Home-stretch in the Homeland

May 25 – June 8

Another long post.  The past few weeks have been so memorable and impactful.  I’ve learned so much about Israel and about Judaism, and how much this country means to people.  Here are week six and seven highlights:

Acco: On our first trip of week six, we began the day by having a lesson on a beach by the Sea of Galilee, and learned about illegal immigrants who made their way into Israel during the British mandate. We did an activity on the beach to simulate all the struggles these Ma’apilim (immigrants) went through to seek refuge in Israel.  Our next stop was to the first Displaced Persons camp, called Atlit, for these refugees.  Most of the Ma’apilim of Aliyah Bet (wave of immigrants who came during the mandate) were Holocaust survivors, which makes their struggles even more impactful.  Later on, we went up north to Acco, a prison that’s been used since Medieval times and was used until around the time of the mandate.  We had a lesson on the Israeli responses to violence from the British, and sung the Hatikvah (Israeli national anthem) to honor those who gave up their lives for independence.  Our final stop for the day was to Rosh Hanikra, a beautiful cluster of grottos carved out by the sea.  We had the chance to put our feet in Lebanon, or at least No Man’s Land on the Israeli-Lebanese border.  Learning about the struggle for independence is something I knew very little about before my program, and this tiyul was so impactful for me.

Open Shabbat: On open Shabbat of our sixth week, I stayed on campus with some of my good friends. On Friday night we took a taxi into neighboring town Ra’anana, where we had services in a beautiful park in town.  Saturday we slept in, as per usual, went out for lunch at a café in Hod HaSharon, and watched movies.  All in all a very relaxing and much-needed weekend.

Tel Aviv: Our next tiyul found us in Tel Aviv. We started our day by having class right next to Tel Aviv beach, which was so much fun. After we learned the history of the city, and why it’s important to Israel, our teacher Benjy gave us a walking tour of buildings from the period when Tel Aviv was first constructed. After ice cream and a quick discussion, we went to Independence Hall and saw the place where David ben Gurion and other incredible Zionists and leaders of Israel stood and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1948.  Next was lunch in the Tel Aviv shuk (market), which was actually very special. We had an assignment to interview five different types of Israelis on what being Jewish means to them. It was nerve-wracking to go up and start conversations with random strangers, but the experience was definitely memorable. These interviews gave us inspiration for an essay we had to write that night, on what being Jewish means to us.  Anyway, our last stop for the day was to a town square in the center of Tel Aviv where most protests and rallies in the city happen. It’s also the place where, unfortunately, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. This tiyul was an incredibly long and full day, but a very memorable one, for sure.

Shavuot: Big surprise, we were in Israel for yet another holiday! This one was called Shavuot, which is a Jewish holiday symbolizing the day when Moses received the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  Our campus closed and we all had to stay with hosts, and since my friend Sydney and I didn’t know people to host us, AMHSI assigned us to a family that lived in Hod HaSharon.  They were so hospitable, which is a common theme among Israelis. We had a big holiday dinner with their extended family at night, and the next day we spent the majority of our time at the beach.  It was fun to have a holiday break from classes and such in the middle of the week, but our group was so happy to be together again after spending a night apart.

Kiryat Gat & Ein Rafa: We spent several days in class learning about Zionism and all the different waves of Aliyot (groups of immigrants who moved to Israel for various reasons, commonly because of religious persecution).  Our next tiyul was geared towards learning about the fate of different immigrant groups who weren’t Ashkenazi Jews.  First we stopped at an Ethiopian village called Kiryat Gat.  We learned about the struggles that Ethiopian Jews endured to come to Israel, and the racism they still face in the country today.  We heard the story of a woman who came to Israel with her family – she walked from Ethiopia to Sudan and eventually took a boat the rest of the way.  It was a powerful reminder of the lengths people have gone to so they can seek refuge here.  Our other stop for the day was to an Arab village called Ein Rafa.  We heard from a British woman who converted to Islam and moved to Israel, and she helped shed a light on the side of Israel that we as Jews and Americans don’t hear about enough.  She told us that being a Muslim in Israel certainly isn’t easy, but that she loves raising her family here.  I loved visiting both of these  places, because not every person in Israel is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and this tiyul was a great way to learn more about different types of people living here.

Open Shabbat: On week seven, we had another open Shabbat. This time, my friend Lucy and I stayed with a friend from home’s cousin, in a town called Rishon Lizion.  We had a delicious family dinner, heard them play music because they’re all incredible musicians, and spent another full day at the beach on Saturday.  It was another great Shabbat, and our last open Shabbat.

Golan: We ended week seven on an incredible overnight tiyul in the Golan Heights, the northern mountains of Israel.  On our first day we had a learned about the heroism of Eli Cohen, an Israeli spy who helped get information from the Syrian Ministry of Defense in the Six-Day war.  We visited a kibbutz on the border of Lebanon, and learned about life there during times of war.  We went kayaking in the Jordan River, which was crazy and I may or may not have fallen out of my raft. We also stopped briefly at a kibbutz that manufactures Naot sandals, which are the Israeli version of Birkenstocks.  Finally, we arrived at the beautiful kibbutz where we had dinner spent the night.  The next morning we woke up early to beat the heat, and hiked down a dormant volcano where we were greeted with a freezing cold but refreshing swim in a waterfall. The hike was hard but so rewarding and beautiful, and it was also our last hike for the trip.  Plus, after the hike, we had pizza for lunch.  After lunch and an ice cream break, we stopped at an overlook to the Syrian border.  We spoke to some UN soldiers who were stationed there to observe the border. Later, we had a lesson about heroes from the Yom Kippur war, and visited a kibbutz where we watched a documentary about them.  And finally, we had dinner in a Druze village, heard music, and talked with someone who explained what being Druze in Israel is like. Druze is a religion that developed from Islam, and Druze people live in isolated towns to help preserve their traditions.  This tiyul was so much fun and a great one to be our last overnight trip.

I am in absolute denial that I have less than a week left in this beautiful country.  Talk to you next week!

~Ari

Modernity

May 18 – 25

As of this point, I’m more than halfway through with my trip.  (*panic*) With less than three weeks left, I’m realizing how much I appreciate and cherish all the experiences that I’ve had so far.  Israel is the best.  Anyway, earlier on in the week we took our second huge Israeli history test.  Now, we’re officially done with ancient history, and we’ve moved on to modernity.  Although ancient history is fascinating, it’s been great moving on to topics that are more relevant to today.  Here are some things we did on week five, our first week of modernity.

Zionism Seminar & Leket: Pretty soon after the test, our teacher assigned us a Zionism project.  We got split up into groups and researched five impactful Zionist thinkers.  Then we created presentations on them, including a poster, skit, and song.  We had a day to work, and the next morning we had a “Zionism Seminar” in our dorm, complete with a big breakfast, after which we watched all the lively presentations.  After a really unique morning, we took an afternoon trip to the main food bank of Israel, which is called Leket.  We peeled cabbages and put together crates of onions and radishes for families who needed them.  It didn’t smell the best, but with good music and good friends, anything is fun.

Jerusalem Shabbat: On this weekend, we had the incredible opportunity of spending Shabbat all together in Jerusalem.  Soon after we arrived, we had lunch in the famous Machane Yehuda Shuk.  The food was amazing, and there was such a buzz at the market as everyone was getting ready for Shabbat dinner.  Later in the day, we got all dressed up and walked to the Western Wall.  The experience of bringing in Shabbat at the Kotel during sunset is indescribable.  There were huge crowds, and everyone was singing and clapping.  The feeling in the air was one of true happiness. I’ll never forget this night because it felt to me like the epitome of what it means to be Jewish.  The next day was Saturday, most of which we spent walking around downtown Jerusalem.  Our teacher took us to places that are often skipped by tourists, and every place we saw was beautiful.  And after a nice Havdalah meal together, we headed back to campus.

Rural Day: Another fun trip we took during this week was surrounding our studies of the Second Aliyah, or the second group of “pioneers” that migrated to Israel.  We visited one of the first kibbutzim in Israel, went on a water hike, spent time in a cemetery where famous Zionists were buried, and more.

Holocaust Studies: Towards the end of the week, we spent several days studying and trying to begin to understand the tragedy that is HaShoah.  First, we spent a full day of class learning about the world events leading up to World War II, the Nazis rise to power, and eventually the Final Solution.  The next day, we visited the very somber Yad Vashem, where we focused more on the stories of individuals.  After walking through the powerful museum, we heard a testimony from a survivor who was kind enough to speak with us, and at the end of the day we all had a chance to share our families’ stories.  These few days were very impactful, and helped me to reflect on how lucky I am to be alive and openly Jewish in today’s world.  We ended the day on a more positive note, by observing the march in Jerusalem for Yom Yerushalayim – the fiftieth anniversary of Jerusalem’s unification. Lastly, we had some incredible pizza for dinner.

This week was an eclectic mix of various trips, but they were all memorable nonetheless.  Every week I feel more grateful to be living this experience.  And that’s all for week five.  Word.

~Ari

Tiyul-Crazy

Just an FYI for further reading on this post: “tiyul” is Hebrew for “field trip”, and “tiyulim” is the plural, as in “field trips”.  And another FYI, because I’m late (as usual), I’m combining the third and fourth week into one post.  Hope you enjoy reading about the insane amount of tiyulim I had during these weeks!

Jerusalem & Masada: We started off the third week with a big overnight tiyul!  On day one, we drove up to Jerusalem and spent the day learning about the Second Temple period and King Herod.  Among many interesting things, we visited the Temple Mount, and had some great shawarma in the Jewish quarter.  After our morning and afternoon spent in a city that is quickly becoming one of my favorites in the world, we got back on the bus and headed to our second location for the tiyul: Masada.  We spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening in our hostel, during which I had to spend several hours studying.  {Ironically, my AP US History test was two days later.  It was slightly frustrating to spend precious time in Israel studying American history, but now I’m one of six people in the world who can say they hiked up Masada before sunrise, and then took a lengthy exam the next morning.} Anyway, we ended our night by having a moment for meditation in the desert as the sun was going down, and we went to sleep soon afterwards.  However, sleep was slim to none that night, because the next morning we had to wake up at 3am to get out the door for our next big adventure. We hiked up Masada, a trading fort and palace built by King Herod.  It was a hard hike, but it wasn’t extremely long, and we managed to make it to the top before the sun went up.  We had a beautiful service as the sun was rising, and then stayed on top and toured around for several hours.  After a while we hiked down and got some much deserved ice cream.  Hiking Masada is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and it was such a rewarding experience.  We ended our trip with a stop for lunch and time to swim in the Dead Sea.  Contrary to popular belief, the Dead Sea wasn’t entirely pleasant, but floating in the water is definitely memorable. These two days were so packed but so much fun, and might be my favorite on the trip so far.

Open Shabbat: The third weekend was also an open Shabbat, but I didn’t have plans so I stayed on campus with a bunch of friends.  It was so relaxing, especially after the AP exam.  We went out for sushi, had a Cinco de Mayo party (including guac and quesadillas that we figured out how to make in the dorm), we went strawberry picking, and ordered in burgers.  (Yes, we take every chance we can get to not eat dining hall food.). Open Shabbats are such a nice break from the never-ending schedule of HSI, and any opportunity to sleep in is a golden opportunity.

Bar Kochba: Right after Shabbat we hit the road again for another tiyul.  On this day, we visited underground caves that were used during the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans.  We crawled through tiny caves, which further proved to me how smart the ancient Jews were – these caves were intricate underground paths made for hiding in during the revolt, and obviously they had no battery-powered machines to dig them.  Anyway, my favorite part of this tiyul was when we all turned off or flashlights and sang in the dark.

Belvoir & Tzfat: Our first tiyul of week four had three main stops.  First, we spent the morning at an old Crusader fort.  We had a lesson about Christian and Muslim rule of Israel during the Middle Ages, and we discussed what it would’ve been like to live as a Jew in either of those empires.  Next, we had lunch and took a swim in the Sea of Galilee, which was refreshing because this day was one of the hottest so far.  We ended our super long day in Tzfat, where we learned about Kabbalism, went shopping in the Artist colony, and I may or may not have gotten a third ear piercing. I can’t confirm or deny anything.

Kehillah Day: Kehillah means “community” in Hebrew, and Kehillah Day was a tiyul dedicated to giving back to Israel.  In the morning we went to a place for the elderly in Jerusalem who still need to support themselves by working.  The people working there, most of whom turned out to be Russian immigrants, all made various types of intricate crafts and Judaica.  Everything was impressively handcrafted and beautiful.  Next, we stopped at a factory where we helped pack food for Israeli families who can’t adequately feed themselves.  And our final stop for the day was to the Israel Museum, where we explored the different art collections and took pictures by the famous Ahava sign.  Kehilla Day was very chill and a great way to give back to Israel, which has given and will continue to give so much to us while we’re here.

Bedouin Tent Shabbat: Our final tiyul of week four was over Shabbat.  We spent the night at the Bedouin tents, which some people in my group compared to “glamping.”  I wouldn’t have called it glamorous, but it was incredibly fun to have a huge bonfire with s’mores, and sleep in a big tent with sixteen of my really great friends.  The next morning we rode camels at the tents, which was wild.  The Bedouin tents aren’t necessarily authentic, but I’m guessing tourism is a big source of income them.  Plus, having a giant tent sleepover provided us with some great bonding opportunities.  After we left the tents, we spent a while of the afternoon in a place called iJump, which is an indoor trampoline park.  It’s exactly what it sounds like: we literally jumped on trampolines and listened to Israeli pop for an hour.  After that interesting experience, we finished our fun Shabbat at Sirona Market in Tel Aviv (the equivalent to Chelsea Market in New York).  We had some delicious pasta and Indian food and ice cream, and did a little shopping.  After two open Shabbats apart, spending this Shabbat with my whole group was so entertaining, and it was nice to forget about school and go on a trip that had no learning involved.

Weeks three and four have been some of the best and most fun weeks I’ve experienced in all the weeks of my life.  Israel is incredible and I never want to leave.

Thanks for reading!

~Ari

Days feel like weeks & weeks feel like days.

Week two// April 27 – May 2

{{Just a heads up: this is my post for Week Two, but I’ve already been living here for over three weeks.  I’m behind…sorry about it. Week Three post coming tomorrow, and Week Four post coming later this week (which will then put me back on schedule). My bad.}}  

As our madrichot (aka counselors) (and by the way our counselors are AMAZING) wisely told us on one of the first few days of the session– Days feel like weeks, and weeks feel like days here.

At the time, I didn’t really know what they meant, but now that I’m here and settled in, I understand exactly what that phrase means.  I look back on the past few weeks since my last blog post, and time has flown by faster than I can put into words.  At the same time, every day we wake up early, go to sleep late, and do a million things in one day.  Each day feels very long, but in the best possible way.  It really can’t be said better– days feel like weeks, and weeks feel like days. Here are some things I did on the second week…

Holidays: I’m certain this is one of the best times of year to be in Israel.  Not only has the weather not gotten too hot, but there are tons of holidays that we get to experience while we’re here.  All of these holidays in a row meant very few days of class, which was great, and a nice way to get a glimpse of Israeli society.

Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Memorial Day.  Israel observes this day with a siren sounding all across the country for one minute.  During the siren, all life stops: people get out of cars in the middle of the highway, pedestrians stand in the middle of crossing the street, shopkeepers come out of their stores, and everything is still.  If you’re unfamiliar with this tradition, I highly encourage you to watch a video of it online.  It’s extremely chilling and powerful, especially to know that all of Israel is reflecting in the same moment.

Yom Hazikaron: Israeli Memorial Day. As Israelis like to point out, their Memorial Day is much different from the traditional American pool party and barbecue.  Yom Hazikaron remembers Israeli fallen soldiers and victims of terror with two sirens, one in the evening at the start of the holiday, and one the next morning.  (Israeli holidays last from sundown to sundown.)  The evening of, we attended a ceremony geared towards English-speaking students studying in Israel, where we heard the life stories of several victims.  The next day, we attended another memorial service hosted by the Israeli school on our campus (called Mosenson).  This one was entirely in Hebrew, but it provided an interesting perspective on how high school students observe the holiday.

Yom Hatzmaot: In a strange turn of events, the minute the sun goes down on somber Yom Hazikaron, Independence Day begins.  Yom Hatzmaot is celebrated more like Memorial Day in the US – the evening of, we went to an incredibly fun Israeli concert at a nearby park.  We spent the next day at the beach where we saw military planes fly over, and we had a fun barbecue on campus.

Israeli Unit Test: In Israeli history class, we had our first big unit test on the Tanach (the Hebrew bible), including an essay on the prophets.  It was certainly challenging, and we covered a lot of material in a very short amount of time, but our lovely madrich Batel brought us chocolate fondue to help with the studying.  And now, you can ask me anything about the first testament: I’m officially a master. Thankfully, right after our test we took a break from classes because it was Shabbat.

Open Shabbat: Several of our weekends on the program are what’s known as “Open Shabbat.”  We have the opportunity to leave campus and stay with a host if we have any connections to people living in Israel.  I was lucky enough to be able to stay with my mom’s-college friend’s-high school friend (very easy to explain) who just so happened to live in a nearby town called Kfar Saba  Their hospitality was amazing, Shabbat dinner was delicious, and it was so nice to take a break from campus life.

Week two was relatively uneventful, but I definitely began to feel settled in on campus and in my dorm.  My group is incredible and I’m so grateful to get to spend more time with them. The adventures continue!

Sorry that this post was long overdue.

~Ari

A whirlwind.

Wow. It’s hard to even process the fact that a week has already passed. The only way to describe being here, and everything that’s happened over the past few days is a whirlwind. We’ve been going nonstop: adjusting to a new routine and time zone, learning and sometimes getting new information thrown at us faster than we can write it, and seeing/experiencing new yet simultaneously ancient places. Some highlights…

Arriving & settling in: Words can’t describe how great it felt to arrive in Hod HaSharon, unpack, and sleep.  Campus is beautiful and cozy, and my roommates and I get woken up by birds chirping every morning. Speaking of roomies, I love mine, and our whole April session group is awesome as well. There are only 21 of us and we’ve become super close super quickly, which I’m grateful for because I came not knowing anyone previously. I can’t wait to get to know everyone even better!

Living independently: Ask me how much money I have left in seven weeks, and we’ll see if I succeed in budgeting. Just kidding..I think.  Budgeting is tricky but I’m slowly learning.  For example, dining hall food isn’t delicious, but it’s great for saving money! However, we have gone out into town several times already, and tried smoothies, falafel, and visited a couple different grocery stores for snacks and other small things.  Hod is the cutest town and I really want to find time to explore it more. Speaking of, I’m also expecting to leave Israel with excellent time management. Between classes, going out for dinner, homework/studying, and hanging out with friends in the dorm, there have actually been so many things to do, even during every second of free time I’ve had so far. At least it means I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow every night.

Class: Yes, contrary to popular belief, I am actually going to school in Israel.  No, I’m not just taking a two month vacation from school.  But it’s a little different on AMHSI …We have Israeli history class for four hours a day! Not as bad as it sounds. Our teacher Benjy is so enthusiastic about everything, and makes class really engaging.  History and Judaism are two of my favorite subjects, so unsurprisingly Israeli history is such an interesting class. And the best part…twice or three times a week we take a bus somewhere in Israel and continue our lessons in THE EXACT PLACE where they happened. Sure, it means I have to do things like take the Hebrew bible with me on hikes, but it’s what makes the Muss program so unique, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Speaking of traveling…

Tel Gezer: Our first tiyul (“trip” in Hebrew) was to a manmade hill.  Sounds boring, but when it was excavated, archaeologists discovered layers of civilizations built on top of one another, with the oldest layer being the ancient city of Gezer.  There were shards of pottery everywhere, and we tried our hardest to search for handles of cups, rims dishes, and ancient Hebrew scripture.  Gezer is so ancient, that it existed as a Canaanite city at the time of Abraham. Abraham was the first Jew ever, so, yeah, I’d the city of Gezer is old. These Canaanites were so smart: in this city they’d built a very large water system, and walls which were used for defense during wartime and places for prostitutes to live (according to scripture) during peacetime. Tel Gezer was a great way to kick off our trip.

Gilboa: Several days later, we embarked on our first real Israeli hike. First, we had class overlooking a beautiful view, while we learned about the stories of Samuel and Saul.  I still can’t believe I’m going to get to learn in the places I do.  The hike down the mountain was gorgeous, but hard.  We were all sore the next day, but at least our next stop was to natural thermal pools in Gan HaShlosha (an Israeli national park).  A barbecue and swimming was a great way to spend the hot afternoon.  Next, we drove to Jerusalem, and got off the bus blindfolded.  Once we were able to see again, we were met with a breathtaking view overlooking one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  To finish off for day, we drove into Jerusalem and spent the night in a youth hostel.

Sataf & Jerusalem: We woke up early the next morning, and drove to Sataf.  There, we learned about agricultural techniques that the Canaanites used, such as water tunnels and terraces.  Then, we drove back into Jerusalem, where we spent the remainder of our day.  We explored the City of David, walked through Hezekiah’s tunnel (fun fact: we wouldn’t exist without these tunnels), ate a delicious lunch from a market, and had a chance to visit the Kotel (another name for the Western Wall).  All the while, we were learning about the story of King David, which is actually full of plot twists.  (I highly recommend reading the Tanach if you’re looking for a thriller.)  We ended our packed day by having “Dinner on the Streets” on Ben Yehuda street.  Jerusalem is so rich with history and culture, and I can’t wait to go back later on in our program.

…so, yeah.  I’d still call it a whirlwind.  But it’s been an absolutely amazing week, and I keep reminding myself how lucky I am to be here.

Shalomie homies, I need to go study for my Israeli history test.

~Ari

Shalom!

Welcome to the blog, friend/family member/stranger.  If you don’t know me, I’m Ari.

I’m about to study on Alexander Muss High School in Israel for eight weeks, or two months.  (They’re interchangeable so use whichever one feels longer/shorter, depending on how soon you want me to come home.)  I will be spending a lot of time on the Alexander Muss campus, in Hod HaSharon (thirty mins outside of Tel Aviv).  But throughout my trip, I’ll be traveling all over Israel, as I somehow manage to learn thousands of years of Israeli history in eight weeks. (slightly skeptical but really intrigued)

I have no idea what to expect, but as long as I come home having eaten copious amounts of falafal and shawarma, and having made some great new friends, I will be pretty satisfied.

Follow @thatisraelicool on Instagram for more pictures, and follow the blog below to get notifications to your email when I post.  Thanks for sticking around as I go on this really exciting adventure.

~Ari