Friday, February 10, 2012

KSA Israel: Haifa

Today we spent most of the day in Haifa.  We met the kids this morning and it was so great to see smiling, tired faces who had a wonderful night with their host families and the amazing amount of food that each host packed for our kids' lunches--like every other day, everyone was well satiated--one student even had six sandwiches, so that he could eat throughout the day!

After meeting everyone, we took a tour of Haifa, stopping at several points for beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea.  We also stopped at the Cave of Eliyahu, one of the religious spots of Haifa.  As we are in the winter season here in Israel, we were darting in and out of raindrops, but our hosts assured us that the rain is over and that we will have a beautiful Shabbat.  Our last stop of the morning was a visit to the Technion where we heard a lecture from a member of the Rambam Medical Center faculty about stem cell research and heart muscle regeneration processes that are being studied there.  This was a key part of the research that the 8th graders are doing for their science fair projects this year.

We stopped for lunch at a gorgeous seaside park, where we ate, the kids played games and we took in a close up of the waves crashing against the shore.  The warm weather (by Boston standards) was a real treat for everyone. 


We are now at Nachsholim, just prior to when we will gather with our friends, who are no longer new, and welcome Shabbat together.  We came to Israel ten days ago as a group of 8th graders and their teachers; we are now spending Shabbat as a close-knit community that has grown in depth and one in which many friendships have started and many others have blossomed.

To view today's video, click here.

As the sun sets over the Mediterranean and we prepare to welcome Shabbat, we wish you all a Shabbat Shalom. May it be a peaceful one for us, for you and for all the world.

Marc Medwed
Head of School

Thursday, February 9, 2012

KSA Israel: The Golan and HAIFA


We had a great night at Kibbutz Gonen and we loved our day today.  We began our day at Har Bental.  The overlook is beautiful and provides stunning views of Mount Hermon and the Golan. From the overlook one can see Mount Hermon (3,000 meters above sea level), several Druze villages as well as a network of old bunkers and trenches.  Just to the east of Mount Bental is Syria, with Damascus lying just 60km away.  We learned about the strategic nature of the Golan and what took place in the Yom Kippur War.  Because of the intensity of the war here, the long stretch of valley in between Mount Bental and Mount Hermon became known as the Valley of Tears. The Israelis did eventually prevail, but not without suffering heavy casualties from the Syrians.

From there we went to the Tel Dan Nature Preserve where we enjoyed some hiking and learned a lot about the area.  The modern day preserve is on what is believed to have been the biblical city of Dan, and was in modern times a site that was important to the events of the Six Day War.

After our great morning, we traveled into Haifa and met our friends from Ironi Gimmel at Bet Halochem, a rehab center for injured soldiers that has locations throughout Israel.  Prior to leaving school, our 8th graders collected money to be donated to Beit Halochem and we had the opportunity to present $450 to the center to help in the work that they are doing.  We also heard the first-hand story of a soldier who was injured and is at Beit Halochem.  The story was very moving and struck home with quite a few students and teachers in our group.

After Beit Halochem, we went back to Ironi Gimmel where we were greeted with a wonderful reception.  We were welcomed by the local representative of the Boston-Haifa Connection who facilitated some getting to know you games and we were treated to a sumptuous spread of Israeli foods (because no Jewish parent wants their guests to go hungry!).  Our kids were very excited to have the opportunity to really connect with their new friends.  Tonight, many of the kids came to the mall, called here the "Grand Kenyon," where it is great to see packs of American and Israeli kids talking, laughing and walking around the mall.

The connections with Ironi Gimmel are a definite highlight for everyone and we are looking forward to spending tomorrow and Shabbat with our new friends!

To view today's video, click here.  As you will see in the video, we had a really great day and are so excited to be with our new friends from Ironi Gimmel.

Marc Medwed
Head of School

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

KSA Israel: Tel Aviv and northbound

Today involved a lot of travel!  We left Masada this morning for the two hour drive to Tel Aviv where we enjoyed a walking tour of Old Yafo.  We walked along the water, learned about the history of the area, got a close up look at the gentrification and the rebuilding of the area and enjoyed seeing the contrast of the old and the new as we looked up the coast towards Tel Aviv.

Following our tour, we were treated to a special lunch in Tel Aviv--some of us opted for schwarma and others opted for pizza. Both options were great and were a nice change of pace from the youth hostel food that we had been eating.  From lunch, we headed to the Palmach Museum.  The Palmach was the elite unit of the underground military organization of the Jewish community prior to the founding of the State of Israel.

From the museum, we headed north towards Kibbutz Gonen, where we will be spending the night. On the way, we were welcomed with open arms to our tour guide's house.  Thanks to Avner and his wife for opening their home to us in such a warm way.

We ended our day with a celebration of Tu B'Shvat--where else but Israel to enjoy all of the fruits from the trees but directly where they are grown?  And, truth be told, they all taste better here in Israel!

Tomorrow we will finally have the opportunity to meet our new Israeli friends from Ironi Gimmel, enjoy some wonderful home hospitality and of course do some more shopping!

To see today's video, click here.  Looking forward to tomorrow and to spending another Shabbat in Israel!

Marc Medwed
Head of School

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

KSA Israel: Masada and the Dead Sea

I am excited to turn the blog over to a few of our 8th grade students who asked if they could share their thoughts and impressions of the day.  It has been a great day here in Israel and I am happy to share their words with you:

Instead of waking up at 4:30 to see the sunrise that was not there on Masada, we got extra sleep and breakfast before our climb today. We started our journey by leaving the hostel and walking to Masada which is located right next door.  We started the hike with an easy path up to the base of Masada. Little did we know that we had a whole lot in store for us, for the path was quite steep and treacherous, but we pushed with perseverance. During the hike up, we were faced with the challenge of navigating the narrow snake path. Finally we reached our destination, the summit.

We started our adventure with a davening that was so powerful that we even had other groups of kids taking pictures of us and singing along (or as some say, making fun of us ;-)). When we got to the Amidah we were given the opportunity to spread out across the mountain and have our own space. We continued on with a tour of Masada learning the history of our martyrs. At the end of our time up on the mountain, we were given the choice to take the easy way down on the cable car or hike down the mountain. When we got to the bottom, we enjoyed a delicious treat of ice cream and iced mocha lattes. And of course, we also went to the gift shop, as what kind of tourists would be be if we didn't continuously support the Israeli economy?

We took a quick trip to the hostel to prepare for our visit to the  Dead Sea. We then took the bust to a hotel next to the Dead Sea and ate a quick lunch. Then, we walked down to the beach to enjoy a freezing, yet relaxing float.  Unfortunately for some of us, it burned and scorched our cuts, but after a few minutes in the water the pain subsided.

All of us soon applied mud to our bodies and enjoyed our new "smooth as a baby's butt" skin, as it was called by our tour guide, Avner.

On the way home to the hostel  we took an avatiach break which is a popsicle that tastes exactly like watermelon. Now we are writing this blog in the lobby and are looking forward to the rest of the trip.
By Wesley, Adina , Sasha, Aviatal, Kaitlyn, and a little bit of Natalie
with my deep and sincere appreciation for taking away from their precious moments of free time...

To see today's video, click here.  Tomorrow, we head north to spend the day in Tel Aviv and then it is up to Kibbutz Gonen for the night.  We are getting closer to Haifa and to meeting our new friends from Ironi Gimmel!

Marc Medwed
Head of School

Monday, February 6, 2012

KSA Israel: Making our way back to the north

Okay, truth be told it was a disappointing night for us here in our part of Israel and so many of us are tired from having woken up for the 1:30 am kickoff and watching the game.  Although we had a later start today, we were all a little sluggish for the first part of the day.

We began with a rousing rendition of "Boker Tov," a fabulous song of greeting and waking up that got our blood flowing and our bodies moving.  Replete with hand gestures and a lot of yelling, we couldn't help but put smiles on our faces!  We then were ready for another wonderful tefilah in at Park Timna, located about twenty minutes north of Eilat, where we enjoyed the spectacular sandstone, granite and rock formations that surrounded us on three sides.  The rocky terrain gave us places to sit, stand and daven and provided us with a majestic backdrop for our daily conversation with God.  Today, as we focused on listening to what God was saying to each of us, it was incredibly powerful that for a single moment, nobody in our group was moving, no rocks falling and no sound coming from any place that we could see or hear.  The silence was golden, yet it said so much to us.

After tefilah, we learned all about scorpions and many of our children decided to see what it would be like to have a scorpion touching their face...don't worry, the stinger was held on the opposite end, so there was no danger to anyone.  And yes, as you watch the video, that is me declining to participate in the activity--creatures like these are just not my thing.

From there, we participated in three short hikes around the various formations and copper mines, learning about the chemical compound, erosion and the land on which we were walking.  It was a slower pace, but interesting elements nonetheless.  We enjoyed a lovely lunch of felafel and fabulous Israeli salads.  For many of our kids, this trip is the first time that they are trying foods out of their comfort zones and they are doing a great job!

Of course, consistent with other days, our next stop was a trip highlight--a stop at the Yotveta store.  Yotveta is a dairy kibbutz located about twenty minutes north of Park Timna.  The kibbutz is famous for its chocolate milk and so many other dairy products.  We bought souvenirs and everyone was treated to an ice cream.

We then got back on the bus for the approximately two hour bus ride to the Masada Youth hostel where we are staying for the next two nights.  We had originally planned to wake up early and climb Masada in order to see the sunrise, but as today has been cloudy and foggy and that is the forecast for tomorrow, the group opted to sleep a little later, have breakfast and then begin the climb up to the top to daven and to learn about the rich history.

You can click here to see today's video and I look forward to sharing more with you tomorrow after we spend our day atop Masada, floating in the Dead Sea and hiking in Ein Gedi!

Marc Medwed
Head of School

Sunday, February 5, 2012

KSA Israel: The Desert

We got an early start this morning and thus continued the wonderful growth of our group as we were up, packed, cleaned up, satiated and out of our hotel.  The kids were amazing, working together as a group to load the bus and to be sure that everyone in the group was feeling included and a part of the community.

Our first stop was at the grave of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.  We had a beautiful tefilah overlooking the Negev--hearing our kids voices and taking in the fantastic panoramic views around us made for a very spiritual moment in time.  The highlight was each person's individual Amidah, where we left the group to find out own personal space to daven, reflect, and stand alone, yet very much together.  What a spiritual treat and a great opportunity to enjoy nature.

Following our lesson about Ben Gurion's vision, we went for camel rides!  A highlight for everyone to be sure and many stories that our kids will be able to tell about how they got to know their camels, each one with a name and personality traits by the time the rides were done.

And then, it was on to another highlight--I guess it is a day of highlights, when we had our first supermarket lunch.  You might be wondering what is so special about a supermarket lunch, so let me share: it begins with fresh baked pita.  If you've eaten it right out of the oven, you know that is a treat unto itself!  But add hummus, chocolate spread, white chocolate spread, Israeli cheese, Israeli pickles, cucumbers, tomatoes, potato chips and some shoko b'sakit (chocolate milk in a bag) and you've got what several kids termed, "the best meal they have had since arriving in Israel!"  It is so exciting to see our kids enjoy these special Israeli foods!

From there, we drove to Machtesh Ramon, where we enjoyed an almost two hour jeep ride through the crater.  It was bumpy, but filled with a lot of fun and a great landscape.  By now, as you can imagine, the kids are exhausted and many fell asleep on the bus to Kibbutz Lotan, a ecological kibbutz that is affiliated with the Reform movement.  We enjoyed dinner and now everyone is in for an early bedtime, as many are planning to wake up in a few hours to watch the Superbowl!  Many are wearing their Patriot's shirts and jerseys and are excited to wake up to hopefully see a victory for our team!

So all in all, a really great day and we are looking forward to a fun night and an exciting day at Timna tomorrow as we continue our trek throughout the south. Did I mention that we have internet access here in the middle of the desert?

To enjoy today's video, click here.

From deep in the Negev and rooting for the PATS!,

Marc Medwed
Head of School

Saturday, February 4, 2012

KSA Israel Trip: Shavuah Tov!

Shavua tov!  We had a great shabbat and a fabulous start to the new week!

The South Area Solomon Schechter Day School/Kehillah Schechter Academy alumni network stretches wide and far!  Friday night for dinner, we welcomed 10 of our alumni who currently reside in Israel.  They hung out with us throughout the evening and some stayed overnight and joined us for various parts of Shabbat today.  It is a special treat when we can see our alumni "all grown up" and it is a true testament to the education they received as students in our school and a clear reflection on the community in which they were raised.

This morning we visited two shuls: some of us davened at Moreshet Yisrael, the Conservative Synagogue at the Fuchsberg Center for Conservative Judaism where we were welcomed with open arms, listed in their program and two our students were honored with opening the Aron Kodesh.  The other part of the group davened at The Great Synagogue, which is located just around the corner from the Fuchsberg Center.  We all returned to our hotel for Shabbat lunch and then a bit of rest time for everyone, as we are all still catching up on our sleep!  Afterwards, some of us went on a walk to the Old City and walked atop one of the outer walls, others went the park to hang out and play some basketball and others hung out around the hotel.

Later in the afternoon, we enjoyed the snacks that everyone bought in the shuk and I am pleased to say that each group fully understood the directions and aside from the foreign apple, we had all of the foods that we wanted to have!

We joined together to end Shabbat with Havdalah in the courtyard and we really began to feel the group coming together as a whole.  As a community that rarely gets to celebrate Havdalah together, it is a really special time that just brings everyone together as we formed a circle of friends and shifted from the quiet of Shabbat to the hustle and bustle of the week. On a trip like this, there are of course challenges that emerge as we live together 24/7 in very close and tight accommodations, but the power of the group is taking over and we are seeing some wonderful growth for so many of the kids.

After Havdalah, we wrote some more in our journals and then we headed out to Ben Yehuda Street for a fabulous evening on the town.  While there, we ran in to friends and family  from various walks of Jewish life, as Ben Yehuda is the place to be Motzei Shabbat in Jerusalem.  We gave the kids money for dinner and they enjoyed local cuisine and we were warmly welcomed by the store owners, as along with every other American group in Israel who was on Ben Yehuda Street tonight, we gave a welcome boost to the Israeli economy!

It was a long day, but a great day and we are looking forward to heading south tomorrow.  To enjoy today's video, click here.

Marc Medwed
Head of School

Friday, February 3, 2012

KSA Israel Trip: Erev Shabbat in Jerusalem

Wow, did we all sleep last night.  I am sure most of us would agree that it was a good sleep, but after our travels not long enough!  That didn't stop us from getting up and going this morning.  We started with tefilah and then made our way into Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Museum.  On a trip that is generally light-hearted and fun, our morning at Yad Vashem is always a very powerful time that we experience together, as our kids are well prepared from their Humanities class as well as from the years at KSA in our learning about and observances of Yom HaShoah.

Today's visit was no different in the level of engagement of our kids, their interest in everything that that the museum had to offer and the opportunity to experience this as the 8th grade KSA kehillah, community.  The museum was packed and as we began our guided tour, we stayed together.  As we moved further in, some of our students asked to stay back, to take a bit longer in some areas and to listen to their own hearts and minds as to what was impacting them at the moment.  Before long, our group split into smaller groups and it was almost as if I was able to see the wheels turning and the hearts getting heavy.  Usually I can tell a lot by watching their faces, but this time it was not so easy to see what was going on beneath the surface.

Our visit to the main museum ended with the charge for the future, for accepting responsibility for sharing the stories with future generations and to bring forward the memories of those who died and those survivors who will die one day as well.

As the grandson of survivors, this is one of the most intensely emotional places I have been, outside of my tour of Poland.  Having been to this museum quite often, I spent some time reflecting on my various experiences.  For me, a visiting with a group of students like ours is the reason I can and must continue to visit and support Yad Vashem, as amidst the darkness of the past, walks the bright sunshine of the future.  Together we walked out of the main museum and the sun was shining as we walked to the Warsaw Ghetto Plaza.  

From there we made our way over to the Children's Memorial which had a tremendous impact on so many of our kids.  During the short walk through the dark room, you could hear a pin drop.  When we left, we gathered outside and wrote in our journals and then had a short debrief where the kids shared their thoughts.  Not that I was surprised, but the comments were so insightful and were so on target about some of the larger questions related to the Holocaust and human behavior around it and the enormity of the tragedy.  Many kids talked about the first-hand accounts having the greatest impact, as they had a face to go with the story and were blown away by what they learned about some of the choices kids their age had to make during the war, as well as what some parents felt they needed to do for their children.

And then, in true Israeli fashion, we transitioned from the seriousness of the Holocaust to lunch and shopping at Machane Yehuda, the large open market in Jerusalem.  For the quintessential Israeli experience, we gave groups of kids money to buy themselves lunch and we gave them an assignment, written in Hebrew, to buy something for the group to share for our Shabbat afternoon snack.  The market was packed and it was no easy feat to get up to each stand.  Hopefully everyone bought what they were supposed to, but I did hear something about a special apple from Swaziland that looked a lot like a turnip to me--it wasn't on the list, so I am not sure what will be with it!

As the stores began to close down, we returned to our hotel to prepare for Shabbat.  In a little while, we will gather together to light shabbat candles and begin our walk to shul. 

As we watch the beautiful sunset over the buildings of Jerusalem, I wish you all Shabbat Shalom and look forward to to writing again after our night on the town Moztei Shabbat.  In the meantime, please enjoy today's video.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Marc Medwed
Head of School

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Has it really only just begun?

It feels like so long ago that I wrote about my eager anticipation for our Israel trip.  Now, it is about 11:30 at night in Israel at the end of our first day.  For those of you who don't know about our travel, we left Norwood by bus yesterday at 10 am (East Coast Time), took off from JFK at 6:00 pm (East Coast Time) and arrived in Israel at 11:30 am (Israel Time, which is 7 hours ahead of East Coast Time).  Our travels were smooth and uneventful--pretty much what every traveler would hope for.  And as much fun as everyone had traveling together, it was more than enough time and we were ready for Israel!

After our arrival today, it took our group an additional two hours to get off the plane, through passport control, out of baggage claim and out to the bus.  Let me not forget to mention the need to load the bus twice, as in their eagerness, our kids "loaded" the bus quickly, but for some reason could only fit about half of the suitcases on the bus and of course the receiving of our Israeli cell phones.  We also met our tour guide Avner who will be with us for various components of our trip.

Logistics taken care of, we headed towards Jerusalem with a stop in Latrun for lunch.  We were all hungry and enjoyed a healthy amount of food.  After this, we drove to the Tayelet overlooking Jerusalem where we sang a Shehechiyanu--for about 1/3 of our group who are in Israel for the first time and of us who have not been in Israel in a long time.  From here, we drove to the walls of the Old City, visited King David's tomb and walked through the Jewish Quarter to overlook the Kotel. As the hour drawing late, we headed back to the bus and headed back to our hotel for check in and finally freshening up.  The accommodations are lovely, but not nearly as nice as the view from our rooms:

After a brief respite and in the hope of getting over our jetlag as quickly as possible, we ate some dinner and then headed out to the Mamilla Mall for a bit of an Israeli experience and then we took a stroll down to the Kotel for the first time for our kids to experience the rich history and ambiance of this special site.  Then, we ended the evening with a tour of the Kotel tunnels.

It has been an incredible start to our journey together and our kids have been completely amazing.  It is so great to see how they rise to the occasion and how much fun everyone is having together.

As it is late and I am tired, I am not sure I remembered everything!  Luckily, we have Rabbi David with us who has been taking video and created a short montage of video that is chronicling our trip.  Please be sure to watch it and feel free to pass the link along to others!  Click here to see the first day video!

From Jerusalem,

Marc Medwed
Head of School