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Last week’s holidays of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut brought out a range of emotions, commemorating the fallen Israeli soldiers and celebrating Israel’s 74th birthday. Both here at Schechter and in Israel, our students learned about and celebrated those bookend holidays. This week, in addition to learning what’s been happening at Schechter, you’ll get an inside perspective as you read excerpts from some of the 8th graders’ travel journals.
Our 8th graders continue to have experiences in Israel that are making a huge impact. If you missed their first week of adventures, click HERE to read all about them. Their second week included Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, which are especially meaningful in Israel. A few of the highlights of the week include:
In this week’s Torah Portion, Kedoshim, God describes to Moshe the rules and laws aimed at helping people to live holy lives. What an overwhelming and beautiful concept! A whole piece of the Torah aimed at helping us to live our lives to the fullest and holiest way possible- what a helpful guide for us! While some of the guidance in Parashat Kedoshim may no longer feel relevant to us today, many pieces are what we use to support our teachings every day- honoring our parents and giving to those in need to name just a couple. As I was sitting down to think about what to share in this parasha (portion), I was struck by the guidance the reading gives on living holy lives. It struck me that if one wants to see holy lives being lived in action, all that person needs to do is be a fly on the wall here at Schechter.
This week alone, our students were living holy lives in countless ways. Our students could be seen living in holy ways at the beginning of the week when they gathered to sing havdalah (customarily done on Saturday night to end Shabbat) as a community, while working in chevruta (partnership) to understand a tricky math problem and Torah text, and helping a friend search for his lost water bottle. One could even see holiness spread by our PA as they rained gifts onto our teachers to honor them throughout the week for Teacher Appreciation Week.
Our students continued to live holy lives on Wednesday when we commemorated Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Day of Remembrance), the students embodied holiness in how they dressed for the day and wore their memorial stickers. The seventh graders led some of our community in a tekes (assembly) that included moving videos, songs, and speeches. The holiness kicked up a notch yesterday for our Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) Celebration. Students throughout the school were eager and enthusiastic to celebrate by gathering in groups to dance and party, participate in an obstacle course giving a taste of basic training, painting and muraling various celebratory art projects, eating Israeli foods, and much more. The kahal (community) of Schechter was thriving! Seeing our school come together as one holy community to learn, commemorate, and celebrate this week may not have been the original vision of parashat Kedoshim, but it certainly felt like Schechter was living a holy lifestyle this week!
May 3rd: Yom Hazikaron began tonight at sunset, as all Jewish holidays do. We first heard a story from Osher (our security guard) about a childhood friend of his who joined the army when he was very young. The friend died when the military vehicle he was in was bombed and exploded. It was very sad to hear, especially how Osher was kind of close with him as kids. After that, we went to a ceremony at the kibbutz we were staying at. It was all Hebrew, and though I didn’t understand everything that was said, I could definitely still feel the sadness.
May 4th, the actual day of Yom Hazikaron, we went to a military cemetery. The ceremony there was also all Hebrew, and also very sad. Yoav (our tour guide) told a very, very sad story about a friend of his who died in service. The saddest part, though, was how he died. Yoav told us that a grenade was thrown at his friend and six others. Ro’i (the friend), in order to save the others, jumped on the grenade. The other soldiers still finished the mission.
Overall, experiencing Yom Hazikaron in Israel is much different and more meaningful to me than at home. I think it’s because pretty much everyone knows someone who died fighting for the country. Seeing the families and friends, and hearing the firsthand stories, had a very big impact on me, and it’s something I hope to experience again in Israel.
Yom Ha’atzma’ut began with an amazing street party. At around 8 p.m., we walked to Ben Yehudah Street, which was right next to the hotel. We could hear the music all the way from our room. It was crazy! There were air horns blowing constantly, and lots of bubbles. A bunch of the stores were closed but there were lots of little booths with blow up and light up things and candy and popcorn. It was sort of overwhelming but definitely incredible, like Disney at night with all the light up stuff. I went with Eliana, Rabbi Berger, two girls from Ohio and a girl from Tampa. We all got crepes; I got an incredible one with strawberries, whipped cream and chocolate. It was the greatest thing I have ever eaten. All the girls I was with were so nice and I think I will definitely stay in touch with my new friends. After a while, some of us went back to the hotel, and some went to another concert in a local park.
It was crazy to go to such a crazy party with so much energy and pride for the country right after such a sad day of remembering the soldiers who fell while making and protecting the country. It made me think about how we celebrate Memorial Day in the US because here it’s all serious and respectful, but at home we have barbecues and parties.
Yom Ha’atzma’ut was so fun; it was one of the most fun experiences of my life and I would totally do it again.
Even if you are fully prepared for Yad Vashem, you are unprepared. Our students studied the Shoah this year, and so while there were certainly details at the museum that were new to them, they knew the story of the Holocaust. Still, the learning at Yad Vashem is not just about facts; it is also about artifacts, and architecture, and countless thoughtful ways of bringing the harrowing reality of the massacre of European Jewry to our awareness, even though we might want to look away. We went to Yad Vashem on Friday morning, and saw the main museum and the archives, and the Children’s Memorial. At the end, students spent some time processing what they had seen and heard.
Beforehand, we spoke to them about the placement of Yad Vashem in the itinerary. Foreign heads of state are often taken straight from Ben Gurion Airport to Yad Vashem, as if to say, “In order to encounter and understand this country, you must understand why it is so important, and before you might criticize any of Israel’s choices, you need to know what is at stake.” This may be appropriate for dignitaries, but we deliberately save Yad Vashem for later in the trip. First and foremost, we want our students to know and love the living State of Israel, and see the country as more than a response to the Shoah. By the end of the trip, though, we believe they understand that, and have context for Yad Vashem.
We then went to Machaneh Yehudah, a raucous outdoor market made up of several streets and alleyways, for a few hours. Students had a chance to get lunch, buy souvenirs, and buy one small treat to be shared at our Friday night Oneg Shabbat. The market was crowded and full of life. From there, we walked a few blocks back to our hotel. We got to call the school during ReLiSh, and then showered for Shabbat.
We started Shabbat morning with a nice breakfast at our hotel. We then got to choose which synagogue to go to. I went to an Ashkenazi synagogue and was surprised because it reminded me a lot of my synagogue at home. It was such a cool experience because we happened to come to that synagogue the same day as a Bar Mitzvah. We walked back to our hotel to eat lunch.
After lunch, we had free time until our guests came. While the guests were here we had the option to go to the park. I didn’t go, because my brother came to visit me, but others did and had a fun time. Once the guests left, we played games in the park and walked back to our hotel for dinner and Mincha. We used the time between dinner and havdalah to hang out with our friends and make the most of the time we had left in Israel. After havdalah, we went to an outdoor market/mall called Tachanah Rishonah, where a lot of us got food at restaurants, and some of us spent time with guests again. We got back to the hotel late and went to sleep.