LONGMEADOW – The seventh and eighth graders from Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy (LYA) in Longmeadow recently went on a whirlwind 11-day trip to Israel as part of LYA’s “Israel Experience.”
On March 3, the group returned from the trip, which takes place every two years. The goal of the “Israel Experience” is to instill in the students a love of Israel and an understanding of their personal role in the context of Jewish history.
The students were accompanied by three staff chaperones, Rabbi Noach Kosofsky, Principal; Rochel Leah Kosofsky, middle school Judaic teacher and trip coordinator; and Amanda Toll, Middle School Language arts and History teacher.
“This was my first trip to Israel but it will definitely not be my last,” said Benjamin Muhlmann. “My favorite part of the trip was hiking through the Ein Gedi desert oasis. This is a beautiful place unlike any other place you can visit in the United States. There are waterfalls and wild animals and a beautiful landscape wherever you walk. This is also a place with biblical history. This is where David and Saul met in Samuel 1.”
“Traveling to Israel enabled me to visit the Holy Land that I learn about at LYA everyday,” he added. “I was inspired by visiting the Kotel, sitting on the steps to the Temple and walking through the City of David.”
While on the trip, students traced their roots back to Abraham and Sarah and visited their resting place in Hebron. Students sat on the same steps that ancient Israelites walked on in order to enter the holy Temple in Jerusalem. On Masada, students hiked down the same path that King Herod had built in order to ascend the mountain fortress.
“This was my first trip to Israel and I had a lot of fun!” said Chana Kosofsky. “I really liked Masada. It was really cool to see buildings from long ago and also to see what the Jews added on, like the Mikvah for example.”
In northern Israel, students dressed in ancient Talmudic garb, ate a Bedouin style meal and rode on donkeys in the same manner that ancient scholars did two thousand years ago. Moving onto modern history students sat in bunkers as they experienced the bravery of Israeli soldiers who fought during the 1967 and 1973 wars.
“I enjoyed the Kotel, the Western Wall, the most,” said Mina Adelman. From the first time I approached the Kotel I felt at home. This is the place where so many Jews from past generations prayed and my entire class continued the chain.”
The group also visited Springfield’s sister city, Afula, meeting with children who live in a group home and creating arts and crafts with them. LYA students delivered American candy and handmade cards designed by LYA students. They also visited with a group of Afula teens and bonded through cooking falafel, pita and Israeli salad. The students plan on continuing their relationship by corresponding through Facebook.
“This trip surpassed all of our expectations,” said Rochel Leah Kosofsky, trip coordinator. “It is rewarding as an educator to see the subject matter learned in the classroom come alive for students in an everlasting way. A highlight of our trip was meeting with Israeli residents from Afula and creating a connection that will carry on.”
Another highlight was participating in an interactive exhibit “Dialogue into Darkness” which was an exhibit one surely can’t see, but there was much to be revealed. The exhibit is located in a children’s museum in Holon and its purpose is to experience what it feels like not to see. Blind tour guides lead participants through different day to day experiences in total darkness, so the participants experience what it is like to be blind. One needs to rely on the sense of hearing and place their trust in the guide as they attempt to cross a street, shop in the market and purchase snack food in a cafeteria. “It was really amazing to feel a part of the everyday life of a blind person. I don’t take my sight for granted anymore,” Chana Kosofsky said.
“In the museum, all the lights were off so that it was as if you were blind, because we could not see a thing,” said Shterna Wolff. “It was an experience that made me value my sight and an experience that I know that no one in my class will ever forget.”
Students had ample opportunity to sample Middle Eastern food while in Israel. “Eating authentic and delicious falafel was definitely a highlight of my trip,” said Gavriel Muellejans. “With the falafel, I had pita, tehina, humus, harif, fries and other great toppings. Just thinking about Israel’s wonderful falafel makes my mouth water.”
Now that the students have returned from their trip, they will be working on ways to bring Israel back to their families, community and school. LYA plans on decorating a bulletin board for the Israel Desk at the Jewish Community Center and visiting institutions to share their Israel experience with others in the community.
A blog of the entire trip was posted daily and can still be viewed on www.lya.org.