“TODAY WAS THE BEGINNING OF THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME FOR ME AND MY FRIENDS” Ben Ogden enjoys cotton candy on Yom Ha’atzmaut in Jerusalem.

SPECIAL FOR THE AJT

On Wed., April 23, most of the students at Greenfield Hebrew Academy (GHA) enjoyed the last day of the Pesach break. But the eighth graders headed to the airport for what proved to be the most exciting field trip of their lives: 16 days in Israel. And just to make sure that GHA friends and family could share their experiences, the seniors posted a daily blog.

“Today was the beginning of the trip of a lifetime for me and my friends…When we got off the plane, I was in a state of shock. I immediately felt connected to the land of Israel. This trip has already been such a blessing for me, and I can’t wait to do all the exciting things we have planned!” –Levi Zindler

Years of lessons came alive for students as they toured the country. They began by visiting Beit Shearim, burial site of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, a familiar figure from Mishnah class; they went to K’far Kedem for a Talmudic experience.

“Today, we went to Kfar Kedem to experience life as it was 1800 years ago… While some of us were crushing seeds into flour, the rest of us were making dough into flat circles and flinging them onto a black stove. When they were ready, we all enjoyed our homemade pitot.” –Jael Azani

GHA students browsed at the outdoor market in Jerusalem, Machane Yehuda.

Students enjoyed riding in ATVs, followed by Shabbat at Kibbutz Lavi. “Singing “Lecha Dodi” with Jews on the other side of the earth and still being able to use the same tunes was simply inspiring.” –Ben Ogden. After Shabbat, students enjoyed listening to stories around a roaring bonfire.

The activities for the next week included hiking the Jilaboun, a beautiful mountain stream. “While we were hiking on the narrow trail over rocks and the stream, we could see the waterfall and a lot of mountains. The view was AMAZING!” –Liana Slomka

Students observed Yom Hashoah at a youth village called K’far Chassidim. A rabbi began to say the Yizkor prayer, but was interrupted about 2 minutes in by the siren. The stillness that fell over the crowd was both eerie and amazing.” –Shira Duke

They continued on to visit Atlit, the British detention camp that was the destination for so many European Jews seeking refuge after the Holocaust. “Unlike the pictures of people in concentration camps during the Holocaust, the people in these pictures were happy because they knew they were Israel.” –Leah Bader

The eighth graders hiked through the breathtaking sights of Nahal Netziv, then visited the grottoes of Rosh Hanikra. The day ended with a surprise visit to the northern city of Tiberias.

Moving south, the students visited the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi, where they hiked, splashed in a waterfall, and admired the natural beauty all around them. “We also

Prayer at the Kotel was a moving experience for the eighth graders.

learned that in the times of the Tanach, King David hid in Ein Gedi because King Saul was trying to eliminate him. Again and again, David hid in En Gedi, and he described his hiding place as G-d spreading his wings. The water was as pristine as glass…” –Jonah Esworthy

The next stop on the itinerary was K’far Hanokdim, a Bedouin village. Students arrived at the Bedouin camp riding on camels and enjoyed their food and hospitality, learning about their lifestyle and customs and spending the night in a tent. The next morning, they left for Masada, climbing the Roman siege ramp used by the invaders to overcome the Jews making their final stand at the top. As the sun rose, the eighth graders davened Shacharit and read from the Torah in the stone ruins. The next day began at the Ramon Crater.

“Our grade started off into the desert in our four-wheelers. The hills and mountain were all ancient…from the times of creation. It was really amazing to be standing on such simple rocks but knowing that there is so much meaning behind them.” –Nicole Dori

The eighth grade continued their journey up to Jerusalem, visiting the City of David, where they learned about the water tunnels used in ancient times. At Emek Tzurim, students learned about archeology on the Temple Mount and had a chance to sort artifacts. But what could compare to Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel, the Western Wall?

“When we arrived at the Old City of Jerusalem, I was in awe. I had to stop mid-step to take it all in…but by far the most powerful thing was going to the Western Wall prayer plaza for the first time. When we got past the entrance, we all went to kiss and pray at the wall. Almost everyone teared up, and we all stood there praying…” –Levi Zindler. “Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel was amazing. There are so many people who come together to celebrate Shabbat…It was very spiritual, and it was an amazing experience – one I will never forget.” –Aaron Gordon

After Shabbat, the eighth grade explored the colorful storefronts and street theater of Ben Yehuda Street; Sunday morning included a visit to Holocaust museum Yad Vashem and the Supreme Court building. “Today we visited Israel’s Supreme Court. We learned about how the system works and how it is different from the US system…It was very interesting to see how they combine the secular law with ideas from Jewish law.” –Sammy Frankel

Yom Hazikaron, the day Israel remembers the soldiers who died to create and defend the land, was observed at the small village of Neve Illan and at Har Herzl, the cemetery for fallen soldiers. Students spent the remainder of the day at Latrun, the tank museum and memorial. “When we went to Har Herzl on Yom HaZikaron, there were probably tens of thousands of people there to commemorate the soldiers who died and lost their lives on behalf of Israel…When the siren rang today, I was in mid-sentence, and all of a sudden everything just stopped and everyone in the country was as silent as it was on that mountain…” –Ariel Sirota

Along with the rest of Israel, the students’ gratitude for all those who sacrificed everything for the Jewish people burst into celebration at nightfall with Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. The streets came alive with joyous celebrants. “There were tons of people everywhere, walking around, dancing, banging people on the head with blow up hammers, or spraying foam everywhere…So many people were dancing and having an amazing time.” – Devorah Chasen

The eighth graders visited the famous hidden bullet factory in the Gush Etzion, where a Laundromat hid a concealed munitions factory for the liberation of Israel. They also saw Independence Hall, where Ben Gurion announced that the UN resolution acknowledging the new State of Israel had passed. “Since Jerusalem was under siege, they read the declaration in the Dizengoff house in Tel Aviv (aka Independence Hall). The whole nation rejoiced!” –Sarah Lewyn

The final day of this adventure began at an army base for paratroopers, the very same base at which Molly Peled, one of GHA’s Hebrew teachers, had been stationed when she did her army service. After a tour and lunch, the group moved on to the hot springs of Chamai Yoav, and finished the day with zip-lining. Then it was off to the airport for the very long trip to Atlanta.

“At GHA, our love for Israel is so much a part of our school culture,” said Interim Head of School Leah Summers of the annual trip. “Through all their years here, our students learn so much about Israel as our spiritual homeland. It is the perfect culmination to their eight or more years of studying Torah here to visit the place where it all happened, the source of so much of who they are as young Jews.”

Back in the United States, the eighth graders are tired and glad to be home; but all of them were touched, and some of them maybe even transformed, by their journey.

Editor’s note: For more, contact Leah Levy, levyl@ghacademy.org