Georgia youth are among the American students allowed permission to attend Alexander Muss High School in Israel. After a semester canceled as a result of COVID-19, the Jewish National Fund received permission as part of Operation Zion to bring 241 teens for the Israeli high school.
They arrived on a specially chartered El-Al flight from New York, believed the first group of American high school teens to be allowed to return since travel restrictions were put in place at the beginning of the pandemic, according to AMHSI Development Director Zach Pellish.
Jewish National Fund-USA worked closely with members of the Israeli government, receiving special permission for the program to resume and international students to arrive in Israel despite international flight restrictions that continue in Israel.
The program began in 1972 with last spring being the first time a semester was canceled, according to JNF-USA.
JNF-USA’s AMHSI allows high school students to study abroad both Jewish and general studies. Enrollment is usually about 1,200 students, with students staying in dorms on the campus in Hod Hasharon.
JNF-USA began managing the program in 2013, and last April helped airlift hundreds of American students from Israel back to the U.S. as the pandemic took hold of the world. Students will be able to return to campus, where they will be quarantining with their madrichim, counselors, on campus to ensure a safer experience. After two weeks of mandatory quarantine, which will include AMHSI studies, students will be moving into their permanent residences, at which point they will be part of a large group of students with counselors that will be treated as a “family,” per Israel’s guidelines for COVID-19.
The program usually includes a week in Poland studying the history of Judaism in Europe and the Holocaust, visiting remnants of communities from before the Holocaust and some concentration camps, and visiting with the Jewish communities that exist in the country today. But that will not be occurring this year because a trip to Poland would have required two weeks of quarantine before and after the trip, making it logistically impossible, JNF-USA reported.
Trips within Israel for the program, including day and overnight travel, will continue as normal after the two-week quarantine. Students will begin their AMHSI studies during the quarantine, Pellish told the AJT. “With the quarantine period, it allowed us to do it safely and intentionally on campus, while also making it a fun experience. It’s not just a time for students to dwell in isolation, they are still learning and engaging.”
Students were required to receive a negative COVID-19 test before boarding the flight last week, Pellish said.
Beth Gluck, executive director for JNF in Atlanta, said of the trip, “The school, and wider JNF community, is excited for the return of its students. This is what the school was built for. … It is not there to sit empty; it is there to have the next generation of Jewish leaders on campus, to be filled with learning, Jewish education, 4,000 years of Jewish history,” Gluck said. “Everyone is over the moon.”
While having students on campus will not be as easy, AMHSI is embracing the challenge, Gluck said. “We will do anything we can to make sure these kids can have a positive, safe, immersive experience that will be a catalyst for them.”
The school will adhere to ongoing safety measures to ensure the safety of students and staff, including face masks when outside dorm buildings.
JNF-USA reported that students returning to Israel celebrated upon entering Ben Gurion Airport after their long flight, embraced by staff waiting for them in addition to those on the plane with them.