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Meyer Academy 8th Grade Students Connect With Israel


What makes eighth graders mature beyond their years and different than "typical" teenagers? A transformational trip to Israel!

Thirty-four Arthur I. Meyer Jewish Academy 8th grade students spent two weeks in Israel during April, returning as young Jewish adults with a new and special bond with the Jewish homeland.

Accompanied by lead chaperone and headmaster Nehemia "Nammie" Ichilov, and Meyer Academy faculty members Nitza Hartung and Susan Shanker, they criss-crossed the country, honoring Yom Ha'Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Ha'Zikaron (Israel's Memorial Day), and celebrating Yom Ha'Atzmaut (Israel's Independence Day).

Meyer Academy's Hebrew and Judaic Studies Principal Maya Scwartz, who organized and planned the trip, along with Assistant Principal Danielle Ockman, said, "As our students traveled around the country they identified their 'favorite' and 'most meaningful' locations, demonstrating their knowledge, wisdom and interest at every stop the group made. Many of the students on the trip had been studying biblical stories since kindergarten, and the trip certainly helped those stories come alive."

Student Marissa Roosth said that the Kotel (Western Wall) was the site that made the greatest impact on her.

"To actually be able to go there and visit the wall, and see what everyone has been talking about all this time was really special. You could feel the emotion from the people around you; there were people crying."

When asked about the difference between learning Jewish history in a classroom versus experiencing it firsthand, Roosth said, "You get this picture in your mind and it's the way your mind processes the information that you get. When you go there in person, it's a whole different perspective of what it actually is."

Scwartz added, "Some of the students were mesmerized by the variety of terrain, climate and geography within such a small country; others were surprised at the diversity of citizens and tourists living and traveling around the country."

The group spent three special days in Tzfat, Federation's Partnership 2Gether area in the northern Galilee. This wonderful "detour" was subsidized by Federation, which helped lower the cost for Meyer families. While there, the Meyer Academy students were able to use their extensive Hebrew language skills to communicate with everyone they encountered -- especially their Israeli pen pals!

"We had been communicating with each other for such a long time; you felt like you had so much in common and you clicked," said Roosth.

The group had a particularly meaningful spiritual experience visiting Yad Vashem (Israel's Holocaust Museum) on Holocaust Remembrance Day. For Israel's Memorial Day, they traveled to Tel Aviv, where they participated in the city's public ceremony at Rabin Square, feeling an extraordinarily strong connection to the Israelis around them and the personal losses spanning all the wars since the country's independence in 1948.

Student Ari Wells said, "Even though not all of the Israelis knew each other, it still felt like one big community, because they all had a shared experience of having lost a loved one."

To celebrate Israel's "birthday," the group went to Independence Hall in Tel Aviv as well as to Rabin Square again, where the tone was one of great excitement, tremendous happiness and pride.

Ichilov explained, "To experience and feel the transition from the low point and pain for all the soldiers and citizens who died for their country to the euphoria of living in a Jewish state is something that simply cannot be replicated in the Diaspora. What these children experienced is something that most Jewish adults living outside of Israel don't fully appreciate or understand. The students are forever changed -- for the better -- because of this experience."

The group's return to campus was a true Bruchim Ha'baim (welcome back), with Meyer Academy students and teachers waving Israeli flags and welcome signs, and singing and dancing to Israeli music, as well as the students' parents anxiously awaiting their return. The group was overcome with emotion as they got off the bus.

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