p16 education GHA1 BY LEAH LEVY / AJT //

For visiting Greenfield Hebrew Academy students, Israel turned out to be a special land, filled with ancient sites and modern cities.

The school’s eighth-grade class recently returned from the Jewish homeland after a 16-day adventure that included touring military bases and kibbutzim, exploring

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the city of Safed, boating on the Kinneret, walking through the Jewish Market in Jerusalem and riding donkeys in the desert.

“Riding the donkeys gave me a sense of how it was to travel a long time ago,” said Sam Wilder.

Seeing a Jewish burial site, he added, also offered a special connection.

“We walked into caves and saw the graves where Jewish people had been buried; it made me happy that they were all together.”

Students also stayed busy hiking across Mt. Arbel, after which they arrived at K’Far Chassidim, a youth village near Safed, to observe Yom HaShoah.

“Sirens went off, and everyone stopped what they were doing and bowed their heads in silence for two minutes,” said Shannan Berzack. “The fact that we were in Israel…made it more powerful.”

Then it was off to Atlit, a British detention camp of the 1940s, where many Holocaust survivors and refugees were detained following World War II.

“The immigrants, though surrounded by barbed wire, were happy,” said Rose Karlin, “because they had made it to their Promised Land.”

The students next zipped across the northern region of Israel, stopping by an active tank base hidden away in the Golan Heights before hanging a right turn and heading south to the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi.

“A group of Israeli girls our age started talking to us,” Karen Asher said. “It was so cool to see how we were able to find common interests…It made me realize that I do have a connection to the land of Israel, no matter where I am.”

A trip to Eretz B’reisheet, where the students experienced life as it was in the time of the patriarchs, followed. While riding camels, they visited the “tent of Abraham” and dined and spent the night in a surprisingly comfortable recreation of an ancient shelter.

The next morning, the youngsters were off to Masada to climb the legendary Snake Path to the summit, where they davened Shacharit. Then, there was the Kotel in Jerusalem.

“When I touched the wall, I felt an instant connection, not just with the Jewish people, but with my late grandfather,” said Ben Siegel. “This was the first time since his funeral that I actually began to believe he was gone…I kissed the wall and my grandpa goodbye…I will never forget that night.”

After Shabbat, the students made a visit to the City of David, waded through the ancient underground waterway of Hezekiah’s tunnel and toured Ammunition Hill. Afterwards, they attended a Yom HaZikaron ceremony at the Western Wall before the day was wrapped up with an emotional visit to Yad Vashem, the world-renowned Holocaust museum.

“At the end of the museum, there is a beautiful overlook of Jerusalem,” Ari Stark said. “It made me think of how we, as the next generation of Jews, are responsible for the land of Israel, and that we need to carry on telling the stories of the Holocaust so those who died will not be forgotten.”

Just a day later, the mood changed dramatically as the students joined with the rest of the country in celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day.

“Last night we had a dance party – well, all of Israel did,” Isabella Cantor said. “There was a band on stage, and the crowded street was either jumping up and down or circle-dancing.”

Finally, as the trip neared its conclusion, the students stayed busy visiting a hidden bullet factory in Gush Etzion and touring a tank museum at Latrun. They then managed to both explore the ancient tunnels running alongside the Kotel and drop by the Knesset building.

Sadly, like all good stories, this one had to end. The students traveled back to the U.S. tired and glad to be home, but most were touched and maybe even transformed by their journey.

“Part of the experience that really moved me was simply talking to our driver, Ilay,” said Linsey Cohen. “We quickly discovered that our family stories were strikingly similar.”

It turns out that both their great-grandfathers were from Poland. One man traveled to America, the other to Israel.

“[He] turned to me and said, ‘With a little change in the circumstances, it could have been you growing up here, and me in your place.’ He was right,” Linsey said. “But what I also discovered from thinking about Ilay’s words is that even though I did not originate in Israel, it doesn’t really change my connection to the land.

“Israel is my home, regardless of where I was born and raised. Israel is a home to every Jew everywhere. To be here, and to feel that sense of home for myself, is remarkable.”

Leah Levy is a paraprofessional at GHA and the author of “The Waiting Wall,” a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for 2010.

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