Israel Through My Eyes: Sophomore Trip Creates Experience of a Lifetime

The Hebrew Academy sophomore class journeyed to Israel in May for a truly life changing experience. 

Before the trip, the entire 10th grade took an intense Jewish History class led by the trip chaperones: Rabbi Assaraf, Morah Twito, and Morah Yaara. We learned all about the modern history of Zionism and the state of Israel, from Theodor Herzl to the ever-changing borders of the Jewish state.

When our flight landed, we drove straight to the Kotel, the closest place that we have to where the holy Beit HaMikdash once stood. We returned the next day, somewhat better rested, and were led down underground tunnels, which hid the ancient road at the bottom of the Kotel. That same path was one that the Jews traveled 2,000 years ago on their way to the Beit HaMikdash.

Many of the men and women who fought to free the holy sites gave their lives for our homeland. Our next two stops honored these fallen heroes: Yad Vashem (the Holocaust museum), and Har Herzl (the military cemetery of the IDF).

Looking at at the rows of graves on Har Herzl was a real eye-opener. Each personalized resting place shrined a different soldier who gave their life so that people could safely live in the land of Israel. We visited many fallen heroes including Yoni Netanyahu, Emmanuel Moreno, and the two sons of Miriam Peretz. The grave of terror victim Elchai Taharlev, was still a mound of dirt because his burial was only a few weeks before.

After a long and emotional day, we returned to the Crowne Plaza to prepare for an inspiring Shabbat. The Falic family, who helped put together the entire Israeli experience, graciously opened their home to us on Friday night. With a picturesque view of the Old City in the background, we gathered for a meaningful Kabbalat Shabbat followed by a delectable dinner.

On Shabbat afternoon, we gathered in the tiny shul downstairs for davening and Torah reading. The day was filled with fun activities, including a game where we got to learn more about our guides: Nitzan, Dov, and Arik. Rabbi Assaraf stated a fact, and we walked over to the madrich that we thought was the subject and gave them one of the Skittles that were just distributed to us. The correct students split all of the candy, and the game continued until we all ran out of our food- which happened fairly quickly because the Skittles were delicious.

On Saturday night, we gathered on the patio outside where we were treated to live music from a four man band. They played Jewish songs on various exotic instruments including the Arabic saz, a combined guitar and violin with a pot for its base. We all sang along in what became a lovely post-Shabbos kumzits.

The next five days were spent exploring Northern Israel. We experienced nearly every step of Israeli history, both ancient and modern. We visited Kfar Kedem, which not only showed how Jews lived in Talmudic times, but also gave us the opportunity to make delicious fresh laffas and ride on donkeys. To continue the Talmudic experience, we paid our respects in Tiberias at the burial site of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes and hiked the nearby Mt. Arbel. While trekking up and down the treacherous slopes, I was able to imagine groups of Jews hiding out from the Romans in the very caves that we passed. We ended the Talmudic portion of the expedition with a trip to Massada, where we traversed the Snake Path to the top, culminating in a beautiful Hallel and Torah reading for Rosh Chodesh. We also walked among the ruins and learned about the Jews who were under siege in the Herodian palace for years before committing mass suicide upon the infamous Roman invasion.

Our group stopped at Atlit, the British detention camp for illegal immigrants, and Independence Hall, the site of Israel’s declaration of independence. We watch the film Oz 77 which honored the 44 Israeli tanks that, without support, successfully halted the progress of over 400 Syrian tanks during the Yom Kippur War. After the film, another member of the audience stood up and explained that he, Ephraim Shamba, was one of the tanks heros from the war.

Upon our return to Jerusalem on Friday, we continued the historic trend with a venture out to Ammunition Hill. During the Six Day War, Ammunition Hill served as a pivotal battle where over 30 IDF soldiers fell in order to secure it. The Israeli military used it as a launching point for the recapturing of the Old City.

On Monday, we traveled from the City of David to the Old City through the tunnels used by King Hezekiah which transported water to his citizens during a siege around Jerusalem. We emerged at the Kotel, where we stood full of emotion for the Yom HaZikaron siren.

On the same day, we travelled to Chevron, where we were led by Baruch Marzel, a true pioneer who decided to live in Hevron despite the danger. For years, he lived in an old trailer just for the opportunity to stay in such an important city. Baruch took us around the city which included a stop at Ma’arat HaMachpela in order to pay respects and pray at the final resting place of our forefathers.

That night was Yom Ha’atzmaut, the Israeli day of independence. We attended a marvelous ceremony in Teddy park, where we sang and davened a musical Maariv which included Hallel. Our group was the life of the party, drawing others in with our lively singing and dancing. Without a doubt, it was the most memorable Hallel of our lives.

The festivities continued the following day, with half of our group opting to take a day off and spend time with family members living in Israel. The rest of the group enjoyed a fun visit to Mini Israel, Oz Vegaon, Latrun, and a special Mincha at Kever Rachel. On our last day, we concluded with one of the most significant historical aspects of Jewish history: the Mishkan. Prior to the construction of the Beit HaMikdash by King Solomon, our tradition teaches that Hashem’s presence resided in the Mishkan, which stood in Shiloh for centuries. While Shiloh is no longer the closest place on Earth to Hashem, we felt a gust of spirituality while standing right next to the old ruins. We sensed the sanctity of the location, and gathered for a powerful Mincha.

After an amazing two weeks, our trip was coming to its end. We stopped at the Kotel before departing for the airport where we davened Maariv, said our final prayers at the Western Wall, and proceeded to hold a last reflection circle about the life-changing journey that we just took.

The trip was all about our connection to the land of Israel, the home of our forefathers. It was only fitting to begin and end at the Kotel.

On behalf of the entire sophomore class, I would like to thank the Falic family. Your generosity allowed us to experience Israel in such a meaningful way. We came back with a connection to our homeland, the land of Israel, that we will always carry with us.

By: Jack Benveniste-Plitt (10th Grade)

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