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Senior Capstone Trip Blog

Jessie Lehman ‘19

Week 12
by
Jessie Lehman '19

This week the Class of 2019 faced the long anticipated Yam el Yam hike, a journey from the Mediterranean Sea to the Kineret, the Sea of Galilee. The night before, we watched the sunset on the beach which was a beautiful beginning to our upcoming four day journey. We had a ceremony to truly begin Yam el Yam where we filled up a bottle with the Mediterranean Sea water which we would pour into the Kineret at the end of our hike.

The next day the journey finally started. We biked 10 kilometers to the start of our first trail and then finished the day 15 kilometers later with a lunch stop at a fresh spring. The first day was definitely difficult, but I felt such a sense of accomplishment in finishing the day strong. This mentality continued to the second day which brought even more challenges. I chose to go on the longer hike which wound up being 27 kilometers on a narrow, windy, and uphill trail. We finished our second day by hiking up, and then down, Israel's second tallest mountain. After two full days, I was ready to relax, but the night was far from over! Our Madrichim introduced a game of Assassins among the whole grade. We each got a name and had to say a specific phrase to them when nobody else was around. I ended up getting four people out just that night. It's hard to tell if I felt more accomplished from that or from the 27 kilometer hike.


Day three was cut short due to a heat wave, but that didn't stop us from hiking a 10 more kilometers towards the Kineret. For this hike, we had the option of doing a silent hike which I chose to partake in. While I was a bit nervous to not talk for a whole day, I was ready for a new experience. From this hike I learned about the value of silence and also had time to reflect on the Israel trip as a whole. My parents will be glad to know that I learned complaining doesn't get you anywhere. I realized that voicing complaints about my bag being too heavy or the heat, actually made my shoulders hurt more. Being silent taught me that by keeping in these issues, the thoughts disappeared from my mind rather than manifesting itself further. Another thing I learned was the importance of nonverbal communication. While it sounds cheesy, the value of a smile gets lost with all the talking my friends and I do. When you're only connection to someone is a smile, eye contact, or even helping someone climb up a mountain, you're connection with others can become deeper. This also relates to the trust I gained from the silent walk. Since I couldn't ask my peers or my teacher any questions during the hike, I had to trust that everything was going right.

Our last day of Yam el Yam began at 5 in the morning to beat the sun to the Kineret. We were truly in the final stretch! This hike was one of the most beautiful in my opinion. As I hiked the last kilometers, I thought about the various themes we had throughout Yam el Yam such as awareness of our surroundings and the silver lining of negative experiences. By the end, I really felt connected through nature and was so excited to run into the Kineret. Nine kilometers later, we lined up at the edge of the Kineret. As my classmate Caroline poured the water from the Mediterranean Sea into the Knneret, I felt so proud of myself and my friends for all we had gone through. No body of water had ever felt as refreshing as the Kineret after four days of hiking.

Our last shabbat which was in Jerusalem was a relaxing way to cap off our busy week. With our final visit to the Kotel, the Class of 2019 reflected on how we had grown since our first visit to the Kotel, three months earlier.

Seth Eisenstein ‘19

Week 11
by
Seth Eisenstein '19

After a physically and mentally challenging experience at Gadna, we kicked back a little bit for an exciting weekend in the Negev. We took in the incredible view of Makhtesh Ramon, an immense crater formed naturally from wind and water, and later enjoyed sliding (and sometimes flipping) down sand dunes of fine, Egyptian-like sand. For Shabbat, we settled down at Kibbutz Yahel, a flourishing oasis in the middle of the desert near the Jordan border, where we learned first-hand about Yahel's agricultural efforts and the struggles of modern kibbutzim.


The next day, we awoke early to travel south, where we would be hiking in the mountains surrounding Eilat. I surprised both myself and others by opting for the longer and more strenuous hike, and once I reached the final peak after more than three hours of hiking, I felt accomplished and knew that I had made the correct decision by pushing myself. After a long morning of hiking, we cooled off with a snorkeling experience which frankly I thought was underwhelming, but that may have been because I spent more time trying to learn how to breathe through the mask than looking for underwater creatures. We spent that night at a Bedouin tent which gave us a taste of Bedouin culture, including the experience of eating a traditional Bedouin meal on pillows on the ground. We rounded out our last day in the Negev with an exciting (but quite touristy) camel ride in the desert, a trip to an Israeli "development town," and a refreshing dip in a desert spring.


On Tuesday, we heard from leaders of different Jewish groups in Israel in order to gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of Judaism in Israel. We heard from a conservative Rabbah, a female Rabbi; a founding member of Women of the Wall; and a Haredi Ultra-Orthodox Jew who made Aliyah from the U.S. It wasn't until having this experience that I fully understood how difficult it is for non-Orthodox Israelis to live a Jewish life in Israel. Because the government gives religious authority to only the Rabbanut, an Ultra-Orthodox religious institution, most Jewish rites, such as marriage, divorce, and funerals can only be considered legal in Israel if performed by an official of the Rabbanut. Therefore, rites performed in a Conservative or Reform synagogue are not deemed legal. It made me quite upset to hear the many stories of less observant and secular Israelis who, despite living in the Jewish state, often feel alienated from Judaism and want no part of it.

On Tuesday evening began Yom HaZikaron, the day of commemoration for Israel's fallen soldiers and victims of terror. We attended a Yom HaZikaron tekes (ceremony) at Latrun, a fortress near Jerusalem that was a battleground during the 1948 War of Independence. Surrounded by other Americans, Israelis, and people from across the world, we heard inspiring yet devastating stories of brave soldiers who were killed in Israel's wars. For me, the most powerful moment of the tekes was hearing the stories of the heroic lone soldiers who made Aliyah to Israel to serve the Jewish state but were killed in battle. I was on the verge of tears hearing the painful testimony of the parents of lone soldiers who were ripped apart after the death of their child. I also found it very interesting that not only were victims of terror attacks in Israel honored, but also the victims of the recent antisemitic attacks in Pittsburgh and San Diego. At the end of the tekes, we all rose and sang Hatikvah together, and at that point I had never felt more connected to Israel and to Jews around the world.

The following morning we attended another tekes for Yom HaZikaron, this time on campus at Hod Hasharon along with the Israeli students at the school there. It was incredibly meaningful and emotional to stand together with the Israeli community during the siren that is heard throughout the country on Yom HaZikaron to commemorate the fallen soldiers. The deafening wail of the siren reminded me of the deafening silence and emptiness which families of fallen soldiers experience on a daily basis. I also was reminded of the Yom HaZikaron ceremonies we had had throughout the years at JDS, as the Israeli students sang songs that we were familiar with from JDS. In the afternoon, we visited the Yitzhak Rabin Museum, where we witnessed the outstanding life and accomplishments of Rabin and his contributions to Israeli society.

Wednesday night began Yom Ha'Atzma'ut, Israel's Independence Day. Israelis have to make the quick transition from the somber day of Yom Hazikaron to the festive day of Yom Ha'Atzma'ut. We followed this transition ourselves and went to an exciting Yom Ha'Atzma'ut celebration Wednesday night in Hod Hasharon, which included performances by Israeli artists and an amazing fireworks display. The next day, we went to a beautiful beach in Herzliya where many of us played the traditional beach tennis game of matkot. We later had a barbecue which is typical of how Israelis celebrate Yom Ha'Atzma'ut. Seeing Israeli flags and banners throughout the country and celebrating the day among Israelis really allowed me to feel immersed in Israeli culture and feel truly grateful for the existence of a Jewish state.

Before heading to our open Shabbat on Friday, we split up into different groups to explore the artistic side of Tel Aviv. My group took a graffiti tour through the Florentine neighborhood, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to see a different side of Israel by walking down streets and alleyways to witness cool displays of street art. After a long and emotional week, I'm looking forward to relaxing over the free weekend in preparation for Yam el Yam, our four-day hike from the Mediterranean Sea to the Kinneret.


Allegra Ravitz ‘19

Week 10
by
Allegra Ravitz '19

We left Hod Hasharon early in the morning only one day after returning from spring break to go to Gadna. The bus was filled of nerves as we pulled up to the IDF base in Sde Boker as no one fully knew what to expect. Once we arrived and got off the bus, we were quickly separated into our tzvatim (troops). It was our first taste of what Gadna would be like. We quickly learned how to stand in achshev (attention) and that if our water bottles were not filled to the very top we would be doing push-ups. The day was very exhausting and everyone was glad when it was finally time to go to bed.

The next morning we had, once again, an early start to our day. We had our first lesson about the M-16 that we would be shooting the next day. We learned the positions, the parts of the weapon, and the commands we would be following.

After lunch we walked to a nearby field to do field exercises. We were taught about camouflage and reluctantly had to put mud all over our faces. We learned how to do a variety of things ranging from walking quietly to how to run away from a grenade. The field exercises

concluded with a relay race which taught us how to work as a team. Though my tzevet did not finish first, we were recognized for working together as a team and leaving no one behind.

Our last full day of Gadna started off with yet another early morning as we had a long day ahead of us. We had ourfinal lesson about the M-16 before we were going to the shooting range. My tzevet walked to Ben Gurion's Grave and had a conversation about the relationship between us, Jewish teens in America and Israel. Then after a short break we left on a bus to go to the shooting range. There was a mix of emotions on the bus. Some were excited for the experience and others were scared as the idea of shooting a gun was not a pleasant one. As we pulled up to the shooting range I wasn't sure if I was going to shoot the gun. I knew it was a once in a lifetime experience and that all the commanders would be there making sure everything went smoothly. But still the idea of shooting a gun slightly terrified me. But I decided to take the opportunity. Lying on the ground and following the commands was stressful. Being there holding the gun put the intensity of the weapon into reality.

When the officer gave the command to fire, I was a little stunned. I finished my five bullets and when I sat up, I was shaking. I realized how easy it was to pull the trigger and it was far from a comforting feeling.


Our day ended with a concluding lesson of our time at Gadna. The mefaked (commander) of tzevet 1 gave us all a piece of paper and a pen to write and reflect on our time at Gadna. The we played a game. Everyone closed their eyes. One person was tapped at a time and was asked a question or given a prompt and then tapped the person or people that it applied to. For example one of the prompts was "someone who made you laugh" or "someone I want to get closer to."

Many of us were hoping that we would be able to sleep in a little more on our last day at Gadna, but that was not the case. We got up early and had to pack up our stuff and clean up our tent. Which meant rolling up the side flaps, taking apart our beds, and rolling up our sleeping bags. We ate breakfast outside and then cleaned up trash around the base. We had a closing ceremony and then gathered with the entire base of the basketball courts to commentate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. We stood in silence in a very large chet (semicircle) in our army uniforms listening to the sound of the siren.

Being in Israel on Yom HaShoah was truly an amazing experience. It brought our trip full circle. We went to Poland and learned all about the Holocaust, came back to Israel and learned about the struggle Holocaust survivors had coming into the country, and then we were standing for

two minutes in complete silence with the rest of the country, in uniforms worn by the people who protect this country every day .

After the ceremony, we went back to the chef plooga, took off our uniforms and had the chance to get to know our mefakdim. We could ask them questions like "When did you find it the hardest to keep a straight face?" or "Which drawing did you like the best on the back of our matzevah?"

Gadna was definitely a challenging experience for all of us. We had to stay quiet, had to have good discipline, had to push through the week both physically and mentally without being able to receive a hug, and had to work as a team. But aside from the challenges, Gadna have us all the opportunity to get closer with the people in our tzvatim and gave us the chance to make amazing memories together!


Addie Bard ‘19

Week 9
by
Addie Bard '19

These last ten days have been a much-needed and meaningful Pesach break! By Thursday morning we all had gone to either meet our families in Israel or travel elsewhere. I went to Ben Gurion Airport with some of my friends to meet up with our parents who happened to be on the same flight. It had definitely been a long time since we had seen our parents, and it was great to be reunited. Aside for my mom, who had travelled to Israel on USY Pilgrimage as a teenager, it was my family's first time in Israel. I felt like an expert as I gave them the same history lesson our teacher Elhanan had given me throughout our drive into Jerusalem.

We spent our first two days exploring in Jerusalem, which basically meant lots of eating and shopping! On Friday night we got together with seven other JDS families for a seder, which was amazing. Even though my friends and I had only been apart for just over a day, we were all still excited to see each other and spend time together.

The next few days were spent with our tour guide, Hillary Menkowitz. She showed my family all over Jerusalem, including the four quarters of the Old City, the Israel Museum, and the City of David. Although lots of what she taught us I had already learned on the trip, it was still so engaging and interesting to hear it told in a new way. Next she took us down south to Masada, Ein Gedi, and the Dead Sea. These classic landmarks were just as fun visiting the second time around! When we hiked up Masada with Muss in early March before dawn, all of my classmates assured me that when I came back in April it would be too hot to climb. Luckily, Israel's abnormally long and cold winter this year worked in our favor, and my family was able to make it to the top easily! My family also loved floating in the Dead Sea, and the beach we were at had unlimited mud just below the surface, unlike the beach we had visited with Muss where we had to buy the mud.

Our last excursion with Hillary was an archeological dig in Beit Guvrin. At the dig, we entered an ancient cave and dug for artifacts, which were mainly broken pottery pieces and bones. I didn't find much, but my sister hit the mother lode and had a bucket full of treasures. It was very cool to dig up materials used by people over two thousand years ago.

We then drove to Jaffa, which is the southern and oldest part of Tel Aviv. After finally finding a parking spot, we went to find lunch. Jerusalem definitely had more kosher for Passover options, but we were still able to find an excellent meal. It was a welcome change to be walking in the warm sun along the Mediterranean after being freezing in Jerusalem only hours earlier.

Before my parents arrived, I made them promise that I would have at least one day in Tel Aviv to relax on the beach, and that promise was kept! After having activity-filled days for the majority of our trip, it was nice to have nothing on the itinerary. My family enjoyed running along the beach, more shopping, and more delicious food. The weather got warmer every day, and by Friday I finally mustered up the courage to dunk my head under the water. Many of my friends were also staying nearby, so I got to spend beach time with them too. After being with everyone 24/7, a week apart felt like forever!

Being in Israel for Passover has been especially amazing because kosher for Passover food in Israel cannot be compared to what we are used to in the US. Days of matzah pizza and macaroons were replaced with real food, which was so weird! I was even beginning to forget that it was Passover until practically all of the stores and restaurants were closed Thursday night because of chag.

It has been great being in charge of my schedule and having a chance to relax, but I am excited to go back to the program on Sunday.

Sara Sporkin ‘19

Week 8
by
Sara Sporkin '19

For our first week back from the volunteer period and our last week until Pesach break, we focused on contemporary Israel. We started on Sunday with the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. Created by Shimon Peres, the Center promotes the message that peace can be achieved through entrepreneurship and exhibits Israel's technological achievements. For part of the tour, we used virtual reality headsets to play games that envisioned what the world would look like in future. The bottom floor of the building was an exhibit of innovative Israeli companies, showcasing their work. I was particularly interested by an Israeli company on display called SpacePharma, which sends patients' cells into space in order to run tests and develop personalized medication for them.

For lunch we went to Yaffo, where I got a delicious potato bureka from the famous Abulafia bakery. In the afternoon, we went on a tour of Park Ariel Sharon outside of Tel Aviv. The park is built on top of a giant landfill where most of the trash from central Israel used to be dumped. While it smelled bad at the bottom of the hill, the top was beautifully landscaped with trees, flowers, and even a pond. It was inspiring to see this solution to the landfill, which used to be dangerous for humans and harmful to the environment.

On Monday we started the day at Givat Haviva, an educational center for shared society. We split into two groups. My group heard from an elderly Welsh woman who made aliyah in the 50's due to anti-semitism in the UK. She talked to us about the Green Line and the West Bank before taking us to West Barta'a, part of an Arab village that was cut in half by the Green Line. We walked right up to the Green Line in Barta'a, and had we crossed the street, we would have been in the West Bank. Visiting Barta'a truly made me realize how complicated the situation surrounding the West Bank is. After lunch at Givat Haviva, we talked with an Arab-Israeli about his experiences living in Israel and his thoughts about his identity.


We ate dinner at a Druze restaurant. After devouring their delicious food, a Druze woman explained some of their religious beliefs to us. I thought it was interesting that the Druze believe in reincarnation. After she finished speaking, we had a dance party in the restaurant with live music from two Druze musicians to end the day.

We spent Tuesday in Jerusalem discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict and the status of Arabs in East Jerusalem. We drove along part of the security barrier near Bethlehem. After lunch at the First Station in Jerusalem, an outdoor shopping area, we attended a debate panel at an Israeli think tank between a right wing Israeli and a left wing Israeli about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Their different perspectives once again demonstrated the complexity of the conflict and how difficult it is to find a solution.

On our last day together, we travelled to south Tel Aviv to learn about some of the problems plaguing that community. We visited the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, which was supposed to be a massive shopping complex in addition to a bus station but is now run down and a site for illegal activities. After we walked through south Tel Aviv, we talked about the African refugees that came to Israel from places like Sudan and Eritrea between 2006 and 2012. We discussed how the Israeli government should deal with this group of people who largely live in one neighborhood and do not have citizenship.

In the afternoon, we visited the Shafdan Wastewater Treatment Plant to learn about how Israel recycles dirty water for use in agriculture. With discussions about waste disposal and non-Jewish residents of Israel, the whole week highlighted some contemporary issues in Israel that most people do not think about on a daily basis. I definitely have a lot to think and talk about with my family over Pesach break.

I reunited with my parents and sister in Hod HaSharon Thursday morning, and after a day in Tel Aviv (where we walked over 12 miles according to my Fitbit!), we celebrated the start of the chag at a seder with family friends in Modiin. I enjoyed partaking in their traditions, such as hitting people with green onions during Dayenu. I'm looking forward to a week of rest and relaxation before reuniting with the class of 2019 for the rest of our program.

Amelia Davidson ‘19

Week 7
by
Amelia Davidson '19

This week unfortunately was my last week volunteering at the Hava V'Adam ecological farm. With only four days left to soak up all the vegan food and ecological products that we could, my group threw ourselves into life at the farm. Fresh off of our relaxing, or not so relaxing, free weekends, we spent Sunday and Monday doing mud-building workshops. I worked with some others building a wall out of mud bricks around the farm's generator. We made many batches of mud, completely destroyed all of our clothes, and had a mud fight or two.


Tuesday was election day here in Israel, and all of the people who live on the farm went home to vote. Our madricha, Michal, also had to go to Tel Aviv to vote, and she decided to turn the day into a group trip to Jaffa. We were all pretty psyched to eat some non-vegan food and gorged ourselves on grilled cheeses, Turkish breakfasts, and iced coffee at a restaurant in the Jaffa market. While some lingered to shop, most of us made a beeline for the beach and spent the rest of the day soaking up the hot Israeli sun and swimming in the water alongside what seemed like every resident of Jaffa (apparently election day is pretty synonymous with a countrywide beach day.) I successfully managed to lie in the sun without getting a full body sunburn, so I considered the day a success. When we got back to the farm, we relaxed a bit, ordered pizza (don't worry, you're allowed to have dairy products on the farm), and watched election results come in with mixed reactions. Overall, the day proved a relaxing break from our work, and allowed us to be rejuvenated for our final two days at the farm.

On Wednesday morning, I worked in Tzimchi, or herbal medicine. We spent the morning making essential oils, so I spent multiple hours picking lavender, pulling the leaves off of the stems, and cutting the leaves until they could be compressed in a machine that makes oil. With my entire body smelling like lavender, I joined the rest of the group in the afternoon to work in the fields. I weeded, hoed, and spread mulch across a few garden beds, and felt very farmy. It seemed like the proper conclusion to my work at the farm. That night, the entire farm community, mostly comprised of people on gap years before the army or groups visiting from other countries, threw us a goodbye party, where we danced and sang all together. That also felt like a great conclusion to our time as part of the community on the farm.


Thursday, our last day, went by in a blur of bonding games, packing, and goodbyes. For me, leaving the farm was bittersweet. Conditions on the farm are a bit rugged--we used compost toilets, had freezing showers, and slept in domes not quite closed from the outdoors. There was a part of me that, after three weeks, was ready to return to more modern civilization. But I will admit that I sort of came to love our gross dome and had grown accustomed to living alongside random bugs and using toilets without running water. Leaving all of that was a shock, and not a completely positive one. Also, the 21 of us on the farm became super close during our three weeks together. Going from that small group back to our bigger one was a difficult transition. While I was super happy to see my friends who had been on other volunteer periods, I did miss the dynamic of a small, tight-knit group. But overall, I do think this volunteer period was the right length. Had it been any longer, I think we would've started to get fed up with each other and the farm in general. Leaving after three weeks, I was left feeling only positive feelings toward the beautiful farm on which we had lived, and the experience that we had. And I will admit, the schwarma I had for dinner on Thursday night was glorious. I was ready to leave my #veganlife behind.

On Friday we took a relaxing tour of the Baha'i gardens in Haifa, then had some free time in beautiful Zichron Yaakov. Coming off of three weeks of (almost) veganism, I was more than happy to indulge in pizza and gelato. And finally, we headed back to Hod Hasharon to end the week with a relaxing Shabbat on campus.


Shira Godin ‘19
Abbie Svoysky '18

Week 6
by
Shira Godin '19

*Shira is volunteering with HaShomer HaChadash, an organization devoted to safeguarding agricultural lands in Israel. Her group is working in the Arava region of the Negev.

My second week of volunteer period began with pepper picking and a trip to a museum. Every year my mom, my sister, and I go strawberry and blueberry picking. However, I have never picked peppers and was very excited to experience picking something new. The moshav we are staying on, Hatzeva, is known for its peppers, and I can definitely say the peppers did not disappoint. We picked red, orange, and yellow peppers with clippers given to us by the farmers. I have never seen so many peppers in one place; it was a truly beautiful sight. I had lots of fun picking them and watching the baskets fill up. After work, which usually starts at around 7 am and ends at 11:30 am, the group headed to our daily lunch spot, a high school located on the moshav called Adam VeAdama. The food is consistently delicious especially after a long days work and the students are always nice and welcoming. Towards the end of the day we visited a museum on the moshav that told its history and the science behind its agriculture. The museum was very fun and had many interactive stations, however I did not find the exhibit's' scattered boxes filled with bees pleasant. The day ended with our daily communal cooking of dinner, which I always find very enjoyable and bonding.


The next day, Tuesday, began our two days of painful pricks as we started working with date palms. They may look like ordinary palm trees, but do not be fooled. They have very sharp spikes at the end of every single leaf! Our job was to count 30 date strands and tie them together in a ring shape so the dates could grow in the middle. I found the work fun and very rewarding, but the pricks hurt and definitely left their mark. Later that night we had a movie night with some of the students from Adam VeAdama. I got to meet more people my age, which was very fun and I even got to practice my Hebrew.


Wednesday was our second and final day of pricks which was still pretty painful. However, after work the whole group got to go on a amazing guided bike ride through a dried up river. The sites were unforgettable and the experience was unique. Personally, I had a lot of trouble learning how to ride on a rocky terrain. At first, I fell a lot and at some points wanted to give up, but the guard that came along with us on the trip stayed with me, as I was often very far behind the group, and helped me get used to the path. Eventually I became confident and was able to catch up with the group. I am very grateful for the guard and later thanked him for his kindness.


Thursday was the last day of work for the week and the last day that we would be on the moshav until Sunday. The work was rough as it was pulling weeds, which is a job that the group has become a bit tired of since it was what we did the majority of the first week. Also a lot of us felt very sore from the bike ride, which did not make work any easier. I personally felt sore from the falls I took, but nonetheless we worked as hard as we could. When we got back to the moshav we all packed our things for the free weekend. I was sad to leave the place I have learned to called home for the past two weeks but I was also excited to see my friends who were at other volunteer locations. The bus ride back to Hod Hasharon was long, but it gave me time to rest up after the long week. Volunteer period has been a blast and I cannot wait to return to the Moshav on Sunday.

Aliza Rabinovitz ‘19
Abbie Svoysky '18

Week 5
by Aliza Rabinovitz '19

This week began on a pretty sad note. We woke up early to hug goodbye to around 75% of our friends and load our bags on buses to travel to our four separate volunteer locations: Kibbutz Givat Oz, Hava V'Adam Ecological Farm, HaShomer HaHadash, and Ale Negev. After a short one-hour bus ride, my group of 24 arrived at the kibbutz.

I wasn't really sure what I was expecting to find, but there were definitely parts that surprised me. While our living location was pretty dusty and in need of a cleaning, the rest of the kibbutz was beautiful and full with flowers, bushes, and adorable dogs roaming freely around.

On Monday morning, we all went to our jobs for the first time. I was assigned to the two and three-year-olds, working in their kindergarten for three hours a day. The 13 kids that learn there are adorable and always come up to me to give me hugs or high-fives. I was apprehensive at first about helping take care of them, especially when they fall over and start crying (at one point a girl ran into a pole), but I learned that most of the time you just have to leave them to cry for a few seconds before they smile again and run to the next activity.

Most of my days consist of walking to the preschool just in time for them to eat breakfast, watching them while they play around on the playground, and then going on a walk with them around the kibbutz. It's been interesting for me to see the Israeli way of taking care of children, which is definitely a lot harsher than I'm used to but nonetheless pretty effective. At noon, I reunite with my friends who've worked in the cookie factory, gardening, with the cows, or in another preschool. We enjoy a nice lunch and go off to free time basically until dinner.

Especially coming from a very structured schedule these past few weeks, I've found myself a little lost in determining what I should do with all of my free time. On Tuesday, a friend and I went on a walk for almost two hours, just lapping around the kibbutz. While it was mainly a way to get some steps in after a pretty inactive day, it was also really relaxing to be out in nature and I appreciated the opportunity. Most of the girls here have also taken the time to get in workouts that we normally didn't have the chance to, which has also been exciting. Other than that, I tend to sit outside when I can and read or relax. It's a change of pace that can get a little boring, but it is still a good break.

Evenings for us normally consist of the "cooking team" preparing the meals for our group; while our lunch is catered, we use ingredients from the kibbutz kitchen to make our dinners. For breakfast, most of us bought cereal or other foods from the very-stocked on-site supermarket. So far, the meals have been amazing. We've had pasta, pancakes, shakshuka, and eggs, and we're all really thankful for the hard work of the team. After meals, we all pitch in to help clean the house. Some of us got sick a few days in, so it's been a priority for us to clean the dishes and floors and make sure it doesn't happen again.

Most of the time we're spending time as a JDS community, but we've also had the opportunity to interact with the greater kibbutz. On Tuesday, for example, we had a bonfire and cooked homemade pita with a few of the teenagers who live here. We also meet them in our everyday jobs. It's been interesting for me to see how much of a different lifestyle they have from us. While living on a kibbutz can feel a bit isolating from the rest of the world, it also gives you an appreciation for community.

Other than the bonfire, we've used our nights for fun activities like movie nights and Krav Maga. On Friday, we went to a mall, which was enjoyable by itself and also as an opportunity to get out of the same place. We ended the week with a relaxing (but rainy) Shabbat, a good way to close out the beginning of our second stage of the program.


Allie Ravitz '19

Our time in Poland was coming to the end which started with a long bus ride to Majdanek concentration camp. When we got to the camp, it was a bit of a shock. Everything was so well preserved. I didn't fully expect everything to be in the condition that it was. One exhibit we went to was of shoes. Thousands and thousands of shoes in huge crates. We were tasked with finding a pair of shoes that spoke to us and writing a story about the person who they once belonged to. This was very emotionally difficult for me because there were so many different shoes and thinking about and imagining the events their owners went through was horrible.

That night we went to a yeshiva that was revolutionary for its time as it had a place for those studying to live. It was very cool to be in such a revolutionary place and daven mincha together as a grade.

The start of our next day was the end of our trip to Poland. We started off the day where some of the Warsaw Ghetto wall

Warsaw - Senior Capstone

still stands. Sitting on the floor — looking at the wall with the bits of barbed wire still put in place and hearing some stories of Jews who were inside the ghetto — it was eye-opening to what life was like inside the ghetto. This was the last thing we did in Poland before heading back to Israel.

Our first day in Israel was very relaxed, which I was very thankful for as we had arrived at HSI at 3:00 am. My friends showed me around the campus and the town as it was my first day with the group in Israel! That night we went to a restaurant which we had delicious hummus and pita and had fun with some karaoke. We sang all kinds of songs from "Bohemian Rhapsody" to "Hot N' Cold." I had so much fun being with the grade and singing and dancing! Our first day back in Israel was a good mental break and rejuvenating day from the physically and emotionally exhausting Poland trip.

Finally it was Purim and everyone was very excited to celebrate with a Purim party. Costumes ranged from zebras to Barbies to angels and devils and of course the winners of the costume contest, children on leashes. It was a very nice break from our daily busy schedule.


The next day, we were supposed to go to a concert to see Static and Ben El Tavori perform but soon after we arrived, it became apparent that the concert was for very young kids so we did not end up staying. We got back on the bus and drove to Tel Aviv in heavy traffic and concluded the night with dinner on the streets in Tel Aviv.

We ended our relaxing week in Tzfat. Once we arrived we had free time to go shopping and admire the views. Some of my family is from Tzfat so it was very cool to see where they are from and the culture they grew up in.

Saturday was a very lazy day as most things in Tzfat were closed due to it being Shabbat. We took a short walk to a cave which, aside for the awful smell, was a very special experience. We walked into total darkness but after a minute reached a larger circular room in which we proceeded to sing as a grade. It was a very unique moment because, at least in my mind, it symbolized our trip so far. Starting in Israel, the light, then traveling to Poland where we learned about the darkness of the Holocaust, and then coming back to Israel, back into the light, and coming together as a community as a grade.

Once this amazing experience was over, we walked back to the hotel where we had a lot of free time. This made for a perfect opportunity to talk with classmates and get to know people better and just have fun playing games or singing songs. We sang once again as we ended our time in Tzfat with Havdalah.

Though I am still adjusting to the responsibility of having to wake up on time and keep my room clean, I have had a great time so far in Israel! I am very excited for volunteer period and to experience what the rest of our time in Israel has to offer!




Liam Shemesh ‘19
Abbie Svoysky '18

Week 3
by Liam Shemesh '19

Week 3 took us across the Mediterranean to Prague and Poland, but before all that we visited Yad VaShem on Sunday in Jerusalem for a refresher course on the Holocaust. There we heard a survivor's account, which I found far more impactful than the museum itself.

We went to sleep early Sunday night as we were waking up at 2 A.M. to catch our flight to Prague, where we were met by some of our classmates coming from the U.S.. After a cramped flight we went straight into touring Prague, which is absolutely stunning.

Trdelnik (a hollow dough cylinder pastry) in hand, we walked the Charles Bridge and began our dive into the Jewish history of Prague. We had free time at the Old Town Square, which was especially useful for Jacob Mannes, whose luggage took a brief excursion to Barcelona. Tired and hungry again, we headed to dinner where we heard from the American ambassador to the Czech Republic. I'm sure he was interesting, but I can't say, as I was speeding back to the H&M near the town square to rescue my water bottle (check out its instagram account, @daddy.nalg). Finally, it was time to eat and sleep. Abba, my step count was 19,601, if you were wondering.


Tuesday afternoon's visit to Terezin marked our first engagement with a Holocaust site. Even now, looking back on all the horrible, horrible places we visited, Terezin sticks out in my mind. It sticks out because Terezin is an active town today. There, on the site of mass death, a quiet, sparse town goes through the motions of life. There the history was palpable. I could feel the death and suffering in the air. It felt like a ghost town, and yet I saw children running in the streets on the way home from school.

After Terezin and a seven hour bus ride to Krakow, we visited the Plaszow concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the Buczyina Forest before it was time for what turned to be a relaxing Shabbat.

As I walked along the railroad tracks at Birkenau, all I could think about was what I was going to write in this blog post; what could I say to do this place—and the other places we visited—justice. I still don't know the answer and I think that, in many ways, it is an impossible task. Whatever I write will feel lacking and insufficient. But I have try, so I'll give it my best shot.

I can write about how these places just feel different. How despair emanates from them, and how my body absorbed it and took some of it with me. How much of that, however, is due to what I already know? I wonder if to the unknowing, Plaszow also radiates death.

I can't get the lumpy slopes of Plaszow out of my mind. The ground is hilly and unsettled; every uneven step you take sinks a little bit, as if the ground itself rejects what took place there. It's the same at the grassy fields of Birkenau. Every uneven step I took I couldn't help but think "someone probably died right here." Perhaps it's because of the season, but nothing grows there besides grass and grotesque shrubs and trees.

The trees in particular stand there having borne witness, and if not, they've stood over these sites for decades. They look unnatural. Their continuing life is an aberration at places that have seen so much death.

At Birkenau, where several members of my family were murdered, most of the barracks are mere ruins. There are rows and rows of what were barracks, but only the chimneys remain standing. To me they look like middle fingers pointing up to the heavens, because what I saw there is beyond humanity. Gas chambers and crematoriums are beyond humanity and beyond reproach. The chimneys stand as symbols of the destruction of morality and justice by the Nazis.

After several days, many of us have reached what I call emotional terminal velocity. It's not numbness, per say, but my emotions are maxed out. I'm exhausted, and at this point, mostly going through the motions. I'm taking in more and more awful things and filing them away for later. I can't process them now beyond a base level of sadness and disgust.

I'm ready to be out of this country. I can't wait to get back to Israel. I can't wait to have fun again. I think Ilan Gasko summed it up best when he said, "I've hated every moment of this trip, but I wouldn't change anything about it."

Family, Faith & Falafel: Photoblog by Joey and Ezra