The rose still holds its blossoms, even after a journey of 6,000 miles and several weeks. Perhaps it’s a good omen, a sign that our visit will bring long-lasting momentum for coexistence.
For the 46 Krieger Schechter eighth-graders who boarded the El Al plane in May for our school trip, setting foot on the land of the Bible represented the pinnacle of their educational experience. Students climbed Masada, swam in the Dead Sea, sailed on the Kinneret and kayaked down the Jordan. They toured Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and befriended peers in Ashkelon.
For our day school children, the Israel pilgrimage reflects the Congregation Chizuk Amuno’s, mission of Torah, avoda and g’milut chasadim. Contributing tzedakah goes far bey-ond the requisite act of donating a few dollars for a cause. Electing to forego a sizable portion of bar/bat mitzvah gift money, each student joins in a class gift project. Students determine the beneficiary. This year two very generous checks were presented, one to the Israel Cancer Research fund and the other to Yemin Orde, a youth village near Haifa, whose graduates serve in top-echelon positions in the army and in the Knesset.
Friday night, overlooking the Kotel, our students led the Kabbalat Shabbat service surrounded by a Birthright contingent. How impressive were our youngsters, and more than a bit surprised were the 20-somethings at the competence of the 14-year-olds.
With all of these exciting adventures, one additional experience awaited us. …
As we approached Deir el Assad, an Arab village in the upper Galilee, we all anticipated this unique encounter. After all, how many Jewish day school students visit an Arab village?
We were all very excited, and a bit nervous, as our tour bus made its way up the hill along the winding narrow streets to the school. Upon our arrival, any initial apprehension subsided as the principal and several teachers welcomed us warmly. Each Arab teen presented a rose adorned with an olive branch to a Schechter student. The principal graciously received us and spoke in Hebrew to all the children, focusing on their commonality and how, with mutual respect, greater coexistence can occur.
Upon our approaching departure from Israel, many students cried and claimed they wanted to remain; other students determined that they would return to study and spend a year in Israel. On the trip, our students proved their capabilities, both in their extra-ordinary knowledge of the land, its history and the Hebrew language.
As a Jewish educator, I am assured that this extraordinary visit afforded our children a life-changing experience. They have now added a new dimension to their Jewish identity, one that strengthens their love of learning as Jews and that embraces a desire to know more about their past through in-depth study. Fortunately, Schechter students nationally have the good fortune to participate in such life-enriching experiences. Halevi, if only our Jewish families would avail themselves of such programs.
Rita Plaut is Jewish history chair at Krieger Schechter Day School and was a trip