Senior Capstone Trip Blog

Irit Skulnik '21

This week began with our journey on Yam L’Yam, a four day trek from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee. As we packed our last pairs of hiking socks and filled our water bladders, we were officially ready to tackle the trip with high energy and good spirits. We started Sunday morning with a meaningful opening ceremony in Nahariya. Sunday’s portion of hiking was super fun and it included swimming and water features! After a long day of hiking, we finally made it to our campsite where we were greeted with hot soup and perfectly pitched tents. Soup soon became a nightly ritual, one that I was particularly fond of. The soup was accompanied by our gratitude circle, where we would go around and thank one person who helped us that day. Whether it be for lending someone a piece of toilet paper or having a good conversation, everyone was appreciated. 

This week began with our journey on Yam L’Yam, a four day trek from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee. As we packed our last pairs of hiking socks and filled our water bladders, we were officially ready to tackle the trip with high energy and good spirits. We started Sunday morning with a meaningful opening ceremony in Nahariya. Sunday’s portion of hiking was super fun and it included swimming and water features! After a long day of hiking, we finally made it to our campsite where we were greeted with hot soup and perfectly pitched tents. Soup soon became a nightly ritual, one that I was particularly fond of. The soup was accompanied by our gratitude circle, where we would go around and thank one person who helped us that day. Whether it be for lending someone a piece of toilet paper or having a good conversation, everyone was appreciated. 


On Monday we conquered Har Meron, the second highest mountain in Israel and also the burial site of Shimon Bar Yochai. Despite the steep incline and long day, we were all still feeling good and motivated to finish! We learned about the unfortunate tragedy that occured in Har Meron a few weeks ago during Lag Ba’Omer, and felt a deep sense of connection to the people who were affected by the horrific event. After our dinner we played a funny game of telephone and made a massage circle, from which our shoulders all greatly benefited after carrying 4 liters of water on our backs. 


We woke up ready to tackle the third day of the hike still feeling strong, despite some sore calves. We had a great hike exploring the valley and even stopped to take a dip in a natural pool, one that included a rock water slide! We spent a lot of the hike doing the Israel National Trail and met a few local hikers who shared their experiences with us and inspired us to keep on going. Upon arrival at the campsite we met a unit of soldiers that was completing their training. We then had an activity where we were randomly paired up and had questions to prompt an intimate conversation. The activity was great because it was a chance for the group to make new connections and deeper bonds. 


We finally made it to Wednesday, the last day on Yam L’Yam! After an 5 hour hike through the fields of the Galil, we made it to the Sea of Galilee and ran into it with immense joy. One student emptied a water bottle that contained water from the Mediterranean, and we all celebrated our accomplishment. We finished out the day with ice cream, falafel lunch, and some much needed showers. 


Thursday we started off the day with a beautiful tour of Tel Aviv, specifically the Neve Tzedek neighborhood. We also learned about the history of Rothschild Boulevard and the beginnings of what we now know to be Tel Aviv. After the tour we went to the Peres Center for Peace and learned about Israel as a startup nation. We heard about new innovations and we even experienced virtual reality games such as flying in the future and being a doctor. We then ate a delicious lunch by the Mediterranean and went to tour a water treatment plant near Rishon Lezion. Turns out Israel is the leading nation in water reclamation worldwide! We did a bus ride around the treatment plant and learned about the water reclamation process. From there we went to the site where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated and we learned about his legacy as a politician and leader. We culminated the day with a grade-wide restaurant dinner at Biga in Sarona Market and then explored the market to purchase desserts or other treats. 


On Friday we were taken to the artists market in Tel Aviv and had a chance to peruse the local art and goods. Many of us bought meaningful gifts for our families. It was so fun to walk around the city and experience the culture. After the city we went to Herzliya for the first time. It was so cool to still be able to see new places so late in our trip. We all enjoyed the beaches in Herzliya and the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean. We then came back to campus to prepare for our last Shabbat together. From designing a song, to dinner, to relaxation and more meaningful conversations, we all were aware of the closing moments of our trip but thankful for the opportunity.  


Sunday was an informative and meaningful day in Sderot where we started our experience at a lookout spot to better understand the geography.  While we have learned about the conflict in classes, it was remarkable to learn about it while standing in a city that has been attacked so many times.  Our teachers taught us about the poor quality of life that the residents of Gaza endure and explained the perils that the residents of Sderot have endured.  We then went to a ‘protected playground,’ a playground where bomb shelters are disguised as play structures.During the drive we passed by two Iron Dome. To see one of the most advanced defense systems worldwide with my own eyes was a shocking experience. We visited a family's home to hear their personal stories of living in Sderot. The mom of the house explained the trauma she and all her kids endure, and how even when there is a ceasefire, the PTSD lasts for years to come. We learned how last week during the war the family sustained a direct hit to their house, thank god they were all physically unharmed although you could see visible effects of the rocket on their door. Finally, we saw the collection of rockets at the local police station. The day gave me such a newfound admiration for the brave residents of Sderot. 


Back at Hod Hasharon we got ready for our last night banquet. It was an incredibly fun night but also sad. We shared memories, read speeches, ate good food, and partied hard. I am so grateful for these past two months and all the new experiences I have had with so many incredible people. 






  • 2021
Brian Epstein '21 & Jacob Rulnick '21

Our week began by celebrating Shavuot. In the morning, we had a session with our respective teachers about the current conflict in Israel with Hamas. It was very helpful to receive an in-depth explanation of the situation unfolding in front of our eyes. To distract us from the constant rocket alerts on our phones, circus performers entertained and even taught us how to do some of their tricks. Following the performance, many constructed crowns of flowers to accompany their white outfits for the Shavuot festivities that evening. First, however, friends Ariel Gershman and Asaf Edelstein visited for an afternoon of catching up and basketball. Before we celebrated Shavuot with a traditional night (or hour) of studying, many of the Muss teachers, including Dr. Mark Shinar himself sat on a panel and took questions about their experiences in Israel as educators and immigrants. To conclude the day, we benched, had dinner, and discussed Megilat Ruth and Jewish charity with our teacher, Danny.

Our week began by celebrating Shavuot. In the morning, we had a session with our respective teachers about the current conflict in Israel with Hamas. It was very helpful to receive an in-depth explanation of the situation unfolding in front of our eyes. To distract us from the constant rocket alerts on our phones, circus performers entertained and even taught us how to do some of their tricks. Following the performance, many constructed crowns of flowers to accompany their white outfits for the Shavuot festivities that evening. First, however, friends Ariel Gershman and Asaf Edelstein visited for an afternoon of catching up and basketball. Before we celebrated Shavuot with a traditional night (or hour) of studying, many of the Muss teachers, including Dr. Mark Shinar himself sat on a panel and took questions about their experiences in Israel as educators and immigrants. To conclude the day, we benched, had dinner, and discussed Megilat Ruth and Jewish charity with our teacher, Danny.


On Monday, we started our day by meeting with a lone soldier to learn about the experience of coming to serve in the IDF from another country. The lone soldier we met with was from Southern California and came to Israel to serve in the IDF with a group of 20 kids that were all from Southern California. We spent about an hour talking with him and learning about the triumphs as well as the challenges of being a lone soldier in Israel. After lunch, we met in the classroom with our teachers to learn about the Israeli-Hamas conflict. During this lesson, we took a step back from all the infographics on social media and took the time to learn and fully understand both points of view on the conflict and why it has escalated. After a packed morning of learning, we received free time for the rest of the day until Havdalah that night where we all huddled together to sing and conclude Shavuot. 


On Tuesday, we finally ventured out from Hod for an incredibly meaningful day at Yad Vashem. Our tour guides led us through the museum, explaining the changes made to the museum in the 2005 renovation and the significance behind each exhibit. Our day at the museum was especially moving for me because I had the opportunity to see the tree that my family planted in honor of the couple that took in my grandmother while her parents hid in the forests of Poland during the Holocaust. With help from Danny and my tour guide, we located the tree, and I told my grandmother’s story to the group. It was the first time I had the privilege to tell my family’s story, and I look forward to paying tribute to the Yarmolyuks, the family that saved my grandmother, in the coming years. We concluded the day by working out with our madrich Omri in the breezy Hod Hasharon evening.


We started Wednesday a little differently than most other days. We woke up early to go to a beach in Atlit and do a lesson with our teachers. There, we learned about the history of illegal Jewish immigration after WW2 and the difficulties of getting into British-controlled Palestine. To really understand the event and challenges of illegal Jewish immigration, our teachers had us partner up and do an activity. To start, we all did arm wrestling to signify the strength of the immigrants that had to endure this journey. Following arm wrestling, we “practiced” getting past British soldiers by having one partner run from the sand and into the ocean to get the other partner and carry them from the water onto the mainland. If you were able to complete this, you “would have” successfully passed the British soldiers and immigrated into the country. While there was lots of laughter and fun from the activity our teachers had us do, we all still understood the significance and challenges of the illegal Jewish immigrants and realized that it was their will and perseverance that allowed us to be in Israel enjoying the beautiful beach without any worries of being forced to leave. 


Following the day at the beach, we went to a detention center in Atlit for those illegal Jewish immigrants that were caught by the British. This place was very moving and emotional for us as the Detention center looked quite similar to concentration camps during the Holocaust. Our teachers taught us about how challenging it was for Jewish immigrants to come here after surviving the Holocaust. Many Jews broke down as soon as they saw the barbed wired fence at the borders of the camp, and the PTSD of all those Holocaust survivors was heightened at this detention center that they had to be at indefinitely.


From the Atlit detention center, we went to lunch and soon after began a hike at the Carmel Mountains. The Hike was extremely beautiful with a great view along with a large dark cave that we sat in with a lookout of the terrain in front of us. After a long day with a lot of action and learning, our day of excitement was not over. We were invited to a dinner in a Druze village to learn about their culture and eat great food. All 50 of us sat in a house where we learned about the Druze religion from a Druze herself who was very nice and welcoming. No one from JDS had ever met a Druze person before and also had very little knowledge of the religion itself so after sitting, talking, and eating in the Druze village, we had a very meaningful experience and connection with a new culture.


On Thursday we started our day with a hike on Mount Gilboa for about 2 hours. The hike was long but beautiful and we got to go for a swim by a waterfall that everyone enjoyed, especially because our beloved bus driver Iyad came for a swim with us. Following the hike and a schnitzel lunch, we went to two different sites with our teachers to learn more about Israeli history. The first site was Tel Faher, where our teachers taught us the story about Eli Cohen, a famous Israeli Spy who infiltrated the Syrian government and was a huge part in the success of the 6-day war for Israel. If you are interested in learning more about him and his success, you can watch The Spy on Netflix which is a documentary about his work. 


After hearing the story of Eli Cohen, we went to Emek Habakha which is right on the Israeli-Syrian border to learn about two Israeli War heroes. The first was Avigdor Kahalani, who led his group of tanks against the Syrian army during the Yom Kippur war and was successful in forcing the Syrian tanks to retreat despite being outnumbered 10-1 in tanks. The second war hero we learned about was Zvika Greengold, who was also a tank commander during the Yom Kippur war. Zvika Greengold managed to defeat the Syrian army and destroy 40 out of the 60 Syrian tanks attacking. However, Zvika achieved this by using one tank and a mountain to take down the Syrian army approaching. Thursday night we did not come back to campus to sleep, rather, we slept in tents similar to the Bedouin tents so that we could be ready to continue our journey on Friday.


 We woke up early for a hike at Gmail mountain and ruins where an ancient Jewish settlement had been until it was destroyed by the Romans. We sat in the ruins of the synagogue and listened to yet another story of Jewish resistance, instilling the resilience of the Jewish people and the importance of a nation for ourselves. After the hike, we dropped off those that had to get their second shot of the vaccine and spent some time at a local creek where we spotted beautiful freshwater crabs. We then got lunch from an eclectic shawarma shack owner and returned to Hod for a student-led Shabbat. We ended the night with a fun escape room activity organized by our madrichim and a birthday celebration for Sophie Shrock, marking a wonderful end to a week full of new and meaningful experiences. We concluded the day by working out with our madrich Omri in the breezy Hod Hasharon evening.

  • 2021
Benjamin Rushfield '21

Our week began with the end of the volunteer period in the Arava Desert, picking various fruits and vegetables for our farmers, Rafi and Freddy. The heat was rough, but what burned hotter was our strengthening connection to the land of Israel. I, like many others, aimed to find meaning in helping private farmers with their agricultural tasks. With the help from our madrichot from HaShomer HaChadash, Shani and Daniella, and from Dr. Shina and Ms. Naftalovich, who came down to visit us near the end of the volunteer period, we began to understand the struggles and rewards of Israelis working to better the land.  One of the unexpected highlights of the week for some was that there were dogs that were always with us, providing a boost of energy when we needed it. We found many ways to entertain ourselves after we finished our volunteering for the day, such as zumba classes, snacking, and listening to Rotem (our madrich) play the guitar. We dined on the finest sandwiches the Arava had to offer for dinner and breakfast, which was a delight that everyone looked forward to on a daily basis.

We also had the opportunity to meet with Israeli students at a boarding school in Hatzeva, which was a very interesting and enlightening experience. It was a day or two after the rockets had started, and we were all very curious to hear their perspectives on the situation. Most notably, one of the students was from Sderot, about a kilometer away from the border with Gaza, and said that he’d lived through thousands of rockets in his lifetime. He told us that he was mostly unfazed by rockets at this point, which is a sad reality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We didn’t have our own experience with rockets until a day or two after we returned to Hod HaSharon.

Upon returning to Hod HaSharon, the question on everyone’s mind was whether or not we’d have to spend the remaining moments of our trip in the bomb shelter. While we did have to make one trip into the bomb shelter, our spirits were generally high throughout the time we spent there. The madrichim did a great job at keeping us calm and relaxed, giving us things like popsicles. The scariest part was initially hearing the siren, but we had been prepared and knew exactly where to go and what to do.

In reflection, we learned a lot about what it means to defend Israel in a variety of areas. The defense of Israel militarily is an obvious way that we thought about, but defending its territory near the border was also important. By just being there in the Arava, we were showing Israel’s enemies that not a single inch of Israel is theirs for the taking. In a way, it felt like we were being built by the desert just as much as we were building up the desert.

 

  • 2021
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.
 

 

  • 2021
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. 


 

  • 2021