group made up of Noam Zaremba and Lev BenAvram, performed (stream The Half&Half Experience on all streaming platforms!) and we danced the night away. The rest of the night we had time to finish packing and have final shenanigans and late night conversations. I played in a baby pool set up by Rebecca Safra, enjoyed listening to people jam out in the music room, and had meaningful conversations. Now, at 3am, it is time for bed. I don’t want to sleep because that means the trip is almost over. I’m excited to go home and see my family, but I’m going to miss constantly being surrounded by friends and exciting activities. I’ll miss living with my roommates (shoutout to room 64!), exploring Israel, and even the debatable AMHSI food selections. Okay, before I start crying, I should go to bed. Good night. 

Love, Maia

Thursday May 19th

Well, here we are. It’s Thursday, the last day of the Irene and Daniel Simpkins Senior Capstone Trip. Groggy and reluctant to get up, we awoke at 7 in the morning to catch our last breakfast in the dining hall and pack our lunch for later. We finished packing and clearing out our rooms and common spaces until around 10, when the buses arrived and we tactfully (for the first time ever – better late than never, right?) fit our suitcases into the bottoms of the buses. Then we had photoshoots in our closets, said goodbye to the dorm, and took one last tearful look at our beautiful campus before heading to Tel Aviv for our Covid tests. Testing took a little longer than expected (picture this: UV index is 10, there is no shade, and 72 hungry JDS students are waiting in line for two hours to get rapid tests), but it did give some of us time to buy lunch at one of the few restaurants in the area, so I guess it was worth it.

Following Covid testing, we drove down to Jerusalem, stopping first at Har Herzl. We learned a little about Theodor Herzl, Yitzchak Rabin, and Michael Levin before heading over near the Old City and splitting into our three classes one final time. In Danny’s class, we reflected on the trip and said our goodbyes as a group. Afterwards, we split into two groups: some people went to the Kotel one last time, and the rest went straight to Ben Yehuda street for DOTS. The group who went to the Kotel also got to see a swearing in ceremony for IDF soldiers just finishing their basic training. It was very interesting to see and a fitting way to wrap up our Israel experience!

After that, we boarded the buses for the last time and were off to the airport. We arrived at the airport, and, in the midst of unpacking our bags, we hugged our teachers goodbye. Emotions were running high with stress about the airport and sadness about leaving each other, and many tears were shed. 

Though the check in line took absolutely forever and there were a few mishaps along the way, the rest of our airport experience was not too shabby. Our madrichim were waiting to say goodbye to us one by one as we reached security, and it felt absolutely heartbreaking. We feel as though we bonded with them so much over the course of the trip, and we weren’t just saying goodbye to authority figures – we were saying goodbye to our friends.

Though our tears didn’t dry so soon, our water bottles sure did – as we discovered that we couldn’t bring liquids onto the plane! We settled into our seats, took our last looks at Israel through the airplane windows, and… that was it. We were officially headed home.

Love, Maytal

Friday May 20th`

The morning began as we landed in Newark. The plane ride was surprisingly easy and many of us slept through it. After landing, we breezed through customs and baggage claim. We were ready to get on the buses and leave at 6am, but the buses weren’t ready for us. They were scheduled to come at 7:45 am and did not come until 8 am, so we used the time to buy Starbucks or other food and relax. It was a culture shock to hear English around us, see Starbucks, and not deal with the Israeli spirit I mentioned earlier. 

Finally, the buses arrived. We drove halfway and then had a bathroom stop at the Delaware rest stop. The second half of the bus ride was louder and filled with emotions. On my bus, we played Half&Half and other nostalgic music as we sang and danced together. We played charades and enjoyed each other's company. As we drove into the Motis’ parking lot, we played “22” by Taylor Swift as an emotional mark to end our trip. We danced off the buses and greeted our families. It was exciting to be reunited and give passionate hugs. We saw friends from our grade who were not on the trip, teachers, and said goodbye to everyone. It was hard hugging everyone goodbye, but I know it is not really goodbye. It is only see you later. Although it’s cliche, our grade is special. People care for one another and I know that this was not our last time together. We grew on this trip as individuals and as a grade. The Class of 2022 will continue to make its mark on the world and the JDS community. So with mixed emotions of sadness, joy, and pride, I’m signing off.

Love, Maia

  • 2022
Lincoln Aftergood '22

This week, we went on the Yam L’Yam hike. The journey served as a capstone for the whole trip as we hiked across Israel for four days, growing even closer as a class. We traveled from the Mediterranean to the Kinneret and survived with no showers for the entire journey. Each day was its own adventure. We hiked through streams and up a mountain. We experienced tent-living. We endured port-a-potties and a complete lack of cell service. We bonded with our security guards over music. And, at the end of our adventure, we enjoyed a refreshing swim in the Kinneret and a festive falafel lunch.

This week, we went on the Yam L’Yam hike. The journey served as a capstone for the whole trip as we hiked across Israel for four days, growing even closer as a class. We traveled from the Mediterranean to the Kinneret and survived with no showers for the entire journey. Each day was its own adventure. We hiked through streams and up a mountain. We experienced tent-living. We endured port-a-potties and a complete lack of cell service. We bonded with our security guards over music. And, at the end of our adventure, we enjoyed a refreshing swim in the Kinneret and a festive falafel lunch.

On the first day, we started off with a ceremony at the Mediterranean. We drove to the sea and kept some of the seawater to commemorate the occasion. Our madrichim gave out bucket hats to all of us, commemorating the trip with our names on them in Hebrew. We then started our hike with some of us slipping and falling into the very first river we encountered. It was a chance for us to laugh as we mucked through the rest of the hike with soaked hiking boots and high spirits. We sorely missed the cool water later in the day when we had some steep up-hills but we got through it and arrived at the campsite. We eagerly awaited dinner as we toured our newly set-up tents and unpacked our bags. We finished the night with a bonfire and s'mores as we prepared for the next day. First day completed.

The second morning, there were some groans when we realized how little sleep we had gotten - but we kept right on hiking. The smell of our clothes didn’t deter us and we made it to an outlook of rocks where we were able to see the progress we had made. The Mediterranean was far in the distance and ahead of us were dozens of hilltops. We kept walking and eventually reached the top of Mount Meron, the second highest mountain in Israel. There, some of us meditated in silence and stared solemnly at the Golan Heights and the Syrian border. It was a pivotal moment where we appreciated the beauty of the country’s nature together. We kept walking and eventually reached the second campsite. Second day completed.

The third day began with a swim in a small spring. We hopped in our swimsuits and went into the cool water for a quick dip that rejuvenated us for the rest of the day. We continued walking and seeing beautiful sites until we reached a summit. From there, we did some rock climbing down until we reached a road where we could easily keep walking on flat ground. We kept trekking through forests and beautiful ravines until we reached our third campsite and relaxed. Third day completed.

The fourth day we woke up with an air of somberness. There were some tears, but it finally hit us that the capstone to our trip was almost finished. Soon we would have to return to normal life. We resolved to make the most of the time we had left and started walking. We persisted through thorny bushes and spiky plants until we finally reached the Kinneret. We said a few words to celebrate the event and sprinted into the water. It was a joyous ending to the four-day trip.

This quick account doesn’t capture any of the magic of the hike, but to us, Yam L’Yam was a life-changing experience. We can say confidently that the time spent together without phones or other distractions brought us closer, made us think about ourselves, and made us appreciate Israel even more. Plus it made us backgammon addicts and caffeine junkies. Our only hope is that we can do it again sometime!

Day 1: 

Preparing for departure at the Mediterranean. Ms. Ball flew in to join us for the hike!

Our madrichim at the Mediterranean shortly before handing out our commemorative hats.

Much of our hike was through a beautiful stream.

Keeping cool!

Reaching great heights!

Day 2:

Great views from Mt. Meron.

We could see Lebanon, Syria, and the Golan Heights. The mountain in the distance is Mt. Hermon, the tallest mountain in Israel. 

Our teachers made sure we stopped and appreciated every interesting tree along the way.

Loving tent life!

Day 3:

History lessons along the trail with our teacher, Danny.

Helping each other out on one of many creek crossings.

Gorgeous overlooks all along the way.

Beautiful sunset over our tent city.

Day 4:

We’re almost there!

One of our teachers told us this rock was God giving us a thumbs up for our trekking efforts. 

This part of the hike reminded some of us of Zion National Park in Utah.

We made it! All smiles as we ran into the Kinneret!


  • 2022
Zoe Fischman '22, Sophie Schweitzer '22, and Mischa Trainor '22

Welcome to this week’s blog post! We will take you through the last few days of Haderech (volunteering), Yom Ha-zikaron (memorial day), Yom Ha-atzma-ut (Independence day), and our first Shabbat back on campus!

Welcome to this week’s blog post! We will take you through the last few days of Haderech (volunteering), Yom Ha-zikaron (memorial day), Yom Ha-atzma-ut (Independence day), and our first Shabbat back on campus!

Monday May 2, 2022

Adi Negev

Every volunteer at the village for individuals with Special Needs were, by now, well acquainted with the residents/students, staff, and schedule of their houses. However, today was not a typical day-- today was Yom Ha-atzma-ut at Adi Negev!! We celebrated with Israeli music, a parade, ice cream, and singing! We had so much fun with the residents and learned a lot about what a Yom Ha-atzma-ut celebration could look like in a non-traditional setting. 

Be’er Sheva

We had a chance to lead some lessons for 4th and 5th graders and work with the students on reading comprehension and writing. We even played some Taylor Swift to start a class and give them a taste of American music culture! Today was also a day full of Yom Ha-atzma-ut celebrations. Each kid received an Israeli flag and paraded around the school and then there was a school-wide dance party! 


For Rosh Chodesh at Pardes, we had a special bagel breakfast with the other Pardes students. During breakfast, one of the faculty members shared meaningful stories about her brother who had fallen in service to Israel for an early commemoration of Yom Ha-zikaron. After, we had a full day of Jewish learning. For the fun activity of the evening we had an ice cream party with ice cream from a gourmet shop near Pardes. 


We started the day with our usual 5 a.m. wake up and got started with farming bright and early. Today, we worked on Freddy’s cucumber farm and continued weeding the field. We were all very tired from the past week of farming, but we pushed through and were able to get a lot of work done. In the afternoon we had a lot of free time that most of us spent napping, playing volleyball, or just hanging out with each other. For dinner, a group of twelve Israelis on a farming gap year joined us in making poike. We had a lot of fun cooking and getting to know the gap year kids!

Tuesday May 3, 2022

Adi Negev

Tuesday was by far the hottest day during our time at Adi Negev, but we didn’t let that stop us! We adapted alongside the staff to make sure residents and students could get time enjoying the outdoors, and we maintained the typical schedule. Knowing that today was our second to last day, we did all that we could to soak in the inspiration and love that our houses, residents, classes, and students had to offer!

Be’er Sheva

Today was our last day working with the kids! Part of the day was a field day created by the oldest grade in the school. It was great to see that the kids take initiative and see that value is placed not only on education but also on being active leaders. The other part of the day was filled with class periods. We spent a lot of time working individually with students which was very challenging, but incredibly rewarding. Once we arrived back at our apartment, we relaxed and at the end of the day, our group got together during dinner and did a PowerPoint night! It was a night filled with laughter, bonding, and fun. 


Tuesday was Tiyul Day. Our first destination of the day was Ariel Sharon park, a former trash dump transformed into a beautiful public park. We toured the park, learning about Israel’s environmental history and the history of the park. Next we hiked the Israel trail, learning about the ancient and modern war history of the area. After a picnic in the woods, we headed to Latrun for the Masa Yom Ha-zikaron Memorial Ceremony for Erev Yom Ha-zikaron.


For our last day of farming we all went to work with the Adam V’Adama kids. Half of us started in a pepper greenhouse raking and picking up peppers and branches that were left on the group. We ended up getting kicked out for accidentally starting a tractor and joined the rest of our group in the cherry tomato greenhouse. We had our usual free time spent napping and hanging out in the early afternoon. Later, we had a program led by our madrichim and Shani (our farming leader) about losing loved ones in the IDF. It was very emotional and impactful for us. We then joined a local Yom Ha-zikaron tekes at night where we heard the siren and got to hear stories about fallen soldiers.

Wednesday May 4, 2022

Adi Negev

Our last day at Adi Negev was very bittersweet. Each volunteer had their last day with their classes or houses, and each house/class said goodbye and expressed much gratitude for the volunteers. In addition, we experienced the Yom Ha-zikaron tekes (ceremony) with the residents. It was incredibly meaningful for us, as we got to see how the day affects the staff and even many of the residents. After a debrief conversation about our time volunteering, we celebrated by taking a small trip to a Be’er Sheva mall, which was our first taste of civilization outside of the Kibbutz and Adi Negev for the past two weeks. 

Be’er Sheva

Today was our culmination day! We all walked to our program leader’s house and participated in a creative sign-making day! The signs were in English and they were going to be put up in classrooms as a point of reference for future classes. Then, we had some free time and got ready for a concert in the center of Be’er Sheva! There was dancing, music, and a surprise from the farming group!! They did not tell us they were coming so when we saw their faces we were so confused but so excited! We had so much fun for the rest of the night, and then got a great night’s sleep - exhausted from the excitement of the day. 


On Yom Ha-zikaron we had our last few classes, we stood for the siren, attended a faculty panel, and headed to the Kiryat Yearim Military Cemetery to pay our respects to the fallen. As the sun fell Yom Ha-zikaron came to an end and Yom Ha-atzma-ut began. As a group, we headed out to party in Jerusalem. We explored Ben Yehuda street, we went to a concert, and we horahed in Safra Square. We all slept soundly after the physically and emotionally draining day. 


For Yom Ha-zikaron we had a later wake up and began the day by watching a movie about Michael Levin, a lone soldier who lost his life in the Lebanon war. We then heard the siren, and some of the members of the farming group shared stories about fallen soldiers that they researched. In the afternoon, we went to an overlook that had a beautiful view of the desert where we reflected on what we learned during our time farming. At night, we surprised the Be’er Sheva group at a Yom Ha-atzma-ut concert. We got to see a lot of our friends and dance all night which was super fun.

Thursday May 5, 2022

All haderech groups reunited in Jerusalem and went to Machne Yehuda market for lunch! Of course we had to go back for our favorite thing- Malawach at the Jahnun Bar (10000/10 recommended). Then, we made our way to a JNF sponsored “kikar” party and marched with many Jewish groups from the US and Mexico. We marched from Jerusalem to the Western Wall (also the end of the March for the Living), before heading to a barbeque and eventually heading back to Hod Hasharon for our first night back on campus in about a month! We’d be lying if we said it wasn’t slightly chaotic moving everyone back in, but everyone eventually settled back into their rooms and went to sleep. 

Friday May 6, 2022

Many of our friends departed for the open weekend, but those who remained on campus resettled into their routine, many ventured out into Hod Hasharon to buy food or run other errands, and later, we prepared for Shabbat. Many people participated in a Kabbalat Shabbat service. We had Shabbat dinner together, discussed current events and played games late into the night. 

Saturday May 7, 2022

Open Shabbat!! Many people decided to leave to be with friends or family. The group of people on campus kept busy! Reading, tanning, sleeping in, and filling up not one, but two baby pools, were all perfect Shabbat activities!

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Yam le Yam preparation day! Today, we took advantage of a late wake up time before early, early mornings for the rest of the week. After lunch, we reunited with our teachers, whom we hadn’t seen for nearly a month, to regroup, plan, and hear expectations for the week. The rest of the day was filled with packing, shopping, Doctor Strange seeing, and more packing. Starting tomorrow, we will be “off the grid” for a few days, and we can’t wait to share all about our journey!

Thank you so much for joining us on our week of fun adventures, and be sure to tune in next week.


  • 2022
Rochelle Berman '22 & Elyon Topolosky '22

For the past week, the grade has been broken into four groups for our HaDerech period. HaDerech, meaning Your Way, is our opportunity to explore particular areas of interest in Israeli society. We had four choices: farming in the Arava desert, volunteering with disabled children and adults in Adi Negev, teaching English in Be’ersheva, and studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

You can see a video of our various experiences here: 

For the past week, the grade has been broken into four groups for our HaDerech period. HaDerech, meaning Your Way, is our opportunity to explore particular areas of interest in Israeli society. We had four choices: farming in the Arava desert, volunteering with disabled children and adults in Adi Negev, teaching English in Be’ersheva, and studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

You can see a video of our various experiences here: 

Updates from the Farming Group:

Our HaDerech group has spent the past week helping local farmers in the Arava desert. (We think our madrichim decided we were too much to handle so they exiled us to the Negev to reconnect with our Jewish ancestors!) We’re partnering with HaShomer HaChadash, a volunteer recruitment organization dedicated to safeguarding the land and farms in Israel. 

With a 5:00am wake up and a Turkish coffee to go, we start most of our days by taking a 5 minute bus ride down the road to the greenhouses owned by a farmer named Freddy. It’s important to start farming early to beat the heat of the desert. Always greeted by a warm hello, Freddy gives us our daily instructions, we put on our gloves, and get to work. 

We’ve worked on uprooting old cucumber plants, weeding the soil, and tying strings to hold the plants up. While it’s been tedious and difficult work (especially so early in the morning!), we’ve kept ourselves entertained by playing music (and playing with all the defective cucumbers). 

By 11am, it’s back to our lodgings in Beit Sefer Hatzevah for naps and down time. The next few hours are usually spent playing games, volleyball, frisbee, doing yoga, workouts, or acrobatics. We eat snacks, talk to each other, and explore the abandoned moshav. Once our energy is recuperated, we engage in a group activity or leave the main campus for a short field trip. 

Our first day we also had the chance to visit the agricultural center where we watched a short film about the history of agriculture in Israel, the concept of shmita, and the struggles of Israeli farmers today. We also had the opportunity to enter the luscious greenhouse there and taste some of the freshly grown fruits and vegetables. We also took a group trip to the only supermarket near us, and shopped for provisions for the rest of the week. Our supermarket run sparked some creative juices, culinarily. During our time here, we’ve had an ice cream party, have grilled our own BBQ, and even smoked canned tuna Israeli style. (Additionally, many of us bought laundry detergent and have been doing our laundry the old-fashioned way: washing our clothes in buckets and hanging them on clothing racks just like they did many years ago.) 

Two of our HSI madrichim are with us, but HaDerech has given us a lot of independence to plan activities for ourselves. We also have one other supervisor from Hashomer Hachadash who plans our schedule and works with us on the farm each day. He has organized meaningful discussions with the group about the value of agriculture for Israel to be a self-sufficient country, issues that arise for farmers like crime, and the idea of שומר אחי (“I am my brother’s keeper”). Taking these lessons into account, we wake up with a motivated mindset every morning and help farmers take care of their land. 

In addition to Freddy’s legendary cucumber farm, which we work on every day - some members of the group are also volunteering at a local boarding high school called Adam VeAdama. Also run through Hashomer Hachadash, the high schoolers spend their mornings working on farms and learning academics in the afternoon. We have had the opportunity to really connect with some of the students, practice our Hebrew with them, hear their personal stories, and harvest vegetables with them. We got a tour of their school (which is very different from ours!) and participated in some of their workshops including baking, woodworking, music, iron working, and macrame. 

We also spent the evening of Yom HaShoah taking part in a ceremony at the Adam VeAdama School where we listened to a story of a Holocaust survivor, read some testimonies, and had some difficult discussions. During the day of Yom HaShoah, we visited a mechinah (a pre-army gap year program in Hatzevah) and we took part in some of their classes and stood arm and arm while listening to the siren across Israel. After a meaningful day reflecting on our Holocaust education and hearing perspectives from the Israeli students, we resumed our regular activities. 

Another day as farmers, we weeded rows of cucumbers and meticulously picked buckets of pollen-covered tomatoes. We spent our afternoon on the Jordanian border climbing the sand dunes and taking in more desert heat. To make up for all the sweating we spent Friday in Eilat. We walked the boardwalk, went tubing on some gnarly waves, and relaxed on the beach before heading back for Shabbat. 

We took Pre-Shabbat photos by the sunset, wrote each other hand-made Shabbatograms, lit the holy candles, had services, and enjoyed a fruitful dinner together. Shabbat day however, was quite the opposite of restful. A 107 degree sandstorm hit the precious Hatzevah area cutting off our power water supply. We filled up extra water bottles to prepare, ate a lukewarm lunch, and stayed indoors as much as we could without AC. While these were some of the most challenging circumstances on this trip thus far, we ultimately survived (and the Jewish people overall became a stronger nation). To culminate the hot day, we had a massive bonfire and spent three hours making poyke - a meat stew cooked directly on the flames. (Don’t worry there was vegetarian stew, too!) We spent the evening singing campfire songs, making s’mores, and mourned the destruction of the Temple. 

Sunday we continued cucumbering and also spent a couple hours at the Agricultural center saving the environment aka planting trees, making Desert scented lotion and wooden boxes to dry fruit. 

This week has pushed us out of our comfort zones, taught us that corn doesn’t grow in the desert, and to always have extra water bottles. 

Adi Negev:

Our group is volunteering at Adi Negev - a rehabilitation village and community for children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities that range from minor to severe. The village provides many services, including an adapted school for children with disabilities, all-inclusive care for adults with disabilities, and horse and animal therapy.

We were split up into two groups: one group was tasked with working in the school and the other in the daycare for adults around ages 20-50. The daycare consists of different “houses,” based on the residents’ gender and ability. We’ve been working the morning shift. Those of us working in the daycare help do the residents’ hair and put their socks and shoes on. Most residents need help eating, so we help feed the residents breakfast as well. We then take the residents to the Ta’asukah, the occupation center. There, we help the residents play with toys, do arts and crafts, and listen to music. Sometimes, the residents have horse therapy or animal therapy, so we take them there and watch as the specialty staff does activities with them. We also take the residents on tiyulim around the village and let them enjoy the sounds, scenery, weather, and a favorite, the nachal (stream). As the afternoon approaches, we take the residents back to their homes, help feed them lunch, and say our goodbyes for the day. 

For those of us working in the school, our main responsibilities are helping keep the classroom organized and calm to give the kids the best school experience possible. When the kids first get to school, we help them settle into the classroom, then feed them breakfast. During the day, we take them on walks to keep them physically active and play all types of games with them in the classroom to keep their minds active as well. 

Overall, this has been a super meaningful experience and we’re so grateful for the friendships we’ve created with the residents, kids, and other staff. 

“My favorite part about Adi Negev is simply the way the village is so homey and cohesive. Not only are all the residents and kids taken care of very well, but it’s so warming and awe-inspiring to see how much the staff and volunteers truly care about and love the residents. (Also, I love the bunnies)” - Iara Rattner

Be’er Sheva:

All the Be’er Sheva group had been told was we were staying in an apartment in Neighborhood Gimel and helping teach English at schools in the area. Regardless, we were excited for the adventure and having the opportunity to live independently in a new city.

Immediately after arriving, it was clear that the living arrangements in Be’er Sheva were going to be a fun challenge to work through as the only working bathroom and shower was in the boys’ apartment. Additionally, we had to adjust to living in close quarters with a new group of people and for the first time in almost three months, we would be completely responsible for grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and purchasing toilet paper. 

We were split into groups so that there would be 2-3 students at each school and two students volunteering at Be’er Sova, a soup kitchen in the Old City. The first step was figuring out the public transportation situation in a foreign language, country, and city few of us had ever stepped foot in. One group witnessed a bus driver drive right past them while they were waiting at the bus stop. Another group had to chase after their bus on the first day! However, by mid-week we quickly became Be’er Sheva public transportation experts and memorized all of the bus stops in our area. 

One aspect of this volunteer option that the Be’er Sheva Gang has greatly appreciated is the fact that no two groups have the same experience, so when we come together at the end of the day, we have new stories to share with one another. I was placed at a Dati (religious) school in a particularly low-income area of Be’er Sheva where we’ve experienced several power outages during some hot days, and been exposed to new political and religious perspectives. A fascinating discovery was that the Dati schools in Be’er Sheva tend to have less money than the secular schools due to the demographics of several groups of immigrants to Be’er Sheva over the past century. 

Something that surprised many of us on the first day of teaching was a much lower level of English fluency from the students than we were expecting. Since each JDS helper has a different level of Hebrew, some of us had to teach ourselves how to teach English in Hebrew, and others had to learn to teach and communicate in a way that involved no common language. For many of us, this meant thinking outside of the box in order to convey new information to the kids and do our best to advance their English skills. 

Outside of the classroom, we have had ample time to explore Be’er Sheva, cook, clean, and fight over who washed the dishes last. Ultimately, we learned about the pros and cons of 20 people living together in a relatively small space and how to shop and cook for so many people on a budget. The biggest grocery shopping spree was done in preparation for Shabbat while the rest of the group deep-cleaned the apartment. Dinner was inspired by one of our counselors’ Moroccan grandmother, and it was followed by a fun Oneg Shabbat trivia activity and countless rounds of Bananagrams (in both Hebrew and English!). Shabbat concluded with a fun girls bonding night in which we made dinner and dessert, and played a popular game called “Paranoia,” while the rest of the group went out to see the new Batman movie. 

Sunday Funday included a fun outing to bowling and laser tag just so we could get a taste of our favorite ten-year-old birthday party activities. While bowling was fun, playing laser tag with two counselors who were recently released from their army service definitely encouraged everyone to put their best foot forward -- who knew laser tag could become one of the best bonding experiences of the trip? 

While everyone in Be’er Sheva has grown both individually and together as a group throughout our everyday experiences, it’s been really special to step outside of our JDS traditions and compare these Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron commemorations to our own. 

Limud: Lion’s Tale Style:

The Limud group spent the volunteer period learning at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, located in Baka, Jerusalem. Each day, the group spent time learning Judaic studies in an academic way from renowned tenured professors. 

Howard, who was deemed one of Limud’s favorite teachers, took the class through familiar parts of Bereishit (Genesis). Because they were instructed to analyze the text in a similar way to how JDS teaches analyzing English texts, the class was excited to explore the text in a new way. 

While Limud was not initially Nathan Gershengorn’s first choice for the volunteer period, he has had a pleasantly surprising experience. 

“It made me appreciate the Torah much more, both as a religious text and as something deep and complex enough that you can really build a whole religion out of,” Gershengorn said.

Another part of the volunteer period that the Limud group benefited from was the opportunity to grocery shop and cook food on their own. There were several themed meals such as chili night, tacos, stir-fry, mac & cheese and a new JDS favorite, malawach

While Ari Meyer believes “learning Torah is the best way to help the community,” JDS requires both direct and indirect community service hours, so the Limud group fulfilled some of their direct service with Pantry Packers.

Pantry Packers is affiliated with Chabad and is the largest food pantry in Israel. Limud members volunteered for a long afternoon of packing oats and grains that would later be delivered to low-income families across Israel. Gershengorn described a set-up that included two packing stations with six to seven people at each station.

“We got into a good rhythm,” Gershengron said. “Over time, everyone got better at doing their jobs quickly and efficiently.”


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Naomi Gould '22 & Zoe Wertlieb '22

On our first day in our trip down south in the Negev we completed most of our journey south to Eilat, taking a few stops to see some cool sites along the way. First, we hiked through a dust storm in Ein Avdat, a maiyan (or spring) in the desert. Next, we stopped for lunch at David Ben Gurion’s desert home at kibbutz Sde Boker, where we watched a documentary about his decision to move there after his stint as Prime Minister and saw the home in which he lived a very modest life. Also, it should be noted that young Ben Gurion looked quite similar to our very own Ben Guggenheim, who had unfortunately left the group the day before for an exciting program. His absence was most certainly felt. 

Wednesday, April 6th

On our first day in our trip down south in the Negev we completed most of our journey south to Eilat, taking a few stops to see some cool sites along the way. First, we hiked through a dust storm in Ein Avdat, a maiyan (or spring) in the desert. Next, we stopped for lunch at David Ben Gurion’s desert home at kibbutz Sde Boker, where we watched a documentary about his decision to move there after his stint as Prime Minister and saw the home in which he lived a very modest life. Also, it should be noted that young Ben Gurion looked quite similar to our very own Ben Guggenheim, who had unfortunately left the group the day before for an exciting program. His absence was most certainly felt. 

Afterward, we visited Ben Gurion’s grave, which overlooks the desert landscape. It being a site where diplomatic envoys will often pay a visit, we also saw a delegation of Rwandan soldiers! After a day of many stops and many things to see, we happily retired to Kibbutz Yahel, where we enjoyed a yummy dinner and stayed the night. 

Thursday, April 7th

On our second day in the Negev, we split into two groups for hiking in the morning: The first was a “short” hike lasting approximately two hours, where the dust made the landscape look like Mars! The second was a long hike where people spent five hours climbing a mountain! 

After hiking, we went down to Eilat for lunch on the boardwalk, water sports (tubing quickly became a fan favorite!), and some shopping, as Eilat is a tax-free zone. At the end of this long day, we went to Kibbutz Keturah for a barbecue dinner followed by a really fun pool party, during which we played silly games, goofed off, and had a lot of fun.

Friday, April 8th

On our third day in the Negev, we took a nice, easy hike through the Red Canyon and were grateful for the shade and breeze. We then returned to Eilat for more food, lounging on the beach, and water sports. Some of us were so enthralled by tubing on our first day in Eilat that we returned to go again not once but twice! 

At Kibbutz Keturah, we showered off the desert and Red Sea, got dressed in nice clothes for Kabbalat Shabbat, took pictures, had a really nice service together, and ate a delicious Shabbat dinner. We then had a competition led by the kibbutz members in which we were split into groups to see which one could accumulate the most points through a series of different games designed to test our knowledge about Israel’s sites, history, and culture. There wasn’t enough space on the scoreboard for the winning team’s final score!

Saturday, April 9th

Our fourth day in the Negev was Shabbat. It was not the most relaxing Shabbat after a strenuous week, but we got to sleep in! In the morning, we got a tour of the kibbutz and learned about their different ventures (algae and date farming, for example), how they pioneered the use of solar energy in Israel, and how they balance capitalist and socialist ideals. We then ate a yummy shabbos lunch with many options that made the vegetarians very happy. 

After free time by the pool, we had an activity led by kibbutz members to learn about the kibbutz values and how they function. The activity was a simulation of being split into various committees to solve different cases such as: Can a patrilineal Jew that immigrated from the former Soviet Union have a bar mitzvah? Should an adulterer be readmitted onto the kibbutz after a leave of absence, which was to raise the child he had out of wedlock? Should a music prodigy be permitted to study off of the kibbutz?

After the activity, we had havdalah, which was really special as it was one of our last Shabbats together as a whole group, so we made sure to savor the moment. 

We then went back to Eilat, but this time we had options! Some of us went to the Ice Mall which is the epitome of Eilat; there are many attractions and activities for tourists and vacationers. There were (of course) stores, restaurants, and various recreational activities such as zip lining, mini roller coasters, arcades, ice skating (hence the name Ice Mall), and the loss of sentimental items! If anyone goes to Eilat/the Ice Mall over Pesach break, please look for Naomi Gould’s Georgetown sweatshirt. She will give you her first born child if you find it.

The rest of us returned to the boardwalk for the third time and got dinner, walked on the beach, got ice cream or froyo, and did some more shopping.

Sunday, April 10th

Negev Day 5! On our last day down south we hiked up Har Hatzfachot, giving us amazing views of the Eilat Mountains and the Red Sea. We were able to see four countries from our viewpoint: Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. After descending the mountain we ended up right along the coast of the Red Sea where we then snorkeled. Despite the extensive amount of waiting around in what may not have been the most glamorous spot in all of Eilat and the ill-fitting life vests (Don’t worry; we’re all alive.), many of us still enjoyed the swim in the Red Sea and the opportunity to see the coral and sea creatures.

Then, we started the drive home. About an hour into the journey we took a very fun pit stop at sand dunes, where we rolled down the sand, did backflips, and buried each other. (Once again, we’re all alive.) This stop was so fun that it made up for the exorbitant amount of time it took to wash the sand off of us. Afterwards, we kept moving north! After another break at a rest stop run by a kibbutz of hippies—many enjoyed fresh fruit juice, dates, and baked goods—we ran into some traffic. We ended up getting back just before 10 at night, just in time for dinner! 

People on a mountain

Monday, April 11th

On Monday we were done with the Negev (for now)! After an exhausting five day trip we were grateful for the opportunity to sleep in until 11. We then got to packing! We’ve now essentially packed up the majority of our clothing and personal belongings, since on Thursday we leave for Pesach and then have our 10-day volunteering period immediately after. 

We also all met in our volunteering groups to find out more about what we’ll be doing, what we need to bring, and to answer any questions we have. Any free time in between packing and meetings was filled with sunbathing, reading, yoga, heading to the gym, and napping. In the evening, we had another watch party for the new Marvel show Moon Knight, a fun new tradition that both of us love partaking in. 

Tuesday, April 12th

It seems that we couldn’t get enough of the Negev, because on Tuesday we came right back! In these few days before Pesach, we’re taking a one night overnight trip to the Gaza Envelope to learn about the dynamics there. First we visited a lookout in Sderot over the city and the Gaza Strip where we divided into our classes to recount and discuss the history of Gaza and Israel. Then, we had a delicious picnic lunch of fresh pitas, hummus, falafel, and all the fixings. We especially enjoyed the beautiful spring weather!

Afterwards, we got some insight into what it’s like to be a child living in Sderot. We visited the JNF indoor playground, which is surrounded by bomb shelters and designed to limit the trauma inflicted upon children in the city. In addition to getting to learn about this unique place, we also got to try out their trampolines and air hockey tables! We next visited a more standard playground and learned about how bomb shelters are worked into it, helping us understand how normalized dealing with violence is here. 

Lastly, we got an up-close-and-personal look at the security barrier between Israel and the Gaza Strip and discussed the technological advancements Israel needed to develop since its disengagement from the region in 2005. After that, we headed to Kibbutz Gvulot where we enjoyed another delicious meal and spent some quality time together lounging about in the cool desert air. 

Wednesday, April 13th

Before we departed from Kibbutz Gvulot, we had the amazing opportunity to hear from a speaker who had unfortunately lived through multiple terror attacks himself. We heard his gruesome story of how he suffered a severe attack while acting as a body shield for his wife and kid at the child’s third birthday party. We also heard his message of resilience and hope as someone who has dedicated his life to farming the land and raising his family in the Gaza envelope despite the persisting violence. 

Afterwards, we headed to the JNF’s high-tech center in Eshkol, where we engineered wind-resistant towers, planted chia seeds in coffee grounds, watched a fascinating planetarium video on dark matter and particle physics (Shoutout to this year’s Physics III class that learned all about the content of the video back in the fall!), and took a virtual reality tour around the world. Having gotten our fair share of fun in, we had a scrumptious BBQ lunch out in the beautiful 70 degree weather and had a smooth trip back to campus. Then, we got back to packing for Pesach break. 

On that note, Chag Sameach!

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