Senior Capstone Trip Blog

Week 8 Reflections
Ben Bass '23 and Max Schwartz '23

Ben Bass and Max Schwartz created a podcast to reflect on their final week on the Irene and Daniel Simpkins Senior Capstone Trip.

Ben Bass ‘23 and Max Schwartz ’23 created a podcast to reflect on their final week on the Irene and Daniel Simpkins Senior Capstone Trip. Listen to their story here.



  • 2023
Week 7 Reflections
Samantha Eidelman '23

I would say that the week of Haderech was my favorite of the trip so far, and I think it was the epitome of what the entire Israel experience was supposed to be about. The main component of the week was volunteering. My group was assigned to Adi Negev, a rehabilitation village for disabled children and adults in southern Israel. 

On Sunday, we toured the village and had an orientation. We also ran into the CEO of JNF, Russell Robinson, and the founder of Adi Negev, Doron Almog. Starting the next morning, we jumped right in. 

We were a group of 14 split into pairs and trios and assigned to different houses to be with specific residents for the week. My partner and I were in the house of Noga, consisting of about 20 adults with cognitive disabilities. It was challenging for me, to say the least, as I had never been in an environment like this before. Almost all of the residents were nonverbal and in a wheelchair, which intimidated me greatly. We would arrive just before 9:00 AM to help wheel the residents to their classrooms, where they would spend their mornings. We met their sweet, patient teacher, who explained that her goal for them was to create sensory experiences. She did this through singing, storytelling, playing instruments, encouraging residents to bounce in their seats, letting them feel different textures, and providing them with sensory boards. My partner and I spent the majority of the time during class sitting and observing. I found that time extremely captivating, and I tried to take in as much as possible. It was so interesting to me to see the residents’ routines, patience, and trust in the staff. 

Over the next few mornings, we started to get the hang of the routine. There was also a special part of the residents’ day when they went to Snoozeland, a padded room with disco lights and bean bags. Some residents would spend time in Snoozeland chilling and relaxing outside of their wheelchairs in a safe environment; others were placed into special equipment that would allow them to stand and keep their blood flowing throughout their bodies. Snoozeland was a popular location for the volunteers and we named it “the promised land.” 

Sunday was our last day at Adi Negev, and the residents made us parting gifts. Volunteering at Adi Negev was an incredibly educational and rewarding experience. I learned so much about the residents and how they live, and I learned about myself as well in terms of the trust, patience, and respect that I have for others.

All of us volunteering at Adi Negev spent our afternoons and evenings together, mostly sitting and talking by the swinging bench. The dynamic of our volunteer group was completely different from how it was back at Muss with the full grade. There was a blend of friend groups, and the small size of our group allowed for intimacy and bonding that wouldn’t have been possible in the larger group. We all quickly got along and started creating and enhancing relationships with each other, which I think is what this trip is supposed to be about. We spent Shabbat together, made a bonfire, went laser tagging and bowling, and even did an escape room. The week felt comfortable and relaxing, and our amazing madricha helped us be better people, both for ourselves and for others.


  • 2023
Week 6 Reflections
Ella Eimelech '23 & Ariella Mizrahi '23
Sunday, April 23

After a relaxing open Shabbat, what more could we want than a chill day on campus? We were [supposed to be] up bright and early, with breakfast starting at 8:00 AM. (But, as we too often do, we chose an extra 30 minutes of sleep over the most important meal of the day.) We then [were supposed to] head to classes at 9:00 AM. (Alas, our class started at 9:20 AM due to Room 42’s lack of coordination when it came to setting their alarm…)

Class time this morning was devoted to learning about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many thanks to Dr. Rosenthal and Mr. Bregman for having prepared us well! Once our teachers realized how well-informed we already were, we got to discuss and debate. After class, we had 30 minutes to get in a quick game of chess (our grade’s new hyperfixation). Once break was over, we headed back to our classrooms to talk to a Palestinian journalist, Razi Nazel. It was a very insightful conversation and we learned a lot about the Palestinian government and East Jerusalem Palestinians. 

Our counselors then put together 2 activity options. Option 1 was painting with acrylics on canvas and option 2 was a game of capture the flag. Both activities were great, until the capture the flag game ended due to security guard interference. We then had room inspections. Those that passed were able to sign out and go out to dinner in Hod HaSharon. We got a beautiful view of the night sky on our way out. 

Monday, April 24

We woke up bright and early at 6:30 AM for a 6:45 AM departure to start our long journey to Kfar Etzion. 

First on the schedule was a meeting with our teacher Jeremy’s cousin, Bob Lange, who educated us on Jewish life in the West Bank. This very insightful conversation made us eager for the next part of our day - a bus tour around the Green Line with Danny Tirza. Danny boarded our bus and we began the journey to Gilo, Jerusalem from where we could see Bethlehem. Then we drove up to the wall and got off to discuss why the wall was built the way it was. Danny Tirza inquired of us “WHY SO UGLY?”, “WHY SO TALL?”, “WHY THE HOLES?”. We learned a lot in considering these questions. The wall is “ugly” because it needs to be concrete for safety. We learned that it is 9 meters tall so that it is near impossible to climb. And finally we learned that the holes at the top of the wall are called “holes of hope” so that one day when the wall is not needed anymore, the concrete will be easy to take down with the help of those holes. 

After a packed morning, we went to Sacher Park in Jerusalem, to read, show off our frisbee skills, and slide down the incredibly tall slides (not sure how they are regulated). Three hours later, we started walking toward Machne Yehuda - about ten minutes away. On the way, our teachers stopped us just to count and ensure everyone was present. While this was happening, we became aware that a terror attack had just taken place in Machne Yehuda. We immediately turned around and got on our buses to head to dinner. At first we didn’t know how to process what had just happened and how close we were to being there, but once the information sunk in, we realized how lucky we were. 

We arrived to the Agron Youth Hostel for dinner, where we were served the usual hostel food: schnitzel, spaghetti, marinara sauce, and veggies. After a filling dinner, we got on the bus again and went to our final activity of the day: JNF’s Yom Hazikaron Tekes. The ceremony was held on Ammunition Hill where the battle for Gush Etzion took place in 1948. A part worth mentioning from this meaningful ceremony is that Michael Levine's (z”l) father spoke powerfully and meaningfully. We concluded the night with heavy hearts.  

Tuesday, April 25

We started the day by heading straight to Keshet High School in Mazkeret Batya. We split into small groups and the students there showed us around the school. After the tours, we all headed to the field behind the school to see the tekes, or ceremony that Keshet had put together for Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. It was very special to see an Israeli High School’s Yom Hazikaron ceremony after going to JDS’s assembly every year.

We ate our favorite bagged lunch and headed back to campus. When we got back, we all sat in a circle outside with our madrichim and talked a bit more about Yom Hazikaron and the fallen soldiers, hearing a few stories. We were handed a small laminated piece of paper with a photo of Liel Gidoni with the biggest smile on his face, as well as his quote saying, “smile, because smiling is happiness and happiness is the strength to keep going.” We then shifted the conversation to a discussion about the instant switch between Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha-atzma-ut and if it is realistic to be able to go from mourning to celebrating instantly. 

Upon conclusion of our discussions, we got ready for Yom Ha-atzma-ut celebrations in Ra’anana, or as some called it, “Israeli Coachella.” After changing into our outfits for the night, we had catered dinner, falafel, pita, fries, and salads. We headed straight to the buses after dinner and were on our way to Ra’anana Park. Upon arrival, we got off the bus and immediately headed to the front of the crowd to see Netta Barzilai, Avraham Tal, and a few DJs. We then did what our grade does best - mosh! Some of us made our way to the front and were even featured in Netta Barzilai’s Instagram post! (Shoutout Noah G, Ben, Coby, and Noam!) 

We left the crowd unsure if we were covered in sweat or water that was being thrown everywhere, and headed back to the buses to get back to campus. When we got back we realized that it was indeed sweat and not water, and rushed to the showers. After the first 5 minutes of the shower rush, there was no hot water, and then 2 minutes after, there was no water at all. The stream was close to none, and that’s when we realized it’s because all of the Muss campus was trying to shower at the same time. Once the water was back on and it was warm enough, we finished showering, and went straight to bed ready for the next day of celebrations. 

Wednesday, April 26

We were given a late wake up to recover from our dancing the night before. 

Then, in the early afternoon, we headed to Be’er Sheva for JNF’s Yom Ha-atzma-ut celebrations. If the previous day was Coachella, then we said this day’s celebration was like the Revolve Festival. We were greeted by a variety of different stands, offering things like coffee, smoothies, and appetizers. We filled up on food stand foods only to find out we would be heading to a barbecue. (Though the food stands were overall great, some of us were disappointed when what we thought looked like chicken tenders was actually fried fish.) We first got in front of the stage, and danced and sang with the Special in Uniform band, a special needs unit in the IDF that was created with the help of JNF. We enjoyed the barbecue, danced and celebrated Israel’s birthday, and then sadly had to head home. The drive was 3 full hours due to extreme traffic.

We then had some down time and were told to prepare our clothes for Gadna, or army prep day. We didn’t know much of what the next day would entail, but we were told that our water bottles were our weapons and needed to be with us at all times. We should sleep with our water bottle, change with our water bottle, go to the bathroom with our water bottle, and never leave its side. We were also told that we would need to be ready for breakfast at 6:45 AM the next day…

Thursday, April 27

5:50 AM: *knock knock knock* “YALLA! BOKER TOV!” 

Gadna day started with our counselors blasting music and banging on our doors. We jumped out of bed and rushed to get ready for training. We made sure to NOT forget our weapons (water bottles). Very quickly we learned common IDF terms. 

Matzav shtaim - plank position 
Matzav echad - all the way down
Matzav chetzi - halfway down (or, as the commanders said, where it hurts the most) 

Did you forget your weapon (aka, water bottle)? Matzav shtaim
Did you forget your hat? Matzav shtaim
Were you 15 minutes late? Matzav shtaim times four! 

We started our training with a mile run around Hod Hasharon. We then got back and positioned ourselves into a chet (ח) in 10 seconds. This was the way we had to stand when our commanders (aka, our madrichim) talked to us. We had to make sure each row had the same number of people and it was symmetrical - all in ten seconds!

The chet isn’t symmetrical? Matzav Shtaim!

We quickly had breakfast and then continued our training but this time it was team bonding exercises. We split into two groups and worked on communication by counting to 21 without overlapping and without planning how to do so. We then had a 3 hour break, and were expected to come back more energized. 

We met again in chet position on the yard and our commander Shlomi explained the next part of training. We were excited/nervous when we saw three stretchers out on the yard and 5 liters of water next to each one. Our commanders showed us the proper way to pick up a stretcher and once we mastered it, we began our walk, jog, and run with the stretchers. (Unfortunately, insurance doesn’t actually allow for us to carry people on the stretchers, so the water had to suffice.)

Oh wait! Did you forget to bring your weapon (aka, water bottle)? Matzav Shtaim

We got back and into chet formation so that our commanders could explain the next drill. (We like to believe our chet improved every time.) This is where it got serious. We stood in two rows with our weapons (water bottles) in front of our commander. He began by demonstrating the first shooting position - amidah. Holding our weapon with both hands in front of us and our knees slightly bent. Next position - kriyah. One knee on the ground and the other knee at a 90° angle. (Look at us still using math in our daily life!!!) The last position is shkivah. This involves laying on the ground completely with our elbows up and holding our weapon in front of our face. Once we got those positions down, we learned some new terms.

Gilgul Le’yamin - roll over to the right
Gilgul Le’smol - roll over to the left 
Rimon - grenade (count 21, 22, 23 and say “exploded”)
Esh - fire (say esh 3x and shoot with your water bottle)

So, now that we learned all of the terms, it was time for a competition. We split into the two groups from earlier, and battled 1v1 for the quickest soldier. Our commander shouted out the terms and we had to react until our opponent got confused. After a clear victory, we had our final drill. It was time for flag football, specifically AMERICAN flag football. Some of us had tricky strategies like hiding behind trees and others played offense. It was a long and tiring game with some players making bold claims that their flags had simply fallen off as they ran. We eventually were able to declare a winner…. Harry! 

Upon celebrating Harry’s greatness, the physical part of the day was finally over. We had a long break until the next part of the day, which was a Q&A panel with our commanders (madrichim). We asked them questions about their service and then they gave us hypothetical scenarios and we had to come up with solutions, keeping in mind the IDF’s handbook. 

We then had dinner and *optional* special unit boot camp tryouts with our commander at 8:00 PM. Unsurprisingly, most of us chose to opt out of the intensive training except for the ten brave kids that put themselves up to the challenge. We ended the night with chess games and cornflakes (the usual). 

Friday, April 28 & Saturday, April 29 - Open Weekend


My open weekend started with my cousin picking me up and taking me to Shibolet Hasharon for coffee and delicious pastries. We got to her house in a village called Matan, about 20 minutes east of Hod HaSharon. When we got to her house, my cousin immediately started prepping the ingredients for shakshuka. She put it on the stove, and told the kids to keep an eye on it while we left to get our nails done. (This was much needed. I haven’t gone in over a month!) We then came back to delicious shakshuka. I followed this feast with a few rounds of chess with my younger cousin. After some much needed downtime, we all showered and got ready for Shabbat dinner. The food was very reminiscent of home for me, since it was Persian food, something I eat every week for Shabbat dinner. After dinner we had some tea and dates and played a few more board games, and finally went to sleep. 

Saturday morning had a late start as I was catching up on much-needed sleep. We woke up at around 12:30 PM to come downstairs to breakfast, which was malawach. After breakfast we all went to Rishon Lezion to go to the mall to browse, followed by a game of bowling. We then stopped in Kfar Saba on our way back for my cousins’ favorite ice cream place, DeliCream. We went back home and we watched the movie Tetris, which I highly recommend. It was very interesting to learn about the game Tetris and the buying rights and how the USSR was involved. We ended the movie with delicious schnitzel and salads and fries, and I took a shower. (I had to take advantage of having a private shower while I could!) 


My sister picked me up early at 9:00 AM to start our drive to Ashdod which is 35 minutes away from the AMHSI campus. We visited my grandfather who lives in Ashdod and hung out with him. He brushed up on his English while we drank tea and ate biscuits. Then we drove to my sister’s apartment in Petach Tikvah, just 10 minutes south of AMHSI. There, I reunited with my (very recent) brother-in-law and my nephew Peter (my sister and brother-in-law’s adorable puppy). I immediately crashed for a nap and then when I woke up we finished prepping food for Shabbat. For Shabbat, we had the usual food. I was especially craving Moroccan fish because it reminds me of home. My brother joined us for Shabbat dinner and it was a really relaxing night. During dinner I told them that Gadna day had prepared me for the IDF and I am ready to enlist!

On Saturday I woke up at 11:30 AM which completed all of the sleep hours I had lost from the 5:50 AM wake up for Gadna day. By the time I was ready for the day, it was time to eat lunch. Omri, my brother-in-law, blessed us with some delicious food and we had popsicles and babka for dessert. We took Peter to the dog park and then relaxed for the rest of the day. After Shabbat, we watched some “Friends” episodes and ate dinner. My sister begged me to stay for at least one more day, but I was already Hod-sick (like homesick but for campus). 

See you in 3 weeks!
Ariella and Ella 


  • 2023
Week 5 Reflections
Talia S. '23, Daniela A. '23, and Eitan M. '23


After a long and restful Passover Break, we returned on Friday for our first Shabbat back on campus. An otherwise normal Shabbat was made that much more special as we were able to see the whole grade together again after break. We all arrived to campus on Friday morning and were then treated to a surprise trip to Tel Aviv beach. While many of us had been to Tel Aviv during break, we were more than happy to return for a day of sunbathing and swimming. The water was particularly rough causing many of us to become repeatedly wiped out by waves. After some time at the beach, we went back to campus to prepare for Shabbat. We got dressed, took pictures (the most important part of the night!), had a meaningful Kabbalat Shabbat service, and then enjoyed Shabbat dinner with the other groups on the AMHSI campus.


On Saturday, we began the day late with an 11:00 AM wakeup. We then had a unique activity with one of our teachers where we tried (and failed) to read Israeli newspapers in Hebrew. Deciphering the articles was tough, in spite of our 13 year Hebrew education! After this blow to our confidence, we had lunch on campus in the Chadar Ochel. The rest of the day consisted of free time. We played spikeball, read, tanned outside, and played some intense games of One Night Werewolf. We ended the day with Havdalah and dinner in Hod HaSharon.

After a relaxing Shabbat, we started a three-day program called “Your Way” in which we were given an opportunity to explore a subject that interests us. We had three options: Culinary, Outdoor Adventure, and Arts & Culture. We each participated in a different track and will share what the three days held for us. Keep reading, or use the links to read about those experiences.


Eitan - Culinary Track 


While most groups woke up at 8:00 AM, Rona’s culinary group was blessed with a 9:00 AM wakeup. We hit the ground running on Day 1, heading back to Tel Aviv (yet again) to the Florentine neighborhood on the south side of the city. There, we viewed the majestic graffiti of the neighborhood. Though graffiti is technically illegal in the city, all the buildings in Florentine are covered in many different types of graffiti. 

After a long morning baking in the sun, we got some much-needed respite when we sampled food at the long-running Levinski Market. The market is the soul of the neighborhood and brings together people from extremely different backgrounds, leading to a great culinary destination. Safe to say, the food was not a miss. We snacked on cheese and potato borekas and traditional beef kubeh and kubeh soup. It was the perfect way to cap off an amazing morning. 

After this fine meal, we headed to Jaffa Port to partake in a blind restaurant experience. The restaurant we visited - at which guests eat in pitch black darkness - is only one of 14 that exist in the world. While we all anticipated a messy meal (since we wouldn’t be able to see our food), the meal went off without a hitch. The food was clearly gourmet level and eating in the dark gave an otherwise normal lunch a surprising flair. Some of us enjoyed pasta, some fish, and some even a surprise meal where we had to guess what was on our plate. We can now confidently say that our other senses are definitely more heightened. After this wonderful look into the blind experience, we took a walk along the Jaffa Port and perused the Flea Market, with some of us even buying interestingly designed pajama pants. After a long day, we loaded the buses and headed back to campus, with our stomachs full. 


A late wakeup on the first day meant a 7:15 AM wake up on the second day. After a long bus ride to the north of Israel, we visited a moshav in the Israel Valley. This moshav, Nahalal, was the first established in Israel. There, we visited an organic farm which was created as an escape for girls and women that are victims of sexual harassment and assault. Only women work on the farm, which creates an environment of safety and comfort. After listening to the story of the farm, we got an opportunity to get our own hands dirty by doing some farm work. We weeded the vegetable beds so that new crops could be planted for the summer season. Safe to say, none of us are truly prepared to be farmers!

Next, we boarded the buses and took a trip to a forest nearby, where we met Uri, a nutrition specialist. He taught us how to forage through the woods and helped us identify which plants are edible and which are not. We picked asparagus, garlic, mustard, and a few other different plants, which would be used later for our lunch. While some of us were weirded out by putting dirty plants in our lunches, we were mostly too hungry to truly care. We started a fire and began by baking pita bread. We then chopped up some vegetables along with our foraged plants and made a wonderful salad and stew. Uri taught us that by combining all the components of our lunch, we could make delicious sandwiches. The meal was scrumptious and after working so hard all morning, it was a nice break.


On the last day of our culinary experience, we journeyed to Netanya, where we visited the Corinth Chocolate Factory which provides opportunities for those with mental challenges and special needs. There, we learned about the history of the factory, interacted with the employees to learn about their daily lives and challenges, and got the chance to make our own chocolate, which we packaged and brought back to campus. Sadly, the heat of the day melted much of our chocolate before we had the chance to eat it! 

After an eye-opening experience at the factory, we went to Rona’s home to cook an Israeli lunch for ourselves. We made shakshuka, bourekas, Israeli salad, pickled vegetables, challah, hummus, beet tehina, and rugelach for dessert. We can confidently say it was one of the best meals we’ve had this trip. With our bellies full, we returned back to campus.

Daniela - Outdoor Experience 


After a relaxing break, we started the day early and headed to Bat Yam, a city just south of Tel Aviv. There, we visited an organization, Hagal Sheli, which teaches underprivileged teens to surf while also giving them an outlet to express themselves. We tried our hand at surfing even though the waves were quite small. Few succeeded, but nevertheless we enjoyed ourselves in the water. After a hard few hours of surfing, we ate lunch on the beach and spent the rest of the day sunbathing, playing volleyball, and playing in the ocean. 


On Monday, we continued with the theme of sports in the outdoors and visited Etgarim, a nonprofit that helps those with special needs and disabilities participate in sports they would not typically be able to participate in. We heard Nati Gruzenberg’s inspiring story about hand cycling and then participated in Tandem biking. After a few hours of practicing, we were blind-folded and had to rely on our partner to take us around without being able to see where we were going. This required both skill and trust in our partner. Some of us were led astray by our peers and (to the annoyance of our teacher) toppled over or ran into Wolt drivers. 

Later in the day we learned Krav Maga and self defense skills, with a clearly seasoned (and terrifying) Israeli expert. After an hour of instruction we quickly became experts ourselves. We think it is now safe to say the seniors of JDS are now qualified to join the JDS security guard team. 


On the last day of outdoor adventure, we visited the Ben Shemen forest and were taught orienteering. With just a map in hand, we were sent off to find 14 coordinates and make our way back to the start in under two hours. Although challenging, every group proved themselves competent and made it back in record time. At the end of the day, our tired selves were ready for our next chapter and eagerly hopped on the buses to head back to Hod HaSharon.

Talia - Arts & Culture Track 


While the other groups were enticed with promises of delicious food and surfing lessons, Tom’s Arts and Culture track provided group members with the opportunity to experience Israelis’ rich and multi-faceted way of life. On Sunday morning we piled into a mini bus and traveled to one of Israel’s most vibrant cities, Tel Aviv. Once there, we were greeted by an enthusiastic dance instructor who was decked out in a neon ‘80s-esque outfit. Outside Dizengoff Center, we were given special wireless headphones that allowed us to listen to songs alongside our teacher’s dance lesson. Standing on the street in Tel Aviv, we quickly went over a few essential dance moves and then we were on our way! We danced down the streets of Tel Aviv while waving to bikers and restaurant-goers. Some passers-by were even bold enough to join our impromptu flash mob! 

Once we were all danced out, Tom led us to the Florentine neighborhood where the streets are full of beautiful (and sometimes political) graffiti. The Florentine neighborhood is also unique because it is currently undergoing gentrification. We were able to see members of the community expressing their emotions through street art. Then, we had free time in Shuk HaCarmel where we could get lunch and haggle over prices with the vendors. Lunch was followed by a fashion tour through a trendy area of the city. We met designers, tried on couture clothing, and learned about the latest trends in Israel. Then, we drove to a music studio in Hod HaSharon where we met the drummer of a popular Israeli band called Erik Berman. He talked about his experience as a musician in Israel and played some songs acoustically for us. After a packed day and 9 miles of walking, we enjoyed a relaxing evening on campus.


After Sunday’s busy schedule, Monday morning was much more relaxed. We leisurely enjoyed coffee and pastries in the dorm lounge before listening to an Israeli author speak about his books and life experience. He inspirationally told us to always follow our dreams no matter how difficult they seem. 

Funnily enough, our next activity allowed many members of the group to live out their wildest Top-Gun-inspired dreams. In Gilot, we experienced a flight simulator that Israeli Air Force Pilots use to train. We wore army-green jumpsuits and learned about the airplane controls. Once in the simulator, we individually flew through hoops and boxes in order to collect points. Although crashing the plane wouldn’t cause any bodily harm, the rest of the group would hear about it during the debrief later on. After an exciting flight over Tel Aviv, we traveled to Herzteliyah where we had the amazing opportunity to participate in a drum circle with Mayumana, an Israeli dance troupe. We sat on plastic bins and had fun learning different beats with drumsticks. 


On Tuesday, the final day of the program, we had an early departure from campus because we were driving to the Dead Sea, where we would be visiting the lowest gallery in the world and making some of our own graffiti. The gallery where we graffitied was an old Jordanian outpost, but now famous graffiti artists travel from around the globe for art festivals there. We spent the morning and afternoon spray painting the walls with almost professional-level skill. Once there was no room left on the walls, we drove to a spring water pool in the lowest oasis in the world. While there, we cooled off from the hot day by swimming in two-foot water and playing Marco Polo. After a meaningful, eventful, artsy, and cultured three days, the entire bus took a well-deserved nap on the drive back to campus.



Tuesday was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. In the morning, at 10:00 AM, a siren rang for two minutes across all of Israel. During these special two minutes, everything stops. Because we were on our buses at that time, we stopped in the middle of the highway and were able to see all the cars pull to the side and everyone get out to observe the moment of silence for the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. 


On Wednesday, back together again after our separate time on “Your Way” tracks, our whole grade went to Jerusalem. There, we were broken into two groups to listen to speakers from minority groups. The first was at Open House Jerusalem, which is an LGBTQ+ community center that focuses on fostering acceptance and providing services to the Jerusalem LGBTQ+ community. There, we spoke with volunteers who described their own hardships living in Jerusalem as LGBTQ+ individuals and the Open House’s annual pride march that functions as a protest against those in Jerusalem who discriminate against marginalized people. 

The second seminar was with Women of the Wall, an organization that focuses on fighting for women’s rights at the Kotel. This includes being able to put on Tefilin and Talit, reading from the Torah, and having a prayer service at the Western Wall. Each month on Rosh Chodesh, the organization hosts a service at the Western Wall. During this service, they are often heckled and sometimes even attacked for praying in such a manner. Yet, they still continue their mission and are hopeful that one day, women will be granted equal rights at the Western Wall.
After a long morning of lectures, we had a much-needed break where we were able to get lunch at Ben Yehuda Street. In addition, many of us perused the shops, looking to splurge on our next expensive jewelry purchases. After a nice break, we went to the final seminar of the day, which was a discussion with an East Jerusalem Palestinian Bookstore owner, Mahmud Muna. Mahmud shared his own personal experiences living in the Arab-Israeli conflict and mentioned his thoughts on a possible peace solution. This discussion with him made us think differently about the conflict and on our own roles as American Jews. We spent the bus ride back to campus passionately debating between ourselves about the conflict, an indication that the discussion had been a success. 


On Thursday we drove two hours north to Haifa and visited an Israeli school, Reali. Here we learned about the differences and similarities between the Israeli teenage experience and the American. We discussed their plans for the upcoming year in the army and explained the very different college process we have in America. To our pleasant surprise we were greeted by an old class member of ours, Itai Gutman, and his mom, Natalie Gutman, who used to teach in the JDS Middle School. 

This experience allowed us to bond with Israeli teens and put our Hebrew skills to use. It also allowed us to engage in interesting discussion about their perspectives on Israel’s political state. 

In the afternoon we drove 30 minutes to the Druze village Daliyat Al-Karmel. We sat in on a panel where we learned about the Israeli-Druze experience and their experience in Israel. We also learned about their religion and how it affects their day-to-day life. After the panel, we were treated to a delicious Druze style dinner filled with pita, kebab, grape leaves, and delicious tea. With full stomachs, we headed back to campus excited for the open Shabbat ahead of us. 

Open Weekend


For the weekend, a friend and I visited family friends in Haifa. Upon arriving off the bus, we immediately went to the beach, needing a relaxing day after a strenuous (but meaningful!) week. We spent the day tanning, swimming, and reading on the beach. After that, we went to our host family’s apartment and napped before Shabbat Dinner. For dinner, we went out with the family to their children’s house and had a wonderful meal before heading to bed. On Saturday, we woke up late and then went to the beach. (Surprising, right?) We ate lunch at the beach and then spent the rest of the day laying on the beach. While the day was a bit windy and cold, we made the best out of it and still returned back to the apartment tan. After quick showers, we hopped back on the bus and made our way back to campus.


Friday morning, I drove thirty minutes west to Elkana to visit my family. Upon arrival, I got in the car with my cousins and drove to Ariel to drop them off at college. I came home to a yummy Shabbat dinner filled with shakshuka, fish, and pastries. After dinner, we walked to my cousin’s friends’ house, where I met some of her closest friends. After a late night, I slept until twelve and helped prepare lunch for the 10 guests my family would be hosting. After a wonderful lunch, I took a four hour nap and woke up at 7:00. We waited until Shabbat was over, ate dinner, and then headed back to Hod Hasharon. 


Over the free weekend, I accompanied a friend visiting her family in Tel Aviv. After taking a taxi to their apartment, we went to the beach to relax and spend some time in the sun. Then we ate a delicious homemade lunch and spent time getting ready for Shabbat. Shabbat dinner was a big family gathering that was accompanied by amazing Israeli barbecue and hummus. The next day, another friend met us at the apartment and we went to the beach for the day. It was even warm enough to go in the water! In the afternoon, we partook in a belly dancing lesson instructed by my friend’s first cousin. It was such a fun experience. Once we were all danced out, we packed our stuff and took a taxi back to campus.

  • 2023
Week 4 Reflections
Zack Singerman '23 and Oliver Ferber '23

We started off our day by going to the Remah Cemetery. We saw the graves and heard the stories of many famous rabbis. We learned about the story of the cemetery and its shul and what the Nazis did to it. We then toured a museum of an old Synagogue about 100 meters from the cemetery. We saw old menorahs, shofars, and M’gillah scrolls. After the museum, we went to see a small Yiddish shop that sold anything and everything relating to Yiddish culture.

To start the next part of the day, we all gathered in a group in the square and walked as the Jews over 80 years ago walked as they were sent to the Krakow Ghetto. As we walked, Jeremy (one of our teachers) played the segment from Schindler’s List of Polish people screaming at the Jews as the Jews were walking to the ghetto. We took a small detour to Schindler’s factory to discuss the type of person that Schindler was. What were his original motives? Why is he remembered as he is? If Schindler produced materials for the Nazi party, why is he held in such high praise? We then learned more about the Krakow ghetto and saw the chairs in the square with the faces of those who were forced into the ghetto.

Part 1: Zack Singerman


We started off our day by going to the Remah Cemetery. We saw the graves and heard the stories of many famous rabbis. We learned about the story of the cemetery and its shul and what the Nazis did to it. We then toured a museum of an old Synagogue about 100 meters from the cemetery. We saw old menorahs, shofars, and M’gillah scrolls. After the museum, we went to see a small Yiddish shop that sold anything and everything relating to Yiddish culture.

To start the next part of the day, we all gathered in a group in the square and walked as the Jews over 80 years ago walked as they were sent to the Krakow Ghetto. As we walked, Jeremy (one of our teachers) played the segment from Schindler’s List of Polish people screaming at the Jews as the Jews were walking to the ghetto. We took a small detour to Schindler’s factory to discuss the type of person that Schindler was. What were his original motives? Why is he remembered as he is? If Schindler produced materials for the Nazi party, why is he held in such high praise? We then learned more about the Krakow ghetto and saw the chairs in the square with the faces of those who were forced into the ghetto.

After seeing the Krakow ghetto, we went to the concentration camp in Schindler’s List, Plaszow. It was a very strange experience because, at present, Plaszow does not look like Majdenek or the pictures of other camps that we had seen in the past. It’s a park where people kick around soccer balls and play with their dogs. We talked about how it feels to be in a place where so many people once died and where people now can be happy and picnic. For some of us, we felt good that a place of sadness was now a place of joy. For some of us, we felt people should not be having fun in a place of suffering like this. We all gathered around the only statue at the camp and all gave ideas for different memorials that could be on the campgrounds. We then went to the home of Amon Goth (the director of the Plaszow Concentration Camp and a complete maniac). We saw that there was just a regular person living there with a regular life, not necessarily understanding what the house meant.

We then went to the main Krakow city square. We could explore the city, get food, buy trinkets, and more. Many of us got massive waffles with lots of strawberries, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce. We saw people riding horses and carriages, niche stores, churches, and massive buildings.

On our last night in the Krakow hotel, we had a program about where we were going the next day, Auschwitz. We all lined up and got sat in a very clumped formation as train noises were played. We were briefed on what we were going to see and how we might feel or not feel. We then split into groups to talk about the lights that we have in our lives that would help us find a will to survive if we were in the Holocaust.



We headed off to Auschwitz in the morning. We first stopped in Auschwitz 1, the first of the three Auschwitz camps. Auschwitz 1 was just as we had seen in the pictures in school. We walked under the ARBEIT MACHT FREI (Work Brings Freedom) sign that was there only to keep people calm as they entered into what many of them would not leave. We saw the bunks in the brick buildings and how there was no privacy or quiet anywhere. We saw the cells where Nazis would starve people to death or force them to stand for hours or days without end. We saw mountains upon mountains of possessions that were taken by the Nazis. These ranged from glasses to pots and pans, to even 2 tons of hair. There was even a pile of shoes that had belonged to little children. We saw the execution wall and the gallows where public executions took place. 

Next, we headed into the room with the book of names. A massive book full of the names of 4.5 million of the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. Many of us found our family names and some of us even found our own. From there we went into the Auschwitz 1 gas chambers. On the walls were scratch marks and the words “ה׳ ידום דמם,” or G-d will avenge our blood. 
Then, we went to Auschwitz-Birkenau. This place was the place of horrors. We got there and saw the infamous entrance that led to the slaughter of so many people over just a short period. We saw the cramped barracks where 400-1000 people slept and where so many died every night. After seeing the intact barracks, we looked around to see how many had been burned down with only the unusable brick chimneys left standing. It did not make sense how so many people had lived and died here. After the barracks, we went to the bathroom which was just three slabs of stone with about 300 holes in total for people to use only twice per day. There was zero privacy and if someone started taking too long, they were beaten. We then saw the destroyed gas chambers and crematoria that the Nazis blew up when they had to evacuate in late 1944. We also learned about the Sonderkommando. They worked in the crematoria and one group eventually had a small uprising where they blew up a crematorium to slow down the Nazis in their ability to mass murder Jews. We then had a student-led tekes where we read the stories of survivors and said the Hatikvah, something that was incredibly powerful for many of us. In the end, we were able to leave the camp, unlike so many who perished on those ash-filled grounds.

Never had our class been more sickened and confused. How could 1,000,000 people be slaughtered here? How could soldiers be so cruel? How could so many be so willing to take the life of a child? How could people believe Adolf Hitler’s race theory? How could so many people fit into such a small place? How could so many people be turned to ash? How could so many people turn a blind eye? And the most important question that will never have an answer: Why?

None of us will find the answers to these questions. But when we were at Auschwitz, we could not have clear thoughts. Only minds that raced and thought of the lives lost. The families separated. The pain suffered. The stench of human flesh in the air. The lack of food turned humans into living skeletons. And the will to live. How did those who survived, survive? Many of them do not even know.
To end the day, we split into groups to talk about what stuck with us the most after seeing Auschwitz. It ranged from the scale of the camp to minute details like how there was no bedding for the three to four people who were crammed together in each bed. Something stuck with each and every one of us.



We started the day with a 5-hour bus ride into the Czech Republic.

We went into Terezinstat to see the final camp of our week away from Israel. It was a very different feeling than the rest of the camps as it was in a bustling city. We learned the story of how the Red Cross had been duped by the Nazis and how they had only shown the Red Cross a few specific spots and had them stick to a path as they toured around the camp. We saw the barracks at Terezinstat and while they were nicer than those at Auschwitz and Majdenek, they were still terrible living conditions. These conditions caused many to die because of disease and lack of food and water.

We learned of how Terezinstat was the so-called “model camp” for the Nazis and how any high-ranking Jews or Polish people who the world would notice were missing were sent to this camp. There were performances by the children and the adults but they were heavily run and restricted by the Nazis. Children also drew pictures but not many were of the horrors at the camp for fear that they would be punished.

We then went to the hidden synagogue where we learned stories of those who survived and said Minchah inside the place where so many Jews silently and secretly protested the Nazi regime. We then had a discussion about how we will go from learning about the devastation of the Holocaust to refocusing our attention back on Israel with a newly acquired perspective of what it means to have a Jewish state.

Later, we drove to Prague to see the city at night. We were allowed to roam the city and see the clock tower. At 8:00 PM we all gathered around to see the clock hit the hour and got to see a little mechanical show that plays every hour. There were a bunch of little shops to see ranging from normal Prague-related shirt stores to a custom rubber ducky store! Everyone enjoyed some version of a Prague chimney cake. We were able to see beautiful churches and castles in the night sky with all of their lights and hand-crafted architecture. In the end, we had an incredible view of Prague over the water in the night sky.


Part 2: Oliver Ferber


Good Morning Prague! We had some time to sleep in before leaving for the Prague castle at 8:30 AM. The Prague castle and cathedral were gorgeous with beautiful architecture and an intriguing history. We then went on to visit the Charles Bridge and the Jewish Ghetto, learning about the rich Jewish history in Prague. Following our tour we went to lunch at U Milo, the best kosher Italian restaurant in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD. (11/10, 5.5 stars, could not believe it was kosher pizza, I was not paid to say this, the best food of the whole trip!) After having some delicious pasta and pizza, we had some free time in the city. Some of us went to the National Museum of Prague where we learned about the history of the Czech Republic and the assassination of SS officer Reinhard Heydrich. After this experience we departed for the airport in Prague. Upon arriving at the airport, we gave our heartfelt goodbyes to our security guards Dereck and Adam. It was a truly bittersweet moment. We then arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare; we were fortunate to be serenaded there by some of our grade’s finest pianists. We then boarded the flight and headed to Warsaw. Then we took a connecting flight from Warsaw to Tel Aviv.


After a grueling night of flights, we arrived back to campus in Hod HaSharon bright and early at 5:30 AM. After sleeping in until 3:00 PM, we got up, got something to eat, played some chess, and then headed downstairs to a meeting we had at 4:00 PM. At 4:00 PM, a photographer came and showed us the app Lightroom, which allows us to share photos without tarnishing the original photo quality, which is a thing that often happens when people try to print shared photos from Whatsapp. We then had another meeting at 4:30 PM with Jacob who told us about our three options for our post Pesach programming.

After Pesach, we will have the option to choose one of three options for the type of trips we would like to do during the day. One option is Arts and Culture with our beloved tour guide Tom, which will focus on arts and Israeli cultural items such as music, spray painting, and other cool things. Another option is outdoor activities with Jimmy, which will include surfing, blind biking, and learning how to navigate in the wilderness by IDF soldiers. The third option is a yummy culinary tour of Israel led by the magnificent Rona, which will focus on all the different cuisines in Israel.

We then had some dinner and some free time in Hod Hasharon. Later that night, the Daf Yomi club (a club that learns a leaf from the Talmud daily) was formed. It was a joyous occasion for all. We then went to bed to prepare for the next day.


On Friday morning we all thought we had plenty of time to sleep in but got pranked because the previous night was daylight savings in Israel! After a scrumptious breakfast, we boarded the buses and headed to Tel Aviv! First we had a brief tour of the history of Tel Aviv and its role in Israeli culture today. Following the tour we had free time in the shuk and in the areas adjacent to it where we spent time shopping and having lunch. Following the free time in Tel Aviv, we headed to the hotel where we would be staying in order to get ready for Shabbat. However, thanks to daylight savings, we had an abundance of time remaining before Shabbat. So, we all put on our bathing suits and headed to the beach!

At the beach, we waded in the ocean, relaxed on the sand, played kadima, and passed a volleyball around. We had a great time!

After the beach we returned to the hotel to get ready for Shabbat. We did our own Mincha, Kabbalat Shabbat, and Ma’ariv services at the park across from our hotel. We then had a scrumptious Shabbat dinner, followed by a game of The Bachelorette and The Bachelor in the basement of our hotel! We had a blast! After that, we spent some time playing cards, talking with friends, and then went off to bed.


Many of us woke up fired up to go to shul, only to realize it was already 11:45 AM. After waking up, we had a very touching activity where people would say the name of someone they would like to talk with more. This activity strengthened our communal bond and helped create new friendships. After this activity we had another scrumptious meal, followed by free time where we played cards, frisbee, spikeball, and more activities. We then had an a capella contest where the small but mighty group named “The Trio” took home gold with their song, “Peppas.” We then had some more free time, followed by another scrumptious dinner, followed by some more free time before doing Havdalah, departing back to campus, and getting ready for the next day.

  • 2023

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