April 22 – 23, 2015
We intentionally plan the eighth grade trip so that our students could experience Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha-atzma’ut (Independence Day) in Israel. From early childhood through seventh grade, we observe these days at school with real sadness and real joy. Guided by our core value of Tzionut (Zionism), our teachers help their students to love Israel and feel a connection to her. Because of what we do so successfully in Farmington Hills, our eighth graders aren’t tourists or bystanders when they come here; they take part in the grieving, and they celebrate Israel’s independence with all their hearts.
It is both meaningful and emotionally challenging to observe these holidays in sequence, one after another. Not everyone is able to celebrate whole-heartedly on Yom Ha-atzma’ut; bereaved families, especially those whose wounds are still fresh, can feel left by the wayside as the entire country switches from mourning to celebration while their grief remains strong. Many of our eighth graders expressed to me their understanding of how hard it must be; their emotional awareness was touching and profound.
Yesterday morning, we attended a ceremony at the Frankel School, a K-5 school in Jerusalem with which we have a relationship. One speaker suggested a connection between the two days; she said that both days are about gratitude and unity. I understood the link of gratitude immediately—we are grateful to the soldiers who lost their lives, and to the state for all it has given us—but at first, I didn’t see her point when it came to unity. Grief can isolate as much as it can unite! But then I realized that Yom Hazikaron is like a day of shiva where every Israeli is both a mourner and a consoler. Our eighth graders too filled these roles; we mourned, and offered consolation. Even families who feel alone in their grief end up feeling united with other Israelis because we all support each other.
Alli wrote the following about Yom Hazikaron:
Today was Yom Hazikaron, the saddest day of the year here in Israel. It is the day that we remember all of the soldiers who fell for the sake of their beloved land, Israel. Yesterday (Tuesday) night, we went to an amazing ceremony just outside of Jerusalem. We heard six amazing stories about soldiers who didn’t even live in Israel but decided to join the army because they felt a special connection with Israel, being Jewish. This morning (Wednesday), we first went to the Frankel School to watch and be a part of their Yom Hazikaron ceremony. We said many different prayers and laid a beautiful wreath. During this ceremony we also heard the siren that was blasted throughout Israel. We all stood in silence. It was a very powerful moment. We’ve all heard the siren at school, but today we actually got to hear the real siren in Israel.
After the ceremony we went to Ammunition Hill. We saw an amazing movie about the soldiers who survived the war and were able to show and teach their families about the battle they fought to unify Jerusalem. We also played a very fun game reenacting the Six Day War. We all crawled in trenches and climbed on army tanks trying to save Israel. It was a blast!
Then, it was time to go to Mount Herzl. We were all a little nervous to go because we have never experienced something so sad and powerful. We saw many famous graves for fighters like Hannah Senesh, Yoni Netanyahu (Benyamin Netanyahu’s brother), Max Steinberg (an American volunteer who died last summer in the war in Gaza), and many others. Walking through this cemetery was extremely sad and depressing. All of us being from America, we don’t really take our memorial day as serious as the Israelis do. Walking through Mount Herzl really helped us appreciate what all of the soldiers had done for Israel and it taught us to be more grateful and appreciative that we live in such an amazing place, and that we have freedom, rights, and that we don’t need to be scared of living in such an amazing place. Yom Hazikaron was truly an incredibly sad and powerful day that we will all remember for the rest of our lives.
Alli’s words powerfully demonstrate the impact this trip is having on our students. They are absorbing everything with mind and soul.
Last night, we went to Ben Yehudah Street to celebrate Yom Ha-atzma’ut; our students loved being out in the crowds, buying food, getting sprayed with shaving cream, and having fun. Today, after a spirited minyan that featured Hallel and a special Torah reading, we went to the Old City for the first time. We visited the City of David, walked through a 2,500-year-old water tunnel that saved Jerusalem from an Assyrian assault, toured the Jewish Quarter, and more. Having mourned the cost of Israel’s wars, we were able to celebrate Yom Ha-atzma’ut with real appreciation for the miracle of Israel’s existence and success.
Time is flying by; by this time next week, we will be back at Detroit Metro. We still have many amazing experiences ahead of us, but we are already starting to feel sad about coming home. This sadness, though, is good; it pushes us to make the most of every moment we are here!
Lailah tov from the outskirts of Jerusalem,