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Senior Capstone Trip Blog

Sophie Handloff
Matan Lieber-Kotz '18

Week 10
by Sophie Handloff

The end of our free weekend brought the reuniting of our family of twenty-one for our third and final week of volunteer period. After living together for two weeks, coming back from our weekend away to our house at Givat Oz felt like coming home. We got back pretty late, but that didn't stop any of the shenanigans that usually go on at night around here. This can be anything from card games that end in screaming matches, late night grilled cheese, midnight shadow puppet shows or live streaming sports games in the middle of the night. Regardless, we woke up Sunday morning (Yes, Sunday is a workday in Israel!) ready for our last week of work.

For me that meant heading to the refet, or cowshed. There, we are mainly responsible for caring for the baby cows. Every morning the eight of of us come in to feed the cows, give them clean water, and make sure their crates have dry hay. But, once the routine tasks are finished, each day brings new responsibilities!

One of the most exciting responsibilities we have been given is receiving new baby cows! Usually once or twice a week we become proud parents as we bring in five new babies, walk them to their new homes, and of course name them all. Then we begin caring for them and watching them grow. This becomes a huge responsibility, as one day in the life of a baby cow is way more significant than any of us were expecting. Our babies can be healthy one morning and suddenly look weak that afternoon. When a baby becomes sick and weary it can be quite nerve racking. We immediately take on the role of "responsible parent." We do everything we can to get them to return to health. This can be anything from giving them extra attention, providing them with extra nutrients and vitamins, as well as keeping an eye on their food and water intake.

Another task we have been learning to master is herding the cows when certain ones are needed for a variety of reasons: the vet, to be weighed, to be tagged, to be trimmed, or checked for pregnancy. There's a certain rush you feel when you jump into a yard of seventy 800-pound cows and have the goal of relocating a certain fifteen of them. Sometimes it feels like a game, other times it can be extremely frustrating, however there's nothing like the feeling of success when it's over!

The afternoons are usually pretty quiet around the house. Lots of napping, hanging out, and relaxing. However, on Tuesday our madricha, Bat El, planned an amazing activity for us. We were all given plates of paint and and instructed to quietly walk in circles. We were prompted with different instructions such as, "Find someone who you have gotten to know better since you have been on the kibbutz, and put a handprint on their shoulder." After multiple rounds, we had all connected with many different people on a new level, and it was an amazing experience for everyone.

The evening comes and brings the biggest task of all: dinner time. Cooking with twenty-one for twenty-one. Chopping, boiling, sautéing and baking first, and then comes washing, drying, and cleaning. It's a huge task, and sometimes dinner isn't until 10pm, but we have had some great outcomes including homemade gnocchi, make your own pizza, taco Tuesday, fondue night, and more!

While living together on the kibbutz, we continue to talk about the responsibility of being aware of yourself, others, and all that goes on around you. This is because while living in a group, everything we do affects one another. If one person doesn't clean their dish, it sits out, attracts bugs, and then someone else has to deal with it. At night we set "quiet time," making sure everyone can get the sleep that they need. The concept of being aware came up in our daily work with the cows as well. Making sure we were staying aware of the babies' health status, ensuring they don't fall ill, or being aware of how we handle ourselves when in the yard with the big cows, making sure we are all staying safe and keeping the cows calm.

The end of our three weeks at Kibbutz Givat Oz is very bittersweet. Our time here has been so meaningful, especially the bonds and connections we have formed with one another. However, I am very excited to reunite with our entire group for an amazing shabbat in Haifa! I will miss living the Kibbutz life and the amazing experiences we have had here, and especially the cows!

Rina Torchinsky
Matan Lieber-Kotz '18

Week 9
by Rina Torchinsky

The sun beats down on the beaten dirt-paths, the birds harmonize with the whistling wind, and the three-legged dog, Kafri, trots through the weeds. The airplane flies overhead and the lemon-colored flowers dance in the wind and twist through the fence.

The donkeys wail. It's more than just a "Hee-Haw." It almost sounds like the creak of an old metal door followed by an explosive and overpowering honk, similar to that of a very congested person blowing their nose. The sound comes out of nowhere. The donkeys don't seem to be upset or anything. I think that's just what they do. Beyond the tropical cove that is the chadar ochel past the greenhouse, behind the wood-piles, the two donkeys graze together in a fenced-in field. Freshly-picked mint-colored cabbage and forest-colored grass resembling silly string adorn the layers of brown earth beneath the donkeys' hooves.

I scoop my shovel under the free-range manure and wield the droppings into the cumbersome wheelbarrow.

On Hava V'Adam, an organic, vegan farm, everything and everyone has a purpose. It's a system of permaculture. Our guide on the farm, Emma, taught us that permaculture comes from a combination of the words "permanent" and "agriculture," which refer that to an eco-society whose system is determined by nature's natural patterns.

The braying donkeys are fed leftover food and their manure is transformed into fertile soil that can be used to build biodegradable mud buildings throughout the farm. When mixed with the right amount of water, the donkey manure provides an ideal texture for creating decorative accents on interior mud walls.

I understood the donkeys' essence as fairly simple; grazing, eating and pooping. These are all natural instincts which benefit the entire farm community. It is the essence of permaculture. I figure that if there were one more donkey on the farm, he would live the same way and contribute the same thing as the other donkeys do. I think the same could even be said of an additional human on the farm.

This sustainable lifestyle seems to determine everyone's most practical purpose based on nature. Just like the donkeys, we eat the crops, use compost toilets, nurture the soil and then harvest the plants.

As I continue to read through an anthology of philosophy on my trip, I realize that this seems to contrast Jean Paul Sartre's core philosophy that "existence precedes essence." Those who live on the farm share the same essence, even before their actual existence. On the farm, nature seems to determine both essence and existence.

Even though nature seems to determine our very purpose on the farm, there's still something about the farm that preaches the very essence of freedom—the kind of freedom that encourages me to explore beyond our natural purpose on the farm.

On the farm, to some extent, we're free from societal constraints. We're free from the vanity of mirrors, free from superficial trends, and free from the constant buzz of social media. The clouds that determine what society deems "normal" or "standard" have drifted away (even if the sky is gray and it's pouring rain), allowing each and every individual to determine his or her own essence.

After dinner one night a group of people from international backgrounds, who are also participating in programs on the farm, joined together for a dance party after dark in the chadar ochel. The predominantly lyric-free techno music blared through the speaker as the deejay mixed music on his computer. You could hear it everywhere on the farm.

Believe me, I'm not a dancer, but I eventually just let loose. I developed new moves from the foreign free-spirited dancers around me. I danced with people I've never spoken to, with people who live thousands of miles away from me, to music I've never heard before. Sometimes, I even just danced by myself to my heart's content. Never in my life have I felt so free, so free to be whoever or whatever I am.

As I jumped around, twisting and turning, I realized that we didn't all actually share the same essence that Sartre describes or that an eco-society seems to determine. While nature might determine our role in a system of permaculture, it still allows and even encourages freedom of thought and freedom to find personal meaning. Through living in a system of permaculture, I have begun to understand the concept of "essence" further.

On the surface, I have begun to understand a shared, collective natural purpose, but beyond that, lies the individual purpose. I've found that the subtle breeze against my salty skin, the brush of weeds against my calves, and the sound of chirping birds, form a special air—one in which has allowed me to see the world differently, observe differently, and ultimately understand myself and my own essence differently.

Nancy Wassner
Nancy Wassner

Photos of the Class of 2018 in Israel
by Nancy Wassner | Coordinator of the Irene and Daniel Simpkins Senior Capstone Israel Trip

This week I have had an amazing time visiting members of the Class of 2018 at their volunteer placements in Israel. On Monday, I traveled south with administrators from our partners at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) to two volunteer sites, the Hava V'Adam Ecological Farm near Modi'in and Kibbutz Kramim in the Negev.

At Hava V'Adam, we arrived in time for the 10 AM tea break, with extremely yummy tea made from herbs picked by the students. Then the group got back to work, stripping off their shoes and socks to make bricks the old-fashioned way out of a mixture of sand, mud, and straw. Using their feet to mix the ingredients, there was a lot of spontaneous singing, including the old CESJDS acapella favorite, "Nachamu."

That afternoon, we reached Kibbutz Kramim just as lunch was ending and a free afternoon was beginning. Volunteers on Kramim spend their mornings working with children, in the vineyards, helping with handyman projects around the kibbutz, and in the kitchens and chadar ochel. In the afternoons, there's a lot of time to relax. Read Nicole Schwartz's blog from Week 8 for an inside scoop and more photos!

On Wednesday, the folks from AMHSI and I drove north under threateningly grey skies to visit Kibbutz Givat Oz and Kibbutz Hazorea, both in the Jezreel Valley. At Givat Oz, we were greeted by two members of the Class of 2018 volunteering as communal housekeeping staff as well as two emissaries waiting to bring us to the refet, the cowshed. We also visited our volunteers at the laundry and in landscaping. Some of the crew at Givat Oz were still sleeping through the morning, as their work with children in after-school programs picks up only in the afternoon and stretches into the evening.

By the time we got to Kibbutz Hazorea, the rain really started to come down. We found volunteers from the Class of 2018 taking a lunch break, then chilling in their moadon (lounge), sorting their laundry, and washing the dishes before heading back to work in the afternoon. On Hazorea, the group is involved in lots of projects to help improve the kibbutz, including painting playground equipment, building raised gardens, and widening an overgrown path first cleared by last year's Hazorea volunteers.

Everyone came "home" to the AMHSI campus in Hod Hasharon on Thursday afternoon to prepare for their Open Shabbat, visiting family and friends across Israel. After some adorable reunions, everyone seemed ready for a nice, relaxing weekend off.

Oh, and the group from Hava V'Adam asked me to leave you with this:

Nicole Schwartz
Matan Lieber-Kotz '18

Week 8
by Nicole Schwartz

The beginning of the week feels like a lifetime ago. I think the reason I and most people I have talked to feel that way is because a lot of things have happened. It's not that we have been extremely busy, but we have done a lot of thinking, gone through a lot of changes, and experienced varied emotions.

As we split up into our volunteer placements on Sunday, a lot of us did not know what to expect. I did not know that I would feel so calm within minutes of stepping off the bus into the beautiful atmosphere of Kramim. I did not know I would be chopping vegetables, kneading meat, and washing dishes in an outdoor kitchen. And I did not know I would be working on a vineyard at 6 a.m. ensuring the grapes grow properly. There's a phrase on Kibbutz Kramim: "You give what you can, and take what you need." And that is the simplest way of putting our experience thus far.

On Sunday night, the 13 of us began our adventures learning how to work together. Someone among the group emerged as a gourmet chef of sorts, and we were so happy to discover that we would be eating pretty well for the next three weeks due to his master skills. Together we sat and prepared a dinner as we learned how to work as a family of sorts, even giving each other different "roles" in the family: the crazy uncle, the hippie aunt, the responsible mom, the cute 6-year old kid, etc. Our madricha, Noa, brought out a piece of paper and told us that we would make the list of rules together and then all sign it. Our list included rules such as "everyone helps cook and clean", "communal decisions on everything", "no being mean for the sake of being mean", and more. We all already felt bonded and connected.

I woke up on Monday at 5:30 a.m. to hop on a tractor that would take us to the beautiful vineyards where four of us would be working for the next six hours. Other people in the group woke up at a similar time to pick weeds, and the rest found themselves helping around the Kibbutz to help set up for the ceremonies that would take place later in the week or working in the kitchen. We had free time the whole afternoon during which we simply enjoyed the views, the flowers, and the much needed naps due to our early-morning wake up time. We then began cooking dinner early. Since then, we have all woken up and done very different jobs from working with kids in the schools, cleaning up, picking weeds, helping set up for different events, doing laundry, and painting the walls, working, and washing the paintball guns in the paintball facility. And we have continued in the afternoon and nights doing yoga, reading, meditating, cooking together, listening to music, playing basketball, having deep talks and even drinking tea together.

Ultimately, I've been thinking a lot about the idea of giving. Living on a kibbutz where there's no room to only think about yourself has made me give more and think more about the consequences of a single selfish action. Furthermore, it has made me appreciate the selfless acts of others even more. I observe more when I see people working for others before themselves, working because they know it will make someone else's day, or even life, better if they do so. This observation brings me to the other part of our week: Yom HaZikaron, followed by Yom HaAtzmaut. Two holidays with very different purposes and atmospheres, but also both celebrating and commemorating the idea of appreciation. On Erev Yom HaZikaron, we sat around and read stories of lone soldiers (soldiers who serve with no family in Israel) and discussed how much the holiday means to Israelis. We heard the siren go off and then joined the entire Kibbutz for a ceremony. It was filled with songs, poems, and speeches for lost loved ones. The next morning, after hearing the siren go off one more time further reminding us to remember and appreciate, we continued working as every Israeli must do every day of their lives to ensure Israel's existence persists.

That work ideal shone through as Yom HaZikaron turned to Yom HaAtzmaut. The value of family that was our Yom HaZikaron turned to the togetherness and giving that was Yom HaAtzmaut, the change reminded us that while we honor the sacrifices for the Israeli family on Yom HaZikaron, we have to keep giving and keep standing together – just like my friends and I do on the Kibbutz – to give the Land of Israel 70 more amazing years.

Matan Lieber-Kotz
Matan Lieber-Kotz '18

Week 7
by Matan Lieber-Kotz

"Why should you be able to come here, get citizenship because you're Jewish, and already be treated better than me just because I'm Arab, when I've lived here my whole life?"

Our class had traveled to Givat Haviva, a center working to promote interaction between Jews and Arabs in Israel. The highlight of this visit was a discussion with Amir and Salaam, who both identified as Palestinian Citizens of Israel. During the event, they took questions about their interactions with Jews, their opinions on the Israeli government, and their positions on Israel's existence as a Jewish democratic state. We found ourselves on a wide spectrum in terms of our own opinions. Many of us found much of what Amir and Salaam said to be at odds with what be believed. At the same time, important points, including Salaam's question about citizenship, helped us understand that regardless of whether they were "right" or not, these people related to Israel in a completely different way then us simply because of circumstances of birth. This dialogue was merely one way in which our horizons were broadened this week.

After returning from an exciting Passover break, we quickly dived into our topic for this week: contemporary Israeli society, including both its greatest achievements and challenges. In addition to Givat Haviva, we visited the Druze village of Isifiya to learn more about religious and ethnic minorities in Israel today. The Druze people enjoy religious freedom in Israel and proudly serve in the IDF, yet there still was a lack of integration between Jewish and Druze; many Druze do not have a Jewish acquaintance before the army. While we met with members of these groups, our teachers advised us not to generalize their opinions as representative of their respective communities, but to take them at face value in hopes of understanding their individual experiences.

The following day was spent learning about those with disabilities and medical challenges in this state. We visited a thought-provoking exhibition in Holon called דיאולוג בחשיכה (Dialogue in the Dark), where a blind or visually impaired guide led us through a series of pitch-black rooms mimicking houses, streets, and public buildings. I appreciated the difficulties that come with being blind--particularly when I stubbed my toe on a curb--but I also took the opportunity to learn about my guide's life in Israel and how he had succeeded in becoming a piano teacher with his disability. In the afternoon, we headed to the nonprofit organization Save a Child's Heart. This incredible organization flies children with heart disease from around the world to Israel for surgery and treatment at no cost to their family. I was amazed to learn how the strong Israeli healthcare system allows for an organization such as this one to succeed and thrive through low operating and surgery costs. The cherry on top of the day was a chance to meet with the current young residents of the organization's care home. Although none of us speaks Swahili or Amharic, this didn't stop us from communicating and playing games with these incredibly strong survivors!

The incredible efforts by the nonprofit to help underprivileged children was juxtaposed with our visit on Yom Hashoah to South Tel Aviv, where almost 20,000 African asylum seekers have arrived from Sudan and Eritrea after fleeing from their home countries for their lives, most living in poor conditions. Seeing how both the original Israeli residents and the new arrivals had been overlooked was difficult, particularly as we stood in silence for the Yom Hashoah siren. It was interesting to see how the asylum seekers nearby reacted. Some continued about their days as normal. I was awed that most, however, stood silently and respectfully just like we did. Like the victims of the Holocaust we remembered, they have also survived persecution and even genocide and have often found nothing but hostility in Israel, but still they stood silent. Once again, I was reminded of the wild duality of this country.

Returning to the political situation in Israel, our next day was spent in Jerusalem, where we visit the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, as well the controversial התנחלויות, built-up Jewish towns past the Green Line often called settlements. Were these the Jewish right to return to the land of our ancestors in action? Were they a calculated attempt by the Israeli government to destroy the legitimacy of any attempted Palestinian claims to statehood? Or were they individual people, petitioning a reluctant government to allow them to move to new and established towns on the other side of the Green Line? This trip affected me a lot more than I thought it would beforehand. When I saw these communities for myself, and their proximity to each other, I thought it was ridiculous that a difference of a few miles could create one hundred years of conflict. At the same time, I recognized how old many of these places were, and how both Jews and Arabs had campaigned for each and every inch I saw now.

These three days were just a brief glimpse of how people live in Israel. Whether they are Jewish, healthy, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, able, Israeli Arab, an asylum seeker, survivors of heart disease, Druze, blind, or Palestinian, they are all just that-people, usually trying to better their lives. Even though this week was often about differences, as a Jew and an Israeli, I felt proud that all these identities and more exist together in one small strip of land, more similar than I had ever thought before.

Romi Nachman
Abbie Svoysky '18

Week 5
by Romi Nachman

As an Israeli citizen I am required to serve in the Israeli army, but since I grew up in America I can defer it and then finally have it cancelled. However, I have always thought about joining the army. My whole family served, so why would it just stop with me? I was raised in America, where it is expected that I go to college after high school. At times I feel guilty going along that path because I feel like I am going against my second home in Israel. This has always been a conflict for me, and going to Gadna raised a lot of questions and allowed me to think about it in a different way than I had never experienced before.

The second we got to the base it was time to whip us into shape. We followed strict orders from the commanders, or מפקדות, in which we could only respond to them with "כן המפקדת!--Yes, Officer!" The סמלת, sergeant who is in charge of discipline in the base, made it clear that if you didn't follow the rules there would be consequences. There were even rules about how to stand in line: standing up straight, hands behind your back in a diamond shape, jacket behind you touching your feet, and water bottle on the floor touching your left foot. Even if your water bottle was just an inch away from your foot you were told to do push ups. That day we also had an opening ceremony where we spent hours in the sun listening to the סמלת ordering us to move from a straight line to ח while executing the rules we learned about.

Waking up the next day after a long, cold, and sleepless night made me have second thoughts about joining the army. I was in a tent with 17 other roomates complaining about how cold and uncomfortable we all were that night. Some were even doubting their decision of coming to Gadna. Long, hot days filled with running and standing around followed by long, cold nights trying to sleep is not so appealing. Throughout the process I always tried to stay positive, and in the end we all got our stuff together and each צוות, unit, met with its מפקדת to start our next day.

The first full day was dedicated to learning the ins and outs of the M16. We learned the different parts and how to hold and use it. We had many classes so that we would be as prepared as possible to shoot a rifle. My mood changed from the morning after that day, because it was so interesting to be able to participate in more hands-on activities and learn about a small part of what being a soldier is like. We spent the whole day learning, and I felt it was quite beneficial because I was prepared for our day at the shooting range the next day.

The third day of Gadna was the day we would be implementing everything we had learned and going to the shooting range. Looking out the window on the bus, I could see the shooting range from a distance. It was not what I expected it to be. We were in the middle of the desert, and all I could see were soldier lookalike targets facing a long white building. As I walked off of the bus another צוות was walking out of the building with smiles on their faces. While we waited for our turn, we discussed how we felt about shooting a gun. Most of my peers were saying that they were excited or nervous. I was surprisingly very calm and content. It was exciting to finally be able to shoot the M16, just like my parents did when they were in the army. When it was finally my group's turn I continued to have the same relaxed mindset. I took my spot, listened for the directions, and when I heard the word "fire" I shot 5 bullets from the rifle. I was still at ease; it was like I had done this before.

In the army there is a test called the גיבוש, Gibush. This test of survival of the fittest requires volunteer soldiers to do the active exercises correctly while not talking or moving out of order. The people that complete the test and tasks are given the opportunity to have a high position in a combat unit. During our Gadna experience we were able to get a small taste of that. We were told to do sprints, crawls, planks, and keep our arms in the air until the test was over. The מפקדת made it clear that we had the option to leave and stand to the side if we wanted to. Even though the tasks were physically demanding, the whole thing was mental. It was all about telling yourself that you can do it. For me the most difficult part was the planks. I was doing very well when it came to the running and crawling, but when it came to the planks I found myself hating it, and at some point I collapsed. Since this was a very difficult task, we all cheered on for each other until there was the last three standing.

Gadna was filled with emotions, challenges and experiences that I will remember and take with me for the rest of my life, and it has given me a taste of what it would be like to be a soldier. It allowed me to think about my identity as an Israeli and an American, and how I fit into those categories. While it has not solved my conflict of joining the army or not, it has at least given me a clearer idea of the options I have. Finally Gadna taught me how important it is to go into every situation with a positive mindset and that I can accomplish everything I put my mind to.

Rina Torchinsky
Abbie Svoysky '18

Week 4
by Rina Torchinsky

From Poland to Israel

From a distance, the shoes just looked like a black, ashy mass. I stepped forward and the mass contorted into a collection of sandals, boots, and even delicate red shoes. I looked down at my indigo hiking boots. As the snow seeped into my soles and socks, part of me imagined my hefty boots sitting in the pile, but I don't think they'd really blend in.

There's this natural inclination to connect and identify with the exterminated Jewish victims, to humanize those who were reduced to nameless numbers. The problem is, it's hard to connect when all you see is a pile of shoes.

At Yad Vashem, our docent encouraged us to identify the different types of shoes and dive into the victim's mindset based on their footwear. For example, working boots might suggest that he or she was expecting to work when they arrived at their final destination. While thought-provoking, this didn't forge the connection with the victims that I was looking for.

It wasn't until a classmate recited the Mourner's Kaddish before the outdoor ash-filled dome at Majdanek that I began to connect with the victims on a spiritual level.

I wrote in my journal, "He pulled out a small slip of paper and he read a few names and then began, 'Yitgadal, V'Yitkadash Shmei Rabah.' Without any hesitation, I answered 'Amen.'"

It was at this moment that I had felt I had truly connected.

All my life, the exciting rush of Aleinu at the end of a service had always transformed into a reflective focus as mourners began to utter the words of the Kaddish. Everything has always stopped for the Mourner's Kaddish, whether in Minyan at school or Shabbat Shacharit at Shul.

The individuals whose ashes lay before me only heard that prayer until their lives were cut short. Even though the prayer had always signified mourning for me, I now find that I'm thankful to have heard the Kaddish so many times, because it's become a symbol of eternity for me. It's a symbol of everlasting Jewish identity and tradition, even though it stemmed from endings.

We boarded the buses to Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin, which was taken by the Nazis during World War II, in order to bookend our journey through destructive sites in Europe. The Shir Madness Choir, of which I am a part, planned the tekes, ceremony, in commemoration of our visit to Majdanek. First we sang, "Im Eshkachech Yerushalayim--If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem" to shed light on the hope and spiritual resistance that existed among victims of the Shoah.

We've sung the song many times before, but this time it was different. I've always sung this song, so utterly proud to be able to pray at the Kotel in Jerusalem and so unconditionally enamored of the Jewish homeland in Israel. This time, however, my pride, my emotions were magnified. I was singing this for the victims, for the fellow Jews who never lived to pray and feel connected beyond words at the Kotel like I did just a few weeks ago. I closed my eyes and belted the words, as the words took control of my body and soul.

The next day, we boarded buses to the airport in Warsaw for an 11:00 pm flight, ready to return to the Holy Land. We sprinted through the airport, much to the employees' chagrin, racing to avoid the 56-person lines, only to find that the Small Planets airline check-in wasn't where we thought it was and wasn't open yet either.

We were already given the taste of Israel that we were yearning for when we boarded the plane. We were surrounded by Israeli teenagers who didn't realize they were in the company of other Hebrew speakers.

Before takeoff, one of the Israeli students made a comment about one of my classmates across the rows, to which my classmate astutely responded, "Kulanu medabrim Ivrit-- We all speak Hebrew."

The Israeli students were eager to communicate with us, so much so, that one classmate had to ask the Israeli students if they'd let him fall asleep. Needless to say, we were eager to get in some shut-eye when we returned to Hod HaSharon at around 5:30 a.m., but first we had to gather our laundry. We were in bed after sunrise.

When I woke up after 12:30 p.m., I happily slipped on athletic shorts and sunglasses instead of two pairs of leggings, one pair of sweatpants, two long sleeve shirts, two sweatshirts, and a winter hat.

Because we didn't have any activities until much later in the day, I took advantage of the freedom. I just lay in the grassy turf in front of the dorms and took a walk around campus. It was such a beautiful day. The sun's rays beat down on my skin, emitting just the right amount of warmth. It was so unbelievably relaxing. It was serenity. It was tranquility.

For dinner, we headed to Tarabin in Herzliya for a delicious karaoke dinner experience. We sat on low plush couches that didn't exactly accommodate those of us with longer legs and were served zesty hummus platters and a diverse selection of salads.

We hopped on the stage and pulled out the microphones to serenade our classmates. From "It's Raining Men" by Chocolate and The Weather Girls to "Firework" by Katy Perry, the energetic singing invited others to join on the dance floor. I ended up singing Barry Manilow's "Copa Cabana" with some friends as our classmates indulged in some of the most decoratively-plated pareve ice cream and Belgian waffles I've ever tasted.

In contrast to the quiet intensity of Poland, our return to Israel embodied an early-morning placidity and uncovered a lively evening spirit that carried into the week ahead.

Nicole Schwartz
Abbie Svoysky '18

Week 3
by Nicole Schwartz

The Star of David

We sat in a synagogue in Prague and our teacher Akiva pointed us towards the Star of David. Our group entered a discussion about the significance of the star and what it means. Why is it two triangles? We discovered that there are 180 degrees in a triangle, which means with two triangles, the star itself has 360 degrees. Essentially, this shape strives to be a circle--a circle of equality, every point equidistant from the center. Furthermore, it represents a Kabbalistic idea, which we had learned recently in Tzfat. The points at the top and bottom represent the Jewish emphasis on connecting Heaven, pointing upwards, and Earth, pointing downwards. In other words, it represents the search and importance of the connection between the physical and spiritual world.

After fourteen days on 4000 years of Jewish history, we prepared ourselves to spend eight days centered on ten years. I thought to myself, "What is it about the Holocaust that shapes our Jewish identity so much? We've been facing antisemitism for thousands of years, and we've been victims of inhuman treatment before." In discussions, some of my peers say that maybe it is because we are the last generation that can hear survivors, so we hold that responsibility as Jews. Others say that it is because we feel so emotionally connected to something that happened recently that gives us more pride to be here, surviving and living, as Jews. Akiva told us that all Israeli students have to go to Poland and see the camps so that they become better soldiers, so that they see the importance, the power, of the existence of a Jewish State.

Theresienstadt. Plaszow. Auschwitz-Birkenau. Tarnow. Buczyna Forest.

Nothing can prepare you for the experience of visiting these places. I cannot describe what it was like walking along the grounds of Birkenau and finding a spoon with my group, a spoon that someone brought with them to the camp but never saw again after being taken straight to the gas chambers. I cannot describe being in a forest where 10,000 people dug their own graves and then were mercilessly shot. I cannot describe what it was like sitting on the physical train tracks of Auschwitz. I felt, and I feel now, at a loss for words. Not at a loss for words because I cannot describe their suffering, but because I was standing, a free Jewish woman, in the places where my Jewish people stood without freedom and felt utterly horrified. They were living a nightmare: a horrific, disgusting, cruel, starving, suffering-filled, and deadly nightmare.

Standing at the remains of the crematorium in Birkenau, we were told that the Nazis put the curtain decorated with the Star of David, used to cover the Torahs, on the door of the gas chambers to remind the Jews why they were being killed. Most of the time, seeing that curtain brought happiness to the Jews and compelled them to sing songs like "Ani Ma'amin--I Believe" and the Shema until their death. We heard story after story of Jews doing whatever they could to maintain their Judaism, to spiritually resist. In Theresienstadt, a concentration camp outside of Prague where several Jews created a spiritual and cultural life for themselves despite the extreme suffering, all 69 of us crammed into a hidden synagogue that the Jews used during the Holocaust. It was completely dark and a lot of us had our eyes were closed. Akiva said to us, "They had to be quiet while they prayed because they couldn't be found out, but we can shout it out because we can freely pray; we can be as loud as we want in this space." We proceeded to sing and pray together as loud and powerfully as we could. I looked up in this small space and I saw, painted all over the ceiling, Stars of David. I smiled.

During the Holocaust, the Jews' physical freedoms were taken away; their right to live was taken away. However, their right to believe was not. They believed we would be in Jerusalem one day. They believed Judaism would persist.

After visiting Auschwitz 1, I wrote in my journal: "I just don't understand why so many of them tried to survive. Why did they let the Nazis treat them like this? Why didn't they just give up or at least try to fight back?" I know now though. They did it for us. They did it so we, wearing Magen Davids on our backs, could find our Jewish presence this many years later. The Holocaust shapes our Jewish identity because of the Magen David, the Star of David. It allows us to see the power in our presence, the power in our work towards finding the connection between the physical and spiritual world, and creating a better and more equal world.

Matan Lieber-Kotz
Abbie Svoysky '18

Week 2
by Matan Lieber-Kotz '18

Hi readers! Hope you've had a good week, because we sure have!

We jumped right back into action Sunday morning as we returned to Jerusalem, this time to examine the remains of the Second Temple. Many were stunned to learn that the Western Wall is not the last surviving wall of the Second Temple, as is commonly believed. Instead, it is part of the larger base built under the temple-nearly all of which is still intact and viewable! We then retraced history as we walked up the same stairs the Kohanim climbed toward the Temple's Southern Wall. We concluded by seeing scorched bricks from the Churban (destruction of the Temple) 2000 years ago – a final reminder that evidence of the Temple exists everywhere in Jerusalem, beyond the Kotel.

After free time, we drove south to the base of Masada. When we arrived, it was straight to bed because next morning we woke up at 4 AM to begin our hike up the mountain! Snaking back and forth along the steep trail, some of us raced to the top like the ibexes we saw around the path, while some chose a more leisurely pace, which felt equally hard given the desert climate. All of us arrived well before the sunrise, and we enjoyed a beautiful Shacharit service as the sun dawned over the mountains.

Touring the ruined fortress, our preconceived viewpoints were once again challenged as we considered whether its inhabitants had been brave heroes fleeing Roman persecutors or crazed zealots willing to let other Jews suffer. We were also physically challenged as we practiced battle drills designed to repel attackers, including an exciting but short-lived fireman's-carry relay race that ended with multiple people sprawled across the ground! Picking ourselves up, we headed for the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea. Here, we floated and took a well-deserved, potentially mud-covered rest. I'm happy to report that with a few exceptions, we avoided getting salt in our eyes!

Tuesday morning, we traveled north into the Jezreel Valley, where we stopped to explore a cave system from the Bar Kochba revolt of 135 C.E. Crawling through single-file tunnels with flashlights held in our teeth, we eventually made our way into a room large enough to sit and turn our lights off, leaving it blacker than outer space. Enchanted by the darkness--and the slugs threatening to drop from the ceiling--we bonded and sang nigunim before returning to the surface, where we had an animated discussion about the ethics of rebellions.

We continued north to Tzfat, the ancient Kabbalist city. We were enthralled by the buildings, including one of the oldest active synagogues in the world, and by the store of a Kabbalistic artist. We concluded the day with free time and dinner in twilit Tzfat. While purchasing jewelry and other souvenirs on the street, one student successfully haggled a sports jersey down from 150 shekels to free!

Much of Wednesday was spent hiking Nahal Tavor after departing Tzfat. The creek, which only flows for a couple months each year in the spring, made for a beautiful hike as well as beautiful flora. We ate lunch at a popular swimming hole. Many of us took the opportunity to jump into the water...until a lifeguard showed up to tell us the water was too shallow! Although our cliff-jumping escapades were over, we excitedly toweled off for the steeply uphill final section. Once we recovered, we got on our buses and headed to the Galil Cemetery in Tiberias, where we saw the graves of Israeli musicians Naomi Shemer and Rachel the Poet. Moved by their impacts on Israeli society, we each said how we hoped to change the world in the future.

After returning to Hod Hasharon, we sojourned Thursday to Tel Aviv. Here, we went on a tour of Neve Tzedek, the first ever Modern Hebrew neighborhood founded a century ago. We then divided into groups to explore art museums, theater, and architecture in Tel Aviv, which we found to all be unique and unlike their American counterparts. We concluded our time together this week with free time at the Tel Aviv port, a revitalized development full of exciting shops, restaurants, and the crashing waves of the Mediterranean Sea.

Many of us then departed to visit friends and family on our first open Shabbat. Wherever we are now-with friends at our new home in Hod Hasharon, enjoying a good home-cooked meal, or even resting after breezing through the Jerusalem Half Marathon, we are all looking forward to reuniting Saturday night and for our trip to Europe this coming week. Hope you check in again next week!

Abbie Svoysky
Abbie Svoysky '18

Week 1
by Abbie Svoysky '18

Shalom from the Holy Land! This first week in Israel has been such an adventure!

Landing here last Monday was thrilling. Many of us, myself included, had arrived in Israel for the first time. All of us, however, had arrived in Israel for the first time with 58 of our friends. Upon completing this long journey together, just breathing in the air of the Holy Land felt incredibly special. The Class of 2018 had truly become a family after so many hours of traveling as a group, and none of us could wait to enjoy the beauty and fun of Israel together. After meeting with our amazing madrichim (counselors), we headed to the Hod Hasharon campus to unpack.

Right from day two we got to know the town around us with a quick tour, and then went on our first hiking trip to Tel Gezer. This trip set the stage for subsequent outings, which focused on helping us see and experience the history of Israel and the Jewish People. In Tel Gezer our teachers, Akiva and Elchanan, explained to us the four necessities for an ancient city, the four mem's in Hebrew, and allowed us get a better understanding of history through geographical and archaeological lenses. For example, ever wondered what a tel is, as in Tel Gezer or Tel Aviv? It's a man-made hill built over time when different peoples establish cities in the same place over and over again. The (1) arable soil for farming, (2) nearby water sources, (3) trade opportunities, and (4) protective hilltop view all make tels pretty special.

Day three brought on the tricky Gilboa hike (some of us are still a little sore). We enjoyed the awesome Sachne swimming experience to unwind in the natural pool. An extra special element of joy met us in Hod Hasharon as Purim rolled around. We all dressed up, listened to the Megillah (lots of grogger action), and danced the night away at a party! Purim morning we started with a tasty, albeit rushed, feast. While not all of us managed to eat as much as we wished, it was for a good cause -- we were hurrying to Sderot to deliver handmade mishloach manot to families impacted by terror attacks. Singing and dancing, the Class of 2018 brought as much joy to the streets of Sderot as we had ourselves in Israel so far. We finished the evening with DOTS (dinner on the street) in Dizengoff Mall in Tel Aviv. From falafel to pasta, there were choices galore in the bustling center. To everyone's delight, there was still time for shopping after some delicious meals!

The next day we packed up and left for Jerusalem. Overlooking the beautiful city, we discussed its history and similarity to the other sites we visited with regards to the four criteria for an ancient city. Diving further into ancient cities' need for water, we explored the Hezekiah water tunnels! We lit up the dark, underground labyrinth with our beautiful singing voices as well as our flashlights.

For lunch we had LOTS (lunch on the street, as you may have guessed) at the Machaneh Yehudah Shuk! The busy market was extra crowded as it was still Purim in Jerusalem, a walled city. In the colorful and noisy shuk we had fun practicing our Hebrew and our bargaining skills!

Friday night we headed to the Kotel. For first-timers and experienced visitors alike, it was a holy and emotional opportunity to connect with our more spiritual side and with Israel -- many tears were shed. After visiting the wall itself, we gathered together in a circle, arms around each other's shoulders, and sang prayers and songs together as a grade and family. Our close-knit communal experience even compelled a few strangers to join our ranks and enjoy the wonder we all shared.

Shabbat morning we split up into various Shacharit options: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox minyans, as well as a women's minyan and a second visit to the Kotel. The various communities within the Class of 2018 became stronger as we spent time in small groups, and then again as a whole for lunch. An extended free time block helped us continue bonding and relaxing, and so did our awe-inspiring Havdalah ceremony. As we recited the blessings and sang songs, we all had so much fun and became even closer as a grade! After a quick pack-up, we left for (the tourist-y) Ben Yehudah Street for DOTS.

We returned last night to our home campus in Hod Hasharon, and can't wait for the adventures week two will bring! Stay tuned for more from the Class of 2018!